Our Cruise Background My wife and I are in our mid 30's/early 40's. This was our 8th cruise and our 4th cruise on Princess. We've also sailed twice on Royal Caribbean and twice on Celebrity. This 10-day sailing marked the 1st time that we sailed for longer than 7 nights. All of our previous cruises have been on various Caribbean itineraries.
Embarkation Process We flew down the night before the trip (booked our own air) and stayed at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport Hilton. This is the hotel we always stay at when we cruise out of Port Everglades. It's a nice hotel and it's very convenient.just 5 minutes from the Airport and 10 minutes from the Port. We took a shuttle to the port the morning of the cruise at about 11:30. Since we are Captain's Circle Gold members, we went into the Platinum Club line but since the line next to us was moving faster we were directed to the faster line. The terminal was obviously very crowded but considering how many people are boarding the ship, the Embarkation process went smoothly for the most part and we were on theship by 12:30 or so.
Our Cabin We booked a category AB mini-suite (D505). This was a roomy cabin, with an uncovered balcony. Some folks don't like the idea of an uncovered balcony, which can be viewed from the cabins above but we enjoy it. Since there is no cover, you have a clear view of the sky and the stars at night. The cabin itself was nice but nothing fancy. It had light blue carpet with bleached wood furnishings. There was plenty of closet and drawer space. Amenities included two TV's (not sure why you need two TV's), a fridge, a vanity, a safe and a good size bathroom with a tub/shower combo. The tub/shower was nice because it had more room than a standard cruise ship shower. If you are over 6 feet tall, showering might be a bit awkward because showerhead is only about 5 feet off of the tub floor and the ceiling itself was no more than 6' high in the shower. The only issue we had with this cabin is that it was located directly across from one of the ship's service elevators and this area was sometimes noisy. The service elevator's location is not shown in the diagram of the ship so we had no idea this was the case when we booked the cabin. The noise was not really anything to complain about, but we were awakened briefly on a few mornings due to the noise made when the staff worked there.
Overall Impression of the Ship The ship is beautiful. All of the lounges and public areas are nicely decorated and unique from one another. The atrium is much larger than the atriums on the Grand Class ships and we liked this. Because the ship is only four months old there was no wear and tear to be seen. Public areas are clean and shiny. We usually learn our way around a ship pretty quickly but the layout of this one confused us a bit. We never seemed to be going in the right direction. That was our problem though! Lounges/Theater Venues There are so many lounges to choose from. Our favorite lounge was Crooners Martini Bar, which is located in the atrium on deck 7. Here they serve dozens of different types of martinis as well as any other type of beverage you can think of. If that's not your style there is a coffee bar a few levels down, a lounge in the front section of the Bayou Café, the Wheelhouse (which has a rich nautical theme) as well as many others. The large Princess Theater is used for the Broadway type shows as well as for some of the comedians and other performances. The Universe Lounge is a beautiful, multi-purpose venue that was used for demonstrations and a number of performances and lectures.
Food Experience Of course food is very subjective to everyone's own opinion. Please keep that in mind when you read the information to follow. As I mentioned earlier, this was our 4th Princess cruise. We opted for traditional dining, second seating. Our overall impression of the food in the dining room on this ship was that it was not nearly as tasty as the food we have experienced in the past with Princess. Nothing was ever bad, but nothing was ever outstanding either. Only one or two of our entrees stood out as being very good. There was always plenty to choose from and the meals were always hot. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd have to give the dining room entrees a rating of a 6. As always, if you don't like something, the waiters are happy to replace your meal with another choice. Bread, appetizers, deserts and the like were almost always better than the entrees themselves. Also, some of the little "special touches" Princess used to provide are now missing. Not a big deal, but two examples of this are that the waiters no longer put the dressing on your salad for you. Your salad comes with the dressing of choice already on it unless you request it to be on the side. Also, none of the deserts or meals get prepared tableside as they have been in the past. Some of the pastas and deserts used to be made before your eyes. Not any more. We just missed these special touches that enhanced the dining experience. The bottom line though is this.as passengers, we're not doing any cooking, cleaning or shopping for food so how can anyone really complain about the meals??
The Horizon Court Buffet food was at about the same level as we had experienced in the past. Taste ranged from OK to very good, depending on what you selected. We encountered a few instances of stale bread and cereal. Other Food items such as pizza, burgers and hot dogs by the pool were excellent.
The ship offers two alternative restaurants.Sabatini's, which serves Italian food and the Bayou Café, which serves New Orleans-style dishes. These two venues have nominal cover charges. The Bayou Café's cover charge used to include a drink with your meal but it no longer does. Since we had experienced Sabitini's on our last trip, we opted not to try it again. Our meal in the Bayou café was excellent. The only issue here is that there is TOO MUCH wonderful food served! The Bayou's food was by far the best meal we had all week. The atmosphere in this restaurant is great and included jazz musicians and piano music to enjoy while you dine. We highly recommend this meal option. I should also point out that on no occasion did we ever see that either Sabatini's or the Bayou Café were fully booked. There were always empty tables (sometimes quite a few) when we glanced in at mealtime. Not sure why this was the case. Staff Without a doubt, the current staff on this ship is about as friendly as we have ever experienced on a ship. This applies to the bartenders, the room stewards and everyone on the cruise staff throughout the ship. The Cruise Director is Alistair Greener. by coincidence, Alistair has been the cruise director on all four of our Princess cruises. He is hysterical and goes out of his way to keep you happy and busy. Hopefully we'll have him as our CD for a 5th time at some point in the future!
Shows/Entertainment We are personally not big fans of the Broadway style shows so we did not attend any of these and therefore cannot comment on them. The comedians ranged from merely OK, to very good, depending on your tastes. by far the most enjoyable show was the "Pub Night" show that was presented by the staff on the next to last night of the voyage. Lounge entertainment ranged from Excellent in the Bayou Café to good/fairly good in the other lounges.
Itinerary The itinerary was made up of four sea days and the following ports of call detailed below. These are our opinions of the islands themselves, not of any shore excursions offered. For the most part the residents of these islands were very friendly. - Ocho Rios, Jamaica: Typical Caribbean Island.In our opinion, nothing too fancy here if you don't take a shore excursion. Good for souvenir shopping. - Panama Canal: An AWSOME experience. If you have the chance to see this engineering marvel, take the opportunity. It is absolutely amazing. The ship docks in Colon after the canal transit and when our tour bus drove through the downtown area after our excursion, the city didn't look very safe to us. The machine gun yielding police officers in the streets were a bit intimidating. - Limon, Costa Rica: In our opinion, this was a wasted stop. Good day to stay on the ship. - Grand Cayman: by far, one of the nicest Caribbean Islands. Very well maintained, very clean and very nice shopping. You do not get hounded here like you do in many of the other Caribbean ports of call.
Fellow Passengers Being that this was a 10-night voyage, we fully expected a slightly older crowd on this sailing compared to our previous 7-night cruises. We were shocked at just how sharply the average passenger age jumped though. I'd say that approximately 10% of the passengers were under the age of 45. Perhaps another 20% of the passengers were in the 45 to 65 age bracket. The vast majority of the passengers on this voyage were into their 60's 70's and 80's. This is not a bad thing..we have fun with almost everyone, but we are just a bit more accustomed to having more people on a cruise in our age bracket. Hopefully when we are older, we will still be able to have just as much fun as these folks were on this trip. Overall Positives - A great staff that will go out of their way to make your vacation special - A beautiful ship - Well organized shore excursions - Never busy laundry rooms (which we utilized for the 10-day trip to minimize some packing space)
Some Negatives (not complaints, but little annoyances..just because nothing can be perfect!) - Upper level seating in the Universe Lounge is awkward due to a glass barrier that surrounds the upper deck right at eye level. This makes seating in this area awkward and annoying because the glass interferes with your view of the stage below. It bothered us to the point that we made an effort not sit up there. - The Lotus Pool area has a retractable glass roof. When closed the area is nicely air-conditioned and enjoyable if you want to escape the heat of the lido pool area. But, every day shortly after lunch the roof was opened up and the area became just as warm as the lido pool. I would have been nice for the roof to have been kept closed so that at least one of the pool areas was kept cool. - A pad to keep our mattresses together was not available and the queen setup we requested magically separated into two twins during the night several times as we slept. This got a bit annoying.
Overall this was a great trip on a great ship with excellent tablemates. Please feel free to e-mail us if you have any questions or want more detailed info. We love to share our cruise experiences.
This was the infamous Panamaniac CruiseMates Cruise, and it was a wonderful time. We had a relatively small but great group of people. It was nice to meet people from the message boards face to face and share a cruise together. If you get the opportunity to do a CruiseMates cruise, I would recommend it.
My wife Betty and I flew into Fort Lauderdale two days early. Fort Lauderdale is one of the best cruise ports and airports to fly into. The airport is convenient to the port and a taxi to most hotels in the area costs less than $10.
We stayed at the Embassy Suites and were very happy with it. We have stayed there two times before and for some reason things seemed "nicer" than before. Perhaps it was because we had more time to enjoy the facility. I used Priceline.com and was able to get the hotel for about 1/3 the amount of the lowest published rate.
I will not go into the surprise dinner that was thrown for me at 15th Street Fisheries but I want to thank everyone for doing this wonderful thing for me.
Nowfor the review.
Embarkation: It was quite good. Princess knows how to handle people. We arrived at the pier at about 11:30 a.m. and we were onboard by 12:30 p.m.
Ship: The ship is absolutely beautiful. It has dark wood accents with an elegant feeling but still comfortable and not stuffy. Gold tones and marble accentuate the features. The five-story atrium was great. I am not a fan of atria, but this one was well done and added a focal point to the ship. The mix of lounges, restaurants, purser's desk and shops made this the true center of the ship.
The flow of the ship was a bit confusing for the first few days. It took my wife and me a while to figure out which elevators went to all decks and which ones did not. For some reason I had a hard time finding the Lotus Pool, but when I did I was well rewarded. It is one of the most beautiful pools on any ship I have seen.
Theaters: The Princess Theater was a great venue for shows -- great sight lines and not a bad seat in the theater. The Universe Lounge was a bit different. If you were on the upper level, the glass under the railing on the second level distorted your view, so it was not a great place to sit.
Lounges: All were excellent; my favorite was Crooners, overlooking the atrium -- a great place for a before-dinner drink. The ship has a very friendly bar staff. Most of the staff in Crooners called me by name after the first day. Explorers Lounge was a great show lounge with very good acoustics and enough room for dancing or just sitting back and watching. The WheelHouse Lounge was beautiful, but I must admit I wasn't there too much. On the evenings when I did stop by for a drink, it was almost empty. It may not have been on other occasions.
Pool Areas: As I said, the Lotus Pool is beautiful. It has a swim-against-the-current feature that caused many people problems if they did not know it was turned on. The pool is 6' 7" deep and the current is great for swimming but not for pool lounging. Pressing a button on the right side of the vent can turn off the current.
The main pool is fairly large but I will admit that I stayed away just because the Lotus was so nice. There is an abundance of padded lounge chairs everywhere, and I personally witnessed pool staffers removing towels from "saved" lounges on at least three occasions.
My wife's favorite place for sun was the Splash Pool on the very top deck. It is by the front funnel and was a wonderful place for sun; the 8-inch deep splash pool was a nice place to cool off for a few minutes. There were usually few people up there so it was quite private and there was a wonderful view.
The Cabin: Our cabin was a category AA mini-suite (B215) that was comparable to mini-sui tes on Grand Class ships. It had plenty of room and storage space. The balcony was a good 8 by 12 feet with a three-foot round table and two reclining plastic chairs. One negative about the cabin: I would prefer to have doors on the closet. The light for this area was by the front door, so whenever you wanted to turn the light on you had to walk around to the front door to do so. Also the light switch for the bathroom is outside the bathroom door. It would have been nice to have one inside the bathroom. The bathroom itself was nice, with shelves, vanity and a full-size tub. I heard my fellow Panamaniacs comment that the showers in the regular balcony cabins are very small -- the kind where you soap up the sides and spin.
Food: Food was good to excellent, with the majority being good. The rabbit and scallops stood out as my personal favorites. Desserts were excellent for the most part. (I tried almost all of them.) Others loved the souffles but I found them a bit too "eggy" for my taste. Ice creams and tortes were wonderful.
Dining room breakfast and lunch were excellent. Food was hot and well-presented, and the staff overall was as good as the dinner staff. On one day our lunch waiter and assistant were a bit "grumpy" but nothing that was offensive. We ate most of our lunches in the dining room and at least half of the breakfasts.
Alternative Restaurants: Sabatinis was good but not excellent. It makes up in quantity what the food lacks in quality. The sampler entree that includes a bit of everything was somewhat bland and not presented in an appealing way. The service was fine but not attentive. The maitre d' never explained the presentation and procedure to us; our waiter did so when asked but did it poorly. Don't bother to bring a tie for Sabatinis or even a jacket. I wore a dark suit and was almost uncomfortably overdressed. Casual attire was the norm. A jacket and polo shirt was about the most formal attire I saw. I would not visit Sabatinis again.
Bayou Cafe: The food was wonderful, the service only fair. We went for Sunday brunch. When we made reservations we were specifically told that it was a brunch. It turned out to be the regular menu. The food was spicy and had the New Orleans flavor to it, but it was not overly spicy for my liking.
I noticed both alternative restaurants were never full. At lunchtime at the Bayou Cafe, there was one other group of four. At Sabatinis for dinner there were many open tables. I witnessed this every time I walked by either restaurant. I think Princess needs to make the experience worth the extra charge to really encourage people to try them. Overall, I would say the food and service in the dining rooms was at the same level as the specialty restaurants, but for an extra charge the food and service should be at a much higher level.
Entertainment: I will admit I attended very few shows. The production number "Let's Rock" was OK at best. The performers were very talented, but the choreographer should be fired. A couple of comedians gave me some chuckles but I have seen much better at local comedy clubs and on other cruise ships.
The lounge acts were very good to excellent. I can't remember their names but be assured that if you like anything from swing to rock you will find something to your liking.
Negatives: One thing I really did not like was requirement to have your bags packed and set outside your door between 6 and 8 p.m. on the last night. This is far too early. It basically ruined the last afternoon of the cruise. We usually pack up everything just before dinner, then put our dinner clothes in the bags after dinner and set them out in the hall.
I am not a fan of the layout of Princess' Lido Buffets. It is chaos in action. The flow is bad, with people going both ways, having to cross in front of others to go from the cold to hot food sections. The layout of food is illogical. You are constantly crossing back and forth to get a roll, butter, desert, entree, and salad. People who are coming back for seconds enter in the middle and cause even more traffic problems. I hope this is one thing they will change and make more like Carnival's ships, which have great flow in their buffets.
Otherwise the ship is gorgeous, the people friendly and the staff attentive.
Formal Nights: It looks like formal attire is gradually going away. Tuxedos were worn by fewer than 30 percent of the men, and even dark suits were not the norm. Most men wore only a jacket and tie. I don't know if this is a bad thing but I have noticed that the classic formal is becoming a thing of the past.
The Panamaniacs were a great group. Lisa, Jane, Betty and I were also Trivia-maniacs. We won most of time and gave away a number of prizes because we already had them.
Our Halloween party was fun but because of a late arrival back in Cristobal, the turnout wasn't as high as hoped for. But the bunch of us that made it had a wonderful time. There were "Cereal Killers", Elvis, Wizards, Maidens, Genies -- and the true "Island Princess" was there to celebrate Halloween. There were also normal mortals who enjoyed the time.
Dinner each night was a joy. Our waiter Henry and assistant Pom were fun and did their jobs almost perfectly. The company and conversation were always enjoyable.
Ports: I won't go too much into them, but the Panama Canal is a wonder to behold and a technological marvel. We did the Dome Car train excursion and enjoyed it. The bus ride at the Pacific end, to the Miraflores Locks, was not too enjoyable but that could have something to do with my bus phobia. One thing I would have changed is less bus and more train. The train travels up to 70 mph and makes it a little hard to see some things or get a picture. I would be very happy if they cut the speed in half and eliminated the bus trip, or if they added a lunch stop at a restaurant in Panama City. The lunch served on the train was a joke -- basically a box with a couple of Ritz crackers, banana chips and cookie.
Jamaica: We just went out and did some shopping and I forced my wife to buy a couple of baubles. She is still in sticker shock, even though she loves the pieces.
Grand Cayman: We did not get off the ship and spent the day as basically a sea day.
Cozumel: We did the Palancar and Columbia reefs snorkel tour. It was good but there were too many people. The tequila and beer flowed freely after the snorkeling. I stress "after". I like this because other excursions open the bar before hand and this can cause problems. The snorkeling was good but not spectacular. Turtles, octopus and a number of fish were seen but not in abundance.
Conclusion: It was a wonderful cruise. This is a great ship for this voyage or Alaska. There is plenty of deck space and viewing spaces. I would sail the Island Princess again in a heartbeat. I would also sail through the Panama Canal again but next time it will be a full transit. I do hope that my experience with Sabatinis was not the norm, but I also hope Princess works on making the alternative restaurants a more special experience. If you are looking for a younger crowd, nightlife and great shows this may not be for you, but if you want a cruise that gives you Personal Choice dining or Traditional, a beautiful decor, mostly great service, and nice cabins, this ship is for you.
Embarkation: I must say Princess has the best embarkation process of any cruise line I have been on! From the moment I got off the bus til the time I was in my cabin, it was not more than 10 minutes - and I arrived at 1:15 pm. Stateroom: I had Aloha 221 - forward on the starboard side on Aloha deck. This was a cat BC balcony cabin. I loved the location of the cabin (just past the forward elevators). It is right below the Horizon Court but I NEVER heard anything from above at anytime while I was in the cabin. Robert was my room steward and he came and introduced himself to me within 15 minutes of getting to my cabin. My two special requests were handled expediently. The cabin had the queen bed, two nightstands, a desk/vanity with a chair and a small table, mini fridge and tv all in the bedroom part of the cabin. The closet had ample wood hangers and slacks hangers that you could actually take off the pole and rehang. There was a shelving unit with a door on it thathad six or seven shelves in it - on shelf held the safe (you use a 4 digit pin number on these safes).
Plenty of storage space for two or more people. The bed did seperate when sleeping, so I put a life preserver between one of the nightstands and the bed and that worked like a charm in keeping the beds pushed together. Now, onto the one thing that Princess did wrong in their standard inside, outside and balcony cabins on the Coral class ships: the bathroom. The sink/vanity area and toilet were ok - plenty of storage on the vanity. It is the shower that is the big problem. The shower measures 2.2 feet by 2.25 feet - literally it is that small. The shower head is high up on the wall, but it is NOT a hand held shower head. The average sized person cannot take a decent shower in that small of a space! Shame on Princess for this! Food: I had traditional dining - late seating in the Provence dining room (deck 6). Was seated with friends at table 148 where Marco, Henry and Pom were our head waiter, waiter and assistant waiter. These guys were excellent! The food (remember food is very subjective) ranged from good to very good with a couple of dishes and desserts I found to be excellent (amongst them were ricotta filled pasta squares served in a butter sauce and the always available fettucine alfredo.) I will note that traditional early seating was filled up after the first night - there appeared to be plenty of seating available for traditional late seating. I also ate lunch at the Bayou Cafe: the food was excellent, the service was fair. I had the carptebaggers filet and that was the best beef entree I had the entire cruise, and the chocolate pecan cake was the best dessert. I did not go to Sabatini's at all. The Horizon Court buffet was good - not great but good with a good selection of dishes for both breakfast and lunch. There is an omelette/eggs made to order station set up for breakfast. The layout of the Horizon Court is confusing and the traffic pattern results in chaos until passengers figure out how it works. I wish Princess would have trays that you could carry - it is hard carrying your plate, utensils, beverages, etc. Lounges: The Wheelhouse Lounge was larger on this ship than on the Grand or Sun class ships - I didn't go in here at all unless trivia was being held in there. Explorers Lounge was nice venue; I went there when trivia was being held there and occasionally in the evening after supper for a drink or to just see what was going on there. My favorite lounge on the ship was Crooners - the martini bar on deck 7 in the atrium. The staff there were fantastic and fun loving and after the first day, they knew our names and our preferred drinks. A big thank you to Maria and Mark the bartenders, Andre and Nadtaya and the other waiters who just made the time spent there special. Entertainment: I did not go to one single show on this cruise, so I can't comment on that. The poolside music was ok - but not spectacular. Pools: There are 4 pools on the Island Princess. The Lido pool is the main outdoor pool. The Lotus pool is under the retractable roof and this pool doubles as the swim against the current pool - the current machine can be turned on and off by pressing a button to the right of the grate just below the water line. Both these pools are over 6 feet deep. The Lotus pool has the steps going down into the pool, the Lido pool has the ladders going down into the water. The Pelican pool far aft on Aloha deck is NOT the childrens pool. It is a small pool about 5 feet deep. The only way to get to this pool is either from the deck above at the back of the ship or you have to go through the Fun Zone and Wired on Aloha deck. There is also a spalsh pool on Sun Deck - about 8 inches deep. There are three hot tubs around the Lido pool and two around the Lotus pool - they were hot and they weren't hogged by kids (there were only 17 passengers under the age of 18 on this particular cruise.) Ports of Call: First stop was Ocho Rios - I stayed on board as the Voyager of the Seas got the prime docking space near the shopping center - we were at an industrial pier about a mile away. The Panama canal is just an awesome sight to behold! The whole process of lining up to get into the lock, the mules pulling the ship, the lock gates closing and opening is all fascinating! It takes approximately 8 minutes to raise or lower the ship in each lock. After docking in Gatun Lake, only people on ship sponsored tours are allowed off the ship (this is controlled by the PCA - Panama Canal Authority.) You are tendered to shore where you will meet up with your shore excursion. A group of friends and I did the train excursion in the deluxe vintage dome car - the extra money to get on that car is worth it! The views from the upper deck are wonderful. It takes about an hour to go from Cristobal to Balboa on the Pacific side on the train. The bus tour for the most part on this end of the country was a bust - the only interesting thing was going to the Miraflores locks and watching ships going through there. We happened to be there at the time the people who were on the Ocean to Ocean tour arrived on the Pacifc Queen and we were able to watch them descend from sight as they were going back down to sea level. Then it was back on the train to return to Cristobal. We were then bussed to the ship which was docked at Colon at pier 6. There is a nice shopping area right at the dock and there is a cultural show that is put on there as well. Limon, Costa Rica I did the Jungle River Pontoon Boat ride - had a nice bus ride to a resort where we boarded the boats to go to the river. Saw lots of birds and even saw a three toed sloth hanging in a tree and a huge iguana sunning itself. Back to the resort for shopping and some rest before returning to the ship. There is a small shopping area here at the port - internet access and shops. But do not proceed beyond the gates at the pier there - it is very dangerous once outside the pier area. We were warned repeatedly not to venture past there. Grand Cayman was a busy port - besides us, the Norwegian Dream, the Veendam, The Sensation and the Imagination were all in port that day. Tendering on and off the ship was ok, but there are only two tender terminals with two berths at each terminal. There was a lot of gridlock waiting to get a berth at the tender piers. I did not do an excursion here, just got off and did a little shopping. Cozumel was next - we were berthed at Puerto Maya. Again, I just got off and shopped a little and headed back to the ship to enjoy the peace and quiet. Debarkation: I just want everyone to know that the scream that was heard in Fort Lauderdale at 8:01 am on November 6 was me getting the first look at the final sign and sail card bill. The weather on debarkation day fit our mood - it poured all morning with occasional thunder and lightning. Debarkation was handled well, we were cleared by immigration and customs and started debarking about 8:30. This was absolutely one of the best cruises I have been on, between the friends I went with and the friendliness of the onboard staff (even Evil Colin of trivia fame). I never met a staff member who did not smile or say good morning, etc. Never had a request turned down and everyone I dealt with appeared to be enjoying themselves. A special hi to Mike and Betty, Steve and Colleen, Naomi, Charles, Jane, Rita, Camilla, Lucille from Leicester, England, Paul and Marjorie, Lily and all the other wonderful passengers I met onboard playing trivia and pictionary or just lounging by the pool or at Crooners!