We chose this cruise for 2 reasons: Embark from SF and the Panama Canal passage.
Embarkation with Princess in SF is consistently one of the best experiences we have ever had. We showed up at the port when we were instructed to and were on the ship in all of 7 minutes after leaving the car. There was no lines anywhere, we walked through security, got our ship cards, and walked on the boat. Amazing.
The ship itself is in fine shape. Yes, it’s older and yes, you can find evidence of it’s age and imperfections of you want to be nitpicky, but at no point did any deficiency of the ships condition hamper the enjoyment of our vacation. Everything was clean and well maintained.
The Medallion upgrades are a nice touch to modernize the vessel, and the new internet service is CONSIDERABLY better than our last cruise. I was actually able to stream audio and video reliably, with a few exceptions.
Being a smaller ship with only 2000 pax means that you give up some features of the larger vessels. We were consistently surprised at how empty public spaces were. There was little issue finding seats for shows, an open hot tub, or a prime deck lounger. We had anytime dining and were often able to walk in and get seated almost immediately, regardless of the time we showed up.
Some of the venue choices for shows was less ideal, namely those in the Universe Lounge. They had a couple of shows in there which were difficult to view given the seating layout. That said, there were plenty of choices of musicians to listen to or other activities. We only went to a couple of the productions, but regularly listened to musicians and watched the Movies Under the Stars, which had some really good movie selections. There was one pair of musicians, ConSonance Duo, who were amazing to watch. It’s a younger duo, probably in their late 20s, but amazing. It was a pianist and a violinist who could play almost any classical piece without sheet music and would regularly take requests from the crowd. Their personality and musical talents were quite honestly one of the highlights of the cruise. Well done on that one, Princess.
Most of the entertainment / activities were geared towards older people but that’s fitting given that the median age on the ship couldn’t have been under 70. There were maybe 10 kids on board and a handful of younger couples with the overwhelming majority being retirees. This is expected given the itinerary and cruise line, but is also on of the reasons we continue to cruise Princess. The lack of kids / families / drunk frat boys / annoying d-bags is very appealing and makes for a pleasant environment.
The food: The MDR was hit or miss and had a fair amount of odd dishes that weren’t particularly appealing, but there was always something good on the menu. In the past we would eat almost exclusively at the MDR, but this cruise found ourselves splitting equal time between that and the buffet. The buffet itself was similar - always something good but also several things that didn’t interest us. The variety was plentiful overall and we never went hungry.
I will say that the Grill and Pizza choices were pretty simplistic, but not disappointing. It would be nice to see some additional quick service options on board, but again it’s a smaller ship so you can’t expect it to have everything.
The pools were nice and not usually crowded. There are 5 hot tubs and I don’t think we ever saw them all occupied at once. The main pool did get murky after a couple days, probably due to all the sunscreen in the water. The Lotus pool was a better option for us as the water was clearer and has fewer patrons.
The aft pool is supposedly reserved for Sanctuary guests. We never tried to go in it during daylight hours so I can’t say how strictly that rule is kept, but we did find that they locked it down pretty quickly after the Sanctuary closed everyday.
The gym/fitness facilities were adequate. Another benefit of the smaller ship, the crowds here were minimal.
The ports of call were varied and interesting. We went scuba diving in Cabo through the ship, which I recommend.
In Nicaragua we just walked around the town and had some drinks on the beach. The town itself was not much to see, though it was an eye opener to see the conditions in which a lot of the population lives. We felt safe there though, no issues.
Costa Rica we arranged a private tour at the Don Juan coffee plantation in Monteverde. We paid a lot to do this ($330) to get private transport to and from and take a 3 Part your that discusses the process for the production of coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane. It was a great tour and very informative. The ship has a similar offering for less than we paid, but I can’t speak to the quality of that tour.
The ship stopped in Fuerte Amador (Panama City) the day before we transited the Canal. This gave us a chance to explore the canal in greater depth before we went though it, which we really liked. We paid $100 for a private car to take us to the new locks in Colon / Agua Clara, as well as the old locks at Miraflores. I think the ship offered something like this and may have been cheaper than what we paid for the car + admissions, but we liked the flexibility of doing things on our own schedule without being beholden to a larger group schedule. Panama City is huge and probably pretty interesting but we didn’t have time to explore it. It’s a tender port and the rendering takes a while, which cuts into your day. I believe they are in the process of building a property cruise dock though, so that should help with future cruises. Regardless, Fuerte Amador is a little island connected by a long man made peninsula and you don’t really have a choice but to get transportation out of the area to do anything.
The canal itself was great. It took the better part of 11 hours to do the full transit, which is longer than normal due to some other ships causing delays and a medical emergency on board. Regardless, going through the canals and seeing what the original workers as well as new additions had to overcome to complete them was awesome. A canal transit is definitely recommended. Our cabin was low enough that we were able to easily touch the walls of the canal at a few points. The ship is all of 18” off the walls so getting to be that close to the locks and adjoining ships was fantastic. Getting to take what amounts to a jungle cruise on a cruise ship is also a pretty cool experience. It’s weird being on a lake in a cruise ship, as well as being so close to land and other ships, but that’s part of what made it fascinating.
Cartagena has a neat old walled city and fort which are worth a visit. I will say though - we had purchased tickets to the Hop On / Off bus ahead of time because it seemed like the way to go. Turns out the ship made special arrangement to get tickets through them which provided transport direct from / to the ship. This would have been good to know ahead of time as we had to pay separate transit to get on the bus which cost another $30. I wish Princess has told is ahead of time that they were offering this as it was the better alternative to doing it privately.
All in all, we had a great trip on the Coral Princess and would definitely recommend it to others.
Cabin E735 is second from stern on starboard side. The balcony has a bulkhead wall to forward and standard partition to aft. It’s a fully covered balcony which was great when the weather was inclement and was always pretty sheltered from the wind. It’s a long walk to the bow of the ship and several flights to the Lido deck, but all in all we liked the location. The room was quiet and private with a couple of notable exceptions: there is a public deck at the stern of the ship and the door is maybe 20’ from the cabin, so you hear it every time it slam shut; the Universe lounge is directly below and you can, on occasion, hear noise from its goings on. Fortunately the rear deck is seldom used and we can count on one hand the number of times we heard the door slam. The universe lounge noise was noticeable at times, but not to the point of being distracting or preventing us from sleep.
The room itself was your standard balcony room. Definitely more spacious than interior rooms. The shower stall is quite small as other have noted, but unless you’re a particularly large person, you’ll be fine. (I’m 6’2/200lbs and had no problems) They have changed from the little 20” LCD monitors on the shelf above the fridge to 46” flat screens mounted at the foot of the bed, which was definitely a nice change. Plenty of storage and the room was in good shape overall.
We probably should have booked a tour to get out of town, but the choices all required long bus rides and the activities didn’t really suit our styles.
Great tour, very in depth and hands on.
Long drive to and fro though.
The old city is cool, but you could probably do with a can ride into town and avoid paying for a tour. The port itself has a really cool animal exhibit with monkeys, birds, anteaters, and other wildlife which is free to roam around.
The ship is far away from everything, but there are lots of things to do if you can find transport.
Do it. Great dives by a very professional company.