All in all, my Panama Canal Cruise was all I had wanted it to be and more. I had wanted to see it all my life and it exceeded my expectations. That doesn't happen very often any more.
--The cruise itinerary--five picturesque ports in five amazing countries
--The friendly and interesting fellow travelers on the Island Princess
--Their wonderful and accommodating staff
--The lovely local people that we met
--The stunning vistas we saw
--The delicious food we ate
--The relaxing and "rebooting" we did and
Best of all, getting to share it all with my family.
My husband and I always wanted to:
Cruise the ocean
Travel the world
Live out the dream
So, folks, I wanna ride again!!
P.S. I have photos I can upload, but couldn't figure your system out.
5 out of 5
Of course, the line in the Princess terminal was long, but it moved right along. We had mini-suites entitles you a shorter line to stand in on other cruise lines, but this one line went quite fast. Pretty painless embarkation--nicely organized and executed. Great first impression of Princess!
Food and Dining
5 out of 5
All of the above were top notch. BUFFET was best I've had on 10 cruises except for Disney. Impressive variety, tasty, great support from ship staff answering questions and getting whatever you asked for, and presentation of food was very nicely done. The Horizon Court's Eggs Benedict were just as good as in the MDR (Main Dining Room) and the bran muffins on board were some of the best I've had. SPECIALTY RESTAURANTS: Ate at Sabitini's (elegant and delicious) and at Cafe Bayou & Steakhouse (amazing, especially loved the Cajun and Creole aspect of that restaurant because we lived in Texas 30 years). Had the biggest lobster tail there I've ever had (8 ounces)--tender and succulent! My son had a 22-ounce Porterhouse steak which blew our minds and was cooked perfectly. Both restaurants were well worth the extra charge. Servers at both were personable and attentive.
MDR: The Provence Dining Room was excellent and the choices were varied and rather mind-boggling! We actually liked everything we ordered, except for a so-so sauce on a bowl of clams and a runny risotto that Chef Gordon Ramsay certainly would have yelled about. But loving everything else is definitely no small recommendation. My prime rib on the first night was spot-on wonderful, cooked perfectly and was a generous portion for sure.
5 out of 5
We were not into really "active" activities on board as I am "more mature in years," but I will rate what we did. No water slides on this ship or rock-climbing walls or ziplines or ice rinks, so that's a bummer for major sport enthusiasts. We spent a lot of time walking the breeze-filled Promenade Deck (love to do that to work off my meals) and my adult kids worked out in the Fitness Center every day as they were preparing for a Half-Marathon after we got back. Slightly disappointing was that the Fitness Center did not have an ocean view to enjoy for those using the treadmills like some of their other ships do.
We loved the shaded, comfy padded lounges by the Lotus Pool where we relaxed, read and people watched. We watched the ocean roll by through amazing ceiling-to-floor windows. Wait staff was very attentive there--one of our favorite places on the ship--quiet and peaceful. Pools were lovely and hot tubs were not too crowded. Plenty of towels about and no checking in/out pool towels like some other lines do. Loved the pizza and hamburger/hot dog spots by the Lido Pool. Very convenient and tasty. We may have eaten some of both regularly.
Loved the "Movies Under The Stars" on the Lido Deck--such fun and who can ever complain about free popcorn! I loved that not only did they put a pad on the pool lounge chairs for the movie, but it also had a padded headrest on it--classy!
5 out of 5
Totally enjoyed the 8:15 p.m. performance of the show each night at the Princess Theater! Wonderful music, dancing, costumes, scenery and feats of magic--very well done. The troupe of Princess' singers and dancers were absolutely stand out, especially the four leads--two men, two women--who had most of the solos. They got quite a few standing ovations during the cruise. The fact that they performed practically every night was never a negative. It never seemed like the "same old, same old" at all.
When you exit the show, don't take the elevators right there outside the Princess Theater. Walk forward on the ship a bit and take another set. Too slammed right there, especially by passengers with walkers, canes and wheelchairs who really need the close-by ones for physical challenge reasons.
Loved the assortment of vocalists, string trios, pianists, steel drummers, etc. who sang/played in the Atrium every day. Worth standing there for a while to watch. Didn't ever see the DJ's on board, but the cruise director John Loney was personable and excellent.
No children or teens along on this cruise
Service and Staff
5 out of 5
Ship staff was wonderful. So friendly, helpful and on top of anything we needed. Wait staff was especially attentive and happy to explain dishes, give recommendations and answer any of our questions. Our room steward Louie from the Philippines was excellent! Our mini-suites were impeccably clean the whole 10 days--no issues with anything--and he was so friendly when we saw him in the hall.
We are not drinkers, so I can't rate the bar facilities except that we had the Soda package and never waited very long for service or delivery.
5 out of 5
This was my 10th cruise, but my first on Princess. I have sailed Norwegian, Holland America and Royal and enjoyed them pretty much in that order. Princess always seemed to be a bit more expensive and didn't have quite the right itineraries when we were looking. However, we hit the jackpot with the Island Princess. The ship was spacious, but not too big, carefully maintained, clean and updated--totally enjoyable. The layout was very logical and easy to get the hang of, although I did appreciate on a Norwegian cruise once that the "fish" in the stateroom hallway carpeting design "faced" forward so we ALWAYS knew which direction the front of the ship was. Our suites were mid-forward and about 7 rooms forward of the forward elevators on the ship on the port side (C226 and C228). It was a great location. Convenient to elevators and stairs, but no noise heard from people accumulating there. Other folks like mid-ship, but we prefer forward and even aft (had a great Penthouse Suite on Norwegian Sun in 2007 that was aft-facing--totally amazing!).
Didn't see anything in the common areas or anywhere on the ship those 10 days that "needed attention." People have written in a few reviews that the Island Princess was showing signs of her age. We saw no evidence of that on our cruise.
Our inclination is to cruise Princess from now on as this cruise has totally spoiled us. All the little touches that make a difference were there!
Cabin / Stateroom
5 out of 5
Suite was beautiful, welcoming and just as portrayed on Princess' website. Spacious and comfy. Bed was absolutely amazing and sofa sat three comfortably. Bathroom was roomy and clean as a whistle.
Desk and chair were nice and loved nightstands and lamps on either side of queen bed. Princess bed and bedding were addictive!
The refrigerator was behind a cupboard door across from the desk. Some cruise reviewers complain about the refrigerators that are in their rooms not being cold enough. Mine kept everything cold all the time.
There was PLENTY of room in this suite for storage of clothing, shoes, cameras, 5 c. bottled water which we purchased from Princess--58 cents a bottle ordered ahead of time versus $2 on board--souvenirs bought along the way, important papers, shore excursion tickets and info, etc., etc. Also plenty of shelf space to display ship photographer photos purchased on board and whatever else.
All in all, we were very happy with our staterooms. We would stay in a Princess mini-suite again without hesitation. Loved, loved, loved the balcony! Would never cruise without one. Hardly ever heard a neighbor out on his balcony in either direction, below or above, which was very appreciated.
Sit back, relax and "sea" the world. The Island Princess has it covered!
No excursion here, but a nice, quick trip to ship terminal from the airport via Princess' motor coach. Flew into FL via "red eye" flight from Vegas that morning and would not do again. Too stressful worrying about possible flight connection interference even though we had Princess' EZ-Air guarantee about "getting you where you need to be in spite of weather or mechanical delays." Have always flown in the night before on other cruises taken and will do that again. Was traveling with adult children who were already missing 7 days of work to go with me on this 10-day cruise and I wanted to have the fewest days away for them. Dumb idea! We ALL that agreed next time we will board on Cruise Day with a good night's sleep under our belt. We arrived at airport at 9:15 a.m. and we were on the ship eating lunch before noon. Not bad.
Easiest port I've been to for walking around and self-guiding about, except maybe Nassau, Bar Harbor, Cozumel and the Inside Passage towns in Alaska. George Town seemed like a lot of Florida beach towns I've visited except for the driving on wrong side of street part. We did the "Atlantis Submarine Adventure" shore excursion that Princess offered ($99.95 for 90 minutes) and loved it. I always do shore excursions offered by the ship--love the "we will wait for you, just in case" promise they have.
The Atlantis people were very organized and professional. I was a little nervous about the entry ladder down into the submarine, but it was not difficult like I thought it might be. The sub itself was cool (temperature) with roomy seats, individual large portholes which came with a laminated color sheet hanging by each window to help you identify all the fish and creatures you might see on your journey. Handy hint: be the last in line to climb aboard the sub and you will get to sit right up front by the captain/pilot where you can see everything through his HUGE window at the front of the sub and all his controls, too. Plus had a little extra room there. Surprised it was not stuffy or claustrophobic at all. Reef was beautiful at 100 feet deep and the ride went too quickly. Saw lots of reef life, schools of fish and a sea turtle who came swimming toward us and then disappeared under our side of the sub. Even though it was a bit pricey, I would do it again. Hey, where else can you ride in a real submarine, dive a 100 feet and "be up close and personal" with such beautiful marine life? Well, maybe Disneyland, but that's not real!
This excursion was definitely one you could arrange yourself in George Town. Atlantis' location is only a 5-8 minute walk from the pier where the ship's tender drops you off when you arrive. Not much danger of missing the ship doing that. The main drag in George Town is loaded with jewelry stores, souvenir shops and eating places. Try a "spicy beef patty" from a local vendor--a beef mixture in a fried empanada/turnover crust. They are apparently "big" in the Caribbean and delicious! There is a Hard Rock Cafe right along that main drag that makes a mean virgin Mohito. Sure was refreshing after walking around in the heat and humidity!
Learned that the Cayman Islands were named after the "caiman" that abounded there when the islands were first discovered. They are smaller than a crocodile or alligator, can live in salt or fresh water and are the most aggressive of the three. They are good eating, so they disappeared almost completely after the islands became more inhabited!
We did the "1-Hour Horse & Carriage Ride In Old Town" shore excursion ($59.95 for 3 hours) by Princess and really enjoyed it. We stopped briefly at San Felipe Fort--very big, very impressive. It is located on the Hill of San Lazaro in a strategic location where it dominates approaches to the city by land or sea. Very helpful for detecting French or English pirates in the 17th century. Also found a store across the street that let us use their restroom for $1. Reminded me of finding restrooms in Italy and Turkey. Primitive, but functional.
Wow, souvenir vendors in Cartagena were most aggressive of any on this cruise. Came right up to bus window, would not take NO for an answer and followed you if you walked away. We arrived in the Old Town area and were assigned our carriages. We enjoyed a lovely, peaceful ride through the beautiful and iconic architecture of New World colonists--cobbled streets, magnificent churches and idyllic pastel-painted houses dripping with tropical flowers.
Luckily, we were a party of three, so our guide Fernando hopped into our 4-person carriage and promptly narrated the whole hour in Old Town. The rest of our group did not get all that wonderful background and history. He was very informative and interesting. Definitely worth the tour money.
After the carriage ride, we walked along several very long blocks in Old Town and souvenir-shopped. We really enjoyed Cartagena, but it was quite warm that day (April) and we were eventually happy to get back onto the air-conditioned bus and the ship.
Colombia was the only country on our cruise where we were told beforehand that we would need a yellow fever shot if we planned to go outside of Cartagena and into the countryside. Apparently they do not have yellow fever under control in Colombia.
No excursion that day for us because we did not want to miss the return transit along the Canal. Our cruise did a partial transit into the Canal, as far as Gatun Lake. Lots of people got off the ship there in Gatun Lake and then scattered in all directions to do shore excursions, but not us. I have looked forward to seeing the Panama Canal all my life and I did not want to miss a minute. My husband and I grew up hearing about about what an awe-inspiring feat of engineering and rite of passage for history buffs the Canal was. It was on our "bucket lists" for sure.
So, I was up, dressed and on my balcony by 6 a.m. that morning. I had breakfast delivered to my balcony so I could leisurely eat and watch our approach. The pilot boarded the ship off Cristobal, Panama at 6.
We passed the Atlantic Bridge and then entered the Gatun Locks at 8 a.m. Our progress was monitored and each step reported over the PA system that we could hear in our rooms. The Canal narrator provided lots of info about our progress. It took 2 hours to get through the Canal as the ship was raised and lowered through the Canal's lock system, powered by gravity using water pulled from Gatun Lake. The locks raise ships up to 85 feet above sea level. We watched it all from our balconies and it was a thrilling process. The Panama Canal is certainly a testament to the power of human ingenuity to solve seemingly impossible problems. It definitely changed the course of history by redirecting the course of ships sailing between two oceans.
We were anchored in Gatun Lake for almost 2 hours (we grabbed lunch in the Horizon Court) and then we turned around for our transit back to the Atlantic side through the other lock. For this part, we left our balconies and went to watch the return transit from a large balcony at the front of the ship on our same deck (Caribe 10). It was accessible through a door that looked like one only staff could us. It is a little known "watch spot" that we heard about from the Canal narrator and we had it mostly to ourselves for the first hour. We had a very dramatic, up close and personal view of the locks opening and closing and the lake water draining and filling! And we did it with a slice of pizza and a cold drink from the Lido deck in hand.
To summarize, it was a great day!
Got off the ship, looked around outside of the terminal and got right back on the ship because it looked very sketchy. Very sad. We were only docked there for 2 hours, mostly to pick up the people who did shore excursions.
I really liked Puerto Limon. They boast pristine beaches, sprawling banana plantations and dense rainforest. I saw all three in one day and it was no boast! My kids and I went in different directions that day. They took a more "vigorous" shore excursion in the "Canopy Zipline Tour In Veragua Rainforest ($99.95 each for 4 1/2 hours)." They glided through the rainforest on specially-built traverses and cables and got a bird's eye view of the rainforest canopy. They followed their guide to the first platform and then navigated 11 traverses at heights of up to 150 feet above the forest floor and loved it! They also did a walk through the Veragua Rainforest research center and park. It was a stunningly beautiful and exciting day for them.
I took two back to back shore excursions that day: (1) "Tortugero Canal Cruise" that cost $74.95 for 3 hours and (2) "Scenic Drive/Folkloric Show" that cost $44.95 for 2 hours 45 minutes. Both were Princess excursions and I really enjoyed both. Good value for the cost.
My first excursion began at the pier where I climbed aboard air-conditioned transportation (much appreciated) to Moin's private dock. I then boarded a jungle pontoon boat specially designed to cruise comfortably and quietly through the canals. Tortugero is also known as Costa Rica's "Amazon" because of the surrounding rainforest. It is a system of canals that links remote "Barra del Colorado" and "Tortugero" with Puerto Limon and they are one of the main natural attractions of the region. There one can discover the less-traveled Caribbean side of Costa Rica (which means Rich Coast).
Along the canals, I saw gorgeous orchids, water lilies, monkeys, lots of cranes, caiman sunning on logs or on the shore, a sloth high up in a tree and enough greenery to last a lifetime. It was hot that day, but the breezes generated by our boat moving helped a lot. Everywhere I looked, there was untamed beauty.
Our boat guide was very knowledgeable and had a nice personality. Can't remember his name. He stopped the boat at one point, pulled up to the water's edge, hopped off the boat and proceeded to find us the poisonous red frog that he had just been telling us about. He brought one back to the boat, wrapped in a big banana leaf, and showed us a closer look, if we wanted. Obviously, no one wanted him to pass that around!
After the cruise, they served us complimentary fresh, tropical fruit--pineapple and bananas--and soft drinks. We had a few minutes to browse in their souvenir shop and then they took us back to the ship.
My second excursion began about an hour later. There was a live 3-person band at the end of the dock where the buses came and went who were basically playing for "tips." I listened to lively reggae and Caribbean music which was very entertaining. There are Afro-Caribbean and Jamaican influences in Costa Rica. Of course, the people-watching opportunities abounded as I watched folks go back to and come from the Island Princess.
On the second excursion, I would be seeing local dancers in authentic costumes that would "captivate us with traditional dances and encourage us to join in the fun." When we arrived back to the same landing where I took the canal cruise, their performance began and they did just that--captivated us. I am certainly a sucker for a good folkloric dance troupe and I thought it was well done--good music, lovely costumes and friendly performers. They interacted with the audience and were very personable and anxious to entertain and share their culture. Afterward they served us the same kind of refreshments we had that morning. They also had a local woman selling "Spicy Beef Patties" and I bought one. Again, it was good.
I totally enjoyed both my excursions and when I was returned to the ship, I truly felt like I had seen a "piece of Costa Rica."
We docked early morning in Ocho Rios at the Reynolds Pier (aka James Bond pier). Apparently scenes from one of the James Bond movies were filmed here. There are two piers in Ocho Rios--a really nice pier called Turtle Bay with multiple restaurants, beach front area and shopping opportunities and Reynold's Pier, our "secondary cruise berth" about a 15-minute walk away from that which was dumpy and sketchy. It is a former bauxite export facility now used for lime and sugar shipments. It does not look very cruise-ship friendly. I felt like we had "lost the toss" or something or were being sneaked into the country the back way or something. Reynolds Pier was supposed to get a $230 million dollar upgrade in 2016, but we saw no evidence of that ever happening.
In all fairness, perhaps the bigger ships HAVE to dock at the nicer pier because of their bulk. The Island Princess has about 2,300 passengers which makes her small compared to the newer, mega ships. At any rate, I think we would have had a better experience in Ochos Rios if we had berthed at the other pier.
My kids had a combo excursion that day organized by Princess that lasted 5 hours and cost $104.95: (1) Dunn's River Falls, a magnificent 600-foot thundering cascade with swimmable natural pools and (2) VIP Bamboo Beach Club, a private beach club whose motto is "taking it cool" where they were supposed to laze on the beach, swim in the crystal blue ocean, be entertained by native dancers and be served unlimited food and drink (alcoholic or non). In theory that sounded like heaven. In reality and execution, it was very lacking (more about that later).
They loved climbing the Falls to the top, hand in hand and, at some points, holding hands with strangers to keep their balance. It was very picturesque, great fun and a bit tricky in spots because the rocks were so slippery. It was lovely and green everywhere they looked. They were happy to reach the top and proud of themselves for getting there! That part of the excursion took about 3 hours. Because I am older, I passed on that part.
They left the Falls and headed by bus to VIP Bamboo Beach where I had already been for several hours. I took the "VIP Bamboo Beach Club" shore excursion, too, ($79.95 for 4 hours) with the general plan that we could be on the beach together for a few hours at least. However, we discovered quickly that once you get off your bus, you have to stay in the same area as your bus people the whole time. The beach is invisibly cordoned off--with various busloads in various spots--and you cannot roam around, find a better spot or, in our case, get together with friends or family. Quite bizarre.
As I sat on the beach on a comfy padded beach lounge, underneath the shade of a large coconut palm tree close to the shore, with an ice-cold virgin tropical punch in hand, you would think I would be in my happy place. I was except that every few minutes my server--my person in charge from the bus or whatever she was called--came by to see if I wanted anything else to drink or eat, if I wanted a massage, if I wanted my hair braided, if I wanted to buy a whole coconut to drink, etc., etc. Talk about up selling.
She brought me several "small plates," a main entree (a grilled whole fish with tons of tiny bones which made it inedible) and a dessert, plus you could have more if you wanted. The food was very ordinary. I had better Jerk chicken on the ship. She drove the Canadian couple in the lounge chairs next to me "nuts" when she followed them into the surf and asked them to come out and eat what she had brought them before it got cold. They were already upset because they were told they could not leave our area and walk to the end of the beach by some rocks and take a picture like they wanted to do. They complained loudly to management, there was a flutter of people at their lounge chairs and I don't know how it was resolved.
I don't drink, so the novelty of free liquor was lost on me, but I guess that was the BIG attraction for a lot of people there. Then as I was relaxing with my head back and my eyes closed, a bus boy suddenly appeared next to me to pick up a dirty plate, leaned over and said "a generous tip would be nice." I was so surprised that the only thing I could think of to say was "yes, that would be nice." I am a good tipper, but I decide when.
When my kids arrived at the Beach, we tried very hard to convince the servers to let us sit together, but they wouldn't budge. Guess we should have been loud like the unhappy Canadian couple. Anyway, I went back to my area and they stayed in theirs and we did our own thing for the rest of the time we were there except for a few visits back and forth.
As I mentioned before, the location was absolutely beautiful, but the excursion was totally micro-managed and incredibly stifling. Nothing "chill" about it whatsoever. I would not take this excursion again nor recommend it to friends.
On the way back to the ship, we stopped at a 2-story cement building (looked like a military bunker) in a residential area and were "held hostage" at a souvenir shop for over half an hour. I do not like being herded to one store--a collection of stores maybe but not just one.
When we returned to the ship area, we had to show our ship ID at the locked gate again (we had to show it to get OUT of the yard). There must either be a lot of people trying to get INTO Ocho Rios illegally or trying to get OUT. My guess would be OUT. I tried to like Jamaica, but it just didn't happen.
5 out of 5
Met my group at 8:30 in the Explorer Lounge. I had sent my 2 bags off the night before via EZ-Air Express which meant I would not see them again until I picked them up from Baggage Claim in Las Vegas. Loved that! Walked off the ship, didn't have to stop in Customs, got on the Princess transfer bus and was at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport by 10 a.m. Had to wait for my flight to Charlotte then on to Vegas.
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