Please let me say from the start that this was our sixth or seventh cruise (we have cruised previously with Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Celebrity), however, this was our first cruise aboard Princess Cruise Lines.
My husband and I traveled from the East Coast to begin our trip with a 3-day pre-cruise stay in Long Beach, CA, which is about 15 minutes from Princess' San Pedro port. We arrived in San Pedro at 11:30 AM thinking that we would avoid the embarkation rush. Much to our surprise we were greeted with long lines. We were told that the ship was late in getting in, and we were encountering the disembarkation crowd together with those of us embarking. In addition, there was a wedding on board and so there were 60 additional people that required special security screenings.
As a result of all of the activity, we did not get on board until almost 2 PM. In all fairness, if the ship had not docked later than scheduled, I think that the boarding process would have been more efficient and much faster.
About the Ship
The Dawn Princess is one of the fleet's smaller ships used to transit the canal. The ship is about 7 years old, but was well maintained. The Grand Atrium was beautiful, very bright and airy with specialty shops, bars, and restaurants. The artwork on the ship enhanced the overall environment.
We were surprised by an upgrade from our balcony stateroom to a suite thanks to our travel agent. Needless to say, my husband and I were in awe. The suite had two televisions, a walk-in closet, marble bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub and glass enclosed shower. The balcony had a table and chairs plus two lounge chairs. After this experience, it's going to be difficult to go back to a regular stateroom.
The ship had 3 main pools, one of which was for adults only. The main pool had a unique wave system that allowed you to swim against the current. The gym offered state-of-the-art equipment, and required passengers to sign up for the use of the treadmills. However, it seemed that after 9 AM that most treadmills were free. The gym also offered aerobic classes at an additional fee.
The ship had laundry rooms on almost all of the floors. However, each room had only two washers and two dryers together with an ironing board and iron. This posed a problem since they always seemed to be in use, I found myself dragging my laundry bag from floor to floor trying to find a machine that wasn't in use. Also, they did offer laundry detergent, bleach, and fabric softener for $1.00 each packet/small box.
Tip: On a 16-day cruise, you do find yourself needing to do laundry so plan on bringing your own detergent/bleach/fabric softener either in a small bottle or tablet form. Not only does it save money, but also the machine "ate" my money a few times, and I had to call the Purser's office for assistance.
The passengers were diverse, however; the average age seemed to be about 65+, with a few honeymoon couples, younger couples (under 35), and singles. We were told that on longer cruises, the age group does tend to be older. The accommodations for disabled passengers were good, as many used wheelchairs, walkers, canes, etc.
Princess offers Personal Choice diningâ together with their traditional (early or late seating) dining option. Personal Choice allows you to dine at anytime. Since we usually have dinner around 7 PM, we choose this time to dine. We sat at a table for two at each sitting although not at the same table each night. The only drawback is that we didn't have the same waiter each evening. Also, some evenings we had to wait in line for sometimes 20 minutes or more before we were seated. This was probably due to the fact that there were a limited number of tables for two, and it seemed to be a popular dining option.
Overall, the food was fair to good. There was only one meal that my husband did not like because it arrived only lukewarm. The portions tended to be not overly generous, but more in line with the dietary standards of portion control. They also offered healthy choice options, which contained less fat, salt, and sugar, and were lower in calories and carbohydrates, as well as vegetarian meals. The desserts were usually very good, and the presentation was excellent.
We ate both breakfast and lunch at the buffet on the Lido deck. The food was plentiful, but lacked variety. A better option would be a deli offering soup and sandwiches rather than the meat and potatoes, plus vegetables offered in addition to a few salads. In addition, I found that foods like pancakes, French toast, and waffles were cold, even under the heating lamps. There was also hot dogs, hamburgers, etc., at the poolside grill, which was a good option. Pizza was also available at the Italian café which also served a few pasta dishes.
Princess also offers alternative dining options in the form of specialty restaurants. On the Dawn Princess the dining this option was the Sterling Steakhouse, which had a $20 or $25 per person cover charge. We walked around the ship trying to locate the steakhouse, and found that it was actually a part of the dining room where we ate both our breakfast and lunch buffets. The only exception is that the tables had tablecloths and china/glassware. On Celebrity ships the same type of dining option is available, but the dining room itself is a separate, elegantly appointed room with musicians playing softly in the background. We were disappointed that the venue was not repeated on Princess.
My husband purchased the special offer/promotion for soda, which included an insulated, Coke or Diet Coke tumbler with a lid that allowed you unlimited refills throughout the cruise for a one-time charge of $35.00. If you're a big soda drinker then it probably is a worthwhile investment since I think that cans of soda cost about $2 each. Also, they featured Hagen-Dazs ice cream which ranged in price from about $2-$4.50. This is the first cruise line that we experienced that charged for ice cream. As part of my feedback to the cruise lines, I suggested that they refrain from charging from ice cream, and offer a more generic brand and that they also serve frozen yogurt. I'm lactose intolerant, and could not eat the ice cream.
The entertainment offered the standard variety of Broadway musicals, comedians, magicians, etc., which seemed to be pretty good. They also showed several good movies that I had missed when they first came out.
Tip: You needed to get to the theatre at least 30 minutes prior to the showing of a movie or show in order to get a seat. I came late one afternoon, and ended up sitting on the steps.
Ports of Call
This was our first time in Acapulco, Aruba, Costa Rica, and the Panama Canal. We had been to Ocho Rios in the past. We took a ½ day city tour in Acapulco. The tour bus was air-conditioned, and comfortable. Our tour guide was also very informative and friendly. In Aruba we shared a taxi with about 6 other people. The driver took us around the island, and made a few stops along the way. The cost was $30 for both of us, which was a considerable saving from the ship's ½ day tour. We did the same in Ocho Rios.
In Costa Rica we took the Rainforest Aerial Tram tour, which was profiled on the Discovery Channel. It was truly scenic, but if you're afraid of heights you may want to think twice. The price was about $120 per person, but well worth it for such a unique experience.
The transit of the Canal was awesome! I was up a 4 AM taking in all of the sights and sounds in preparation for the transit. A representative from the Canal boards the ship and gives passengers a detailed description of what is happening, and what we are seeing. Since the suites on the Princess are on the back of the ship, we didn't have to leave our deck to have a close-up view of the locks. I would recommend that if anyone were considering a full-transit versus a partial transit that you opt for the full transit, if you have the time.
After leaving the Canal we docked at the Port of Caldera, which we were told contained shopping booths inside of the building. Since I thought I would only be shopping, I didn't bring my camera-big mistake! Inside of the building were shopping booths, but also locals dressed in native costumes, including performers, in addition to a fireworks show. Unfortunately, it was raining, so the fireworks weren't as effective. If the cruise director had told us that there was going to be entertainment, I'm sure that many more people would have been prepared with their cameras. My husband told me that a good photographer never goes out without his/her camera. Oops!
As I wrap-up this review, I wanted to share with you that my husband and I rated this cruise/vacation as one of the best we have ever taken. Cruising the Panama Canal is an experience not to be missed, and we will never forget it!