Just completed the January 15th 2004 - 10-day Panama Canal cruise on the Island Princess. Just brief note about me. I am in my mid-30's and have been fortunate to have taken 18 cruises (this is my 3rd on Princess) thus far on most of the major lines (I try to take 2 per year). I love to cruise because I think it is the most relaxing type of vacation you can find. You can do as much or as little as you want.
Overall Impressions: An excellent trip and Princess continues to be a solid choice for the mass market cruise lines. I would think that Princess should appeal to most people unless you are looking for a very active nightlife (more about that later).
Embarkation: Very smooth. I always book my airfare separately. Arrived in Ft. Lauderdale around 10:30 and was at the Pier at 11:15. A line had formed outside the terminal building of early arrivers, but they started processing people about 20 minutes later. As I pre-registered on the Internet, it took just a few minutes to check in and I was on the ship
Ship: Overall, I liked the Island very much. I was on the Golden last year and the Island seems similar only a bit smaller. I thought the lobby/atrium was one of the nicer ones I have seen recently. Other public rooms were nice and seemed functional. I don't really concern myself with these things too much so I won't spend much time on it here.
Passengers: Not that it really matters to me, but the average age of the passengers on this sailing was likely in the 70's and probably the oldest crowd on any cruise I have been on. It could be a combination of the fact that it was a 10-day trip and that it was mid-January, not a popular vacation time for families. I make note of this only since there was not much activity around the ship past 10 or 11pm. So if your looking for a lot of nightlife, this is probably not the exact itinerary and timing for you.
Cabin: I was in category BA on Caribe Deck. It is a standard outside balcony but had an "extended" balcony. The cabin was pretty standard and functional. Same goes for the bathroom. I will note that I had read the comments on the small size of the shower and I must say it is all true. They do seem smaller than usual. I had trouble figuring out how some people I saw on board fit in there. However, it did have awesome water pressure if you turned it all the way up. Having the larger balcony was a plus. It had two reclining chairs and a pretty good size square table. This balcony offered some privacy from above, but not total privacy.
Service: I was very happy with the service. Our cabin steward was excellent and very friendly. He did a good job of always being available and efficient, but never being intrusive. Most of the other staff I had contact with were mostly friendly but I am not a high maintenance passenger.
Food: As many people have appropriately said on these reviews, food is a subjective thing so I will only give you my opinions. After 18 cruises, I realize that when you are cooking for 2,000+ people, the likelihood that you will have a "gourmet" experience is remote.
So here it goes.overall, it is my opinion that Princess has some of the better food of the large cruise lines. Dinner in the dining room was good to very good. I think that the beef dishes were typically not the best I have had (somewhat tough) but the chicken dishes, seafood and pasta's were generally very good. I tend to think that Princess does excellent pasta (a lot of cream sauces). I would typically order the pasta entrée as a starter in a small portion. This is a way to try the pasta entrée without having to have it as a main dish. Of course, if your hungry, just order both as an entrée. As with all cruises I have been on, the waiters are very eager to bring you whatever you want and however much you want. Appetizers and soups were also mostly good but I thought the salads were typically uninspired. As a comparison, dining room food was just a notch below what I had on Celebrity Constellation in May and hands down far superior to the dining room food I had on Explorer of the Sears in November of 2002.
Horizon Court: This is where I think Princess is much better than the other large cruise lines including Celebrity. I ate most of my breakfasts and lunches in the Horizon Court. Despite being poorly designed for traffic flow, the Horizon Court has pretty good food for a buffet. There is a nice selection and it doesn't seem like it has been sitting around for a long time as it can sometimes on other lines. Also, the food is always hot. For breakfast, you can go with the standard items but there was also a fresh egg & omelet area where you could pretty much order what you wanted. I am a big milk drinker and one thing I didn't like was that milk was only available at breakfast and at the dinner buffet. I have been on the Grand and Golden and I recall that there were milk dispenser's available 24hrs in the Horizon. Anyway, I took a bunch of milk cartons and stored them in my cabin refrigerator.
Room service: Pretty standard here too. Ordered room service for breakfast twice and it was delivered on time and was usually hot. If you don't know.you can pretty much write down whatever you want and they will bring it. It does not need to be listed on the door menu card. A note of caution, be very explicit in what you want.. if you order pancakes, you must specify syrup, or else they wont bring it. Also you can write down whatever time you want. I asked for breakfast 1 hour earlier then was listed as available on the card and the food was delivered at the time I requested.
Entertainment: I saw most of the production shows and they were pretty good. While the production shows tend to be similar content across the various cruise lines, the Island Princess singers and dancers were very talented and I enjoyed the shows very much. They also have a long term comedian onboard who does three shows through out the cruise and he was also very enjoyable. Lots of other bands and music on board all of which seemed to be good.
Shore Excursions: Cozumel - Took a taxi over to the Chankanaab National Park for some snorkeling / sun. If you're looking for a lazy beach day, this is a good place to go. They have a variety of water sports if that is of interest. It is $10 cab fare each way and $10 entrance fee to the park. Snorkel gear was $6 per person if you head farther down the beach ($10 near the entrance). The snorkeling is ok, but not great.
Grand Cayman - Booked the Stingray City and Snorkel tour though an independent operator Native Way, who was recommended on the boards. Native Way didn't show up at the pier as promised. Medical emergency was later cited as the reason. Don't know if I would trust them again. We just did the same trip with people advertising the same trip at the pier. I would recommend going to Stingray City if you have never done it before.. it is a unique experience.
Panama Canal - Nice experience if you have not been through it before. We had booked the Ocean-to-Ocean tour, which was going to be the highlight of the trip (you get to go through the canal and locks on the Pacific side in a smaller boat). Unfortunately, this tour got cancelled about a half-hour before it was supposed to depart. This is where Princess really dropped the ball. As they insisted it was beyond there control, they still did not handle the situation very well. There were about 250 very unhappy people who were scheduled to go on this tour and they were none too happy to hear that not only was the tour cancelled, but there were no other options to join another tour. Therefore, we were all stuck on the ship until late in the day when the ship went back through the locks and docked in Colon. To add to our frustration, the tour desk supervisor didn't handle the angry passengers very well. In fact, he became downright hostile as many of the passengers affected were voicing their displeasure to him. Princess obviously refunded everyone the cost of the tour and then a few days later (bowing to persistent complaints and angry passengers) decided to give everyone scheduled on the tour a $100 ship credit.
Limon, Costa Rica - Went on the Jungle River Eco-Cruise. 2-3 hour cruise in the rain forest. It was interesting and the guides were excellent.
Ocho-Rios - Was booked on the Yacht sailing trip to Dunns River Falls. This tour was cancelled early on in the cruise (no reason given). Decided just to cab over to Dunns, which was just as well ($11 cab each way and $10 per person to enter the falls).
Other Comments: Cutbacks continue to be noticed on all the ships as cruise prices continue to be very reasonable. I have been cruising many years and prices are lower now than they were several years ago. That being said, I am of the opinion that I would rather pay an extra $50 or $100 for the cruise then be nickel-and-dimed for things that used to be included in the cost of the cruise.
Some things I noticed on the Island were that juices are only available at breakfast time. If you want any type of juice at any time other than breakfast, it will cost you. Same thing goes for hot chocolate. I sometimes like hot chocolate after dinner but there is now a $1.50 charge. This seems pretty petty, but it did really bother me. All the cruise lines are doing this extra charging, but it varies on what items they have decided to start charging for. Any way you cut it, it's not a good trend.
I never had any problem getting lounge chairs. I don't know if it was due to the age of the passengers or that there seemed to be lounge chairs everywhere. I pretty much had my pick of chairs anywhere on the ship.
Overall, Princess continues to be a great choice in the large cruise line segment. They have good food, nice ships and friendly staff. The Island Princess is comfortable and I have no problem recommending this ship or line.