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

Coral Princess
by Drew Thorne
Panama Canal
April 8, 2007

This was cruise number two for my wife and I and our best friends. If we weren't hooked on cruising after our first sailing, we're definitely hooked now. We can only compare it to our initial cruise on the Costa Classica. Our itinerary this time took us return from Ft Lauderdale directly to the Panama Canal; Colon (Cristobal), Panama; Limon, Costa Rica; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; and Cozumel, Mexico. This was 10 days of absolute pleasure followed by 4 days of relaxing in Ft Lauderdale to round out the two weeks.

We flew from Toronto to Ft Lauderdale, one day in advance of our cruise and stayed at the Hyatt Pier 66. Our room in this hotel was a little dirty and noisy and definitely not worth the price we were charged. I complained (which I rarely do) but it didn't make any difference, as there were no other rooms. We returned to this hotel after our cruise and did not fare much better, but the room was cleaner. Keep in mind I expect a lot for $350.00 US per night, but I also understand that "reasonable rates in Ft Lauderdale" is an oxymoron.

Now for the cruise. Embarkation was quick and efficient. There were gates for each deck level and this really sped things up. If you're traveling from Canada with non-Canadian citizens or landed immigrants, you must surrender your temporary visitors' visa until you leave the ship. Upon entry to the ship a quick photo is taken for which you'll pay later, of course (who can resist?). We were greeted by staff and directed to the elevator. I had expected to see the main atrium/lobby but that is not where we entered. After finding our way to our cabins (D415 and D417) on the Dolphin level, we immediately checked out our mini-suite. It was a nice size with a double bed, sofa, chair and coffee table. A mini bar, desk area and two televisions rounded out our needs for the next 10 days. The washroom was large with a tub and shower and the storage closet was plenty. A foam eggshell mattress cover was already installed, but if you don't get this I suggest you ask for one. The balcony was much larger than we expected and was quickly opened up to join our friends next door. We used these balconies every day for morning coffee, and afternoon cocktails, and they were well worth the upgrade. D415 had an open view above and D417 was partially covered by the balcony above. This combination was excellent for giving us sun or shade whenever we wanted it. After the mini-suite inspection we set off to tour the ship and to find out where everything was.

We found the Coral to be beautiful. The Princess Plaza is a 4-story atrium with splendid spiral staircases, flanked with palm trees. The glass elevators with sparkling lights zoom up and down the atrium from the Plaza to Emerald level. Most of these levels are filled with bars, lounges and shops. Forward, off the atrium, are the restaurants. The Provence Dining Room is on the Fiesta level where the first and second seatings take place. Down one level on the Plaza is the Bordeaux Dining Room where we ate. This is an "anytime" dining room and proved to be excellent. We did not reserve a table, although it is possible. We just showed up and usually got a table for 4 right away. On a couple of occasions we sat at larger tables and met different people each time. The service was good, but some of the waiters were better than others. Our second formal night was lobster night and I've never eaten so much delicious lobster at one time. I'm not sure if it was our timing or if they do that for everyone, but after our plates were delivered to us, a second platter of lobster tails was placed on our table. After that we were asked if we wanted more. "Who ever heard of all you can eat lobster tails?" The following night it was the same, only with King Crab. We also tried out the two specialty restaurants, The Bayou Café and Sabatini's, located on the Promenade Deck. The food at the Bayou Café was outstanding, however, the constant vibration under my feet was annoying. Sabatini's was also good, however, it was way too much food for us. For a $15.00 surcharge, you should definitely do the Bayou Café.

The rest of our meals (breakfast and lunch) were eaten at the Horizon Court Buffet on the Lido deck. The selection was excellent and there were frequent changes so as not to get bored. The Horizon is on the very front of the ship so it is pleasant to watch the sun come up as you eat breakfast. It is a little bouncy though, so if motion bothers you, head for the back. Up one more level, off the center pool, you can hit the burger grill or pizza stand for the best pizza I have had in a long time.

The ports on the cruise were very nice, but if I did it over again I may select different activities. We like to go to the beach and do a little shopping so that is what we aim for at most ports. Of course, Panama is all about the canal and the locks. We reached Panama after two days at sea. This was a fascinating day that began at 5:00 am with room service. The ship arrives very early and almost in the dark. It's a slow trek into the canal and very quiet and peaceful. As daylight appears you realize you are being escorted into the entrance of the first Gatun Lock. The journey through the locks is just over an hour, and by the time we reached Gatun Lake the temperature was very hot. Here you can depart for Panama City or many other excursions. We chose to stay on the ship and go back through the locks a second time on our way to Cristobal, Panama. We were greeted by the native Embera Indians singing and dancing dockside. Shopping for native crafts and art was available dockside as well.

The next port was Limon, Costa Rica where we took a canal boat ride through the Costa Rican rainforest. Here we saw a lot of wildlife including sloth, birds, lizards, and even bats. The bus ride back was also entertaining as our bus driver and tour guide stopped each time they saw something of interest. Later we arrived at a banana plantation where we saw the entire process including picking, washing and packaging. It was a very enjoyable tour and I highly recommend it.

After another day at sea, we finally reached Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and for us this was a beach day. We walked to the beach from the dock and enjoyed the sun. If you take the tour with lunch, the food and service is never ending. There was some musical entertainment on the beach and massages were available at a fraction of the cost of the ship. The water was warm, but watch for the jellyfish. We also did a little shopping about a block from the pier.

Next it was on to Grand Cayman and another beach day. Seven-Mile Beach was very nice, but the wind was real strong that day. There wasn't very much shade and the drinks that came with our package were all gone before we each got one. A $5.00 taxi ride to the beach would have been a smarter move considering this package cost around $30.00 per person. The sand and water were beautiful.

The next port was Cozumel and we also took a beach day and expected to do some shopping. The chairs we were given were molded fiberglass and stuck in the sand. This is not good if you want to roll over and lay on your stomach. They were crazy and not worth paying for. The beer was included though, and this softened the blow. (Beer or wine solves most problems -- lol.)

In conclusion, we had a very memorable trip. From the nightly chocolates on our bed to the platters of deserts on the buffet, we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of our Princess cruise. This cruise will be a tough one to beat. The ship, the staff, the food and the adventure itself all exceeded our expectations.