Our Panama Canal cruise on the Coral Princess departed 11/29/08 from Acapulco. It was a great cruise and we were lucky to have perfect weather for most of the trip.
After reading tips and suggestions on the Cruise Critics boards, I was able to take advantage of the shareholder credit offered by Princess Cruises (Carnival Cruise Line shares). I happened to already own the required 100 shares and we received a $100 on board credit! I also received some on board credit as a birthday gift, so we started off in good shape!
We flew to Acapulco and took a taxi to the ship. I think the taxi was cheaper than the Princess transfer. There was a great deal of traffic and it took almost 1 ½ hours to get to the port. Embarkation was extremely easy and we were in our room within minutes. Once in the room, I called to see if we could make reservations for a chef's table (that I had read about on cruise critics). There was no chef table available on this ship. Oh well. After we were settled, we went out on deck and watched the sunset and took some great photos of Acapulco.
We were on the deck for almost every sunset (with drinks in hand). It is such a beautiful time of day and I wonder why so few people are on deck at this time. We like to see the sunset and eat dinner late. We would sometimes get a slice of pizza as a snack at this time. The pizza was always very tasty and there was a different pizza each day. The only annoying thing about being on the top deck at this time is that the deck hands start stacking all of the deck chairs. I wish they would wait a bit.
The first day was a sea day. We start every sea day with coffee from La Patisserie. The first day we buy a coffee card which gives you a bit of a discount on the fancy coffee drinks. There are also some complementary pastries and mini muffins available at La Patisserie. We ate lunch at the grill (great knockwurst) and then visited the spa that afternoon. I had to get a pedicure and manicure for the trip - and it was formal night! We made our spa reservations online prior to the cruise. We rented a tux for my husband while on the ship - which was very easy and fit perfectly. Formal night was fun and we met our dinner tablemates. Our tablemates were great and so were our waiters.
The next day (and every day that we were going on a shore excursion) we had room service continental breakfast. We ordered via the door tag the night before. It was always on time and exactly what we ordered. I always tipped the server.
We arrived in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala and went on the "Antigua on your own" shore excursion. The bus ride took 1 ½ hours each way and there was plenty to look at along the way. Once we arrived in Antigua, the bus stopped outside of a jade store / museum / factory. There you can use the restrooms and get free bottled water (and learn a little bit about jade). Outside there were lots of women trying to sell textiles and men trying to sell flutes. This was at times annoying, but other times amusing when they come up with funny sales pitches. We had a good tour book so we walked around on our own, but if you want you can hire a guide for a small amount. There were several guides at the jade store and then later in the Central Park there were very nice guides in official uniforms. We almost hired one, but then decided not to. The benefit of hiring a guide is that they will tell you facts about buildings that you may not have in your guide books. Also, they can recommend cafes and shops. The map that you get on the bus is not as good as ones you can find in guide books.
In Antigua we ate lunch at Cafe Condesa. It is across the Central Park on 5th Ave. You have to go through a book store next door to the Cafe Condesa Express to get to the cafe. It has a nice courtyard and the quiche (yes, quiche) is a specialty and is the best quiche we have ever had! Get there about 11:30 am for a good seat.
The next day was Puerto Corinto, Nicaragua. We went on the San Antonio Rum Distillery shore excursion. It took about 45 minutes to get to the distillery. The weather was hot and clear - tolerable in the shade. Our guide provided good information about Nicaragua's history while we were on the bus. We passed through a few towns and passed the market near the distillery. Our guide also gave us the tour of the rum distillery. It was interesting, but it is obvious that we were among the first few groups to tour the facility. They said that they are working on putting together a better tour with more informational signage, etc. After we toured the distillery they took us to a "social club" where we could buy rum to take home. It is illegal to sell the rum at the distillery, so we had to go off site to buy the rum. From the street in front of the "social club" we had an excellent view of the nearby active volcano. There was smoke coming out of it. We took several photos and then an oxcart passed by and that made a great photo!
After we returned to the ship I went to the craft market by the pier. It was small and most of the booths had identical items. There were lots of Cuban cigars available as well as handicrafts and coffee. I did find a couple of booths that appeared to have unique hand made items. One was a wood artist and I bought some things from him. I was glad that the vendors were not aggressive and just let us shop. There were several guys that try to sell bike cart rides as you step off the pier area, but the market is only a block or so away from the pier so you don't really need a ride. This port is not really set up for tourists - there is no tourist greeting area. This port is primarily an industrial port that happens to get a couple of cruise ships a month. At least you can see a "real" town versus a tourist town.
That night we went to Sabatini's for dinner. It was very good and very filling.
The next day we were in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. We took the Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfalls excursion. It was raining quite a bit in the mountains. We saw the huge waterfalls, butterfly area and hummingbirds. We also saw wild monkeys! And we had a great lunch. We did not see the volcano since the road was closed by a tree that had fallen due to the heavy rain. Instead we saw a metal church that was very pretty in Sarchi and we did some shopping. We arrived back to the ship early. Princess gave us a 25% refund on this excursion since we did not go to the volcano. This was a very nice unexpected surprise. If you go on this excursion you will need a rain poncho. Of course they sell them at the waterfalls in case you need one.
We had a sea day next. We ate lunch at the buffet - I loved the salad bar. We played bingo. I wonder if anyone ever wins the big jackpot prior to the final day.
The next day was Panama Canal day! I woke up to sounds of tugboats and conversation at about 5:30 am. I knew that we were supposed to go under the Bridge of Americas at that time, so I looked outside and saw that we had just passed under the bridge. My husband and I went to the back of the ship to see the bridge and the sunrise! It was beautiful to see the sunrise and we could see Panama City skyscrapers peeking out above the hills. Thanks to the Cruise Critic boards I knew that there were "secret" decks at the back of the ship. On our floor (Dolphin) there is a small public deck at the back and we were the only ones out there! In addition to Dolphin, there are also small public decks on the back of the ship on Baja, Caribe and Emerald.
As we approached the first set of locks (Miraflores Locks) we decided to go to the front of the ship topside. I knew it would be packed with people and it was. We decided to see if there were "secret" decks at the front of the ship. I had read on Cruise Critic that there were public decks at front on Baja and Caribe. Sure enough we went out on Caribe and there was a deck at front and a perfect view of the locks.
After going through the next set of locks (Pedro Miguel Locks) we went back to our room for our champagne breakfast! We had the breakfast on our balcony. It was great and we finished just before the direct sun forced us back into our room. We were on the port side so we did not have direct sun until the ship had passed the first two pacific side locks.
During the middle part of the canal we passed another cruise ship going the opposite direction and we both blew our horns and waved like crazy! It was fun. For the Gatun locks we went up front and then to the back again. The view from the back of the ship was great since there were ships on the side of and behind us.
We then docked in Cristobal, Panama for shopping. They had some interesting items and performers at the market and they had cheap Panamanian beer!
The next day was a sea day (which you need to recover from the prior Panama Canal day). We played bingo and used the internet. It was a formal night and we went to the Captain's Circle party. A cruise critic member received the award for taking the most Princess Cruises (49 cruises)! After dinner we went to the casino and played in the black jack tournament.
We arrived in Ocho Rios, Jamaica the next day. We went on a private tour with Peat Taylor, Jr. to Dunn's Falls and then tubing down White River. It was great fun and we were all by ourselves (with a guide) on the river! We ate lunch at The Ruins restaurant. This is a large restaurant with a river and falls that go through the courtyard in the middle of the restaurant. They serve buffet style. There is also a path behind the falls that is worth exploring. The site used to be a plantation.
Our last day was a sea day. We participated in "On Deck for the Cure" 5K walk around the promenade deck that benefits the Komen foundation. We also went to the spa. Before and after dinner we went to the Crooner's piano bar. We liked the martinis and the variety of olives! We also enjoyed the piano player in the evening.
During the week we went to some of the shows. Our favorite was the comedian Kevin Hughes. The crew talent show was fun also.
We disembarked in Ft. Lauderdale and took a taxi to the Riverside hotel (very nice) for one night. Then we flew home the next day. It was a very good trip.
Covered balcony, close to elevators convenient, lots of closet space