Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Coral Princess
Sailing Date: December 4th, 2005
Itinerary: Panama Canal
We have just returned from a wonderful cruise to the Panama Canal aboard the Coral Princess. Our party consisted of me, my husband, my daughter and son-in-law. The itinerary included stops in Panama (Colon), Jamaica (Ochos Rios), Costa Rica (Limon), Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. Overall, the cruise was great.
We parked our car at the Ft. Lauderdale airport in the Park-N-Fly lot. They offer a great price for parking and a free shuttle to the cruise port. Literally minutes after parking the car the shuttle was there to take us to the port. The driver helped us get our bags from the car and loaded them onto the shuttle for us. It was a very short ride to the port and they drop you at the pier where your ship is docked. I highly recommend this to anyone sailing from Port Everglades.
The process of boarding the ship was very easy and did not take long at all. A porter meets you at the area just outside the building and takes your luggage for you. We entered the building and went to the Dolphin check-in desk and were given our Cruise Cards. After that it was just a walk down the gangway to the ship, a stop at security to swipe your card and be photographed and you are on board.
We were quickly directed to our cabins, D617 and D619. We opted for mini-suites on this cruise and we loved having the extra room. The bathroom is adequate. The closet space was good. There was plenty of room for all our hanging clothes and with the shelves in the cabinet we had more than enough room to unpack. The safe is great but if you have much more than passports and wallets to store in there they are a bit small. We asked the cabin steward to open the connecting door between our two cabins which he cheerily did. It was a bit disappointing, though, because on our last cruise aboard the Dawn Princess they actually removed the partition between the 2 decks so we had one large deck. On the Coral Princess they only opened a small door that we could pass through to visit between the cabins but it really didn’t afford us enough room for all of us to sit together on the deck. There are 2 drawers on each nightstand that also allow for good storage of items. The desk was a good size and gave plenty of space for writing, etc. There were 2 tv’s in the cabin which was great, but if both of us wanted to watch different programs it was difficult because the sets are placed right next to each other with one facing the bed and the other facing the sitting area. There is also a small refrigerator and lots of space on the bar above the fridge for glasses, bottles of water, sodas, etc.
We opted for the Personal Choice dining option. I feel that this gives you a lot more flexibility in when and where you eat. We had breakfast and lunch most days in the Horizon Court just because it was quick and easy. The food was good and there was always a lot of variety on the buffets. After about the 7th day, though, it all starts looking the same. We ate dinner in the Bordeaux Dining Room and had fabulous food and excellent service. We tried to have the same waiter, Hector, every night. Hector is from Mexico and is a very attentive waiter and a lot of fun. He really made us feel special and wanted to make sure we had a pleasurable dining experience. There was a night we were not able to sit at Hector’s table. We were seated at Marvin’s table and he was also a wonderful waiter and we enjoyed that as well. One night we opted to try Sabatini’s. Oh my! What a meal! The food was excellent. All you have to choose is your entrée and the rest is brought out by courses. There is a lot of food! I’m sorry to say I cannot remember our waiter’s name but he was excellent. We were there for nearly 3 hours and had one of the most enjoyable evenings we had on the cruise. We felt it was well worth the additional charge. There is also a pizza bar (excellent pizza!), an ice cream bar, and a grill where you can get hamburgers and hot dogs. The hot dogs are huge and are really good. The burgers, though, are very dry and not good at all. They must be standard issue on Princess because they were the same way on the Dawn Princess on our last cruise. We only ordered room service once but it arrived quickly. Our daughter and son-in-law ordered a lot of room service and had great experiences as well.
The Lotus Spa is on deck 14. It is a nice facility and the folks there are nice enough. The first sea day my husband had a massage and said it was wonderful. It is a little bit expensive- $109 for a 50 minute massage (we can get them at home for $60) but the pampering was worth the extra expense. I had the reflexology treatment and it was equally good, not great but relaxing. My daughter and I also had massages that were very good. I do have a little criticism, though. They really push their products and they are very expensive. Beware or they’ll have added another $200 to your bill before you know it for a couple of bottles of creams that you can buy at Bath and Body Works or The Body Shop for $15-20. The other thing that I am very disappointed about was that there is a steam room and a hot rock bed that is available to spa guests on the days that you use the spa facility. No one ever told me I was able to use these areas and it would have been nice at the end of the treatments to be able to relax a while longer. Neither my husband nor daughter was told of these areas when they went for their treatments either.
There are a lot of shows on board the ship. The Broadway type shows are always excellent. Be sure to get there early to get a good seat. There was a comedian on board, Sarge that was really funny. The Tribute show was fabulous. The best entertainment on board, though, was Barrington “Barty” Brown. He was in the Crooner’s Lounge nightly and we got there early every night to ensure a good seat. The theme of the lounge is the “Rat Pack” and Barty sang a lot of tunes from the Sinatra, Dean Martin era as well as lots of show tunes. Not only did he sing, but talked with the audience as well and he has a wicked sense of humor! I just hope that when we take our next cruise Barty is on board!
Ochos Rios, Jamaica: Hubby and I went to Dunn’s River Falls. The Falls themselves were beautiful. The big downside to this trip was the vendors all around the entrance to the area and at the shopping area inside the facility surrounding the falls. They are very pushy and will not leave you alone trying to hustle you to buy some of their wares. The stuff is mostly junk and not worth much but they try to pawn it off on you for $25 and more. They were very annoying and really put a damper on seeing the falls. Daughter and son-in-law did the ATV excursion and had a wonderful time. Got to see lots of scenery an overall thought it was a lot of fun. They had a few folks bugging them to buy things but not nearly like we did. We heard from several people on board that they were accosted like us at every turn.
Panama Canal: We entered the first of the 3 locks. It was quite amazing to watch the process of going through the locks. Even if you are not an early riser, make sure to get up to see this! As you go through there is a commentary by a Panamanian official describing the system, etc. Make sure to be where you can hear this. After getting through the canal we were tendered to buses for our excursion. We all chose to take the tour of Old Panama. Don’t waste your time. It was $89 per person and consisted of riding around the town in a tour bus and looking at slums. Literally, slums. It was filthy and the few historical buildings we were shown were actually falling in. After about 2 hours on the bus the guide finally let the driver stop so we could get out and walk around. A few people got off but most, including me, stayed on the bus. I would not recommend this excursion at all. I talked to several other passengers that did the Aerial Tram and the Highlights of Panama tours that really enjoyed them.
Limon, Costa Rica: What a beautiful place! There were definitely some areas that were less than inviting as you drove through, but for the most part it was very scenic. Hubby and I went on the Sloth Sanctuary tour. It was really good. The sloth is a really interesting animal and this place is a rescue facility for injured and orphaned sloths. They rehabilitate the ones that can be and send them back to the wild. Others are kept there and taken care of for the rest of their lives. The people that run it are very nice and are passionate about the sloths. Well worth the money for this one ($96 per person). Daughter and son-in-law opted for the Old Banana Route Railway Journey ($69 per person). They loved it. They saw a lot of the area and had a great trip. We highly recommend either of these excursions.
Grand Cayman: This was the highlight of the trip. Even with the damage from the hurricanes, the area was beautiful and clean. The excursion chosen for this port was the Island Highlights & Stingray Sandbar Snorkeling. What a day! The water was gorgeous and the stingrays were magnificent. By far the best excursion of the whole cruise. At $69 per person this was a bargain.
Cozumel: We were unable to dock at the piers in Cozumel because the hurricanes had destroyed most of them. We were tendered in on very nice vessels. The area right by the piers has mostly been built back since the hurricane but there are a few places that are still damaged and you can definitely see the destruction that was there. The shops that are there are some of the nicest port shopping I saw. Some of the prices were a little steep but they were definitely willing to bargain with you. Daughter and son-in-law chose the Deluxe Playa Maya beach Break ($66 per person). This includes a bus ride from the pier to the beach, drinks and a buffet lunch. Complimentary non-motorized activities such as an iceberg water mountain, kayaks, pedal boats, Hobie Cats, floating mats are included. There is also a mini-zoo. Hubby and I had planned to take the tour to Tulum, but it required a lot of walking and hubby’s back was bothering him so we cancelled that one. Instead we rented a jeep at the area just outside the shopping area at the dock. We paid $44 with tax for a jeep for the whole day. We drove around and saw a lot of sights, including ruins, beach, and the town of Cozumel. The Mayan ruins were very interesting. The town of Cozumel was desecrated by the hurricane and there was still a lot of destruction.
Some Suggestions before you go:
Pack a small bag that is easy to carry with your bathing suit, sunscreen, maybe a book and anything else you might like to have while you are waiting for your luggage to be delivered to your cabin. Use this same bag to take your things off the ship at the end of the cruise. You have to have your bags outside your cabin by 8:00 pm the last day at sea. You will need a bag to pack whatever you wear the last nigh as well as your toiletries. I have found it’s nice to pack this bag as you are packing to go- if possible wear the same clothes back home you wear to board the ship. There are laundry and dry cleaning facilities on board and this saves space. Also put in this bag travel sized toothpaste, deodorant, etc. for the last night and morning.
To make sure you get the times you want at the spa, book your treatments on line before you leave home. This is especially important if you want to go in the first couple of days. Also, be sure to ask the spa staff about the steam room and the hot rocks bed available to you after your treatment. Beware of sales pitch about spa products!
If you are new to cruising or just don’t want to try booking things yourself, be sure to reserve your shore excursions on line as early as possible after booking your cruise. Some of the excursions are extremely popular and book up very quickly. If you are adventurous and feel comfortable doing it, a more economical and personal way to see the sights is to arrange the excursions yourself. Most of the ports are serviced by taxis and the fares are very inexpensive. If you just want a “sightseeing tour” you can always get a taxi at the pier and for around $50 you can have a “personal guide” that will take you wherever you want and will stop at whatever sights you want to see.
Don’t worry about taking books. There is a very adequate library on board with great comfortable chairs to sit and read.
Summary: A great trip. Really good itinerary. Coral Princess is like being on a Grand Class ship but without as many people. A wonderful experience and well worth going on this cruise. We have had great experiences with Princess and will definitely cruise again with them.