Princess Cruises - Cruisemates Reader's Cruise Reviews
CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews
Princess Cruises

Coral Princess
by Tide Pride
Panama Canal
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.

Fast Check-in
At 2:15 p.m. we arrived at the terminal. Check-in lines were based not on your last name, but the deck where your stateroom was located. Ours was on Caribe deck (Deck 10). One couple was ahead of us at check-in, and they were through about one minute after our arrival. We checked in and boarded the ship in less than five minutes. We had completed most of the information on the Princess web page prior to the cruise. I was a little disappointed that we did not board in the central lobby to get an immediate view of the centerpiece of the ship. Instead we were on an upper deck and boarded right beside a bank of elevators being held by Princess hostesses for arriving passengers.

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
After unpacking we were both hot and sweating. The air conditioning was set on maximum cool, but it was not cool at all. Our cabin steward, Nestor from the Philippines, introduced himself and we learned this was only his second cruise. He also brought us two chilled glasses of Champagne. I told him the room was hot and he agreed, but said that it would cool off once we sailed and all of the various doors on the ship were closed. I wasn't sure of his explanation, but it turned out to be true.

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 had tried to get first seating in Traditional Dining and were wait-listed for that. We made our cruise reservations in the first week of December 2005 (four months earlier), but we did not realize this was Easter weekend and the ship was going to be full. We started out about # 78 on the wait list, and by the time we sailed we were # 33. So much for traditional dining, we thought.

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 Coral Princess is approximately 90,000 gross tons, similar in size to the Radiance Class ships of RCCL and the Millennium class ships of Celebrity. We love ships of this size. The Coral is absolutely gorgeous. I saw no evidence of wear and tear as it is maintained beautifully. The woodwork, brass and carpeting are clean and beautiful. In particular I loved the colors of the carpeting. Previously I thought the Serenade of the Seas was the prettiest ship I had ever seen, but the Coral is close. I liked the colors better than the Millennium, which was elegant, but with somewhat darker tones and not quite as glitzy. The Coral had just the right amount of glitz without being gaudy.

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.

We found the food on Coral Princess to be quite good. There were several choices, it was presented well, cooked properly, and always at the proper temperature. I thought the food on Celebrity was the best we had at sea, and if Celebrity was an "A," the Coral Princess was an "A-." The food was far superior to the Serenade's in 2004, which we found to be consistently cool in temperature and tasteless. The Horizon Court (lido deck informal dining room) had wonderful breakfast and lunch, though we never tried it for an evening meal. I found RCCL's Windjammer buffet dining room (with the " food islands") to be a better arrangement as the Horizon Court seemed slightly more congested. On the pool deck you could get pizza or hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch. I have read bad reports of pizza on cruise ships, but this pizza was surprising good and hot. The hamburgers and hot dogs were very good.

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.

Most passengers were 55+. There were a few teens and a few smaller children. I found no problem with the youngsters or the teenagers at all on this trip. I never saw the youths in the inside adults-only pool. I saw no problems with rude passengers; the overwhelming majority of passengers were very accommodating to others. I saw a small number of motorized scooter chairs, and those passengers seemed to have no problem getting around the ship. There were a few designated smoking areas -- the port side on the pool deck, a Cigar Bar, the Casino, and in your cabin. This was a 10-day cruise and I never witnessed a single person smoking outside of the designated areas. Even in the Casino, there did not seem to be a smoky cloud or bad odors.

The itinerary was very nice. We stopped at Cozumel where we took the Atlantis submarine ride. My wife is slightly claustrophobic and has some back problems, and I was a little concerned with her getting down the ladder into the sub, but she did it. The trip was not too long and the claustrophobia did not rear up (but if it had been much longer it would have).

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
There was one major glitch in the Panama Canal portion of our trip. We were supposed to enter the Canal around 6 a.m. For some reason there was a delay. We had an excursion planned and we were told that we should plan to depart the ship around 10 a.m. We were late getting through the locks, so we finally moored in Gatun Lake and were tendered ashore around 11:40 a.m. Our excursion started around noon. Once all passengers who are going on excursions depart the ship, the Coral Princess reenters the locks and transits back to the Gulf, moving to a port and dock there to awaiting the return of all passengers.

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.

The Return
Sunday morning we arrived around 6:30 in Ft Lauderdale. We left our room at 8 a.m. and went to a public lounge on Deck 6 (disembarkation deck) and awaited our color to be called. Our assigned time was 8:45 and our color was called at 8:50. We left, quickly found our luggage, and to my disappointment we had to roll four pieces of luggage and two carry-ons ourselves to Customs. Last year in Ft Lauderdale on Celebrity, the porters were right there to collect your bags as you found them. Once we cleared Customs, we secured a porter who took us to a cab, and it was off to the airport. We arrived and after checking in at curbside, we went through security and were in the waiting area by 10:05.

A couple of minor complaints... I already mentioned arriving to a stopped up toilet, which overflowed, and a hot cabin. On our balcony, the wall section separating our cabin from our two neighbors was not one solid panel, but a panel and a door that is locked by the crew. I guess it is easier for the crew if they were working on the balconies to unlock the door and move down the balconies as opposed to going through the cabins' front doors. Anyway the locking device, which was welded to the hull of the ship, broke its weld due to rust. This allowed the door, which was heavy metal, to flop open, offering no privacy to my balcony or my neighbor's. I tried propping the door closed with a balcony chair but they were flimsy plastic and would not hold the door closed. We initially cruised on Thursday and the weld broke on Friday. I reported it to my cabin steward who reported it to his supervisor. She came on Monday to see it and it was repaired on Tuesday.

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.