Number of Cruises: 14
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Island Princess
Sailing Date: April 21st, 2006
Sit down and relax and read this
review. It’s long, but so was the trip (15 days). Forget about other reviews
which talk about too many kids (Christmas cruise), or terrible weather
(January). We didn’t have either of those. We were traveling while school was in
session, so there were very few children. The Cruise Director said we had the
best weather of the season. Remember, Hawaii had 40 days of solid rain before we
got there, but we saw none of it (except Hilo where it always rains).
We have been on 11 Princess Cruises, and thought that Island Princess was the best Princess ship we’ve been on. This is both for the ship’s design, as well as the outstanding crew and I’ll cover both those aspects. This ship is of “Sun Princess” size i.e. 2,000 passengers rather than the “Grand Princess” 2,700-3,100 size. However, it has all of the Grand Class features of the larger ships—and then some. The cabins are Grand Class style, not the smaller cabins found on Sun and its sister ships. The public areas of Grand Class are all there—Sabatini’s, Bayou (instead of Sterling Steakhouse), Explorers Lounge, Wheelhouse Bar, and a larger “Universe Lounge/Theater” instead of the Vista Lounge. In fact, most of the public areas such as these are actually larger on this ship than on Grand/Golden etc. The Sabatini’s for example, is both larger by far, and also more elegant than it’s counterparts on other ships. So you have the best of both worlds!
We had a last minute surprise, as my wife fell down the stairs at home the week before the cruise began and broke her ankle. So with a cast and a rented wheelchair, on board we went. This whole trip was to celebrate my mom’s 88th birthday. She’s in great health, but at that age has difficulty in finding friends to go along with her. She didn’t want to go through an airport with all the security hassles, so we chose this cruise which left from San Pedro (Los Angeles), and returned there. My sister and her husband were also on board. From the moment we got out of the cab, we received “Princess” treatment. Maureen and I were waved over to a side door for handicapped check-in. Now I’ve learned that there’s “regular” check-in, “Platinum Express Check-in”, and handicapped checkin. Before I could get all of my pockets emptied to go through security, Maureen was through and waiting with a Princess staff member to push the wheelchair!
We were waived on board and ahead of most other passengers. They had pink shirted staff members at the entrance to push her over the ramp (true for all ports later too). We went up to our room, a mini-suite on Caribe Deck and looked it over. The mini-suites on Island/Coral differ from other Grand Class ships only in the fact that the desk and mirror above it, aren’t “angled” out into the room, but are parallel to the wall. This makes the opening to the living room wider and easier to navigate. We had a very large balcony with a square table and two large chairs. The room steward brought us a chaise lounge chair which also fit out there nicely. This allowed Maureen to keep her broken ankle “up” horizontally which the doctor had recommended. My sister and mother had balcony cabins also on Caribe, but more towards the center of the ship.
My sister took my mom up to book hair appointments at the Spa. We were able to pre-book massage and other treatments on the Princess website before the cruise, but not hair appointments. We then all met at the Horizon Court for lunch and this became a daily ritual.
While my sister, wife, mom and I all enjoy the relaxing days at sea, we worried that my brother-in-law would be bored. He likes to be doing something all the time. Not to worry, he found the Computers at Sea classes and proceeded to book 20 classes including Photoshop Elements and Microsoft Word. He was a very happy camper for the whole time we were at sea!
We all fell into a routine of exercise in the morning, going to the Hawaii lectures that “Aloha Bob” gave each day, and then lunch. The Hawaii presentations were excellent. Aloha Bob was a NBC reporter/anchor in Honolulu for many years. He gave us history, geology, culture, and current issues/problems of Hawaii. There was a fascinating talk on Pearl Harbor and its events too. There was almost a capacity crowd in the Princess Theater each morning when he made his presentations.
The first full day at sea we got together with all of our CruiseCritic friends to meet for the first time. We had been conversing with all of them for over 7 months. Len and Letty kept us all organized. They set up a dinner in Long Beach the night before the cruise for passengers who came in a day early. They also made cute name tags with flip flops on them for everyone. I had e-mailed Princess using the suggested names that I found on CruiseCritic and they arranged that we could meet in the Wheelhouse Bar and had a bartender and waiter to serve all of us. We paid our own way for this party.
I had e-mailed Richard Joseph, the Cruise Director prior to the cruise asking if he could arrange a second party on the way back. I had read that he had done so for earlier cruises. He called me the first sea day, and told us that we would get a champagne party the day before we reached Ensenada on the way back. They gave us a wonderful party in Explorer’s Lounge at 5pm and we had lots of appetizers. They had an open to all passengers Mexico party at 5:30pm in the same lounge that day. He also invited all of the individual entertainer’s (mostly the comedians) on board to come to the party. They told us we had the highest turnout of any of the more recent cruises. There were almost 50 of us on board although not that many made it to either party. We sure did have a lot of fun though and met some wonderful people.
Richard Joseph was outstanding both to us, and to all of the passengers throughout the cruise. I often saw him in the Princess Theater prior to shows because I would place Maureen in her wheelchair at the special handicapped section near the entrance door. He was always so kind and upbeat with us every time we saw him. When you think about it, the 15 day Hawaii cruise has more days where the passengers are together with the crew than almost any itinerary that I can think of. We’ve been though the canal twice on longer cruises, but there were more ports and less total sea days than this cruise. His whole staff kept things running and fun the entire time.
Richard is a man who obviously loves what he does and does it very well. I think he’s the best Cruise Director we’ve seen in our 11 Princess Cruises. He’s also in charge of some real talent for the production shows. We had seen most of them last year (Piano Man, and the Broadway one). There was one new one I think called “Rock” which isn’t about rock music. It was a bit’s and pieces show with no real theme, but very over the top sets and costumes especially “Hairspray”. Was cute and well done. Dancing was great throughout, and so were the singers.
We like Princess food, and weren’t disappointed here either. Because this is a 15 day cruise, you get a few extra menus that aren’t used on the standard 7-day set. Some things were repeated both going and coming (lamb chops and lobster twice!!). My mom wanted early seating which most of us didn’t prefer, but we settled for this anyway. We had our own table with wonderful waiters and a great Head Waiter. When we got to the islands, we went to the other restaurants so we could have time to watch sailaway and sunset on each island. We did the Bayou twice and Sabatini’s once. Both were outstanding. Great steaks at the Bayou (filet and porterhouse) as well as other good stuff.
In Honolulu, Maureen and I had the most romantic dinner of all time. We booked the “Ultimate Balcony Lobster Dinner” for our night in Honolulu. This meant that the ship wouldn’t be moving as we didn’t leave Honolulu until 11pm at night. We originally had set up a sunset catamaran sail in Honolulu and we set the dinner up for 8:30pm. However, at the last minute, the sunset sail people cancelled on us. Luckily I checked my e-mail on board after lunch and saw the cancellation. Otherwise we would all have been standing on Waikiki Beach in front of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider waiting for a boat that wasn’t going to come (and Maureen in a wheelchair and crutches). I wasn’t too happy with the catamaran people because they cancelled at the very last minute, which gave us no chance to make alternative arrangements. Probably won’t ever use them again. They were recommended by others on the CruiseCritic Hawaii Board.
Anyway, we re-scheduled our balcony dinner for 6:30 and had a glorious sunset dinner. The director of room service had come to our cabin earlier to arrange everything, and she came that night too, to check that everything was OK. We had our own waiter, who brought us each course. They covered the table with a tablecloth on the balcony, brought yellow roses and set the silver out. A ship’s photographer was there to take our complimentary picture (we did pay $50 per person for all of this!). Then the courses started coming: a dozen assorted canapés, including caviar; three crab cakes each, wonderful salad, two giant lobster tails with veggies, four different mousses for dessert, and a dozen small cookies to top it off. Finally, we had a bottle of Champagne with all of this and they gave us the champagne flutes as we were celebrating our 24th Anniversary two weeks early. The dinner actually comes with a cocktail and split of Champagne. We were not interested in the cocktail, and asked if we could upgrade and pay for a full bottle of Champagne and they did this. All of this took place as the sun set and then all of the lights of Honolulu came on. We didn’t have the best view of the city (mostly other docks and ships), but we didn’t care!
There were three formal nights during the time at sea. The first was going over, and the other two were on the way back. The usual cherries jubilee, bananas foster etc were done on the chafing dishes in the dining room by our Head Waiter. I don’t know whether they do this in the “anytime” dining room. We also had the baked Alaska parade the final night, and I do know that the other dining room didn’t get that because not everyone is on the same course at the same time.
Maureen stayed on board as this was a tender port, and she was still trying to be good and keep her leg up especially since we had a full day tour the next day. I went on the 2 hour helicopter ride. The one offered in Hilo is one hour and cheaper, but we wanted to go to Volcano National Park and the Botanical Garden there. The two hour flight is in two segments. You are driven up to Waikoloa where you board and then fly across the island to the active volcano. You circle around a number of times so everyone can get pictures of the glowing lava. Then you fly to the coast and watch the red lava fall over a cliff into the sea where every time the waves crash in, giant steam clouds form. It was truly spectacular.
You then land at Hilo for refueling. The second leg goes out the coast and towards the Waipio Valley. You see some wonderful waterfalls along the valley cliffs and eventually you fly back to Waikoloa. The interesting thing is that the pricing through Princess was actually LESS than the brochures at the helicopter place indicated (Blue Hawaiian). While I paid something like $375 for this, the published brochure rate which you would get just by calling or walking into their shop was $450! First time I’ve ever seen the cruise tour rate cheaper than the public rate.
We went on a day long tour on a “Greyhound” type bus. This worked very well for Maureen in her wheelchair and crutches. They put the wheelchair underneath where the luggage usually goes. The first two seats were reserved for handicapped, and wheelchair passengers on the bus. She had a seat to herself which allowed her to keep her leg up. We first drove to the Hawaii Botanic Garden. This is a steep valley that goes down to the sea but filled with tropical plants a lot of which were in bloom.
I felt this was like “eye candy” for the camera. Everywhere I turned there were beautiful orchids, blue hibiscus, proteas and waterfalls. Got some great pictures.
Next we went to lunch back in Hilo at one of the hotels. After lunch we drove to Volcano National Park. Stopped at a steam vent for pictures (you could stand next to it and it was like warm fog coming out). Then went to the park headquarters for a view out to the volcano itself and you could look at the exhibits.
Coming back, we stopped at the Macadamia Nut Factory and got great packages which we shipped home for souvenirs for staff at work. We both had a chocolate macadamia nut ice cream cone. Yummy! Finally we stopped at a candy factory which was OK, but most of us were tired and they were pretty expensive. Overall, a great trip!
My mom had signed up for a “Natural Tour of Ohau” so Maureen and I decided to book also. This took us out of Honolulu and up inside the Diamond Head crater. This is an army base inside. Then we went back out to the coast and stopped at some wonderful beaches for pictures. Saw the beach where “From Here To Eternity” was filmed when the two of them were on the beach at night. Stopped at a Hawaiian temple and later we went back over the top of the mountain crest and stopped at the Pali Lookout which gives a spectacular view of Honolulu from 3,000 feet up.
We didn’t’ do any tours here (my mom did), but just shopped as we’ve been to Maui many times before.
Here Maureen, my sister and brother-in-law and I took the Napili Explorer boat to the Napili Coast. The boat is a large pontoon boat with a canvas roof for shade. Saw spinner dolphins on the way out, and then came around the point to Napili. The water was pretty rough, but the boat kind of floated across the waves. We had less up and down motion than other smaller boats we saw. The coast, which is only accessible by boat or helicopter, has spectacular cliffs and valleys that drop from 3,000 feet straight into the sea. There are waterfalls, sea caves, and some isolated beaches. Was great for photographs. We got splashed a few times, but they gave us nylon pullovers, and we were fine. Even with Maureen’s leg, we were just sitting there enjoying the view for the whole trip and taking pictures.
Overall, we had a wonderful experience. It would probably be a bit warmer if you did this cruise in September/October, but we were fine. Some of the sea days coming back were a bit cool, but not rough. We didn’t sit out on the balcony much coming back. The mini-suite living room worked well for happy hour for the family.
We loved meeting our CruiseCritic buddies. It was fun saying hello and meeting them after tours to see what other things they had done.