Number of Cruises: 14
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Island Princess
Sailing Date: December 15th, 2007
Itinerary: Panama Canal
In summary, I had a great time (most
important), the ship was adequate, the food was good and the service and
entertainment were excellent. The cruise started in Acapulco and ended in San
Embarkation in Acapulco: No problems. It took about 10 minutes from the time we got in line till the time we boarded the ship. We took a taxi from the airport to the port, about a 1-hour ride with a lot of traffic, for about $40. We met another couple going to the cruise ship on the flight and shared a taxi. We checked in around 2pm and the ship left port at 8pm.
Ship: A good size for the port of calls with a passenger capacity just under 2000. We never had issues disembarking or embarking from port of calls. They generally had two gang planks on different level’s, which made it faster. No ice rinks, climbing walls or wave pools, but the ship had plenty to keep most people busy. Three pool areas including a large, enclosed and air-conditioned spa pool area for adults only. Two large theaters for the show and entertainment, several bars that were never full, two main dining rooms, two specialty restaurants, a buffet and pizza bar. The gym and spa were nice but not as big as some of the mega-ships. I think about 70% of the cabins have a balcony and I recommend spending the extra money for one.
Food: Generally speaking the food was good. They did a better job with the meat dishes than the fish dishes. Good selection in the buffet where we ate breakfast and lunch. We did not eat at the specialty restaurants, but they got rave reviews from those who did.
Entertainment: The production shows were excellent, the best I have seen on any cruise ship. The singers were better than average but the dancers were excellent. It was a Christmas cruise and Princess did an excellent job with decorating the ship and Holiday events for the kids.
Service: Cabin attendants were excellent. Food service was generally good but varied. We had the anytime dining option, so we had different waiters every night. We heard the traditional dining service was better, but we enjoyed meeting different people every night with the anytime dining option. The cruise director staff was also excellent and a lot of fun.
Port of Calls:
I have been on many cruises and generally opt to arrange my own shore excursions in ports. This gives me the freedom to see specifically what I want to see and usually at a little lower cost. I do my research a head of time and plan out my strategy before I get to port. For most cruise travelers, I would recommend the cruise sponsored shore excursions for many reasons, but mainly peace of mind. I have nearly missed the cruise ship departure times on a few occasions, and always for some unforeseen reason. You’re on vacation to relax not worry about making it back to the ship on time.
Acapulco: Recommend flying in a day early if you want to see the sites in Acapulco. Flights from the US usually get in around mid-day and it takes at least two hours to clear immigration, get bags, customs and transfer to the ship. We walked around the Old Town area and a near by beach. The cliff divers usually jump at 1pm and 8pm but these times vary depending on the date and time of year. Your only shot is at the 1pm show because the ship leaves at 8pm.
Huatulco: A beautiful and currently undeveloped resort on the Mexican Rivera. The ship docks in the small town of Santa Cruz inside a protected bay. There are nine bays along the coast of Huatulco, mostly undeveloped. If you don’t want to venture far from the ship, there is a beach right next to Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is a tourist town full of shops and cafes. You can take a short taxi ride (5 min) to a slightly larger town for more serious shopping and restaurant options. You can also take a short boat ride or taxi ride to La Entrega beach in the same bay the boat is docked. This beach is choked with beach chairs, umbrellas and small restaurants, but the water is beautiful and has some of the best snorkeling in the area. We opted to hire a taxi and tour the different bays along the coast. There is a cruise shore excursion that covers a similar route but does not stop in some of the more scenic areas our private tour included. Keep your eyes open for whales.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala: I recommend a cruise shore excursion to either Antigua or Lake Atilan. The port is an industrial container port with a small town and a few shops. Antigua is one of the most scenic and original colonial cities in the Americas. Either take a guided walking tour of the town or roam around like we did. The central plaza and La Merced church are the highlights, but also check out the Mayan art market near the bus station (5 min walk from the central plaza). We ate lunch at the Posada Don Rodriguez, a beautifully restored colonial building now a boutique hotel. The drive from the port is about 1 hour and 15 minutes depending on traffic.
Puerto Cortina, Nicaragua: We had a short time in port, so we took a shore excursion to Leon and the volcanic mud pots. Again, the port area is an industrial container port with a small town close by. But, you get a nice view of the Nicaraguan volcano mountain chain (I counted 8 volcano’s) from the ship if the weather is nice. Two of the volcano’s were active and looked like smoke stacks. Leon is another colonial town but not as nice as Antigua. The Cathedral is the main draw, especially the views from the roof-top. The Cathedral is on a very active main plaza area. The mud pots are a result of the volcanic activity from the near by volcano. The local children act as guides and some dig the hot mud out of the bubbling pots and sell to the tourist. It’s a lot cheaper than buying it from a spa. The ride from the port to Leon is about 1 hour and passes through some beautiful countryside. I found it an interesting stop, but if there is one port of call you want to stay on the ship, this is the one.
Punta Arenas, Costa Rica: We have both been to Cost Rica and traveled the country extensively, so we did not opt for one of the many cruise shore excursions. Instead, we took a day cruise through Calypso Cruises to Isla Tortuga, a small island with a beautiful beach. The day trip was $99/person and a short taxi ride from the cruise ship port to the Calypso boat dock. It left the dock around 9:30am and returned about 5:30pm, so make sure your ship is in town long enough. The Calypso catamaran is very nice and modern and has two hot tubs on board. Non-alcoholic drinks are included and beers are $3. The island is beautiful and you can snorkel ($10), kayak ($20/hr), hike ($5 permit) or just relax on the beach. The rugged Costa Rican coast line is a great back drop to this tropical island. Calypso serves a nice lunch on the beach. Other’s who took the cruise shore excursions to the interior of Costa Rica said they enjoyed the excursions, but the drive to the locations was very bumpy and long. Traffic was very heavy and many of the Costa Rican roads are in poor condition.
Panama Canal: I think most people who selected this cruise did so for the Panama Canal transit. We arrived at the Miraflores lock around 8am on the Pacific side and cleared the Gatun locks on the Caribbean side at about 5pm. We were delayed a little from the ship traffic. Bring binoculars. I saw a lot of wildlife near the Gatun locks. My sightings included eagles, monkeys, crocodiles, a toucan, parakeets and a Green parrot.
Princess picked-up a guide in Panama City and he gave an excellent narrative as we passed through the canal. Princess dropped off four photographers so they could take pictures and video of our ship and passengers actually passing through the canal from the land and air perspectives. They actually charter a helicopter and had two photographers take pictures and videos from the air. Keep in mind this ship does not stop in Panama, only travels through the canal.
Cartagena, Columbia: The ship docks next to a container port but it is close to the old city of Cartagena. We decided to hire a taxi to see the major sites. He charged us $50 for a 5 hour tour, a little less then the standard rate. The two highlights are the old city and the view from the La Popa Monastery. The souvenir hawkers are relentless at every tourist stop, but a simple “No Gracias” and a hand wave and they usually leave you alone. The Old City is beautiful with colorful buildings and churches with flowers in every window. The city is vibrant and active, and I recommend walking the Old City and stopping for a drink in one of the many cafes.
Aruba: I have been to Aruba several times so instead of sightseeing, we did a pub crawl stopping at bars in Oranjestad and along Palm Beach. Although Palm and Eagle Beach are very nice and close to the ship, my favorite is Baby Beach on the Southern end of the island. I usually rent a car and go to Baby Beach and some of the other tourist sights before ending in Palm Beach. The snorkeling and sailing excursions are also excellent.
Curacao: I loved Curacao. Not as developed as many of the Caribbean islands and off the main cruise ship routes, Curacao has a beautiful main city, Willamstad, great beaches and interesting landscapes. We rented a car and first hit one of the better snorkeling beaches, Jan Thiel, where the Curacao underwater national park starts. Excellent coral and lots of fish. Next we drove to the North side of the island where one side is rugged, volcanic coast line and the other side has beautiful bays and crystal clear water. The middle portion has cacti and mountains. We also saw tons of Flamingos in the salt flats near the town of Daniel. The main town, Willamstad is colorful with a lot of shops and cafes. One of my favorite port of calls.
Christmas Day at sea: Plenty of Holiday related events including a visit from Santa for the kids.
San Juan: We have been to San Juan many times so we caught a flight to Santo Domingo for a few days in the DR. The disembarkation was very smooth. Some passengers were a little upset because they had booked rooms at the Sheraton Old Town and hoped to walk off the ship and right to their hotel. The Island Princess actually docked across the inlet from the Old Town port, which is actually better for those going straight to the airport or the Condado hotel area.