The transit is a "must do"

Island Princess Cruise Review to Panama Canal, Central America

Cruises: 7+ cruises
Reviews: 15
Helpful Votes: 309

Overall rating:

4 out of 5
Island Princess

15 Night Panama Canal - Ocean To Ocean (Los Angeles To Ft. Lauderdale)

Sail date: December 05, 2016

Ship: Island Princess

Cabin type: Balcony

Cabin number: B334

Traveled as: Couple

Reviewed: 4 years ago

Review summary

Went to LA the day before and stayed on the Queen Mary over night.  It was a great start for a cruise as it took us back to the beginning of cruising in luxury.  The history included famous people who sailed on her, her role during the war and more.  You get a self-guided audio tour with the booking and it is fascinating all the things the Queen Mary has been through. They were still working on parts of the ship.  Evidentially she had slipped into some disrepair, but she is now looking like an old lady with stories to tell.  Highly recommend these accommodations.

We took a cab to San Pedro to board the Island Princess and arrived within our slotted time.  Embarkation went smoothly with our cabin available for carry-on drop off. We promptly went to the Horizons on Lido Deck for lunch.  The Horizons is in the front of the ship so we were always a bit disoriented as we are used to the buffet being in the aft.  The food selection was good and tasty.  I enjoyed this part of the ship as it seemed so open even when crowded.  It did get busy for the transit, with folks saving their place at the front at 4:00 AM.

We expected the passengers to be an older crowd and we were right.  There were only about 2 dozen (or so) 50 and under.  The disadvantage to this was the scheduling for Early Dining…. It was overbooked and a real disaster when the Any Time diners tried to get into the MDR.  We skipped the MDR the 3rd night due this mess but figured out a “work-around” after that.  We were impressed that they were able to have a varied menu for 15 days.  The food was good and the presentations very appealing.  They are also very accommodating for people with special diet needs (be sure to let them know ahead of time).  We were slightly disappointed in the more casual dress on formal night than the last time we sailed on a Princess ship (2 years ago).  That said, they did enforce the dress code as posted daily in the “Princess Patter” and at the entrance to the dining room.

The balcony cabin was smaller than we anticipated and the shower was tiny (kept hitting my elbows).  We felt that a balcony was a must because we had no idea how much rail space would be available for the transit.  I would recommend deck 9 (Emerald Deck) because it is closer to the water and better for measuring the rise and fall of the ship. Sadly there was a leak in the plumbing on decks 9 & 11 and they were frequently turning off the water for hours at a time and there was a musty odor in the corridors. She is, after all, an older ship and age takes a toll on us all. 

Our room steward, Glenn, was the best we have had in many years (reminded us of the ones back in the beginning of our cruising history).  He watched the cabins to see when his passengers left to eat and promptly cleaned the cabin.  There was no need to pick when you wanted your cabin cleaned as it was morning and evening (with chocolates every night).  We asked for a sheet because the duvet was too hot for sleeping under and he had it ready that very evening.  He always asked if there was anything else we needed and seemed happy to fix whatever problem arose.  He was always smiling and remembered our names.

There were only a few smokers on this cruise (mostly the younger folks), so the casino was relatively smoke free.  They would go to Churchill’s to smoke or the one outdoor area (I think there was only one). No one seemed unhappy on either side of the issue.

If you have sailed the Island Princess in the past and expect deck 7 to go around the ship, that is no longer true. Many folks did a daily walk on this deck, but either turned around or walked through the ship for their laps.  This is more shaded than deck 15 where others went for the daily laps.  Yes, there is a gym on board, but I have no idea what it looks like.

We had a “destination specialist on board that gave presentations for each port of call and information about the area in general.  These were wonderful and very informative.  If you have a chance to hear any presentation from Humberto Neto, go and enjoy.

Ship experiences

Food and Dining

5 out of 5
The food was varied, not always correct temperature but served with a warm and friendly wait staff. Anytime Dining was a total disaster!

Onboard Activities

5 out of 5
One could find something to do. Sometimes too many choices at the same time.


5 out of 5
Plenty to do for wide range of interests.

Children's Programs

Didn't use.

Service and Staff

5 out of 5
The staff was outstanding. Kudos go to Glenn our room steward. Simone the cruise director and the bar staff in La Patisserie, Neville, Denish & Jasmine.

Ship Quality

3 out of 5
Cabins are small and the shower is tiny. The staff is always cleaning and the public areas clean. Musty smell because of water leak on our deck.

Cabin / Stateroom

3 out of 5
Cabin steward, Glenn, outstanding. The cabin was small and sometimes made the Kabuki dance of getting ready in a small space humorous. The shower so small I hit my elbows most times. Balcony good for looking down but the suites block any forward or aft vision.

Ship tip

When going through the Canal Decks 9 and 11 have a forward public area. You must go through a door marked "emergency exit" but is open and available for the transit.

Ports of call

San Pedro (Los Angeles), California

5 out of 5
Stay on the Queen Mary.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

3 out of 5
Puerto Vallarta: since we were just there we simply went shopping near the ship. A land based crew boarded and decorated the ship for Christmas. It was amazing what they accomplished on such a short time.

Huatulco, Mexico

3 out of 5
Huatulco: took the “Land and Sea” tour offered by the ship, the land part was poor but the sea part was good. It has been decided by the local government to develop this area into a tourist destination with 70% to be left untouched by “human hand”. According to our guide on the sea portion of our tour, the tourist dollars have given them many schools before the university level (which were lacking), two universities, several exclusive hotels, a hospital and two international airports. He thinks most of the citizens are happy with these changes.

San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

3 out of 5
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua: is now a “suffer haven”. The history of this place was unknown to us and a great surprise as to the importance it had for the California Gold Rush. We did not take a tour here and just went into town (small village) to see the area. We would not recommend wandering about without a guide.

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

3 out of 5
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua: is now a “suffer haven”. The history of this place was unknown to us and a great surprise as to the importance it had for the California Gold Rush. We did not take a tour here and just went into town (small village) to see the area. We would not recommend wandering about without a guide.

Panama Canal Transit

5 out of 5
Panama Canal Transit: what the cruise is all about. We heard doors start slamming about 6:00AM so decide to get up. We were waiting with several other vessels to enter the locks. While we hadn’t started the transit yet we could see a lot from our balcony. Humberto was live on the TV and we were able to follow our progress. We went under the Bridge of the Americas then enter the Miraflores about 10:45AM, then the Pedro Miguel a half hour later. We transited the Gillard Cut and went through Gatun Lake. We finally enter the Gatun Locks about 4:00 PM and watched from deck 5 in the coffee shop. This was a wonderful spot as we started with window at the top of the lock and went down so the wall filled the window (kind of spooky). We were finally through about 5:30PM. While we did not go through the new locks we watched a ship enter and we could see it as we did the transit. This experience should definitely be on your “cruise to do list”.

Cartagena, Colombia

3 out of 5
Cartagena, Columbia: We were an hour late because of headwinds and a late departure from the canal. But this is just the way things happen sometimes. We chose to go with a non-ship tour and wish we had picked a smaller group. You will see more if you stick with a group of 10 or less.

Oranjestad, Aruba

5 out of 5
Aruba: one of our favorite ports. There are beautiful beaches, crystal clear water, good shopping and tasty food. Pick a shore tour from the ship or one from a local vendor and see the Island.

Ft. Lauderdale (Port Everglades), Florida

3 out of 5
Fort Lauderdale: debarkation was slow and frustrating. There were several ships in port, much to our surprise for a Tuesday. Cab ride to the airport for two is $35
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