Just back from the 12/16 to 12/26 Island Princess Panama Canal cruise. This was my 14th cruise, 4th on Princess. We do not expect gourmet meals on the mid-range cruise lines, just tasty food, well presented, with good service. I am a lawyer, 63, my wife a housewife, 52. The following are my comments on this cruise:
Pre-cruise-Booked the Marriott Marina through Priceline--$48/night. Very nice hotel, two restaurants, a hopping bar (the Philadelphia Eagles and their fans were staying there for the Monday Night Football game against the Dolphins). We had heard some disparaging remarks about the hotel on the boards, but found it very nice. Also closest hotel to the Princess dock. Shuttle service to the pier by reservation-none of the hassles we found at Amerisuites on prior visits. Embarkation-Arrived about 11:10, line was starting to form. They opened the doors at 11:30, at which time a long line existed. Check-in by stateroom deck or Platinum Captain's Circle took all of 10 minutes and we were on the ship.
The ship-Island Princess is a beautiful ship in its inaugural season. We had an aft cabin on Aloha Deck, which presented three problems: 1)The ship is almost 1000 feet long, so it's a long hike to some of the places where we spent the most time-Horizon Court buffet, regular dining room, Wheelhouse bar, and the Princess Theater, 2)There is an intermittent vibration in the cabins when underway which can be quite annoying, and 3) There is absolutely no privacy on the balcony. The Lido Deck is directly above, a fairly high-traffic walking area that looks directly down on the balcony. Similarly, the verandahs on the Baja Deck are open, but only to those looking from the Aloha balconies. The Caribe Deck balconies are partially covered. Unless you book a suite or mini-suite, be prepared for the smallest showers on the face of the earth. They are a squeeze for a normal size person. I saw many on board (those wearing Speedos who shouldn't and other large people) who couldn't possibly have taken a shower in the 10-day cruise. The Wheelhouse bar is probably one of the prettiest and well-appointed lounges at sea. Needless to say it accounted for significant entries on my shipboard account. Food and Service-A great disappointment. We had traditional late seating, table for 6 of us travelling together, so we all arrived together. We had a couple of very nice dinners, particularly French night with escargot, onion soup, and rack of lamb. But we also had several nights where the food was almost inedible. But most disappointing was the service. Our waiter and assistant, while quite pleasant, just couldn't get the food out. We had long waits between courses, cold food, and had to ask for what they should have seen we needed. Don't try the buffalo pot roast. I couldn't eat it and told the waiter to take it away, don't bring another entrée, just the dessert menu. We were told one evening that the maitre 'd would be preparing a special pasta at our table for us to try or have as a main course. Good thing I ordered something else-we never saw him. There are two alternative dining rooms on the Island Princess-Sabatini's and the Bayou Café, both of which provided wonderful food and outstanding service. Amazingly, they were virtually empty every night. We did get a hint the first time we went to make reservations at Sabatini's when the maitre'd suggested a 7 PM reservation since dinner would likely take 2 ½ hours. Be aware that the menu lists many appetizers that appear to be choices. Instead, you are presented with course after course of delicious appetizers, then soup, salad, soup, pizza, pasta, and then the entrée and dessert. Superb food and service.We ate there twice. My only suggestion would be to add another choice or two for an entrée-the only things available are seafood (including a wonderful lobster tail) and a veal chop. Similarly, the Bayou Café should add an entrée or two that is not so "ethnic". I've had wonderful meals in New Orleans that were not cajun-creole. The Horizon Court-a large selection, with something to please anyone. Often the same dishes available in the dining room for lunch. Don't miss the short ribs when they have them. A little congested, but it gets better after a few days when everyone figures out the system. I've always been a critic of Princess' coffee in the Horizon Court, but it has been greatly improved and is drinkable now. Pool-Lido Deck. Lots of kids on this cruise, but amazingly most hung out at the Tholassotherapy (?) pool, a place originally designed for adults only. While I was assured that the deck waiters were not on commission, I found the service intrusive. A waiter would come up to the table, "Something from the bar?" when another waiter was actually there taking an order! A couple or waiters could not speak enough English to take an order. Stateroom-The room steward, Elizabeth was absolutely perfect. Greeted us by name, managed to sneak in between my naps and keep the cabin in perfect order. Room service never took longer than 10 minutes, amazing. Other staff-Pursers Office (Passenger Relations) proved to be difficult. Two of our travelling companions brought their 18-month infant (and paid almost $700 for her fare). There was no crib in the cabin. When one was requested, the Pursers Office simply responded that they only have 5 onboard, that they were all taken, and nothing could be done until we reached our first port, 2 days away. $700 for a person who doesn't eat much food, requires no other services, and doesn't even get a bed. I found this to be unacceptable and requested to see the Hotel Manager. In speaking with an Assistant Hotel Manager and pointing out that any cruise line can encounter problems, but finding an acceptable resolution to the problem is the gauge of a good line, she provided an additional cabin for two nights so mom could share her bed with the baby and dad could have a bed. Splitting up the family was not a good solution, but a crib arrived in Ocho Rios (borrowed from Carnival I think). By booking the baby and charging a fare, Princess should have no excuse for failing to have a crib available. Debarkation-Princess sends out a questionaire early in the cruise requesting air connections and assigns disembarkation colors accordingly. We had an 11:15 flight out of Ft. Lauderdale, got an early color, found our luggage, got a cab and got to the airport and through security with an hour to spare. Overall-A nice cruise, nice itinerary. But the food and service, an essential element of my desired cruise experience, left me looking to Celebrity, RCL, or even Carnival for my next cruise.