My husband and I have been cruising about once a year since our honeymoon over 40 years ago. Princess is one of our favorite cruise lines. We’d been on six Princess cruises before this one, including two on the CB (Southern Caribbean in 2013 and British Isles in 2017). We obviously love cruising, and our mindset is to enjoy the many positive aspects of cruising and not let the glitches ruin things for us.
This was our first cruise in three years. Our age and underlying health conditions were big factors in choosing this particular cruise. We chose Princess because the medallions and the relatively spacious ships would make it easy to distance ourselves if there would be an outbreak of anything on board. If needed, we could use the app to order meals to eat in a location away from crowds, wear facemasks when we needed to be somewhere crowded like disembarking, and otherwise find quiet spots to enjoy ourselves. One of the things we love about Princess is, while the ships are big, they don’t feel big. The public spaces are well designed to spread everyone out, with relatively few crowds.
We chose this itinerary partly because it’s so interesting (we’d never been to Costa Rica, Colombia, or Panama) and partly because, with our age and health issues, we wanted to stick fairly close to home—it wouldn’t take long to fly home from a Caribbean cruise if one of us got really sick.
Cabins were not updated in 2019 except for new carpet and the addition of Medallion-compatible screens outside each cabin door. We found the motion-detecting lights under each nightstand and in the dressing area annoying—when one person gets up before the other, the lights will awaken the other one. We ended up placing pillows in front of the nightstand lights to block the sensors.
Our main disappointment with our cabin was that it still has only two electrical outlets, placed together too closely to plug in two adapters. (There’s another outlet behind the TV, but it’s almost impossible to reach, and one in the bathroom is designed only for electric razors.) With the Medallion technology expecting most passengers to use their smartphones on ship, we can’t believe additional outlets weren’t added in the 2019 refurbishment. As DD pointed out, hotels have added power strips and/or new bedside lamps with outlets in the base. It wouldn’t have been hard for Princess to do the same.
So we strongly recommend bringing your own power strip! We brought tablets and my laptop as well as our phones, and the power strip we brought made all the difference. Tip: There are quite a few outlets in the World Marketplace area—used for vacuuming—that you can use to power a device if you’re there a while.
Our Cartagena shore excursion met in the Princess Theatre at 6:50 AM, so for the first time we had to set an alarm. The earliest room service breakfast delivery time was 6:30-7, and the dining room didn’t open until 7, so we got breakfast in the World Marketplace.
We took the Sea Rumba & Old City tour, and it was great. We took a boat from the pier to the old city, where we were taken on a walking tour lasting about an hour. Cartegena is completely different from what we expected—part like Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, and part modern highrise apartments like Miami Beach. The Old City is pretty—brightly painted buildings and lovely old churches. Walking was easier than we thought it would be—on bricks, not cobblestones.
We knew there would be a lot of in-our-face street vendors, but they weren’t as bad as we’ve seen elsewhere. We just said no, and they moved on. (DD and DSIL went on a different Old City walking tour, and one person in their group was pickpocketed. Her handbag was unzipped. Keep your bags zipped and in front of you!)
After the walking tour, we had about 45 minutes on our own. Unfortunately, it was 9 AM on a Sunday morning, so the cafes and many of the shops were closed. To get out of the heat, we ended up sitting in San Pedro Claver Church watching a christening. DD and DSIL’s tour was later, and their free time was much more successful—they were able to get a cup of good Colombian coffee at a café and shop for souvenirs.
The last part of our tour was a boat ride around the harbor that lasted about an hour. There were two Columbian dancers, a three-piece combo playing Colombian music, and complementary drinks. Eventually the music changed to recorded American party music. It was a fun way to see Cartagena, and we were glad we chose this shore excursion.
The port has been developed into a very nice-looking complex of shops to serve cruise ship passengers.
At 10:30 we left for our Jamaica shore excursion: Bamboo Beach Club. Tip: Give yourself a good 20 minutes to disembark and walk to the area where shore excursion buses load—it’s a pretty long walk. The bus ride was about 20 minutes each way, and our guide shared a lot of factoids on Jamaica. Bamboo Beach Club has cushioned chairs, in both sun and shade, overlooking a small quiet cove (no waves). The chairs are wood and not adjustable. The vinyl cushions have seen better days and were not super-clean. There are roped-off “VIP” sections for people who pay a surcharge for lounge chairs and different food. The club played recorded reggae music, which was very loud for some chairs and not as loud for others. We were served a very sweet alcoholic punch, plus water or lemonade if we wanted it, and four tapas-sized dishes of Jamaican food, which made a filling lunch. The jerk chicken and jerk sausage were great. A bar served other drinks for an extra charge. The weather was perfect and it was a very relaxing afternoon. Overall I’d give the excursion a grade of B-/C+. If the place had live reggae music, clean cushions, and a bigger beach I’d have given it an A.
Because our flight home didn’t leave til about 3 PM, we booked the Everglades disembarkation excursion. Disembarkation was very smooth. We had time for one last breakfast in the Island Dining Room before going to the Explorers Lounge to wait our call to disembark. We quickly disembarked, found our luggage, and walked through customs. Staff members directed us to our bus. Our stop was at Everglades Holiday Park, where we saw a 20-minute educational show about alligators, then took a 30-minute airboat ride through the Everglades, where we saw 3 more alligators. The place was very crowded (we counted at least 5 ships in port including ours), but it was fun—much better quality than a similar excursion we took about 20 years ago. Afterwards our bus dropped us off at the airport, making stops at each terminal. We were on our way home.
DH and I fell in love with Grand Cayman on our second cruise over 40 years ago. Back then island zoning specified that nothing could be built higher than the treetops. So Grand Cayman was not only prosperous from its banking industries but also quiet and peaceful. Over the years we’ve returned several times on short vacations as well as cruise stops. So we know the island pretty well—including that it’s far more developed and busy—and we debated quite a bit on what to do during this stop.
Our first thought was to go to Seven Mile Beach—truly one of the world’s great beaches. The water in the Caymans is extraordinarily clear—you can literally stand in water up to your neck and see your toes. But Seven Mile Beach is not what it once was. The beach itself was seriously eroded by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. And while the beach itself is public, if you want to use services like beach chairs or restrooms, they’re mostly privately owned by hotels along the beach and only available to hotel guests. During past cruise stops, some of the hotels along the beach offered day passes to cruise ship passengers, but we couldn’t find any doing that now. DH learned that Public Beach—yes, that’s its name—has restrooms and offers chair rentals and some shady spots. So our plan was to go there by taxi.
But as the cruise progressed, DH and I realized that we weren’t looking forward to the prospect of toting a lot of stuff to the beach. So we decided to enjoy the beautiful Cayman water by eating lunch at one of Georgetown’s waterfront restaurants.
Grand Cayman now provides its own water shuttles from ships to its pier. They’re much bigger than ship tenders, so the wait to get ashore (if you’re not on a shore excursion) isn’t as long. While DH and I spent the morning relaxing in Crooners, passengers wanting to go ashore were given numbers, and periodically the number of the water shuttle being boarded was announced. Around 10:30 the ship gave up handing out numbers and passengers simply headed straight to Deck 4. We walked around Georgetown for about an hour. There were four large cruise ships in port, so the town was busy! Most of the shops now seem to be jewelry shops. We then had a great lunch at Cayman Cabana right on the water. When we got back to Princess’s pier, the line to board the water shuttle looked enormous, but it moved really quickly.
DD and DSIL took a shore excursion of the island’s East End. This was DSIL’s first visit to Grand Cayman and they enjoyed their tour.