by Tide Pride
April 13, 2006
My wife and I sailed the Coral Princess on its Panama Canal Cruise from Ft. Lauderdale April 13 - 23. This was our sixth cruise, but our first on Princess. Previously we sailed four times on Royal Caribbean, and our last cruise was in 2005 on Celebrity Millennium. We are both 58 years old.
We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale Thursday, April 13, via air and all our flights were on time. Last year we sailed from Ft. Lauderdale on Celebrity, and arrived a day early due to advice we had seen on these boards. This time, we were traveling with friends who did not want to incur the additional expense of overnight in Ft. Lauderdale so we traveled the day of embarkation. I don't know if the baggage handling at the airport was peculiar to Princess or if all the cruise lines have adopted similar practices, but our last Royal Caribbean cruise on the Serenade in April of 2004, the cruise line picked up the luggage and had it transported to the ship. For this Princess cruise we gathered our own luggage from the baggage area and had to take it outside where our luggage was then stored on the bus. Baggage handlers did unload the luggage at the ship.
We took the elevator to Deck 10 and found our stateroom with no problem. We had booked a mini-suite located about four staterooms from the stern on the port side. The room was large and beautifully decorated. It had a large balcony with two cheap plastic chairs, two plastic loungers and a plastic table. There was an overhang above us from Deck 11 that covered about two-thirds of the deck area. Our luggage was delivered about an hour and a half later, but was left in the hall outside our door. I just happened to open the door and saw it there.
We unpacked and found that we had a large, walk-in closet with more than adequate storage space, equipped with more hangers than we could need. A pleasant surprise was that we could store all four pieces of luggage under the bed (last year on Millennium, we could not get any of the same luggage under the bed so they had to be left out in the room). The bathroom was very large, with a deep tub and shower.
Heat and Flooding
Meanwhile, the first time we flushed the toilet it overflowed and flooded the bathroom floor. I called Passenger Services and within 15 minutes someone showed up and determined that some sort of ball had been flushed down the toilet, clogging it up. He removed it and I paged Nestor, who arrived within 60 seconds and mopped the floor.
The muster drill was held at 4:15 and our assigned station was a large lounge about three floors directly below our cabin. We had to take our life preservers, but did not have to wear them. The lounge was cool and comfortable; they showed a short video, made some announcements, and had everyone try on their life jacket and that was it. After no more than 20 minutes we were back in our room. Two years ago on the Serenade, which was sailing from Puerto Rico, it was hot as blazes and we had to stand out on deck in the heat all jammed together. This muster drill was so much nicer.
We showed up at the Any Time Dining room at 6 p.m.; we requested a table for four by the window and were pleasantly surprised to receive one. The next night we arrived at the same time and found that this same table had been reserved for us for the rest of the cruise -- so it worked out for us just like traditional seating. We had the same table and same wait staff. I might mention that I never saw long lines at the door for Any Time Dining, so this seemed to work well for everyone.
Impressions of the Ship
The crew members on Coral Princess are unbelievably friendly! They are always smiling, saying " Good Morning, How are you today?" The crew on the Millennium was much more formal and withdrawn; I found the Coral's crew to be a perfect balance between formal and informal. I did not encounter one single crew person who was not friendly or had an attitude. It may have been our stateroom attendant's second cruise, but he was wonderful. On a few occasions when I needed him I dialed his number, received a prompt to hang up, and he was knocking on our door within 60 seconds. Our waiter, Joeven, and assistant waiter, Christopher, were wonderful in their service and attention. They were easy to talk to and seemed to enjoy chatting with us.
The layout of the ship worked fine. We were sailing with 2,000 passengers, but it never seemed crowded and the elevators were rarely crowded.
There seemed to be an adequate number of loungers and chairs on the pool deck. The entertainment was standard cruise fare. They had a comedian who did two different shows on different nights; (he was outstanding, but I cannot remember his name.); an Illusionist who was average; and the usual production shows with the ship's orchestra (very good orchestra), singers and dancers. All in all, it was decent entertainment, but nothing that would blow you away.
We then sailed for Grand Cayman and arrived on Easter Sunday. Many of the stores were closed so it was not a good shopping day. We did an excursion to Seven Mile Beach, and then on to Hell (not impressive to me at all) and a turtle farm which was quite modern; I have never seen so many turtles.
Off to Costa Rica next, where we did a sightseeing excursion which included a boat ride down a small stream where we saw monkeys, sloths, alligators, and many birds. That was a pleasant trip. We concluded with a visit to the Delmonte Banana Plantation. You could watch the bananas from being cut, separated, washed, waxed, stickers put on and then boxed for overseas shipments. (The day we were there, they put three different brand stickers on the bananas -- which means if you like Delmonte or Chiquita, they are the same bananas).
The highlight of the trip was the Panama Canal. We entered the first set of locks (three) and then sailed into Gatun Lake, where we moored and tendered to shore for our excursions. This was an utterly fascinating process and I recommend a trip to the Canal for anyone. Our excursion involved a bus ride to the Pacific side, and then we returned in an air-conditioned, domed railroad car which was very nice.
A Scheduling Glitch
It was my understanding that the ship was to be at the pier around 2:30. Anyway, we left on our excursion and were delivered to the pier at 4:30 p.m. There was no ship there. I talked to some passengers who told me that there tours concluded around 2:30 and they had been at the pier terminal for about two hours already. We waited and waited, and finally the Coral Princess came dockside around 6:30 p.m. For some reason the ship was unable to get back in the locks and was late arriving. There was a huge line of passengers waiting at the docks. Can you imagine half the passengers on the ship waiting to get back on board at one time? It was chaos! We finally got back onboard about 7:15 and we were tired, hot and sweaty. We had missed our assigned dinner time. We marched straight to the Bordeaux Room and asked if they would serve us dressed as we were -- in caps, shorts, and sandals or tennis shoes -- and they said certainly. We marched directly to our table and noticed some people staring, but I did not give a hoot.
We concluded our itinerary in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, where we docked at a new pier and just went shopping with no planned excursions. Every 10 feet, we were approached by taxi drivers wanting to take us sight seeing. They all promised "cheap," and I told them it could not be cheaper than walking. We stopped by Margaritaville, which was located on the water near the pier and had some Jamaican beer, which was excellent.
Another complaint -- we were so far aft we received a lot of engine vibration. Our bed shook a fair amount. I just found it irritating, but my poor wife hated it. I don't plan on getting a cabin this far aft again. Finally (and I guess this one is due to my stupidity so I can't blame Princess), in the shower there were two knobs, which I assumed one were for hot water and cold water. My wife took the first shower and told me it was cold. When I took a shower I too was cold. This was after turning the hot water on all the way and not even touching the cold water. After two days I complained to Customer Service and an officer came to check it out. To my surprise and embarrassment there was nothing wrong. The first knob was not hot water. It was water pressure. You could turn the knob up to increase water pressure. The second knob was a temperature knob. The more you turned it the hotter the water became. I guess the officer thought I was a nut, but honestly we did not understand the two knobs.
Overall the combination of the beautiful ship, the great crew, the good food, and the well laid out and designed interior plus the itineraries made this our best cruise yet. I thought after last year's Celebrity cruise I had found our cruising home, but now I can add Princess to the mix.