CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews

Princess Cruises Coral Princess by Karin Rex February 22, 2003 Panama Canal

The Positives

Our Caribe 408, port side deck 10, balcony room was nice -- well appointed, and very clean. The closet space seemed a tad larger than on previous ships. Loads of hangers available.

Our balcony was at least twice as large than any other we have had, which was great! On our deck the balcony offered some privacy close to the door but no privacy out by the railing. The deck below ours (#9) had no privacy at all. Although it was the same size as ours, it had no overhang. This was not a problem; I am just mentioning it since this question seems to come up frequently.

The chairs on our deck could change position into a semi-lounger (just the back moved). This was nice. There was a nice big table on our balcony as well.

The bathroom was the same size as always -- small but serviceable. The shower was amazingly strong and wonderful. (Small things like this make me happy.) The Food Overall the food in the dining room was very good and plentiful. We did the traditional dining, large table, 2nd seating (8:15). We were quite pleased with this arrangement, as well as our tablemates. We were always among the last table left in the dining room -- laughing and having a great time.

Our waitresses (Mariana and Caterina from Romania) were the only girl-girl team on the ship, and we enjoyed their service tremendously -- it was flawless.

Our headwaiter Riccardo was kind enough to make our table a special pasta dish one night when he found out it was my favorite. We love pasta!

The wine selection was pretty good. The waitresses now handle the wine, instead of a separate sommelier. An average bottle will cost you between $22 and $35. There are much better bottles available as well. We did not try any of the alternative dining places, so I cannot comment on them. (Mostly because we really enjoyed our tablemates and did not want to dine elsewhere, although there was nothing on either menu that really interested me.)

The pizza on pool deck was addictive! It was so good that I craved it almost every day. No wonder I gained 7 pounds in 10 days! My husband also had nothing but positive comments on the cheeseburgers at the grill. The Tours We don't take organized tours, so I am unable to comment on them. We used to take the tours, but never really enjoy them as much as striking out on our own. The Entertainment I am not one for going to the movies while on a cruise ship, but I must admit to being tempted by some good films (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Road to Perdition, About a Boy, Insomnia, Bourne Identity, Spiderman).

The musical shows were very typical cruise-type offerings. Some shows were terrific while others were not quite as terrific, but everything was entertaining. I won't go into details here since everybody has different tastes in music (especially my husband and I!), but go expecting to be well-entertained.

The Cruise Director (Paul O'Laughlin) was very good, and his sidekick deputy cruise director (James) was also quite entertaining. Their morning show on the Princess TV was pretty funny at times, although Paul should really stop whistling on the air! James had lots of energy and seems more visible throughout the ship than Paul. One of the other assistant cruise directors, Martin, was especially fun and full of energy as well. There were 3 karaoke nights, which for some of you may be a positive point, and for others a negative point. :-) To each their own. There was also a passenger talent show on the last day, for those of you interested. Greg Bonham was on the ship -- typical Vegas-style singing and trumpet playing. Not my cup of tea, but the crowd (mostly in their 60s on this ship) seemed to love him.

Billy Vader was also on the ship. He's a comedian that we've sailed with before. He was funny when he didn't sing (which unfortunately was not enough of the time). It's not that he doesn't have a good voice; I just prefer talking funny to singing funny. I must admit however that Billy was a lot funnier than David Brenner was on the Grand a few years ago. Billy is a happy sort that is very visible on the ship and always has time to chat with passengers. He's been doing this a long time and seems to actually enjoy it.

The piano player in Crooners was very entertaining. He could play a wide variety of music, and his voice seemed to expertly mimic whatever performer he was singing.

The library was beautiful -- and chock full of brand new books. There were special comfortable "listening" chairs available, where you could sit and listen to CDs (on headphones).

The card room was much larger than on other ships, and very nice. There were loads of board games for borrowing, and plenty of cards. On this particular voyage, it seems as though there were quite a few bridge players and bridge-related activities. This is not something we are into, but it seemed to make a lot of people happy. The Ports My favorite two ports of call on this trip were Grand Caymen and Cozumel. Grand Cayman has beautiful (free) beaches, inexpensive taxis, and expensive shopping (similar to U.S. prices, if not a bit higher, for items such as t-shirts and hats, and less expensive than U.S. prices for jewelry and watches -- no tax). Eat on the ship; good food is hard to come by here.

Cozumel has beautiful beaches and inexpensive shopping, as well as wonderful Mexican food at Pancho's Backyard (we ate at the one by 8th Street, not the new one at the pier). The Fat Tuesday's bar near the pier has one portion of the bar where there are swings for seats -- what fun! We saw a lot of crew members here, since it was very close to the ship (5 minute walk). Beers are $3. The new pier is gorgeous, but because it's so gorgeous, it doesn't feel like Cozumel! (Plus prices were higher here than in town.) Luckily, the downtown area has not changed much -- I hope it doesn't! We've been here 3 or 4 times previously and we always enjoy ourselves.

We had a nice day in Costa Rica (Limon). The people there are so polite and friendly, and the city is not one big tourist trap. No hassles, inexpensive shopping, lots of sunshine. We took the time to really go out and walk around the city, and did not just stay in the tent shopping area right next to the pier, although you could probably have a nice time doing so. The Public Market is really their public market -- butchers, fruit sellers, etc. don't go there if you are expecting something like Nassau's Straw Market, but DO go there if you want to see how the locals shop.

The Panama Canal passage was very nice, as anticipated. We've done this itinerary before, so we knew what to expect. I heard from a lot of people that the top decks were very crowded -- with people camping out spaces there and in the Horizon Court as early as 6 a.m. even though we were not going through for an hour or more. (One of my tablemates said that there was no place to sit and eat breakfast because all of the chairs had been moved from the tables into rows by the windows). We could see quite a bit of the process from our balcony, but ended up going to the aft deck for a much better view, where there were only a handful of people. We ordered champagne from room service and had it delivered there. (It was the first time I've ever had champagne that early in the morning, but what the heck -- I was on vacation!) General Comments The artwork throughout the ship (especially on the stairway walls) is very, very nice. I enjoyed it tremendously.

The atrium is a work of art -- gorgeous.

The Princess Theatre and Universe Theatres are very comfortable and excellent entertainment spaces. Great lighting and sound.

The temperature on the ship was perfect for me. I am usually cold, but on this ship I was comfortable most of the time, and did not need a sweater at all. My husband was too warm occasionally, but not enough to complain about it.

The spa is gorgeous. My husband and I had several treatments there. I enjoyed my pedicure ($55) with Simone -- it was very relaxing and nice to have done on my first day so I had pretty toes for the rest of the trip. (Note that there are not many colors to choose from, so if you want a certain color polish, bring it with you.) I also enjoyed my Aromaflex massage ($79 special on port days) with Carol Anne -- 25 minutes spent on neck and back, and 25 minutes spent on feet. She made it seem like two relaxing hours instead of one. My husband absolutely loved the reflexology ($99) with Reggie, as well as the hot stone therapy massage ($159) also with Reggie. (One note -- if you think the stones are too hot, SAY something! My husband got quite a burn on his shoulder.) At these sessions, there were no sales pitches whatsoever, which was great.

The gym was very nice (not that I spent a whole lot of time there). It's nice that the machines all overlook the water. There were quite a few classes offered on the other side of the gym -- step, yoga, Pilate's, etc. The photographers on this ship seemed to take more time with you and often took several shots instead of just one, as well as single shots instead of just couples. This gave you more pictures to choose from, which was great. There were two nights that black and white photographs were taken (our favorites). It was also great fun when the photographers got off the ship during the canal passage and took shots of those out on the decks and balconies.

There were plenty of deck chairs alongside both of the pools. We never had a problem getting two chairs together in the shade. Note that no "saving" of chairs is permitted on this ship. If a towel is on a chair for more than 30 minutes or so unattended, a deck attendant will remove the towel, thereby opening the spot for another passenger. I think this is a fair policy.

The pools were clean and beautiful. The pool areas were very nice -- the chairs all have comfortable thick cushions on them -- perfect for napping!

We are late 30's/early 40's. There were probably fewer than a dozen children younger than 16 on the ship. The average age on this ship was probably 65. You will note this is a positive to us, as we get along well with an older crowd. (They make very quiet next-door neighbors!) If this is not a positive to you, keep in mind the following cruise axiom: "the longer the cruise, the older the cruisers." 7-day cruises will have a younger crowd than a 10-day or longer cruise.

The Not-As-Positives

PLEASE NOTE: With the exception of the first item mentioned (smoking), none of these not-as-positive comments carry much weight -- they are merely my own observations and opinions. If you are merely considering the Coral Princess, I would suggest reading all of the bullet points. If you have already booked Coral Princess, I would skip this section and form your own opinions. Rest assured that you will have a wonderful cruise on this gorgeous ship.

This was the smokiest ship we have ever been on. We had a balcony room but most of the time we could not enjoy it for more than a few minutes as somebody nearby would light up. The halls and elevator areas almost always smelled of smoke. I could not spend more than a few minutes in any of the bars or casino because of the smoke. Even sitting poolside was problematic at times because smoking is allowed everywhere on deck. I am not allergic to smoke or anything, I just strongly dislike the smell of smoke and hate that it gets in my hair and clothes. (Luckily I brought a bottle of Febreeze with me.) I heard a lot of comments on this topic (without my bringing the topic up ­ I am not a complainer, especially when on vacation).

There is only one bar that is totally non-smoking, and that is the Patisserie. Unfortunately it is not really protected because it is right next to the atrium, where smoking is allowed. Plus, there is no music or entertainment here other than what goes on in the adjacent atrium. The Crooners piano bar has a large non-smoking section, but again, it's right next to the atrium, plus half of it permits smoking so you couldn't really escape it.

In my opinion, Princess really needs to do something about this to satisfy both non-smokers and smokers. I would suggest making one side of the ship smoking and one side non-smoking. (Open-air decks and cabins included.) I would also suggest no smoking in the common areas, such as the hallways, atrium, and elevator waiting areas. Statistics show that less than 30% of adults smoke these days; I think Princess should take this into consideration.

I would also suggest signs on the balconies as well as notices in the cabins regarding throwing cigarettes or cigars off the ship. I saw this happen twice. One of my tablemates was on the aft deck, just looking at the sunset with his wife when a lit cigar got thrown off a nearby balcony and landed on his bare shoulder. This is obviously a safety issue that all cruise ships need to address.

Because of this issue, we are actually going to look into Carnival's non-smoking ship for our next cruise. We are huge Princess fans (Platinum Captain's Circle members, having sailed with them for six cruises), but the smoking was just too much this time. The Cabin Blow dryers are a bit weak. Bring your own if you need a strong airflow. The bed pillows were very hard and uncomfortable. If you don't like hard pillows, I would seriously consider bringing your own. My husband thought the mattresses were uncomfortable as well.

The self-set wake-up call system on the digital telephone was not working for our cruise. Wake-up calls were available through the passenger services desk, but I did hear from more than one person that this was not very reliable. Bring your own alarm clock, especially if you will be taking any morning tours.

I wish somebody would invent drawers on a ship that don't have to be slammed to shut. It's the only noise you could hear from the cabins on either side ­ drawers shutting. Unfortunately, the way the drawers are designed (so they don't slide open during rough seas), you need to shut them with some force, which causes noise. The Food My husband, who is a non-seafood eater, noticed that there seems to be fewer non-seafood choices on the lunch and dinner menus. He ended up ordering the "always available" menu selections (cheeseburgers, fettuccini, steak) several times on this trip. The Lobster Thermadore was tasteless (unless you count salt). Normally I love this dish, but it was one of the few things I ate on the ship that I did not like at all.

Due to fire regulations, there is no cooking tableside (such as pasta dishes or bananas flambé), and no basked Alaska presentation (and therefore no swinging napkins!).

Just a note for those of you considering personal choice dining ­ I noticed quite a few people milling about the atrium waiting for their restaurant buzzer to light up. I overheard that there was sometimes a 30-minute or so wait. This can be avoided by making a standing reservation with the maitre d.

The ice cream on the pool deck was expensive. Stick to the free ice cream offered at lunch and dinner in the dining rooms.

The Horizon Court, while very pretty, offered just typical buffet food, nothing special. I seem to recall that the buffets on the Grand and Sea offered more. For example, if you like Salmon on your bagel in the morning, it was only available on one or two mornings. The service here could be spotty as well (no motivating factors, such as tips).

It's ridiculous what Princess charges for soda/pop ($1.95/can). It would be much better for the environment (not to mention passenger's pocketbooks) if they installed soda/pop fountains and gave it away for free. Soda/pop at a fountain costs only pennies a glass to make, and Princess would certainly get high marks from passengers for making this change. Note that if you are a big soda drinker, or have children who are, you can get a soda stamp on your card for $27.50, which gives you all the soda you care to drink for the duration of the cruise. The Tours We don't take organized tours, so I am unable to comment on them. We used to take the tours, but never really enjoy them as much as striking out on our own. The Entertainment It's probably because I have taken 8 cruises, but it seems to me that ship comedians and the cruise directors really need to come up with some new materialŠthere's just too much of the same old small bathroom, toilet-flushing, my room is on z-deck, etc. type of humor. Also, they all seem to spend the first ten minutes of their set asking where people are fromŠwho's from Canada?Šwho's from the U.SŠ.etc. The Universe Lounge does have some obstructed views. Get there early if you want a good seat. The Ports We were in Cozumel on a Sunday, and we were the only ship in town. Despite it being Mardi Gras time, the newly constructed Carlos and Charlie's (a few blocks south of where it used to be) seemed deserted and boring compared to previous trips here. We didn't stick around. Stay on the ship in Jamaica unless you are taking a Princess tour. Aggressive taxi drivers make this a not-fun port. Duns River Falls is worth seeing at least once, but it's not very clean, and the tour guides are also aggressive when it comes to demanding tips and herding you to shopping areas. Be sure to bring shoes you can wear in the water if you plan on climbing the falls.

In Costa Rica, skip the park near the pier. It's not very clean or interesting. General Comments This ship did not seem as stable as any of the others we have traveled on. You could really "feel the sea," especially when you were all the way forward or aft (like in the Princess Theatre and Universe Lounge). Our cabin was mid-ship, but we could feel the motion of the ocean all night. It didn't really bother us too much, but there were a few people who seemed to react negatively to this. Bring Bonine or Dramamine, and you should be fine.

On previous trips, we have bought quite a few pieces of art at the art auctions. (And we've been very, very happy with what we've bought.) On this particular trip, even though we went to all four of the previews, we did not see anything that we really wanted to bid on. Since art is subjective, don't take this comment too seriously. The shops did not seem to offer as much merchandise as those on the Grand Princess.

The fine jewelry shop was located right next to the Casino, and in fact had a door opening into the casino. While this might be a successful marketing ploy, I could not spend more than a few minutes at a time in there because it was too smoky. (No matter what time of the day.)

The wine tasting was held in one of the dining rooms, and I was quite surprised to see almost every table filled! It was $5 for the tasting, but if you pre-ordered a bottle of wine for your dinner table following the tasting, you would get $5 off that bottle. I usually enjoy these, but I have to admit that I did not learn anything, and was not that fond of the wines chosen for us. (Asti Spumanti? Do people still drink that?)

I was not happy my facial ($129) as the therapist spent way too much time telling me what was wrong with my skin and what I needed to buy in order to correct it. If I had bought all of the products she "prescribed" for me, I would have spent more that $500 ­ and no, I am not joking. My tablemate's "prescription" would have cost over $700 ­ and personally, I think she had much nicer skin than me! The facial itself would have been quite enjoyable had it not been for the sales pitch. If I was at home, and visiting a local spa that I would be getting regular care at, then I would welcome this approach. However, while I am on vacation, I just want to enjoy the pampering.

I really don't think Princess should charge $10/class for yoga and Pilate's. It's not that the classes were not good; it's just that it seems so greedy. It seems especially greedy when the teacher hands you an invoice/receipt at the end of class that all but requests a tip. The same teachers teach the step and other classesŠwhy are these classes worth more?

The formal photos and black and whites were only shown as 8x10s ­ you could get 5X7's printed, but they would cost the same, so you felt like you were getting ripped off if you did so. And how many 8x10s of yourself do you really need?

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