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Jaclyn Fletcher

Age: 41 to 50

Occupation:Travel Agent

Number of Cruises: 21 to 49

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Ocean Princess

Sailing Date: September 26th, 2000

Itinerary: Panama Canal (West to East)

We just returned from a 12 day cruise through the Panama Canal on the Ocean Princess. Having sailed on Princess twice in the past (out of the 46 total cruises I have taken) I am reminded of what I like about the Princess Cruise Line. Everything was wonderful and I have to say without reservation, that in my opinion, it ranks among the best in the mass market cruise lines. 

We stayed at the Acapulco Princess for a couple of days before embarking on the cruise. Rather than booking through Princess Cruise Line (who charges US$129.00 per person per night), we booked on our own at US$99.00 per night per room. We also took a taxi on our own at the cost of US$20.00 per cab (compared to US$19.00 per person transfers) There was little, if any, language problem.

The Acapulco Princess was lovely. The views were spectacular and the variety of recreation and choice of restaurants were excellent. For those who enjoy golf - the golf course was in good condition and offered both a challenge as well as beauty. The staff was friendly and helpful. A taxi to the port (at US$16.00 per cab) was comfortable and reasonably priced. The vistas en route to the port were breathtaking and our cabby stopped to allow us to photograph the ship from above.

As for downtown Acapulco...it has changed in recent years. Having been there in the past, it has grown in size and seemingly in crime. There were machine-gun armed security posted on nearly every intersection and it was extremely congested with typical "tourist" shops and restaurants. That was the only disappointment of the trip. Once we boarded the Ocean Princess, we embarked on one of the best cruises that I have ever taken!!!

Embarkation

Embarkation was a breeze. There were over 20 ground agents to assist with check-in. We arrived at 3 p.m. to check-in. A porter took our bags from the cab directly inside to the check-in counter. We walked straight up to an empty desk and within 3 minutes we were on our way. Because we had sent most of our information in via the internet (captain's circle), we merely signed the back of our sail and sign cards (which doubles as your room key), presented our completed embarkation forms, and our same porter followed us with our bags to the ship. The porter handed our bags to another ship attendant, and we watched our bags be loaded onto the ship as we walked up the gangway. (By the time we arrived straight away to our Deck 10 stateroom, our bags were delivered to our cabin!)

 

First Impression

The Ocean Princess itself is beautiful. It is a wonderful combination of light wood and pastel colors. Of course, because of its newness, everything is spotless. We found that the crew works tirelessly to maintain this spotlessness with daily exterior window washings and constant maintenance. Having been on numerous ships, including HAL and Celebrity, where you could barely see outside the public room windows because of the saltwater and dirt...trust me when I say that these windows were spotless! The grand atrium is a lovely three level area (Decks 5, 6 and 7) where you can sit and people watch while enjoying live piano music throughout the entire day. The 5th and 7th levels of the atrium offer cozy lounges and areas to sit, while the 6th level offers my favorite area...SHOPS!

 

Most Memorable

If there was one thing that stood out the most about the ship, it was the friendly staff. From the Captain (who was always walking about chatting with passengers) to the maintenance staff, EVERY single employee would greet passengers with a smile and a big "hello, have a nice day!" We encountered a minor problem with being overcharged for a drink at one of the lounges and presented it to the Purser's desk. By the time we returned to our cabin, we had a voice message waiting to tell us that we were credited the difference! We also had a question for the tour desk about a golf course in Barbados (the ship did not offer golf there), and once again, by the time we returned to our cabin there was a voice message telling us that they had checked the internet and had some information for us. The tour desk personnel had printed out information on 5 different golf courses with details as to the courses and the costs. They also provided the information to reserve a tee time. We felt that they certainly went above what we expected to answer our question!

Speaking of going beyond their duty, within only a couple of days on the ship, the cruise staff had learned our names and would stop and address us by name when they saw us about the ship. If they knew what we were going to be doing in any particular port, they were uncanny in their recall as to ask us specifics about our day! This was most impressive since there were over 1500 passengers on board (the cruise was undersold) and yet the staff made the passengers feel as if their experience was far more intimate.

Ports

The ports included Acapulco, Costa Rica, (through the Panama Canal - no stop), Cartegna, Aruba, Barbados, Dominica, St. Thomas, San Juan. We rarely take shore excursions through the cruise line, however this time we did take every single one through Princess. The prices charged were only a minimal amount of money extra over the actual cost and we wanted to see how the line's excursions fared. They were excellent! River rafting in Costa Rica is a must! A 4x4 Land Rover excursion in Barbados was spectacular! Golf in Aruba and golf also in St. Thomas was great! Mountain biking in Dominica was a thrill! The port lecturer, Chris Walker, was a nice blend of knowledge and wit...without "cutsey". He was informative as we went through the locks in the Canal. If you chose to watch from your private balcony, you could merely switch onto the ship's TV channel and listen to his lecture. I would highly recommend that everyone who enjoys cruising should take a cruise through the Panama Canal. It is a "must see" for sure!

Cabins

We had a Category BB, Deck 10, mid ship Balcony stateroom. It is always nice to see your name on your door...it makes it feel like it is your "home". The mail slots are also a nice touch instead of hearing paper being slid under your door. At first glance the cabin appeared to have little storage...however, we had packed for two full weeks and were able to comfortably stow all of our clothes (including Evan's two tuxedos and two suit jackets, and my 3 formal gowns and countless other "necessary" items of clothing) with room to spare.

There was even room for my dozen plus pairs of shoes!!!! Our two golf bags and empty luggage fit nicely under the beds which were high enough to accommodate them. That has never been possible on any other ship! Speaking of beds, they were quite comfortable and pushed together to form comfortable king size bed without too much notice of the crack where they join. The bathroom was small, however, you don't want to spend too much time in there anyway! The two vanity areas in the main cabin were helpful for getting dressed for dinner as was the hairdryer out at the vanity desk. Voice messaging is a nice plus for the telephone. The television channel selections were more than adequate and having the choices of music piped through the TV is always better than the attempts at a stereo in the cabin...inevitably the speakers never seem to work. The light switches have a tiny illumination on them which make them easy to find in the dark and were a pleasant extra. The refrigerator is a "true" refrigerator, and not just a stocked mini-bar where you could not put your own items!

A negative - we golfed with a couple who had one of the owners' suites in the stern, and they said that although spacious, they did feel the noise and the vibration from the thrusters when the ship was coming into/going out of port. It does seem odd that the best cabins are placed there.

Entertainment

What a pleasant surprise!!! The production shows were fantastic! The quality of the shows -costumes, choreography, music, sound, vocals, were all extraordinary! It was a true surprise to me that

Princess had such quality entertainment! The comedians catered to the older generation - one was okay, the other adequate. Recent top rated movies were playing every afternoon and most nights in the Princess theatre. (sans popcorn - about the only negative I found with the ship!) Many small lounges with live music of differing genres were available for dancing every evening. Probably the most popular night time spot was the Atrium Lounge with music trivia every evening at 10:15. You could not get a seat in the lounge where "the older crowd" would arrive over 30 minutes prior to get their seats to play the live music game each and every night. The champagne waterfall is always a crowd-pleaser and this cruise was no exception with complimentary champagne and plenty of dancing into the wee hours of the morning! Karaoke was offered four nights. The casino is your typical casino - I try to avoid it!

Dining

Another pleasant surprise! Breakfast and lunch selections in the Horizon Court were plentiful! Eggs made to order and wonderful oriental soups for breakfast were my mainstay. Fresh fruits, cereals, cheeses and meats....you get the picture! Lunch offered over a half dozen different hot entrees in addition to the pasta, fruit and salad selections. A carving station and soup station also topped off the fare. Every single day was different! And it did not appear that you were getting last night's dinner transformed into today's lunch! The entrees were innovative and different. I especially enjoyed fresh sushi offered on three of the days at sea!

Fruit kabobs were another favorite. The Rivier Grill offered hot dogs, brat worst, hamburgers, veggie burgers and chicken out at the pool. And not to be forgotten is Fabio's Pizzaria where the gourmet pizza was excellent! The Horizon Court offered dinner selections as well. Actually, it was open 24 hours throughout the day for some type of food! The two Dining rooms are identical in appearance. Our waiter and assistant waiter were great. Again, as with all of the staff, they addressed you by name and had your beverages waiting for you and your favorite foods ready to recommend. Evan enjoys a simple salad of iceberg lettuce. It was never on the menu but ready for him each evening! Wine can be pre-ordered in any of the ship's dining areas throughout the day so that your wine selection was waiting for you at the table when you arrived for dinner. I recently read some   comments about Celebrity Cruises and their belief that the food had gone down in quality. I agree with that statement and having sailed on the Century this summer, the dining experience on the Ocean Princess relative to service and quality of food preparation, presentation, and selection was superior to that offered on the Century. The appetizers, soups and pastas were especially wonderful! My dining mates enjoyed the many desert offerings! Our waiter gave our table a private galley tour – a nice difference over the usual en mass tours with hundreds of passengers .

Other Extras

The ship has laundry facilities on each deck. A golf simulator, basketball court, shuffleboard table tennis, etc. offered plenty to do. The pools were never too crowded with plenty of deck space and chaises available. Numerous whirlpools were available. The fitness center and spacious aerobics room were great! I did not use the spa or beauty salon, however, I heard from others it was more than adequate. A business center was available for internet access; however, it had only four terminals and could probably be larger!

The library was wonderful with a nice selection of current books and also with many listening chairs available for audio books or current music CDs. The card and game room seemed popular with bridge lecturers on board to help organize games. Although I did not attend, the Art Auctions were well attended and enjoyed by many who bought! Wine tasting (which I did attend – surprise, surprise) was informative in addition to fun! The talent show was a popular event as was the Captain's Circle reception – 1022 passengers of 1500 were repeat passengers! That certainly says something for Princess!  I never saw children (there were only a few) and can not say with personal knowledge how the children's programs are.

Disembarkation

Disembarkation was every bit as stress free as embarkation. Two days prior, we received a packet of information to assist us with any questions. It gave people plenty of time to seek answers. Although the port in San Juan is nothing but a large warehouse, the bags were easily marked by color and passengers were able to move through quickly. Although we did not purchase our air through Princess, we checked in with the airline on board and once we claimed our luggage, simply walked through customs and then placed our bags with an airline attendant who tagged them and placed them on a truck to be taken straight away to the airplane. We were checked straight through to Tampa and had boarding passes before leaving the ship! A cab, which is metered, cost US$16.00 to the airport.

Sorry for the length of this review. There were so many extraordinary things that I wanted to share. Overall, this was a wonderful cruise. I will definitely go out of my way to recommend Princess to friends, family and future customers.

Jaclyn Fletcher

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