Age: 41 to 50
Number of Cruises: 3 - 5
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Sun Princess
Sailing Date: October 20, 2000
Itinerary: Classic Panama Canal
Though this is our 3rd cruise it is my first attempt to write a review. I have accessed many reviews in the past and hope that this review may assist others in determining what kind of itinerary they may want to choose. Our first cruise was the Southern Caribbean with RCCL on the Monarch of the Seas. Wonderful. The second cruise was with Carnival on the Holiday doing the Mexican Riviera. Delightful. Now on to the Panama Canal with Princess. We boarded on Friday 10/20/00 at 1 p.m. without a single problem. No lines, no waiting, and everything was ready for us. We were anxious to get on board and first see our stateroom as we had been upgraded from a balcony cabin to a mini-suite. It was a 4
category upgrade and had done nothing out of the ordinary to be granted this great upgrade. We booked in May and at the suggestion of our travel agent from Cruises-n-More only booked a “guaranteed” cabin instead of reserving a specific cabin or location. He has seen Princess upgrade a “guaranteed” cabin a category or so but this was only the second time he had seen an upgrade like we were given.
The stateroom was spectacular with 2 sliding glass doors onto the balcony. One from the living area and one from the bedroom area. 2 televisions, one in the bedroom and one in the living room. A couch, chair, coffee table, end table, and desk with a chair in the living area. A corner wet bar area and small refrigerator. Bedroom area had a queen size bed, night stand, and dressing table and chair. The walk in closest also had drawers and plenty of closest space. A full length mirror was the door of the closet. The bathroom had a regular size shower stall with tile and a glass door. Also there was a large Jacuzzi tub with lighted, stained glass behind the tub. The tub was big enough for two :). The toilet and sink were in another separate room so that one could use the shower or tub while another was using the toilet or sink. The whole stateroom was beautifully decorated and we felt like royalty. I can only imagine the luxuriousness of a stateroom suite which would be twice as big as a mini-suite. We were thrilled!!
We had requested a large dinner group as we like to talk and make new friends. Our 6 table mates couldn’t have been better. Our ages ranged from late 30’s to late 60’s from 4 different parts of the US. From the very first dinner to the last one we didn’t stop talking, laughing and sharing our lives and experiences, on and off the ship. Kudos to whomever Princess has picking out table mates. We have made 6 new friends!!
First stop was St. Thomas. We had been there on our Southern Caribbean cruise and decided to go over to St. John’s and snorkel at Trunk Bay. Cab ride to Red Hook ($10 for 2), ferry ride to Cruz Bay ($12 round trip for 2), cab ride to Trunk Bay ($5 for 2), fee to get into Trunk Bay ($8 for 2 for all day). All together it cost $50 for a day of superb snorkeling on St. John’s for 2 of us. Trunk Bay was incredible! St. John’s was an awesome island and we plan on going back to see more of it one day. Also, stop at Mongoose Mall at Cruz Bay if you have time. There are some great stores there!!
Next stop was Dominica, the Garden Isle. Pronounced “Dom-in-eek-a” by the locals. A beautiful island that is unspoiled. As we were there on Sunday, the stores is Roseau were closed but the market place at the pier was open for business. The merchants are a little pushy but stand down when told no. We hired a taxi for a 3 hour tour to see Emerald Pool at a cost of $30 for 2. It does cost an extra $2 per person to walk to the pool. I would not recommend this for those who are not able to walk trails and go up and down some pretty steep terrain. And it is very slippery when wet! The tour only took 2 hours but we still had to pay the $30. We should have thought of something else to do for the extra hour but the driver took us right back to the ship. I thought we should only pay $20 for the 2 hours but that’s not the way it works. If they drive fast and get you back early you still pay the agreed upon price. I am still learning the tricks!! Some of our table mates took the Whale and Dolphin tour and saw both. They also snorkeled at Champagne Reef and loved it. Others went to Taffalger Falls and enjoyed it too.
Barbados was our third island. We had also been there so we opted to take a Catamaran Snorkeling Tour. With about 40 others we headed north on the Caribbean side of the island at 9:30 am. First stop was snorkeling with the tortoises. There were a few other boats in the lagoon but there was enough room for all. We got into the water while the crew threw in fish and the tortoises swam around with us. We were instructed not to try to touch them but of course there were those who could not resist. I had one swim by and clip me with it’s fin, so it touched me, I didn’t touch it!! They were large, beautiful animals and our half hour went by way too fast. On to the reef to snorkel and have a wonderful buffet lunch aboard the catamaran. Five of us even got to ride the Banana Boat which was a real hoot. One girl popped off like a cork but came up smiling. They loaded her back on and off we sent again. It was like riding one of mechanical bulls only on the water. We made our way back to the ship at 3 p.m. sunburned but happy!! A great time at Barbados.
Next a day at sea for a much needed rest. Only problem, I found the art auction and found out I like art. I bought my own Christmas presents for this year and next! If you like art and like good prices and still have some money left after paying for your cruise, go to the art auction. You simply cannot beat the prices on the ship. Art is duty free and Princess really does have them for 75 to 85% less than at the galleries on land.
Aruba was our next port of call. We had decided to rent a 4x4 and see the north side of the island where the Natural Bridge and Natural Pool (Conchi) is. I would not recommend this to anyone who does not have 4x4 driving experience. The roads are dirt with rock and pot holes. The road to the Natural Bridge from the California Lighthouse is pretty good with the exception of a couple of really bumpy places. The north shore road takes you by piles and piles of stacked rocks that locals and tourists have placed along the shore. They are something to see!! Then you go by the Gold Mine Ruins which are very interesting. Without a tour guide you will have to look up the history on your own. The Natural Bridge is a feat of nature. Hopefully I got some great pictures before the bus loads of tourists from our ship showed up. Even though there was a sign saying not to walk on the Bridge, they were all over it. I suppose one of these days there won’t be a Natural Bridge. On to the Natural Pool or Conchi as the locals call it. Again I only recommend this if you have 4x4 experience as it is a rugged drive up and down trails meant for horses or ATV’s. The streets are not marked to get there so be patient while trying to find the entrance. There is a small house with a small sign and I suggest you wait for a guide to follow down to the pool. There was no one home when we got there so we tried it on our own. We made it but only by the grace of God. When we finally got down where the pool is the guide was astounded that we had made it on our own. He told us a better way to get back and we were glad for the direction. The pool was beautiful and we could only imagine how much more spectacular it would have been on a sunny day. You may also want to check the tides before going down as it is better to see when the tide is out. Since we only had 6 hours on Aruba this was a fast trek. We were rushed and did not get to spend quality time as each place. Aruba is another island we would like to go back and investigate one day.
In Cartagena the next stop we took the tour and saw the La Popa Monastery, the fortress or castle as they call it, the St. Peter Claven Cathedral, old town Cartagena and did some shopping at a small mall. Be sure to buy your Colombia coffee from the stores at the malls not from the street merchants. They quality is much better in the stores. The price is only a little bit higher but the quality of bean is much, much better. The price of jewelry is better in St. Thomas than Cartagena, but there is always that deal that can be made. I did get some fine leather sandals from the street merchants but had to barter hard for my price. One man was very honest and said, “Lady, you are cutting into my margin”. Most of Cartagena is very poor but I still felt safe. Our tour guide tired to disregard questions about the military and police all over the city but we knew why they were there. All in all it is a very fascinating city, very rich in history. The Colombians are very proud of their heritage and history.
Panama Canal was next on the itinerary and was a wonderful day from start to finish. Watching them stuff that big ship into that tiny lock was unbelievable. And each time they pulled us through a lock it was awesome. Gatun Lake was spectacular as was the Bridge of the America’s and the skyline of Panama City. You will just have to experience the day for yourself and determine which part you like best. We were very thankful to have our balcony cabin and enjoyed sharing our mini-suite with our table mates and another young couple we had met who had an inside cabin. As the sun sank into the Pacific Ocean we made our way north to Costa Rica.
After a day at sea we neared the Gulf of Nicoya where Puntarenes is located. Due to a couple of medical emergencies we docked the evening before we were suppose to. The next day we spent in Puntarenes, Costa Rica. Being Sunday again all of the business were closed but they had a very large market place set up. The merchants were not pushy and pretty well let us alone to chose our purchases. We decided to spend the day at the Caribbean Village Fiesta Resort on a day pass. We enjoyed food, drinks and swimming for the entire day, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for $38 per person. It is a family resort for middle upper class locals. Also English was at a minimal except for the resort workers. We enjoyed our day with the local families, many from San Jose spending the weekend at the beach. Our table mates and others enjoyed a day of rafting one of the nearby rivers, sightseeing and shopping in San Jose (2 hours drive from the ship), a river tour in which they saw monkeys, crocodiles and many species of birds (no Toucans though). The tours lasted any where from 6 to 10 hours but everyone we spoke to enjoyed them.
Disaster struck that night aboard the ship. We were late pulling out of port and I suspect but cannot confirm that the ship got stuck on a sandbar or hung up on something. The tugs had to be called in to assist. While helping us, one of the tow lines snapped and critically injured one of the crew on board our ship. The Captain decided to head straight to Puerto Caldera our final port located just a few miles from Puntarenes. The crewman died before we could reach the dock. It was a somber last night aboard the Sun Princess.
We disembarked at 6:30 the next morning, got onto our bus, drove the 96 kilometers to San Jose airport where our group remained for 12 hours while they tried to fix our charter plane from Los Angeles. San Jose airport was not equipped to handle an MD-11 so it took a long time to fix what was wrong. All 380 of us missed our connecting flights but the Charter Company got us hotel rooms so we could get a couple of hours of sleep in a bed while they rearranged flights for us. Many did not handle this part of the adventure well but a few of us kept our sense of humor and sense of adventure.
All but the final days of the cruise was superb. And nothing could have been changed to avoid what had happened those last hours. Things just happen sometimes whether you are on a cruise, a camping trip, a week-end outing or whatever. There just comes a time you have to make the best out of a bad situation. So in remembering what a lovely time we did have and praying for families of those that died ( the crewman and a woman who had a heart attack), and wishing the best for those who had gotten injured in a few mishaps, and those who had missed the ship at 2 different ports, and all of the other things we didn’t hear about, we will always be thankful for the service, the food, the fun, the laughter, the new friends and the experience of crossing the Panama Canal with Princess Cruise Lines for the rest of our lives.