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After three Canal cruises aboard the Coral Princess, we decided the Island Princess was our choice for spring of 2009. Previously, Cartagena, Colombia had been removed from the itinerary for security reasons. We were anxious to see if we would indeed finally reach South America aboard the Island. Any fears we had were reduced after reading a recent Chicago Sunday Tribune travel article on Cartagena. The historic city was once again welcoming cruise ships! As we routinely fly from Minneapolis the day before embarkation, we arrived in Fort Lauderdale mid-afternoon. The free shuttle bus to the Holiday Inn Express on State Rt. 84 arrived a few minutes after we announced our arrival at the airport. The desk staff offers take out menus for nearby restaurants and our Italian pasta arrived within a reasonable time. We ate in the breakfast area and then sat at poolside until we got chilly! Embarkation day was busy at the Holiday Inn. Shuttle service to the pier is again free (during the oil crisis, a $7 surcharge had been added but now removed - Hurrah!) and the crowd of people anxious to board one of the eight ships in port caused us to sit patiently in the breakfast area until the lobby thinned out. We were able to board the shuttle at 12:30 pm and minutes later went through security and received our cruise cards and boarded the Island Princess a little after one o'clock. We had booked a balcony cabin, Baja 404. Our 20 year old son accompanied us on the cruise and he was destined to sleep in the drop down berth above our bed. It took awhile for our luggage to catch up to us and so we went up to the Horizon Court for a light lunch buffet to tide us over until dinnertime. We met our steward, who didn't impress us much. He did possess a command of English but he seemed to be preoccupied. A request for ice in the icebucket gave us icewater in the refrigerator. When I asked for a replacement shower curtain, one was ordered and hung within that day. The length of the original curtain was so short that the water from the shower was all over the floor of the bathroom. I was pleased we received a decent replacement in such a short time. Once we returned to our room and began paging through the Princess Patter, a knock was heard and our son opened the cabin door. "Surprise!" Our friends from the Toronto area (whom we had met on the Sun Princess in March of 2007, and sailed with us on the Emerald Princess in March of 2008) had booked passage aboard the Island without telling us. We couldn't have been more pleased to see them as we enjoy each other's company immensely. This was going to be a great cruise!! We always select "Anytime Dining" and made our way to the dining room around 6 o'clock. We recognized a head waiter (Marius) who had sailed on our last Coral Princess cruise to Alaska in August of 2006. We renewed acquaintances with him and he immediately stepped up to be sure we were satisfied with both our waiter and the menu. Chalee of Thailand was our waiter throughout the cruise. He was friendly, knowledgeable and most of all, efficient and eager to please us. Marius stated we could have the same table if we would like to arrive around 5:45 each evening. Although this defeats the purpose of "Anytime Dining", most people were making reservations to assure the same table and wait staff. We heartily agreed. The first thing we noticed as we people-watched that evening was the average age of the cruiser. The ship seemed to draw a more mature crowd, mostly senior citizens and very few children. We figured the pool would not be a noisy place to visit and we made plans to do just that on our first sea day. We always enjoy the meals offered in the dining room, not just dinner but also breakfast and lunch. A simple soup and salad is elegantly served at lunchtime. We're long past the buffet and only eat there when we have an early port excursion. We did notice the dining room portions are smaller, but the waiter has no problem with bringing you another entree (or another dessert) if you have enough room to enjoy it! We were lazy on the first two days at sea, playing morning and afternoon trivia, napping and relaxing. A visit to the ship's casino discouraged us from long-term playing, as the machines were quite tight. We both enjoy slot machines but the antiquity and lack of variety of machines made our visit short. We did choose the Bayou Cafe for dinner one evening. We've never gone to the Bayou before, as the "cajun" food has always scared us away. The Bayou is also the ship's steakhouse and we enjoyed a well-prepared meal served by a very friendly Colombian. He answered lots of questions we had concerning Cartagena. We were definitely ready to visit this port. Our first port was Aruba. We had no plans for excursions, since we've visited this port previously. Our stay was short, from 7 am til 2 pm, so we disembarked and walked around a bit. We stopped at the close-by Crystal Palace casino to try our luck. We stopped for a cool drink at one of the local bars and headed back to the ship long before we left for Cartagena. We were excited when we woke the next morning and arrived in Cartagena. We chose to visit the La Popa monastery, which included a short city tour and stops at a couple of shops. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable on Colombian history and made our tour very enjoyable. We were unable to spend a lot of time at the monastery, as many tour buses were coming and going. Marcos, our guide, was constantly checking our group to be sure we were staying together. Riding through the old part of Cartagena was also very interesting. Homeowners must promise to keep the homes as they looked many years ago no remodeling allowed on the outside! Our tour was much too short. We were warned about not drawing attention to ourselves while touring. Jewelry and watches were to be left safely on the ship. The street vendors tended to be aggressive (anxious to get that tourist dollar, I guess) but a firm "no thank you" usually did the trick. Our son is a Spanish major in college and his knowledge was extremely helpful in all the Spanish speaking ports we visited. We felt quite safe in Cartagena, especially since we saw so many military police scattered on the streets, armed and ready, if necessary! We'd love to return and extend our visit in the future. Going through the locks of the Canal calls for an early wake-up call the next morning. Rail space is at a premium and you don't get the full impact of what the Canal is all about if you can't see the gates swing open and the water rushing in to raise the ship. We went through a partial transit, which meant 3 of the locks. We then cruised in Gatun Lake and were able to see other ships going through the locks. After a few hours, we went back through the locks and docked at Cristobal, where we met up with those people who had gone on excursions that morning. There is a huge outdoor market, with many crafts available for purchase. The Embara Indians also had items for sale. Traditionally, the female members of the tribe are topless, which is usually mentioned by cruise staff to guests so they won't be shocked. Only two women were topless; every other female wore a bra-type top. It's always fun to shop this market and barter for the best deal. Since we've done this route previously, we did not book any other excursions. Docking in Limon, Costa Rica offered us the opportunity to shop their outdoor market. I was able to purchase more than 4 pounds of coffee beans for $24. I was quite pleased! We know to shop the market in the early morning because the temperature and humidity can cause a lot of discomfort if you wait til the afternoon. Our final port was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. My husband and son disembarked to peruse the local liquor store but I opted to stay aboard and catch up on my reading. We have cruised only Princess and do not go to many of the evening shows because we have seen them already. We did see the Motown review, which was good, but the songs selected are the usual Motown hits, which have been overdone through the years. We did not go to see the comedian, as we've seen him several times before (Billy Vader) and altho we were encouraged by the by-line, "New Material", we opted not to see him. I usually try to see the movies offered on the ship and was pleased to have the opportunity to see "Changeling". We went to the Universe Lounge one evening to see "Slumdog Millionaire" but had to walk out after a few minutes. The brutality and violence toward the children made it unbearable to watch. Several other older ladies walked out as well, sharing our feelings. There were more movies shown, but not at convenient times. I know you don't board a cruise ship to watch movies, but I feel the selection should be available at more convenient times. The only downer was the arrival of the Norwalk virus in the middle of our cruise. It is unfortunate that some passengers are thoughtless enough to board the ship sick. We heard the buffet was no longer self-service. Areas were wrapped in saran wrap and a worker was placed at each food station to spoon out the desired food. In the dining room, the tables were bare no salt/pepper, rolls or butter, cream or sugar. Waiters poured the cream, handed you one package of sweetener, etc. This slowed down their efficiency at serving each meal. We heard people had been sick right outside the dining room one afternoon. The captain appealed to those sick passengers to contact the ship's doctor for a free exam. We wonder how many people took advantage of that offer! Our ten days flew by. The new disembarkation procedure works well. By the time we arrived at the Wheelhouse Bar, which is the location for Platinum and Elite members to remain until time to disembark, the Captain's Circle hostess had already called our number so our stay was all too brief. Our ride to the airport was speedy. We did redistribute the items in our suitcases and each bag weighed in under 50 lbs. The midwest was experiencing severe rain storms and our flight left a little late that afternoon. We arrived in Minneapolis a few minutes later than scheduled but all in all, we had a great time on the Island Princess and would heartily recommend that ship and that itinerary to everyone!! We booked two additional cruises one in August to Canada/New England on the Caribbean Princess and our first as Elite members, in March of 2010 on the Ruby Princess.

Panama Canal Round Four!!

Island Princess Cruise Review by donnajl

Trip Details
After three Canal cruises aboard the Coral Princess, we decided the Island Princess was our choice for spring of 2009. Previously, Cartagena, Colombia had been removed from the itinerary for security reasons. We were anxious to see if we would indeed finally reach South America aboard the Island. Any fears we had were reduced after reading a recent Chicago Sunday Tribune travel article on Cartagena. The historic city was once again welcoming cruise ships!
As we routinely fly from Minneapolis the day before embarkation, we arrived in Fort Lauderdale mid-afternoon. The free shuttle bus to the Holiday Inn Express on State Rt. 84 arrived a few minutes after we announced our arrival at the airport. The desk staff offers take out menus for nearby restaurants and our Italian pasta arrived within a reasonable time. We ate in the breakfast area and then sat at poolside until we got chilly!
Embarkation day was busy at the Holiday Inn. Shuttle service to the pier is again free (during the oil crisis, a $7 surcharge had been added but now removed - Hurrah!) and the crowd of people anxious to board one of the eight ships in port caused us to sit patiently in the breakfast area until the lobby thinned out. We were able to board the shuttle at 12:30 pm and minutes later went through security and received our cruise cards and boarded the Island Princess a little after one o'clock.
We had booked a balcony cabin, Baja 404. Our 20 year old son accompanied us on the cruise and he was destined to sleep in the drop down berth above our bed. It took awhile for our luggage to catch up to us and so we went up to the Horizon Court for a light lunch buffet to tide us over until dinnertime.
We met our steward, who didn't impress us much. He did possess a command of English but he seemed to be preoccupied. A request for ice in the icebucket gave us icewater in the refrigerator. When I asked for a replacement shower curtain, one was ordered and hung within that day. The length of the original curtain was so short that the water from the shower was all over the floor of the bathroom. I was pleased we received a decent replacement in such a short time.
Once we returned to our room and began paging through the Princess Patter, a knock was heard and our son opened the cabin door. "Surprise!" Our friends from the Toronto area (whom we had met on the Sun Princess in March of 2007, and sailed with us on the Emerald Princess in March of 2008) had booked passage aboard the Island without telling us. We couldn't have been more pleased to see them as we enjoy each other's company immensely. This was going to be a great cruise!!
We always select "Anytime Dining" and made our way to the dining room around 6 o'clock. We recognized a head waiter (Marius) who had sailed on our last Coral Princess cruise to Alaska in August of 2006. We renewed acquaintances with him and he immediately stepped up to be sure we were satisfied with both our waiter and the menu. Chalee of Thailand was our waiter throughout the cruise. He was friendly, knowledgeable and most of all, efficient and eager to please us. Marius stated we could have the same table if we would like to arrive around 5:45 each evening. Although this defeats the purpose of "Anytime Dining", most people were making reservations to assure the same table and wait staff. We heartily agreed.
The first thing we noticed as we people-watched that evening was the average age of the cruiser. The ship seemed to draw a more mature crowd, mostly senior citizens and very few children. We figured the pool would not be a noisy place to visit and we made plans to do just that on our first sea day.
We always enjoy the meals offered in the dining room, not just dinner but also breakfast and lunch. A simple soup and salad is elegantly served at lunchtime. We're long past the buffet and only eat there when we have an early port excursion. We did notice the dining room portions are smaller, but the waiter has no problem with bringing you another entree (or another dessert) if you have enough room to enjoy it!
We were lazy on the first two days at sea, playing morning and afternoon trivia, napping and relaxing. A visit to the ship's casino discouraged us from long-term playing, as the machines were quite tight. We both enjoy slot machines but the antiquity and lack of variety of machines made our visit short.
We did choose the Bayou Cafe for dinner one evening. We've never gone to the Bayou before, as the "cajun" food has always scared us away. The Bayou is also the ship's steakhouse and we enjoyed a well-prepared meal served by a very friendly Colombian. He answered lots of questions we had concerning Cartagena. We were definitely ready to visit this port.
Our first port was Aruba. We had no plans for excursions, since we've visited this port previously. Our stay was short, from 7 am til 2 pm, so we disembarked and walked around a bit. We stopped at the close-by Crystal Palace casino to try our luck. We stopped for a cool drink at one of the local bars and headed back to the ship long before we left for Cartagena.
We were excited when we woke the next morning and arrived in Cartagena. We chose to visit the La Popa monastery, which included a short city tour and stops at a couple of shops. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable on Colombian history and made our tour very enjoyable. We were unable to spend a lot of time at the monastery, as many tour buses were coming and going. Marcos, our guide, was constantly checking our group to be sure we were staying together. Riding through the old part of Cartagena was also very interesting. Homeowners must promise to keep the homes as they looked many years ago no remodeling allowed on the outside! Our tour was much too short. We were warned about not drawing attention to ourselves while touring. Jewelry and watches were to be left safely on the ship. The street vendors tended to be aggressive (anxious to get that tourist dollar, I guess) but a firm "no thank you" usually did the trick. Our son is a Spanish major in college and his knowledge was extremely helpful in all the Spanish speaking ports we visited. We felt quite safe in Cartagena, especially since we saw so many military police scattered on the streets, armed and ready, if necessary! We'd love to return and extend our visit in the future.
Going through the locks of the Canal calls for an early wake-up call the next morning. Rail space is at a premium and you don't get the full impact of what the Canal is all about if you can't see the gates swing open and the water rushing in to raise the ship. We went through a partial transit, which meant 3 of the locks. We then cruised in Gatun Lake and were able to see other ships going through the locks. After a few hours, we went back through the locks and docked at Cristobal, where we met up with those people who had gone on excursions that morning. There is a huge outdoor market, with many crafts available for purchase. The Embara Indians also had items for sale. Traditionally, the female members of the tribe are topless, which is usually mentioned by cruise staff to guests so they won't be shocked. Only two women were topless; every other female wore a bra-type top. It's always fun to shop this market and barter for the best deal.
Since we've done this route previously, we did not book any other excursions. Docking in Limon, Costa Rica offered us the opportunity to shop their outdoor market. I was able to purchase more than 4 pounds of coffee beans for $24. I was quite pleased! We know to shop the market in the early morning because the temperature and humidity can cause a lot of discomfort if you wait til the afternoon.
Our final port was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. My husband and son disembarked to peruse the local liquor store but I opted to stay aboard and catch up on my reading.
We have cruised only Princess and do not go to many of the evening shows because we have seen them already. We did see the Motown review, which was good, but the songs selected are the usual Motown hits, which have been overdone through the years. We did not go to see the comedian, as we've seen him several times before (Billy Vader) and altho we were encouraged by the by-line, "New Material", we opted not to see him.
I usually try to see the movies offered on the ship and was pleased to have the opportunity to see "Changeling". We went to the Universe Lounge one evening to see "Slumdog Millionaire" but had to walk out after a few minutes. The brutality and violence toward the children made it unbearable to watch. Several other older ladies walked out as well, sharing our feelings. There were more movies shown, but not at convenient times. I know you don't board a cruise ship to watch movies, but I feel the selection should be available at more convenient times.
The only downer was the arrival of the Norwalk virus in the middle of our cruise. It is unfortunate that some passengers are thoughtless enough to board the ship sick. We heard the buffet was no longer self-service. Areas were wrapped in saran wrap and a worker was placed at each food station to spoon out the desired food. In the dining room, the tables were bare no salt/pepper, rolls or butter, cream or sugar. Waiters poured the cream, handed you one package of sweetener, etc. This slowed down their efficiency at serving each meal. We heard people had been sick right outside the dining room one afternoon. The captain appealed to those sick passengers to contact the ship's doctor for a free exam. We wonder how many people took advantage of that offer!
Our ten days flew by. The new disembarkation procedure works well. By the time we arrived at the Wheelhouse Bar, which is the location for Platinum and Elite members to remain until time to disembark, the Captain's Circle hostess had already called our number so our stay was all too brief. Our ride to the airport was speedy. We did redistribute the items in our suitcases and each bag weighed in under 50 lbs. The midwest was experiencing severe rain storms and our flight left a little late that afternoon. We arrived in Minneapolis a few minutes later than scheduled but all in all, we had a great time on the Island Princess and would heartily recommend that ship and that itinerary to everyone!!
We booked two additional cruises one in August to Canada/New England on the Caribbean Princess and our first as Elite members, in March of 2010 on the Ruby Princess.
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Cabin Review

Cabin B404
Ample room for hanging clothes, also enough shelving and drawers to stash "stuff". Shower was entirely too small.
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