Coral Princess Cruise Review by gomontavista
- Sail Date: December 2011
- Destination: Panama Canal & Central America
But, over the years, we have noticed a degradation of service and I believe it unlikely we will ever reach the top Black level of Princess' customer loyalty program. Service levels have receded over the years and while in the past, Princess provided engaging onboard programs, the emphasis is now on selling photos and jewelry.
On ship culture seems to have become one of just going through the motions. No staff appeared to even want to provide a good experience to the passengers. In past cruises, staff often tried to interact with us, but on this cruise, they were very standoffish. Our first cruise, on the retired Royal Princess, was exemplary, but things have gone downhill ever since.
In general categories:
The ship. The Coral Princess is one of the newer Princess ships we have been on with the typical spaces found on medium sized ships including a large screen on the upper deck (servicable, but with a few broken pixels and sound subpar to what we have heard on Carnival). There is an outdoor pool and an indoor pool (movable top) which is reserved for adults. Two outside decks in the back are reserved for paying guests ($10 for a morning or afternoon). There was one upscale Italian restaurant($20)and another New Orleans specialty restaurant ($20) which we didn't go. We wanted a steak and seafood restaurant, but none here. There is a theater at the front and a two level lounge at the back which often provided different shows with two showings each night. Some shows were repeated multiple days as well.
Itinerary. Because of unrest in Mexico, we were informed that Princess chose to avoid the country, instead making a beeline from Los Angeles California to Puntarenas, Costa Rica, with 5 days at sea. Other ports included Panama, a refueling stop in Cartegena, Columbia (4 hours), and a short stop in Aruba (Compare this with our last Princess Panama Canal cruise which offered 3 additional stops in Mexico and another in Guatamala and a second in Costa Rica within 10 days - this cruise was 14).
Food. In short, very disappointing. It appears that the cooking staff are international without any concept of American food.
Pizza is served outside and the first reaction to the giant (24"?) flat pads was yuck. However, they tasted much better than they looked. Selection was minimal with cheese pizzas and pepperoni pizzas provided along with a varying additional selection (we recall a four cheese pizza (not good) and one or two other varieties served over the 14 day run). Note that the sparse pepperoni was not evenly distributed with some slices getting several pieces and some slices being very sparse. If you are used to getting pizzas with lots of toppings piled on, forget it. These were actually as flat and maybe thinner than a pancake. Without a sign, it was difficult to determine what was on the pizzas (Pepperoni is easy to spot, but the others could be anybody's guess. This was very disappointing compared with our cruise on the Regal Princess (5 yrs ago, Panama) which had a dedicated pizza restaurant also serving calzones in a relaxed atmosphere in a dedicated dining area or our Princess cruise to Alaska (from San Francisco) which had a part time pizzeria in a lounge area.
Typical hamburgers, hot dogs (the typical stereotype - what's in the dogs - applies) and fries are served on the top deck.
Soft serve was provided, but the machines could not handle the demand until well into the cruise. An enhancement ($$) to the soda card allowed shakes, but they used regular blenders which resulted in very thin shakes. They should have invested in a dedicated shake dispenser or a real shake mixer.
The Horizon buffet was a typical cruise buffet experience with often rude staff (they scolded people caught in the unmarked queues the wrong way) and a lack of viable choices. While other cruises provided different foods on both sides of the restaurant and the front, they were the same here). In the past, cruise buffets would be decorated with carved fruit, but this proved sparse on this trip. There were no noodle bars, stir fry stations, nor other amenities offered on competing cruiselines.
Breakfast was repetitive, with the same thing served everyday, albeit with minor variations (sometimes rice, sweet potato hash (yuck), other hashes). Breakfast sandwich was almost always ham and egg on a muffin. We ate around 9:30 and the once warm sandwiches were invariably soggy on the bottom and rock hard on the top. They had an egg/omelet station, but the other eggs were big premixed cakes of pour out of the carton goodness. Beverage service was poor. Orange juice was only available through the wait staff, who often quickly asked what you wanted, but rarely delivered anything, and at other times delivered something other than what you asked. I usually asked for orange juice, but only got it a couple of times. No refills were provided, and we seemed to be ignored when we tried to get some. There were only a few types of lunch meat which remained unvaried throughout the trip.
Lunch and dinner provided variety but only a few outstanding dishes. There was a lot of Indian foods available - different chicken, multiple rice, curry, etc., but very few Indian passengers. No Mexican, Italian was the same everyday with a bland tomato sauce. Tortilla chips were unflavored, unsalted, and not cooked correctly, with bad sauce, if available. At one lunch, a sandwich bar was provided with a variety of breads and a few different meats, cheeses and garnishes, but it was obvious the staff was not accustomed to making sandwiches, and their assembly was entertainment in itself. We did not taste any since the line was long, and the slow assembly process was a joke (How hard is it to put sliced meat on bread?). At another lunch, there was a dessert bar (which we were told took 3 days to prepare), but it was little more extensive than a typical American coffee shop, and the staff had difficulty figuring out how to cut slices of cake. Lemonade was advertised and often requested, but only delivered once in 14 days.
Traditional dining. The wait staff was okay, but spent a great deal of time waiting for the food trays to come. Dinner took around 1 1/2 hours for our assigned seating (with the room typically half empty). Appetizers were okay, but with middling variety (a different pate each day, all tasting the same. Soups were mostly broths with slight variation. I am not sure, but it seemed like a college cafeteria where what you didn't finish one day would be served the next day with a few different vegetables thrown in. Desserts were good if you like souffles and creme brulee (both very good)(different descriptions each night, but they tasted the same), but other choices were minimal. The baked alaska was disappointing. This is the first parade which did not have a flame - they used led lights, and the ones we got were not the same ones paraded (different shape - ours were very even and may have come from a box). Beverage service was lacking after the first night. Portions were small, but reasonable. The soup was hot once, but otherwise was just lukewarm. This is our first cruise without a midnight buffet, and although we had king crab one night, our waiter claimed to be surprised indicating that in prior cruises, it was not available.
It was very disappointing NOT to have a Midnight Buffet (No Champagne tower on New Years Eve either (they did have a Champagne tower earlier on the trip).
I did not have to worry about gaining weight on this trip.
Bars. Very plentiful with reasonably good service, but we noticed that if they ran out of mix (eg: Margarita Mix), instead of getting another box, they would add ice or orange juice, or leave the glass half full. There was a lot of drinking on this ship, so bar sales seemed good.
On board shopping. "Sales" were very frequent, but not much new merchandise. On the Panama Canal transit, they had beer carts roaming on deck as well temporary stands on deck selling the same merchandise like street vendors (tacky).
Entertainment. This was the first cruise which did NOT have live entertainment on deck on embarkation. Live entertainment on deck was limited to one hour on a few selected days. The atrium had a good classical trio (violin, bass, piano) and the guitarist (good) from the ship's band (mediocre) played on occasion. The bars had the typical groups each evening. Shows varied. Guest performers (magic, comedian, singer) were very good although the comedian missed his audience on his first performance (Southern California jokes are not good for a conservative older audience). The ventroliquist was entertaining. The hypnotist was fake (don't have an audience participant leave after the performance through a stage door). The ship's cast was very disappointing with the singers well below typical for cruiselines with the dancers high schoolish (except one - the short one (Filipina?) - the only one who appeared to dance to the music). This was unfortunately accentuated when the ship regulars tried to do a Motown show the evening after Jimila, an excellent guest singer who sang Motown the night before.
Activities. The worst of all of our cruises. No variety. There were a few lectures (not generally on topics related to ports of call), but no handicrafts nor much of anything else (prior cruises had activities to kill the time - drawing needlepoint, other things). There was trivia everyday and a few bridge sessions, but in general, nothing of substance was scheduled. A few times, they tried on deck activities.
Photos. There were 3 formal days with multiple opportunities for photo sessions. They provided incentives to buy more photos (eg: buy 4, get 1 free, buy 3 more, get another free, etc), but once you reach the end, you start over. We would have bought more if offered a discount, but since the discount card started over, instead of spending a few hundred dollars more, our extra photos were disposed of.
Service desk. Our bill was wrong (double billed for an item), and they really did not want to correct it. First reaction was that we were trying to pull something, but they manually went through all the ships receipts and finally discovered we were correct. Our credit was run on an imprinting machine, the first I had seen in several years. The counterperson "helping" us was busy with answering the phone and doing other stuff, so it took a long time to get our credit, and there was a long line behind us.
Last day service. Forget about it. It appeared that they know you are getting off the ship, and it felt like the staff was done with everything - get the passengers off the ship and start with the new incoming clientele.
Would we go on this cruise again. Probably. It was our daughter's best cruise yet, but because of other passengers she met on board, not the food, amenities, ship nor ports of call. It was a cheap last minute cruise for us booked for the holidays. It was available and served its purpose. If we found a viable alternative (with available connecting flights), we would have gone elsewhere. Not a dream vacation, but still a vacation. Kind of like eating at McDonalds. It is not good food, but it will satisfy if you are hungry.
Disclaimer (or disclosure). On a previous Princess cruise (Panama - 5 years ago on the Regal Princess), our luggage went overboard on embarkation. Princess did not know what to do, other than to tell us they were not responsible, blaming it on longshoremen (We placed our luggage into Princess' hands at the airport while we transferred by Princess shuttle to the Cruiseport).
Princess currently makes it a point to disclaim responsibility for luggage at any time even if they are the ones handling it. After our cruise, Princess finally reimbursed us for our out of pocket (replacing our damaged possessions which were inventoried on the ship), but they refused to replace our trip, which continues to cause us consternation. Compare this with Carnival, who recently had a mishap on one of their cruises - they refunded their passengers as well as provided their passengers with a free future cruise.
With a refusal to reimburse us for our lost vacation, Princess has become second tier for us in our future cruise vacations, but we will still consider them as an alternative.