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Caribbean Princess Cruise Review
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
2,698 Reviews

Caribbean Princess to Panama Canal

Caribbean Princess Cruise Review by lasman

11 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Jan 2019
  • Destination: the Panama Canal & Central America
  • Cabin Type: Interior

We chose this cruise because we wanted to see the new locks at the Panama Canal and also some Caribbean ports. I traveled to Panama in 1985 and experienced the old locks at Miraflores and lived in Panama City for a week. Looked forward to seeing how things have changed in 35 years. We chose Princess because we had a great experience last summer on the Ruby Princess in Alaska and the CP is a similar ship in size and layout to the Ruby.

We took a train from Ohio to Fort Lauderdale, stayed at the Hampton Inn North Airport overnight and then boarded the CP the next late morning. Hotel is showing some age but the staff was excellent, breakfast was filling and a shuttle took us to the port around 11:30am. Port was very crowded with several ships boarding that same day. Entrance was a bit chaotic with taxis, shuttles and private vehicles creating long lines to the embarkation area. We eventually made it to the offload point. Most of the passengers left their large bags with the porters who put the luggage on large carts to later be loaded on the ship. We walked up and through the entry building. Long lines but they moved quickly, through several checkpoints for passports, luggage screening and then to the desk to get our Medallion and other information. Some passengers had downloaded their Medallion info before boarding and they moved through without as many delays. We picked ours up at the desk, a small metallic pin worn around your neck which opens your doors and provides information when making purchases on board much like the old keycards.

We moved to the elevators and found our room on Baja Deck 300 section to be a match to the same room we had on the Ruby. Adequate space, lots of storage in the area outside the bathroom. Twin beds with table in the middle, large TV, refrigerator, lots of drawers to store things, a safe for valuables and mirrors all around to enhance the size perspective of the room. Bathroom and room were very clean and our cabin steward Joseph, took care of us with a friendly and courteous manner throughout our trip. He welcomed us to the ship, asked if we had any questions and said he would bring up the water we had pre-ordered. Our large bags had not arrived yet so we decided to go up to the buffet and have lunch. The Fresh Market Buffet was a bit crowded but we found seats and proceeded to have some grilled fish, potatoes and vegetables. We shared a table with a couple from Alabama, one of the things we enjoy when riding Amtrak is to meet new people from all over the country.

Our muster drill was in the Casino so at 3:15 we followed the crowds to that venue to get our safety information. One thing that was very evident was the large % of seniors on this trip. We are in our mid 60s but with all the motorized carts, walkers, etc, it sometimes seemed like a nursing home cruise. Only a few children on board, which made for a quiet voyage but reminded us that we should enjoy life while you can.

After muster we went out on the Promenade deck, watched as our ship left the harbor at Fort Lauderdale under a nice sunset. Several other ships leaving as well. A large party up on the Lido Deck, dancing, celebrating, etc. but we prefer a quieter bon voyage. After watching a brilliant sunset, we went back for dinner and prepared for the evening show in the theatre. Gary Delena was a comedian and guitarist and his show was generally funny and entertaining. After experiencing the large crowds that attend these shows on the Ruby we were at the theatre for good seats by 7 pm. Many people waited until half hour before the show and had difficulty finding seats together. The show was over by 9 and we walked through the casino to watch people spend their money and then to the Explorers Lounge to see Symphone, an excellent couple with a backup band that was the best act we saw on the ship. Great voices, personality with the crowd. We stayed until 10:30 , stopped at the another bar to hear female singer and couple Ryan 7, good voice but not the same crowd rapport as Symphone. Back to the International Cafe for a sweet snack (great place open all night and free goodies). Back to room, the Medallion opens the door and a good nights sleep after a very long day.. Joseph had made beds, cleaned bathroom, left a nice chocolate on the pillow, and left our Patter newsletter on the bed with the next day's activities. An enjoyable first day on the CP.

Second day was a sea day so we looked to find things to do on board. Breakfast was eggs, toast, fruit. Sat with two sisters from Florida and Virginia and an engaging conversation. We are 500 miles from our next stop in Jamaica and can barely see the Cuban coast off the starboard size of the ship. Sit on the Promenade Deck 7 and watch the ocean pass by, and enjoy the passengers jogging, walking and talking as they move along. Lunch today was the free fish & chips dinner at the Crown Grill. A nice addition that we also experienced on the Ruby. Sat with a couple from Texas who had traveled extensively on cruises in both US & Europe. After lunch was a film in the theatre on the Panama Canal that was very good. Spent some time at the excursion desk checking out a possible train trip in Panama. An excellent pair of young women named Duo Encanto were playing violins in the Piazza, Watched someone pay $35000 for a painting at the art auction. Symphone was playing on the Lido deck for a pool party so we enjoyed more of their music during the afternoon on a nice sunny day about 75 outside. Basketball shooting contest on the sports deck so watched a young woman sink some 15 footers against a middle aged guy who also could shoot. Before dinner we went to the Piazza to hear a steel drum entertainer. Dinner was fish, pasta, chicken and mango cheesecake with a couple from California. Back to our room to change and head to the theatre for the stageshow BRAVO. Ship dancers and singers put on a nice show of Broadway tunes. A special singer soprano from Chicago was a hit during the performance. This was the first Formal Night so many were decked out in their tuxes and evening gowns. Went to Wheelhouse Bar after the show to hear Ryan 7 again. Went out on the Prom Deck to see lights in the distance.. ?Cuba, stop for a late night snack at International Cafe and off to bed for a long day tomorrow in Jamaica. A nice sea day with plenty of activities.

Next day we are up and ready for an afternoon in Jamaica. Breakfast with a couple from Kansas City. Omelet, toast, cheese danish, yogurt. Many many choices, food was prepared well, usually hot and areas kept clean. I find the criticisms of the buffet to be overblown. Not everything is perfect in life, but being on this ship is better than the snow and ice back home right now. Enjoy and be mellow.

Back to the room to prepare for disembarkation at the Falmouth Jamaica port. We docked a little before noon, a little foggy but warm. This is an "artificial port" created by the cruise line to allow people to roam the area with shops, restaurants, etc but not really see Jamaica. We arranged for a private tour with Patrice Bailey Tours to take us to two of the Great Houses, a tour of Montego Bay and Falmouth. An excellent choice for those of us who do not want to climb up Dunn River Falls or swim with the dolphins. We walked outside the gated port area and found the white tent where private tours are located. We were taken to a meeting location where we met our guide for the day Maurice. We had a nice van to ourselves and Maurice related the history of Jamaica, a trip around Falmouth and then out on the modern highway west of Falmouth. We first stopped at Greenwood Greathouse, a huge estate once owned by the prominent English family named Barrett. A relative of famed poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Entry fee is $20 but an excellent tour of the large house and grounds. A great view of the sea and coast from the porch. Lots of original antique furniture and special apparatus used in the day. Our next stop was further up the highway to the Rose Hall Greathouse. This was the infamous home of Annie Palmer, the White Witch who murdered several lovers and is a ghost roaming the grounds. An excellent guide who led us throughout the house and told of the fantastic stories of its owners. Admission was $25 and well worth the fare. Our tour then took us to Montego Bay, a crowded port on a Friday afternoon. We were unable to stop at some of the sites there since parking was non existent but we did travel throughout the city, saw the historic square and thousands of people on the streets and byways. We then traveled to a third mansion home at Bellefield for a great view of the bay and city. It was getting dark so Maurice took us back to Falmouth, dropped us right inside the gate and we strolled back to the ship after a great day of history and sites in Jamaica. Dinner was pasta, beef stew, scalloped potatoes, some jerk chicken (a bit too spicy for my stomach) and a wonderful chocolate dessert. We got out on Promenade deck to watch the running passengers barely making back to the ship after their tour to Ocho Rios was delayed in returning. Show in the theatre was Yaniv Zarit, who spoke 32 different languages, sang and told stories. He was talented but not as entertaining as other programs. Back to room for some TV news, a movie (of which there were several good choices) and bed. Another sea day tomorrow as we head for Cartegena.

Saturday we lounge around as the seas are a bit high today closing the Promenade deck and the pools due to shifting waves. Ship is moving some but since we are used to riding trains, it is really nothing for us to experience shifting floors. Did some shopping in the stores, Had lunch with a nice couple from Washington state. A special program on the Panama Canal in the theatre in the afternoon. Dinner with family from Idaho and California. Lots of good stories. Watch some NFL football on the big screen and then down to the theatre for the show "Born to Be Wild". Ship dancers and singers put on a nice show 60s and 70s rock. Watch some more football and off to bed for a long day tomorrow in Cartegena.

Up early as our ship has docked around 6:30. Breakfast with two ladies from Florida. I am off alone for the tour as wife is staying aboard today with a cold. Embarkation is in Casino this morning and then to Deck 4, Our bus is waiting at the pier with our guide Dailys, who is an enthusiastic promoter of her city. We drive through a residential area near the pier and then to the old Fort Castillo de San Felipe for a brief photo stop. Not time to tour the fort, many steps and large facility. Lots of venders who are interesting to me but do hassle some people. Man with donkey to solicit photos was a hoot. Back on the tour bus across the inlet and out to the former residence of Colombia President Rafael Nunez. A nice folkloric dance show there and a tour of the house and the great historic events of the 19th century. Well worth the visit. Then we traveled along the coast wall to the old city. We walked inside the walls and to the square of San Pedro Claver Church where we toured the building, saw many historic items in the museum and experience a service since it was Sunday morning. Walked up another street to the Naval Museum, which had great displays of Columbian maritime history. All exhibits are in Spanish so brush up on your language skills. Very interesting. Walk back through the streets to our bus which then took us on a tour of the beaches and the modern city skyscrapers. Back to the ship via the Boca Grande and Manga residential areas. We were back to the ship by 11:45 for a 12:30 departure. A nice three and half hour tour but could have spent the whole day here. Wish the cruise would schedule more time at this port. Lunch at the buffet and watch some more football on the wide screen. A nice day as we leave port. Sit on Promenade deck and watch the city fade into the distance. Dinner was pulled pork, chicken, squash & peppers, potatoes and some nice mango desserts. Theatre entertainment was Michael Barron, an excellent magician. Some entertainment in the Piazza afterward. International cafe for a treat and then back to room for some football, a movie and then to bed. Early arrival tomorrow at 5:30am for Panama Canal.

We are up early, buffet for omelets, and then out on Lido deck to see the lights of the Panama Canal come into view. It is still dark as we enter the bay area waiting to proceed to the Aqua Clara Locks, the new lock system that now allows huge ships to use the canal. As the dawn arises, we enter the first lock and large gates close behind allowing water from storage areas to enter and raise us to the next level. Nearly everyone on the ship is on the deck watching and we found better viewing from the rear of the ship. Another larger freighter is waiting behind us and it is fascinating to watch the process as we proceed from one lock to another. It took about two hours to move to Gatun Lake where our CP dropped anchor. My excursion today would involve a boat transit to shore, where we boarded a bus for a trip along the old Gatun Locks and across a bridge to the new locks visitor center high on a hill overlooking the Aqua Clara Locks. Wife decided to stay on the ship which would eventually return through the locks and dock back in Cristobal where it would await the tour groups to return later in the day. Our tour spent an hour at the visitor center where we could observe our ship in the lake and others as they passed through the locks. A film was shown in the theatre and a small cafe served sandwiches, drinks, etc. There was also a nature trail which I walked approx a mile through some interesting flora. Heard some scattered animal sounds, saw a sloth and then walked back to the awaiting bus. As we left the site the driver stopped along the road as a family of monkeys was passing by. Photo shoot was just in time. We then traveled into Colon and then down a modern highway that crossed through some rainforest areas, the Chagras River, and then into the modern Panama City. An hour long ride but interesting scenery along the way. We eventually passed through the area near Balboa and the old Fort Clayton, where American forces were stationed during the Panama Canal Zone days. Nice memories of my trip here in 1985 but many changes since then. The bus stopped while Subway sandwiches were delivered for our lunch meal. We passed Miraflores Locks and out onto the Amador peninsula where we stopped for a shopping event. Not much there and really was a waste of time except for the good ice cream shop. Would rather have spent some time in the old city but that was not on our agenda.

We then moved to the train station where we boarded the Panama

Railroad train. A very modern station with some souvenirs. Railroad is operated by Kansas City Southern RR and their locomotives reflect the orange and yellow paint scheme of that line. Coaches were nicely decorated and seating was nice. I sat with a friend Rita who I had met on the ship and a couple from Michigan as we moved along slowly by the canal and industrial areas. Saw lots of birds, a family of iguanas and some monkeys as our train moved toward Colon. The cost of the entire tour was $200 and although a bit expensive, it was worth it for the views of the canal and the train ride. There is a dome car for $40 more on the train but I found the seating in the nice coaches and the opportunity to stand in the vestibule area to see the sites and take photos to be adequate for my needs. We were able to see some parts of the canal and ships moving across the lake. We arrived back in Colon before dark. We received a nice box with the railroad logo and full of snacks which I think were supposed to be handed out at the beginning of the train ride but we got as we left the train. Oh well, a nice souvenir of the train.. Colon is not a town you want to roam around in and the dock area was a pleasant site as we said goodbye to our guides and boarded the ship. Met my wife and we had dinner of pork roast, potatoes, veggies and dessert. Too tired for the show this evening so just watched National Championship game as Clemson beat the Crimson Tide. Rest for another long day tomorrow in Costa Rica.

Tuesday morning we arose and prepared to take our excursion at Limon Costa Rica. A large German ship is docked next to us as we walk up the dock area to our bus. Our guide is Porfirio, a nice gentleman who had a sense of humor and spoke excellent English. He told us about his family and life in Costa Rica. We first drove around Limon to see some of the historic buildings and then up a rather narrow and bumpy road to the canal where we boarded a boat to cruise the canal. Lots of birds, iguanas, monkeys in the trees, sloths everywhere, no crocodiles today. A nice tour and our guide moved the boat so that all sides could get photos. A little shower ensued but did not last long and it was a good day in the rainforest. After we left the boat we were treated to lots of fruit, bananas, pineapple, juices and a nice display of native arts and crafts. Good restroom break as well. Back on the bus as we traveled to a siding where we boarded an old train for a short trip back to Limon. I enjoyed speaking with the engineer and conductor at the front of the train as my Spanish was good enough for a lively conversation. The train was pulled by an old switcher engine and two coaches full passengers hoping to see some exotic scenery. But most of the rails pass through an industrial area and except for a few monkeys and a sloth, there was little to view. If you like train rides, it was a nice ride but not overly exciting. We left the train and reboarded the bus for a nice trip in the countryside around rural provinces. Banana plantations and a stop to see more sloths. Our guide Porfirio was excellent and he related Costa Rica history, government and economics as we traveled back to Limon. We arrived back to the port around 12:30 and did some shopping at the large craft market nearby before heading back to the ship for a late lunch. After lunch we went down to the laundry room on the 10th Floor and did a few loads of clothes. A bit of a waiting line but was nice to have some washers close to our room. Met some gents from Alaska, a young man from Toronto and an Englishman from near London as we dried and folded... We decided to hit the pizza place for dinner and then have a dessert in the buffet. Back to the room for the evening show at the theatre.

Cheaza, a Whitney Houston reflections singer from Las Vegas was the musical program and was excellent. She went out into the theatre to sing and perform a greatest hits melody. Another great day on our cruise.

The following day was another sea day. There was a talk in the theatre on the Cayman Islands that we attended. Both of us are suffering from head colds so we just hung around the room, watched some movies, had lunch in the buffet and then sat out on Deck 7, did some reading, saw some rainbows in the distance as a storm headed away from us. Another formal night on the ship with a program in the theatre but we decided to rest this evening and prepare for a full day in Cayman Islands tomorrow. Sometimes its nice to just enjoy a day of rest and relaxation on a sea day.

Thursday morning we are up and feeling better. Breakfast for omelets and fresh fruit. We met in the Island Dining Room for disembarking for our shuttle boat to the shore. All ships must use tenders and there are now six ships in port so it will be a busy day in Georgetown. Our tender is one from the shore and not one of the ship boats so there is more room and not quite as crowded. We land about 8am and talk to a policeman who directs us to the bus terminal about two blocks from the port area. We stop at Fort to read some Cayman history and then arrive at the bus terminal where a group of small van type vehicles are lined up. We decided to take Bus 7B Green bus our own excursion which charged only $10 for a trip around the entire island. Our bus driver Tonyito actually acted like a guide and with one other man on the bus, (who reminded me of the late Anthony Bourdain), we enjoyed a private tour complete with history and scenic views. Stopped in Bodden Town, Wreck of the 10 Sails park and discussion of blue iguanas. Picked up some interesting passengers on the return trip as Tonyito welcomed them on board. An enjoyable ride and much cheaper than the ship excursions. A couple hours later we were back downtown and took another bus that went to Seven Mile Beach, Hell and other quaint places for another $5 each. We returned to downtown, stopped for lunch and then walked to the port for some clean restrooms and treats before walking down to the Cayman National Museum. Nice displays, a good film on history, hands on displays for kids. Back to port and decided to return to ship as it looked like a storm was heading toward the island. Long line for the tender but moved quickly and we sailed past the mass of ships and tenders in the bay. Got back just as the rain came so timing was perfect. Back to the ship by 2 pm as our ship was scheduled to leave at 3:30. Go to Deck 7 to watch tenders returning with passengers. Late comers but we leave by 4pm. Dinner was a cod dinner with a couple from Nebraska. Down to the theatre for the show with Duncan Tuck, classical guitar and humorist. Was o.k. Sailing around Cuba overnight as we rest from another long day of exploring.

Friday was another sea day. Pancakes and eggs for breakfast. Ate with a couple from Michigan who have cruised many times. He is from the island of Malta and they have done many Mediterranean cruises. We are now sailing along the Cuban coastline and we sit on Lido deck enjoying the view. Cheeseburgers from Salty Dog Grill and some Pizza from Slice for lunch. Enjoy sitting around the pool and enjoying the warm weather. Do some packing in the afternoon and preparing for disembarkation in FTL tomorrow morning. Staff at customer service very friendly and answered several questions we had about the process. We talked with Joseph about his future plans. He had one more cruise on CP and then he would return home to India for three months. He was an excellent cabin steward and we tipped accordingly. We found all the staff in the dining and buffet to be efficient and friendly. The ship is showing some age and there was a lot of painting and polishing going on while we were sailing. We did not feel any engine vibration in our room and our neighbors were pretty quiet so no problem with noise. Like the new Medallion system even though we did not use it for phone or location purposes. Like that there is still a paper Patter that provides information about ship events.

On Saturday morning we ate a quick breakfast in the buffet and then moved our luggage to the Coral Dining Room where our disembarkation meeting was to take place. We chose the self checkout and thus did not put any luggage out the night before. We moved quickly through the port area and only took 10-15 minutes to go through customs and we were on our way. We walked to the taxi loading area and were in a cab in a few minutes to the Hilton Marina Hotel where we got our Enterprise Rental Car for the remainder of our Florida vacation. Enjoyed the cruise and highly recommend this ship, crew, and itinerary if you have never been to the Panama Canal.

lasman's Full Rating Summary
Onboard Experience
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Cabin Review

Cabin IB B325

Decent size for interior cabin. Plenty of room to store luggage and drawers for unpacking. We were on Baja Deck 325 and enjoy being away from activity noise and midway between two elevator areas. Bathroom size is adequate, shower is larger than our Amtrak train shower. Lighting is good, mirrors make it seem larger. TV, safe, refrigerator worked fine. Beds were very comfortable. Cabin steward Joseph was excellent.

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

Able to see much of old Cartagena in short time frame. Fort, President's house, Old Walled City, San Pedro Claver Church, Naval Museum, Modern City

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Panama Railway

Tour of Agua Clara Locks, Bus trip to Panama City, Panama Railroad Trip

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Museum Tour

Nice tour of the island. Driver stopped at historic points and narrated. Life on Cayman Islands. Excellent tour for half cost of ship excursion

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Lots of interesting displays of both history and natural history of the island. Good film introduction to Cayman history. Staff friendly and helpful

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The Tortuguero Canals

Nice boat tour of the canal. Lots of animals and flora. Boat was safe. Good commentary

View All 82 The Tortuguero Canals Reviews

Good old train trip. Not much scenery but enjoyed the ride and a few animals along the way. Train crew were especially friendly and talked with me about the train.

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