Booking: We booked this cruise in the spring of 2002 with our local travel agent and selected the mini-suite because we liked the balcony and size of the cabin, which was similar to what we had on the Rotterdam a few years ago. We were confirmed in that cabin in a few days and did not change or allow an upgrade. We completed the online registration on Princess.com web site as soon as we had our booking ID and we also booked all of our excursions online prior to sailing. We had also registered our credit card for onboard purchases. Our tickets and "express check-in" designation arrived about one month prior to sailing.
Travel to ship and embarkation: We chose to handle our own air and hotel since we were sailing from and returning to Fort Lauderdale. The price Princess wanted for the air and a night in the hotel prior to sailing was about two to three times what we could book ourselves. We got round trip air on US Airways direct from Philadelphia to Ft. Lauderdale for $194.00 apiece, booked about 6 months prior to the cruise. We used some frequent flyer miles to upgrade to first class, so it was an effortless flight for us. We also had our TA book a room at the Marriott Harbor Beach resort for one night at a rate of $239. Princess wanted over $300 apiece for us to stay in the same hotel for one night. We flew to Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday, February 1 and arrived around 4:00 P.M. We had our luggage in a matter of minutes and took a taxi from the airport to the Marriott and were in our room around 4:45 P. M. The cab cost us $10. We had dinner in the hotel and after walking on the beach awhile, we were in bed early. In the morning we had breakfast in the hotel and then gathered our suitcases and got a taxi to Port Everglades. We arrived there around 11:30 and turned our 4 bags over to the waiting porter. There was no line for checking in and there were deck designations over the counter where about six representatives were waiting. We handed in our tickets and signed one document and were given our room cards. These cards had our names, our room number and listed our dining as personal choice. We headed up the escalator into a waiting area where about 100 other people were already waiting. At about 12:00 noon they began allowing us on board and after the stop for the photo, we were on the gangway. Our picture was captured as we entered the ship and swiped the cruise card, and there were agents at the elevators escorting people to the appropriate floors. We were taken to deck 9 (Dolphin) where another representative pointed us in the direction of the room on the port side, but did not escort us any further.
Cabin: Our cabin was a mini-suite and was over 300 square feet in size. It was larger than the one we had in the Rotterdam in 2000. The bathroom entrance on the right as you enter the cabin is also the entrance to the closet. It is sort of a 'walk in' affair with a closet at one end, with open shelves from floor to ceiling. The safe is in this closet, and we found it adequate to hold our passports, some cash and travelers checks. There is a shelf along the top of the closet. The closet is probably about 6 feet long. The bathroom in the mini-suite has a full size tub with shower. The countertop where the sink is was about 4 feet in length. There are glass shelves (3) above the counter, and a mirror is behind the counter for the full length. There are also two glass shelves in the corner of the bathtub. Under the sink/counter, there is a shelf that runs the full length. The beds were placed in the king arrangement as we had asked, and there are night stands with lamps on either side of the bed. There are two Televisions, one that is viewable from the bed and one from the sitting area. Next to the bed there is a desk with four drawers on either side. There is a hair dryer in the wall next to the desk and there are two electrical outlets on the desk top. There is a full mirror on the wall behind the desk. Across from this desk is a counter with shelves and a small refrigerator is behind a door. Inside we found a bucket of ice already waiting. There are glasses on the shelves as well and there are more shelves above this cabinet. In the seating area there was a full size sofa that could be opened for an additional bed. There was also an upholstered chair and a coffee table. The balcony doors opened to a balcony that had a round table suitable for eating and two chairs that were adjustable.
Our housekeeper was Edwin and he showed up just a few minutes after we arrived. We asked for robes and he promised to get them immediately. He also told us how to request a bowl of fruit and showed us how to use the phone, thermostat, television, and breakfast order form. The TV showed CNN, CNBC, ESPN, TNT, and had several Coral stations showing the web cam, the bridge report, and information on the Princess station that covered port talks, and other information.
The Ship: We saw no luggage yet, so we took off to explore the ship and make spa appointments. I knew from experience that often spa appointments are fully booked on the first day, so I headed there first. It took us awhile to figure out how to get into the spa. It is in the aft of the ship and we took a mid-ship elevator, so it was confusing. We did not find anyone at the main desk when we did find the spa, but after wandering around I ran into someone who worked there and she agreed to find the appointment book and make appointments for me. So, I got the first appointments of the cruise, and scheduled a massage, manicure and pedicure all for the next day, our first sea day.
Then we kept exploring. On the same deck as the spa we found the Horizon Court, the buffet. This buffet advertises that it is open 24 hours a day. It was already busy with folks who were eating lunch. We took some fruit and coffee and kept exploring. There are two pools on this deck: the Lido pool is outside the buffet and has glass walls along the sides, but an open air top. There is another deck running around the sides of the pull, and you just walk up stairs at the end of the pool to reach this area. On the main area of the pool there is a bar and the pizzeria. On the next level up, there is the Princess grill that serves hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, etc. There were hundreds of lounge chairs with blue and while striped pads on the chairs. From this deck you can also walk up to the sun deck and there is a small "splash" pool there. It's just a tiny pool that is only about 8 inches deep. There are lounge chairs up there as well, and it's the only place you can look out over the bow of the ship. Heading toward the aft past the lido pool, you come to the Spa Pool. This pool has a retractable cover, and also has a lower and upper seating area around it. Both of these pools also have several hot tubs on the sides, if one prefers the warmer water. All pools have fresh water only. Past the spa pool is the spa and the fitness center. Further past the fitness center there is a children's area and the Pelican pool.
We kept exploring. Below the Lido deck there are four deck that house only staterooms (Aloha, Baha, Caribe, and Dolphin). The Emerald deck has about half of the deck for staterooms, but there is also a library, card room and the internet cafe there. This is the top deck that also has a view of the atrium. The atrium runs from deck 5 to 8 and there is also a glass elevator running between these floors only. The atrium was beautiful with winding staircases and little lights along the entrances to rooms and lounges. The lights changed colors, and it was all very beautiful. The wood used throughout the ship made it appear very warm and the carpet was all coral and turquoise colors.
Continuing down from deck 8 we saw there were two large boutiques, as well as one that only sold fine jewelry (Facets). There were several very unique lounges: Churchill's is a cigar bar. This lounge is completely closed in by frosted glass walls and doors and I can honestly say I never smelled any cigar smoke coming from there. There is Crooners which specializes in martinis. There is La Patisserie that specializes in coffee drinks of all types. They also serve cookies and pastries free of charge throughout the day. There are two large lounges: Explorers lounge and the Wheelhouse Lounge. Explorers had leather furniture and murals on the walls showing big game and African grassland. The Wheelhouse also houses a sort of maritime museum with items from ships past and the P&O history. There are beautiful wood furnishings in this lounge, as well as beautiful mermaid statuary. There was also the casino, which is made to look like London, complete with wax figures of the Grenadier guards outside, and double decker bus replicas inside. Two huge theaters were also in the public areas, the Princess Theater and the Universe Lounge. The theater was simply theater seating with a large stage at the front. But it was huge, and could seat about 800 I'm sure. The Universe lounge was truly unique. There are three stages and they rotate. They also have several screens that can be used on these stages. There are cameras that can be used overhead, and show demonstrations. This lounge was filled with small sofas and upholstered chairs and tables, and there are additional seats on a second level around the edges of the theater. This theater also has a bar.
Two dining rooms are also in the public areas, one on the 5th floor and one on the 6th. The Provance dining room is used mostly for folks who had been assigned traditional early or late seating. The Bordeaux dining room is for those who selected personal choice dining.
The 7th floor is the Promenade deck and we saw there was a teak deck and additional lounge chairs here. This is a nice walking area, but the life boats also hang overhead around the whole deck.
After this tour and a little snack, we decided to head back to our room again, and when we arrived back there, around 2:00, three of our four suitcases had already been delivered. We spent the remainder of the afternoon getting unpacked. Shortly after we started putting things in drawers the fourth bag also arrived, so we were fully unpacked prior to dinner.
Personal Choice Dining: We like to sit alone when we cruise. Or, I should say, my husband likes to sit alone. He considers himself an introvert, and doesn't want to be rude and ask to change tables if he doesn't like someone, so he prefers that we just sit alone. So, we though Personal Choice would be good for us, as we would not be forced into a specific time and could try different waiters too. The first night we showed up around 7:00 for dinner and there were a couple people already in a short line. We asked for a table for two when we got to the front of the line about five minutes later. The head waiter, or whoever he was, told us he was not sure one would be available very soon, but said he would check. When we asked, we were immediately escorted to a table for two. Total wait time, 7 minutes. The waiters were not memorable that night. The next night was the first formal night and the captains welcome aboard cocktail party. We did not go to the party, but when we arrived at the dining room at 6:45 we saw that everyone else had just come from there and were now in line for dinner. There were around 10 people in line. We waited about 10- 15 minutes and when we got to the front of the line it was just like the night before. At first we were told we would have to wait if we wanted a table for two. We said ok, and within a few seconds we were escorted to one. We did not remember those waiters either. On the third day, I called early in the afternoon about a reservation for 7:00. I was told the earliest reservation I could get was 8:00. We decided to just go wait at 7:00, and we did. That night we had almost no wait and we ate at table 10 where our waiter was Fernando Ruiz and the assistant was Makko. They were a wonderful team. Both were from Mexico and were just delightful. They were friendly, funny, and service was excellent. We decided to ask for them again the next night and we liked them that night too. So, on the 5th day we asked for a reservation for table 10 in their section. We were told that table was already reserved at 6:00 each evening and we could not have it until 8:00. So, we took that reservation. However, the maitre'd told us that if it was ready early, we could have it early. So, every night after that we showed up between 7:15 and 7:30 and it was always ready. In fact, Fernando told us that many nights the other people did not even show up so it was empty until we showed up at 7:30. I wonder how many other tables were reserved but then the passengers didn't come, and the dining staff still held the tables open for them, causing others to have to wait longer?
Food: We enjoyed the food on the cruise. I would not say that it was spectacular, other than maybe the souffles they had for dessert. My husband ate beef about 8 of the 10 nights and he enjoyed it always. I had lobster that was very good, and also had grilled chicken, shrimp cocktail several times, and pasta on a few occasions. We also ate most lunches and breakfast in the dining room. We did not find the Horizon Court worked well for us. We found that the food was good, probably as good as in the dining room. But, the people crowding the serving areas and serving themselves were not always courteous to others. They were sometimes just slow, sometimes sloppy, and sometimes just rude in bumping into others and not even excusing themselves. I also found it difficult to balance a plate full of food and a drink while circling the dining room for five minutes or more looking for a table. Also, the Horizon Court seemed to always have the air conditioning running on frigid. The few times we did get a snack from there, we usually took it outside near the pool where it was warmer. We often went there in the afternoon or evening for a snack or cup of coffee. It was very convenient for that and was not crowded at all other than at the main meal times. On one occasion we left really early for an excursion in Costa Rica and we ate breakfast there. Because it was 6:30 AM it was not crowded at all and the food was good. The variety was vast there. They usually had everything the dining room served, and then some. There were lots of fresh fruit and salad selections, as well as many hot and cold desserts. There were plenty of sugar-free desserts as well, I noticed, but I never found any sugar free yogurt, which is what I prefer for breakfast.
We ate one lunch at the Grill on the Lido deck and I had a hamburger and Larry had a beef hotdog. Both were excellent. We also ate Pizza one day and it was great pizza as well. We often got cappuccino or latte from the La Patisserie bar. It was really good, although you could also get these free of charge in the dining room after dinner.
On several occasions we had room service for breakfast. There is an order form to hang on the door when you go to bed at night. It has "continental breakfast" type items such as cereal, yogurt, breads, Danish, fruit, coffee, juice. On the message boards I had been checking I heard you could write it other items and they would bring them. On all days we ordered room service I wrote in Fried Egg and bacon and they always delivered it all. The room service food always arrived at the time we specified and it was always hot. We could not have asked for more. It was especially great to eat on our balcony while transiting the Panama Canal!
Tours: We booked all of our excursions online at the Princess Web site. We considered booking some independently, but we haven't had good experiences doing that so stuck with Princess. When we got on the ship, our tickets for all excursions were in our cabin already, so we never had to visit the tour desk. However, we also had a letter in our mailbox stating that our first port call was changed from Ocho Rios Jamaica to Montego Bay. Our excursions had been cancelled, and we were given a credit for them. We also had a list of excursions we could book in Montego Bay. The destinations and prices of these excursions were listed, but there was no description anywhere or what they included. We had wanted to go to Dunn's River Falls, but the price for that from Montego Bay was significantly higher and it did not seem to include a Plantation tour. We could not find anyone who could tell us about these tours. When we went by the tour desk it was crowded or not open. We decided to just take a cab into town that day. Later when I had my spa appointment I noticed that nail technician (Simone) was from Jamaica. So, I asked her about Montego Bay. She told me there is nothing to do there, and that to go from there to Ocho Rios was about a two hour trip one way. So that explained why the price went up and did not include a Plantation tour.
When we were called for our tours, we were asked to gather in the Princess theater at the time designated on our tickets. This worked fairly well. We were sent to places in the theater where a member of the tour office held a sign designating our tour number. We would wait there until called to head out for the gangway or tenders and then we would meet up with the tour guide and get on buses.
The tour office handled this very well until we hit Cozumel. For some reason, the tickets for Cozumel excursions had us meeting our tour on the pier, rather than in the Princess Theater. We were going to Tulum that day and we knew it would be one of the first tours out as we had to take a ferry to the mainland. We were to meet the ferry on the pier at 9:20 AM. The ship was scheduled to dock in Cozumel at 9:00. So around 9:00 we headed for the gangway area on deck 5, even though we had not yet heard an announcement that the ship had been cleared. When we got near the deck and lobby where the gangway was we saw hundreds of others also waiting there. It seems that everyone going on a tour was told to meet on the pier. Even though some were not going on tour till 10:00 or later, they were all waiting to go down the gangway and perhaps do a little shopping first. There were also many who were not going on tours at all but just wanted to go out and shop. Plus we began noticing that there were many from the crew who were obviously not in uniform and had the day off and were also waiting to leave the ship. by the time the gangway was opened, around 9:30, it was a mad house in this hallway, stairwell, and foyer. The elevator doors could not even be opened as so many people were jammed up against them. We were afraid some of the elderly were going to be trampled. It took us about 15 minutes after the gangway opened before we could get to the pier. They only had one person checking people off the ship. We asked a member of the tour staff why they had done it this way, rather than use the theater which had worked well in all other days. She told us there would not have been a problem if the ship had not been late docking. I'm not sure I buy that answer.
Excursions: We had some wonderful excursions on this cruise. In Jamaica, we had our only bad experience. The nail technician was right in telling me there is nothing in Montego Bay. We did take a taxi to "town" for about $3 apiece each way. The port "expert" on the ship, Elizabeth, did a port talk the day before and told us that there are 80,000 people in Montego Bay and 79,000 of them are taxi drivers. She was close. These taxis are actually 12 person vans in most cases. And they don't like to take trips unless they are full. So we had to sit at the terminal building until they got 12 of us to go to town before leaving. It's only a few miles to "town" which is really sort of a strip of small stores on two floors in a severely congested area. The shops sell coffee, jewelry and t-shirts predominantly. The shop employees loiter in the doorways and on the sidewalks and follow the tourists down the streets begging you to come to their shops. There are a few residents who are willing to pose with baskets of fruit on their head in hopes you will pay them to take their pictures. The whole thing was very sad. After walking the length of the twenty or so shops, we had enough and decided to return to the ship. There were hundreds of taxi drivers soliciting us to take us on a tour or back to a ship. We saw one van with already about 6 people in it, so we joined them. We still had to wait another 15 minutes or so until the driver solicited another 5 or 6 before he finally started out down the narrow streets and returned us to the dock.
In Panama the most thrilling part of the tour is going through the locks themselves. In our case we were up at 6:00 AM to be ready. But, we did not really enter the first lock until around 7:30 AM. We were finishing our breakfast on the balcony while we were watching the process. Lots of others were also on their balconies. In fact, they offered us a $25 Panama Canal breakfast that included champagne, but we opted for the regular stuff. While we were in the locks, some ships photographers were down on the lock itself and they took pictures of all of us on our balconies. Those were interesting pictures, and of course we took the bait and bought them later! We really enjoyed seeing the canal process from all areas of the ship though, so we wandered up on to the top decks to see from there, and also went to one of the lower lounges on the 5th floor where we could actually see the inside walls of the lock when we first entered it, and then watch the wall ship away as the ship rose when the water entered underneath us. That was really neat to watch from that perspective.
When we completed the Gatun locks we sailed into Gatun Lake. We dropped anchor there and those of us on excursions were taken off the ship on tenders. We met up with out tour guides there and got onto buses. Our tour was the train trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific on the Panama Canal Railroad. We had booked the Deluxe Executive Dome car. We rode about 15 minutes on a bus to the Train Station at Colon and we boarded the restored train car. It had booths with tables in between and each booth would seat two people on each side. There were booths on both sides of the aisle. The side windows and the ceilings were one continual piece of curved glass. The upholstery had obviously been restored recently. It was very pretty. Our tour guide was Marty, a man in his late 50's with no Spanish accent that was noticeable. In fact, we thought he was American, but he did say he was from Panama. He told us later that he'd gone to Prep School in Minnesota for many years as a young man, and he'd also worked for Braniff Airlines in Miami for about 20 years before retiring back to Panama a few years ago. He was very knowledgeable about Panama, the people and culture, and the canal and its history. He kept us entertained and informed. The train heading toward the Pacific Ocean side of Panama and paralleled the canal as it went. We saw the lake formed when the dam had been built to create the canal waters. We saw wildlife and old military bases that the Americans had used prior to turning the Canal Zone over to the Panamanians on December 31, 1999. The train stopped in Mira Flores and we again boarded buses. These buses took us to the Mira Flores locks. There we were able to climb about 20 steps to a small observation platform where we were able to look down on to the lock. A ship was going through this lock while we were there so it was quite interesting. We also entered a small museum there and were shown a short film on the canal. We had another few minutes to walk around this observation area where one of the "mule" locomotives is on display. Then we were back on the bus. We then drove on to the Pacific Ocean near Panama City. We could see the Bridge of the Americas that crosses the canal and the skyline of Panama City, which looks like any modern city with sky scrapers. When we returned to the train, we went back to our domed car and there were box lunches for each of us. We had a sandwich, chips, banana and we were offered coffee or lemonade to drink. When we returned to Colon, we again boarded buses and were taken back to the ship where it was docked in Cristobal. At the pier there was a small group of shops in a mall area where many Panamanians and some of the native Embrea Indians were set up selling crafts. There were also Panamanian dancers performing there. After shopping a few minutes we went back on the ship.
In Costa Rica our excursion left around 7:00 AM for a long bus ride to the Rainforest. The bus ride was made interesting by Gloriana our tour guide. She is a Marine Biologist by education, and also has a master's degree in wildlife management. She is very proud of her country and shared a vast amount of information with us. Costa Rica is a beautiful, lush country that grows a great deal of fruit and flowers for export to the rest of the world. We passed many fields growing bananas, coffee, chocolate and ornamental flowers. She had our bus driver stop and buy a bunch of "finger bananas" to share with us. They were much sweeter than regular bananas we were all used to. When we got to the rain forest we divided into groups of 5 and boarded the gondolas of the aerial tram. These tram cars go through the tree tops on cables. Many times we were over 45 feet off the ground. The trip is about an hour and a half in length, and we saw many types of trees, flowers, birds, butterflies, snakes, and insects. At the end of the tour we only had a couple of minutes to look in their gift shop and we were off on the buses again. We stopped at a place where we ate a catered lunch under a canopy. The food included some tough beef steak, chicken, fish (all grilled), rice, plantains, squash, and some coconut flan for dessert. There was also Costa Rican coffee, which was quite strong in my opinion. We were there less than an hour and then back on the bus for about a 90 minute ride to some canals and rivers close to Limon. We boarded a long boat with a canopy top that held all 45 of us in low seats. We cruised along the canals and rivers for about two hours. We saw much more wild life here, like crocodiles, egrets, monkeys, iguanas, sloths, and many other birds and butterflies. It was a great trip. Upon returning to the dock, we were only about 30 minutes from the pier where the ship was. We had about an hour to visit the craft area near the terminal and we shopped for some Panamanian wood items, and some clay vases and pots. This was our favorite excursion.
In Grand Cayman we were only in port about six hours and it was a Sunday. We did the 100 foot submarine dive and that was interesting, but very short. Then we took the trip to the sandbar on a catamaran where we snorkeled and swam with the stingrays. That was great fun as we had never done that before. It should be done by everyone at least once. However, I will remark that although the water is shallow there, I was not prepared for how strong the waves are, and as a fairly light person, I was continually knocked over by waves. Other small women also commented that they were surprised how hard it was to keep on your feet. I was not so concerned with falling down, but they warn you not to step on the stingrays and I was afraid I was going to do just that. But it was a great experience.
In Cozumel we rode the ferry to the mainland and took another one hour bus ride to Tulum to see the Mayan ruins there. It was fascinating, but we really only had about an hour by the time we got there. It was over 90 degrees that day, and not a cloud in the sky. It was also quite humid. I cannot imagine being there in the summer. We really enjoyed seeing the Caribbean from the cliff that the temple is built on. Our guide, Enrique, was very knowledgeable of the history and showed us all of the features of the ruins. After the trip back on the bus, and again on the ferry, we also walked around Cozumel for about an hour and bought some T-shirts for our grandchildren. Here's another town where the shop employees will accost you on the street begging you into their store. I'm just not into that type of scene, so we did not stay long in town but returned to the ship about 90 minutes prior to sailing time.
Miscellaneous: As a new ship we had been somewhat fearful that things might not operate well on the Coral, especially since it had been delayed at the ship yard and two cruises were cancelled. However, there was very little evidence to us that things were not at 100%. One thing we noticed is that if you are in your cabin there is no way to hear the announcements over the PA system. We asked about this, and supposedly we should be able to hear them on one of the TV channels if you want to, but that was not yet operational. Some early cruisers had said that the air conditioning or water temperature were faulty. We did not notice that at all, although some public rooms were too cool for me. We did not notice any problems with stabilization and in fact even when the seas were a little rough, the ship seemed to ride fine to me. We did feel vibration in the Universe Lounge one night, but never in our cabin or other public areas.
Every morning the cruise director and assistant conducted a "morning show" that was broadcast on the Princess channel. It mostly consisted of them reading through the Princess Patter and outlining what was going on for the day. Sometimes another member of the staff was shown visiting an area of the ship, such as the spa or casino, and once he interviewed the Captain. It was something to listen to while getting dressed in the morning, but it was not important information that wasn't already covered elsewhere.
The "port expert" Elizabeth provided talks prior to each port call, but these were primarily advertisements for stores that Princess endorses. We had never experienced such blatant selling on any other cruise line. She actually had products displayed from the shops and went on for an hour about them. We had gone to many port talks on the Rotterdam when we cruised in the Mediterranean and there the expert spoke only about the countries and cities we were going to visit, the culture of the people, and he often mentioned the types of products that might be a good buy in that country, but there was never any showing of goods or suggestion that we should use a specific shop. After the first talk, we tuned her out and didn't go to any of her presentations.
The new Universe Lounge is truly a state of the arts multi-media center. We attended shows there that were excellent, and we also attended two food preparation presentations by the Executive Chef and Maitre'D. The cameras they have there show the food preparation projected onto large screens from above the work surface. There is a complete kitchen on the stage with a working stove, refrigerator, and it was excellent. I felt like I was watching "Emeril" on the Food Network. We also went on a Galley tour at the end of the last culinary presentation. The kitchen is spotless and enormous. The kitchen on the 5th deck provides food for both dining rooms, with an escalator for use by the waiters who are serving in the 6th floor dining room.
My husband attended several photography classes that were offered as part of the Scholarship at Sea program and he found them to be very informative for him. They were presented by photographers from the ship and also by a computer expert. There were other classes on navigation, communications, and computer applications, as well as daily programs on pottery making. There is a working kiln on the ship and an expert on board to assist those interested. We did not participate in these so I cannot comment. There were fees associated with these classes.
Disembarkation: We had booked an 11:30 flight out of Ft. Lauderdale and during the first week on the ship we were asked to complete a form outlining our plans since we did not book transfers or flights with Princess. Because of our early flight we were then issued Red 1 tickets for disembarkation, which was scheduled to be the first group off the ship. It was planned for 8:00 AM, but we did not actually get cleared by customs and start disembarking until about 8:45 AM. We were waiting in the hall way near the gangway when they started calling folks so we were about the 10th and 11th people off the ship, literally. We barely stopped at immigration and arrived in the luggage room where about ten porters were waiting for us to arrive. We quickly found our 4 bags because of the hints we had picked up on the internet message board to put yellow duct tape on our luggage. The porter had our four bags on the cart in less than five minutes and we did not really stop at customs at all. We were out the door and into the first taxi waiting and heading down the road before 9:00 AM. It's just about 15 minutes to the airport, so we were there before 9:30 and had plenty of time to drink coffee and moan about having to fly home to the snow!
Summary: All in all this was a great cruise. We were tentative about trying Princess because we really loved HAL's Rotterdam. I would have to say that most things about Princess are comparable. Where I think HAL has the edge is that the service is more personal and the staff are more friendly and cordial overall. On the Coral our waiters were wonderful, once we found them. But some of the others we encountered were just "ok." Never rude but not overly friendly either. Our housekeeper was just great, too, but others often did not even speak when you passed them in the hallway. We also found that tour office, purser, and other staff were "ok" but nothing special. I think having the person with the white gloves escort you to your cabin when you first arrive on a HAL ship just set the tone for the whole cruise, and on Princess we had someone (who was not even smiling) just point and say "go down the hall that way and it's on the right."
Also, we like the size of the HAL ship better. The Rotterdam was made to hold about 1,000 passengers, and there were 1,900 on Coral. That in itself means more crowded conditions. We stood though one show on the Coral, and I can't see doing that ever again.
However, the mini-suite was considerably larger on the Coral, and we really enjoyed that extra space. The closet was also bigger, so if the suite is important, then Princess gets the edge. The food was comparable, as were the tours. The shows were much better on Princess, both in variety and the quality of the performances from the on board staff.
I hope this is helpful to those who might be considering cruising of the Coral. It's a beautiful ship and well worth the cost we spent for the ten days in the sun!