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Island Princess Cruise Review
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
1,190 Reviews

Couple of hiccups. Overall very nice vacation.

Island Princess Cruise Review by ecs66

1 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Feb 2019
  • Destination: the Panama Canal & Central America
  • Cabin Type: Mini-Suite with Balcony

EMBARKATION: On 2/28/19, only two cruise ships in port, and little traffic. The area was well marked and parking was easy. At Terminal 2 there isn’t a line for Priority boarding for Platinum and Elite from outside. Everyone enters in one line and staff checks Passports and Boarding Passes. Then the line splits for Priority. We’re Platinum, and it took less than 30 smooth minutes from driving through the Port Everglades main gate, off-loading luggage, parking the car, checking in, and sitting down for lunch in Bordeaux Dining Room.

Weather was great; seas were calm. Most passengers were over 60. Saw only two children. No illness as far as we know, and there are good prevention procedures in place.

SHIP: We were on “Island” for 15 days in 2006 when it was quite new. We’ve sailed on brand new ships since then, but we like “Island” best. We prefer its understated elegance over the newer ships’ wretched excess. Sadly, some of it borders on shabby now but the good bones are still there; the basic design and décor is gorgeous. The beauty of her glory days are still evident in spite of the age. She deserves a full makeover.

The elevator situation is odd, and not every elevator serves every floor. Stairs are convenient.

With the last refurbishing, they added cabins to accommodate ~225 more people. Public venues weren’t expanded to handle the overload, so Princess Theater, Horizon Court, etc., are crowded.

DINING: We had early seating in Provence. The food at every meal was outstanding - much better than Princess food in 2013 and Celebrity in 2017, and it brought back of the good ol’ days of cruising, before specialty restaurants, when dining rooms were the only option and food was amazing – even back to Sitmar. Our waiters, Santiago and Louie Gene, did a great job. We got the hard-sell at dinners to buy wine tastings. We did one, and the speakers were more focused on hearing the sound of their own voices than on the wine. Sadly, even in the dining rooms, if you want the best, there’s an up-charge for some meals.

Horizon Court can be chaotic and overcrowded. It’s a beautiful room with wrap-around windows. Having coffee at 6 a.m. is peaceful. We ate there only a few times. The food was much better than at Horizon Court the last few years. The scrambled eggs were sloppy, but that was the only down-side we noticed.

INTERNET: It was stable and fast enough for a ship. Usually we use minimal Internet, but relied more on it this trip for email because Cellular At Sea was dreadful.

CELLULAR AT SEA: If you need cellular to keep in touch back home, on this ship you may have a problem. On past cruises on other ships we used it, and texting was our group’s tool to keep in touch during the trip when at sea. It had worked flawlessly 24/7 everywhere – decks, cabins, and interior theaters, but not this time. About 95% of the time, the display showed, “No Service” or “No SIM card - emergency calls only”. Even if you glanced at the screen and saw the “Cellular At Sea” provider notice and tried to sneak in a text or a call, it wouldn’t go through.

A tech at Internet Café told us that Cellular At Sea on this ship is weak and we shouldn’t rely on it, even in our cabins. “It might work on Deck 7”, he said. It didn’t, except a few times a notification beep would come through and you might have a text from someone sent days before. Or it might be notification of a voice mail, which you couldn’t listen to because there was no service. The Internet Cafe people say they aren’t knowledgeable about cellular, so don’t expect help. These days, people expect good communication while vacationing. If Princess is paying fees to MWS / Cellular At Sea, and passing those fees to passengers, that’s a problem. We have family with serious health issues, and we needed to be in touch via cell but we couldn’t. We overheard one gentleman who had been told that cell service was available on the ship when it wasn’t. A staff member rigged a way for him to make one call through some Apple app. We overheard everything, and it was obvious a close relative was dealing with a life-and-death situation. Without cellular, he panicked. Other passengers complained.

When in or near different countries, notifications for text messages might pop in, having been hanging in cyberspace for days. We had good reception using other countries’ cell service, even Cuba’s. But with the ship’s network while at sea, reception was slim to none. Princess MUST inform passengers of this situation to provide “truth in advertising”.

After arriving home, I emailed Customer Relations about this and was contacted by phone a couple days later. The rep was personable and kind, but couldn’t say why it’s a problem or how to remedy it. So we won’t sail on Princess again until/unless we’re certain this won’t be an issue. She suggested using Wi-Fi calling, but you’d have to be connected to their internet 24/7 onboard to receive incoming calls or texts, and who can afford that?

PRINCESS@SEA: Oh, dear. You have no clue a message is waiting. No value for us.

The rep said that all ships are transitioning to Medallion class this year. The Medallion gadget can replace the cruise card for cabin access, and provides useful apps while onboard for directions, locating people, ordering, etc. It sounds great! But it seems it has no app for communicating (I could be wrong). So must passengers be connected to Medallion AND Cellular At Sea, AND Princess@Sea all at the same time? It can’t be done due to the Airplane Mode issue.

PUBLIC SPACES: Overall, they are well cared for, with a few places needing TLC. This ship has many nooks and crannies with cozy seating areas just calling out to you to sit down and relax.

STAFF: Great assistance from Guest Services, Tour Desk, and pretty much everyone. We were impressed how they maintained composure even when dealing with high-maintenance passengers.

ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES:

MUTS … Watching evening movies in wind and cold wrapped in blankets is a bad idea; my friend lost her voice. (The better movies used to be in small, cozy theaters.) They play concerts and movies during the day when it’s hot and generally uncomfortable.

Colleen Williamson, Soloist: Our favorite of the shows. Amazing vocal range and stage presence. Get a seat close to the stage to appreciate her tons of personality.

Production shows “Encore” and “On the Bayou” were very good. Great dancing, with stunning costumes and sets. Sometimes voices were a bit flat, but not too bad. Colleen Williamson sang again in “Encore”, and it doesn’t get better than that. The ship orchestra is fantastic. Didn’t see “Silk”.

Luke Heffner, Soloist: We enjoyed his show with a mix of country, opera, and Broadway.

About 15 passengers put on a choral concert in the Atrium on the last at-sea day after a few rehearsals. They did an excellent job and had fun. We were impressed with the conducting abilities of Cruise Director Loney – sharp and tight. Great conducting is an art, and he’s good.

In-cabin TV hasn’t kept up with technology. There is no guide as to what’s showing, and no information. Newer Princess ships are much better in this regard.

GYM: It used to be in a beautiful area of “Island”, with ocean views. Now it’s small, and in the bowels of the ship. Attendants used to “attend”; now they just give you a paper cup for water and tell you to get your own.

LIBRARY: This always has been a beautiful place on the ship reading, listening to music, etc., and it still is.

PORTS/TOURS:

Falmouth: No tender required. Just off the ship is a nice collection of shops. We took the Taste of Falmouth / Good Hope House tour by Chukka. The bus was clean, with a restroom and A/C. The guides were fine, and gave a lot of history about Jamaica. Lunch was wonderful.

Cartagena: No tender required. There’s a decent shopping facility nearby, with a bird sanctuary. It isn’t immediately off the ship as in Falmouth and there’s a shuttle that will take you. The Princess info sheet says it’s “an easy walk”, and it is for some. I’m 70, and for me it wasn’t “easy”, but I did it. A man with a heart condition also had trouble. You can’t judge the distance when exiting the ship, as the shops are around a corner. If in doubt, opt for the shuttle. The landscaping is beautiful, with gorgeous and friendly birds. The shops are typical. I was looking for jewelry, but couldn’t find any. (Just kidding!) Restrooms are convenient and clean.

Panama Canal: Going through the locks was exciting and interesting. So glad we did it.

Costa Rica: No tender required. In easy walking distance is a souvenir market. Some of the items seemed to be of a higher quality than in other ports.

Grand Cayman: The only port using tenders. Hubby took the bike ride/Hell tour. It was interesting and the biking wasn’t strenuous. He said Hell gave him “the creeps” -- as it should, I guess; it’s Hell.

DISEMBARKATION: A few days in to the trip we were notified that even though we had sailed from, and parked at, Terminal 2 we would arrive at Terminal 21 (later changed again to 19). Complimentary shuttles would run between 19 and 2.

There was a 30-minute delay leaving the ship’s waiting areas. Many ships were in port so Customs was overloaded - not Princess’ fault. Princess staff did a great job under the circumstances. After that, the process was smooth to the doors leading outside. Porters with large carts waited where luggage is placed, so we took advantage of that. The porter piled everything on to his cart for the four of us and was our Sherpa to and through the Customs line. Then he escorted my friend to the shuttle going to the Northport garage. A godsend.

Then things came to a screeching halt with chaos created by the 2-to-19 switch. I sat on a bench next to an elderly lady traveling alone. Her travel agent had arranged for transportation to Miami airport, but it never showed up, most likely cruising around Pier 2, per original arrangements. There was no way to reach her agent on a Sunday. We looked for a Princess rep who might help, but couldn’t find any. I wish I knew what happened to her.

Another woman’s husband is diabetic and she was worried because the process of waiting a long time for the shuttle, riding to Terminal 2, getting the car, maneuvering out of the garage (a maze, coned off in many areas), getting to Terminal 19, and finding her, was taking far too long. He needed food, but you can’t take food off the ship and he had nothing to eat. She was concerned that he might have gone into insulin shock, and was going to speak to a Sheriff across the driveway to see if there had been any reported emergencies. He finally came, but a serious medical situation had been possible. (Again, no Princess reps to be seen.) A few times I heard the comment, “I’ll never use Princess again.” It may not have been Princess’ fault, but it reflected negatively on the cruise experience and Princess. We’re confused about the terminal switch. It looked like “Royal” was at Pier 2 where we should’ve been. Ships’ schedules are set two to three years in the future. It makes no sense. It should be a smooth operation.

Overall, we had a good trip. Would have given 5 stars if not for hiccups of communication and no Princess reps assisting passengers with terminal change. Will definitely sail Princess again, assuming communications issues are remedied.

MAJOR PROS: Food. Production shows. Staff.

MAJOR CONS: Communications/technology. Gym. Overcrowding.


ecs66's Full Rating Summary
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Cabin Review

Mini-Suite with Balcony
Cabin MB D406

Cabin, balcony, and bathroom was clean but worn. Bathroom had good body wash and a combo shampoo-conditioner. Mini-suite had good space, and the balcony was twice the size of regular balcony cabins. We travel with another couple and get adjoining cabins so balconies can be opened to each other. Royal Princess’ balcony dividers open up completely, resulting in one double-sized balcony. “Island” only has a small door between the balconies. You can walk from one side to the other, but can’t really hang out with neighbors.

The mattresses (Memoryfoam) and pillows are great! Linens are clean and crisp. There’s been chat on CC re whether or not there’s a top sheet between you and the comforter. There is.

Few outlets. We’d read that surge protectors were being confiscated when boarding. I ordered items through Amazon that are approved by the cruise lines, and they worked fine.

Our steward on Dolphin, Felix, was just right. Except for introductions on the first day, we rarely saw him, but the room was constantly maintained perfectly. If we needed something, we left a note and it was done.


Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

Tour by Chukka. The bus was clean, with a restroom and A/C. The guides were fine, and gave a lot of history about Jamaica. Lunch was wonderful.

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