New Year's Panama Canal partial transit on the Island: Island Princess Cruise Review by clmom

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New Year's Panama Canal partial transit on the Island

Sail Date: December 2011
Destination: Panama Canal & Central America
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
We flew into FLL the day before sailing. Coming from Chicago, we never trust the weather, especially in winter! We stayed at the Best Western Oceanside Inn. Very basic but decent price, nice location. Easy to get a taxi to the port. Embarkation was easy but we arrived too early and had to sit for a long time waiting for our group to be called. Once we got to the check-in desk, we had our cruise cards within minutes and were on the ship and in our cabin in a heartbeat. Luggage was in the cabin when we came back from the Muster Drill.

Our balcony cabin was spacious with plenty of room for our belongings. The smoke sensor is right outside the bathroom door and ours apparently was especially sensitive because twice we got a call from security because the sensor had gone off! My husband likes hot showers but opened the door too quickly afterwards, allowing too much steam to escape!
Our cabin steward, Abner, seemed to be nowhere and everywhere. We hardly ever saw him but our More room would magically be clean by the time we returned from breakfast. We never had to ask for a thing because it was always taken care of before we thought we needed it!

We loved the Island Princess! It was full yet never felt crowded. The staff is outstanding and went above and beyond to make sure we all had a good time. It must be so difficult for these crew members during the holidays when they are so far away from their homes and families. I will never understand passengers who are rude and overly demanding to the staff...and I am sorry to say I did witness that behavior.

The ship was beautifully decorated for the holidays which gave it an extra celebratory feel. New Year's Eve was a formal night and had all the bells and whistles you would expect. It was a great party! A special shout out to the Wheelhouse Bar crew. They treated us like we were the most important passengers on the ship each night and we had so much fun with them!

Having been on a couple of NCL cruises, we are so thankful that Princess does not "sell, sell, sell" via the public address system. We found it so intrusive and annoying on NCL and will probably not return to that line because of it. Yes, Princess does announce "buying opportunities" but seems to do it in a much more understated way.

We don't really participate in ship activities when we are on an itinerary to a warm weather climate. We try to soak up the sun and just relax. There were plenty of activities though, for those that wanted them. We did attend some of the port lectures with historical content (no shopping for us!) which were quite good. The Panama Canal has such an interesting history and we are so glad we did this cruise to see it up close and personal.

Debarkation at each of the ports was easy and efficient. It was pouring rain in Limon and people were trying to put on their rain gear at the gangway which caused some back-up for a bit but one of the officers made an announcement asking people to put their jackets on before they got in line and that solved the problem. There is a reason it is called a "Rain Forest"....bring your rain jackets or ponchos!

We had late seating, traditional dining. Because we were traveling with friends, this worked fine. We were at a table of 8. Interestingly, we were not originally seated with our friends and had to seek out the Maitre "D when we boarded to get this fixed (easily done if you go early so check the time and place he will be available when you board the first day). When we arrived at our "new" table that evening, we learned that the same thing had happened to the other 2 couples. In fact, one of the couples had been at our original table. Oh I said, easily fixed.

Food was good, with some exceptional dishes offered and some that needed some work (steaks too tough according to my husband). All at our table noticed the Head Waiter/Maitre 'D never once stopped by our table but we did see him often stop at one of the other tables near us. The one big mistake came on the last night. The "Baked Alaska Parade" was a complete disaster. Princess, either do it right or don't do it at all anymore. We understand doing away with the flaming. Fire is never good on a cruise ship or airplane. But what happened to the REAL Baked Alaska dessert being paraded by the kitchen staff (instead of the junior waiters) and then cut at your table? Our portions of Baked Alaska were sent up by the kitchen and we had already finished eating it while we waited....and waited....and waited for the parade to start. It was a joke.

Debarkation was easy, efficient and stress free. Taxis are plentiful and the airport is close. Don't get fooled by the vans lined up in front of the taxi stand offering a fixed price. You have to wait for those vans to fill up before they leave. Our taxi got us to the airport faster and just as cheap.

All in all, a great cruise. A big thumbs up to Princess and the Island Princess. Less

Published 01/22/12
Helpful? Thank clmom

Cabin review: BEB237 Balcony

Baja Deck, Cabin 237, starboard side. We wanted to be in a bump out section so we could see the entire length of the ship. Spacious. Nice balcony. We like the way Princess designs its cabins with the open closet creating a little hallway by the bathroom. We loved the location. 2 floors up to the Horizon Court for breakfast and the Lido deck pool. For the Panama Canal transit, we got up early in the morning and headed forward to "the secret deck" (on Baja) to watch the transit of the Gatun locks. One negative that drove us crazy. We noticed a constant "noise" like whooshing wind. Some times it would be quite loud. We could never figure out what it was. The water system? We could not quite pin point if the noise came from inside the cabin or outside in the hall but when we opened the cabin door, we did not hear anything. We thought maybe it was our forward location on a bump out that created this weird air flow but our friends were in a mid ship balcony on the other side in a recessed portion and heard the same noise. So, I guess it is the design fluke of this particular ship, as we have never heard noises on any of the other ships we've sailed. And, as mentioned above, our smoke detector outside the bathroom door was especially sensitive and did not like my husband opening the door to release excess steam right after he got out of the shower!

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Port and Shore Excursions

New Year's Day. Very few shops open. A very short stop so we just walked around a bit.
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We took a Princess tour of the old town and fortress. We had a wonderful guide who spoke very good English so it was interesting and informative. This was a tour with a lot of walking, some of it with quite a strenuous uphill slope. The tour ticket says as much in great, big, capital letters. Why then would an elderly couple with obvious mobility issues choose this tour?? You can guess what happened. 30 feet up the first incline they announced they could travel no further. The guide handled it quite well, finding a place where they could sit and wait for the rest of us so we would could all continue on. We have learned you only go as fast as the slowest person in the group so we generally try to organize private tours. We didn't feel quite as brave in Cartegena as we have never been there before and it has such a reputation for drug cartels and the like. In the end it worked out just fine. The buses used were small (22 passenger) and we all got earphones that allowed us to hear everything our guide said.

I couldn't find a port listing for Panama Canal so I will use Colon since that is where we met the ship after our Princess tour took us through the Pacific locks on a ferry. You can't get off the ship if you are not on a Princess sponsored tour so we had no other choice here. Princess did a good job with this one so we were happy. After going through the Gatun locks, we tendered off the ship to meet our bus. We drove through the Panama countryside for about an hour before meeting our ferry. Princess had taken over the ferry boat and it was full but ample room to move around. We served a very nice lunch, buffet style and there were huge tubs of water bottles and soda. Beer was available for purchase. We had a port guide who kept up a lively and informative narrative the entire transit. We were so close to the walls of the locks we could reach out and touch them...quite a different view and experience than from the deck of a large cruise ship. Very cool. Bus back to Colon to meet the ship allowed us to have a little nap.

We decided to do this port on our own and go to the beach. One reason is that there were 5 large cruise ships in port and we thought the usual tour venues would be mobbed. After leaving the ship and walking down the dock, we encountered several independent tour operators, taxis and van drivers offering everything from guided tours of the island to point to point taxi fares. We opted for a van that offered a set price ($4 pp) to take us to the 7 Mile Beach area. There were several hotel drop off options, with farther away hotels costing a bit more. We decided to be let off at a beach "resort" (The Royal??) mid way down the beach which charged a $2 pp entrance fee to enjoy the pool facilities and beach. This proved to be a great deal as the pool, bar, grill, and beach were great and we had a wonderful day just relaxing. We also introduced our friends to delicious Conch fritters prepared at the grill there. Later in the day we stopped by Margaritaville in town (what a huge place that is!!) and ordered Conch fritters again and were very disappointed.

We did a private tour, organized by one of our Roll Call members, with Okie Dokey Tours. Our tour included zip lining, banana plantation, canal trip, lunch at a beach and a wonderful impromptu roadside stop (probably friends or family of our guide) to sample and learn about the variety of fruits in Costa Rica. There were 8 of us at a cost of $76 pp. We had a clean, air conditioned van and a friendly, knowledgeable guide who provided us with bottled water all day. Do the comparison with a Princess organized tour and you will understand why we try to do private tours! It was a very fun day and I can now check off zip lining on my bucket list! Did I mention that it rains in the RAIN FOREST??? Ha! We are not big shoppers but felt the best shopping for souvenir type gifts was at this port. There is a huge tent-like structure just beyond the dock with tons of vendors.

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