Best way to see the Panama Canal
Coral Princess Cruise Review to Panama Canal, Central America
The cruise was great and a wonderful break from the cold of winter. The food on Princess is excellent, particularly the baked goods. Terrific variety available in all venues particularly the buffet.
We went on three excursions and went ashore on our own twice. Our focus in selecting excursions is mostly to be informed about the history and culture of the area and not entertainment.
First, while Port Everglades is a big place with a lot going on, the on-boarding experience was about as smooth as we have experienced for any travel experience. There were a lot of check-in locations and the process was quick. We particularly enjoyed the opportunity to go to our stateroom immediately and get hand-carried items situated; the rest of our bags appeared before dinner. We had plenty of time to get relaxed, get acquainted with the ship; better than other lines where we have been required to wait in public areas until the stateroom was readied.
As mentioned, food was great. We chose Anytime Dining and had dinner in the Bordeaux Dining Room in the evening but otherwise dined in the Horizon Buffet. One evening we dined in the the buffet, it was very quiet as most people chose other options but the food was still good and of similar quality to the Bordeaux even though the presentation was different.
The Cartegena Historic City excursion was pleasant. However, the cobblestone streets, for 1-1/2 hours, were a little tiresome particularly in 90+ degree heat. The Naval Museum is nice but most signage is in Spanish. Vendors are everywhere and some rather challenging. We didn't see the thieves our guide saw but he was watchful and directed the police to a couple of them.
We took the Panama Canal Present and Future tour which got us on land to see the locks up close. Walking was reasonable and the short video presentation was OK. Pay attention at the entrance on whether the video will be in Spanish or English. It isn't long and there is plenty of time to make sure you see the correct video. Not all guides are knowledgeable accurate. Our guide got the names of people involved in the canal wrong, very wrong. However, others are knowledgeable and willing to answer detailed questions if they know the answer. The only down side of this tour was Colon. We were warned the ship might not be waiting in Colon for us at the end of the excursion and that we might have to hang out there for as many as 3 hours. It's a terrible place to be required to wait more than about 15 minutes; shops are poor, not many places to eat (safely), and crime is nearby. All excursions end in Colon and board the ship. Not sure what can be done to correct this situation. We were lucky, we saw our ship return through the canal and it was docking in Colon as we arrived so our wait was only about 30 minutes. The line to board the ship formed quickly so we could return to the safety of the ship and get out of Colon.
The Historic Banana Railroad (with no visit to a banana plantation) was a disappointment. It was billed as a scenic railroad with exciting vistas. We had expected a ride through mountainous (if not hilly) areas with views of valleys and the ocean. We saw the ocean alright and there will hills in the distance but we essentially following the coast. It was not scenic. We saw several banana plantations and other flora, some monkeys and sloths, but too many shacks. We feels sorry for the less fortunate people in life but really didn't want to be reminded of it while on vacation. Our guide was good, entertaining and knowledgeable; he had a clear interest in the area and making sure we were informed. But he couldn't control where the tracks were laid. We recommend some other excursion as the railroad just didn't meet the advertised description at all.
We went ashore at Ocho Rios on our own, this was probably a mistake. The taxi drivers were everywhere and in your face. We had to fend off over 50, maybe as many as 100, in the walk from the pier to the shops (about 100 yards). There was one shop area clearly posted "no soliciting"; it was a haven. The port is beautiful but the taxi drivers were a big turn off.
Overall, this was a great way to see the Panama Canal. Be judicious in choosing excursions, read reviews to avoid disappointments.
Food and Dining
Service and Staff
Cabin / Stateroom