Best cruise to date, but the first to Alaska will always be special. Food, fun, excursions, activities, and itinerary were all great. We picked this cruise because of the length (10 days), seeing the Panama Canal, trying a Caribbean cruise for the first time and the price. The price was the major driver for picking this cruise, the personnel will keep us coming back.
In summary, highly recommended. If you can get onto the Island Princess before she goes to Alaska, try this itinerary.
Top 10 Best List:
1: Princess Personnel (The Good) - Like our Alaska cruise, this one was filled with notable Princess personnel that made the cruise exceptional. Of note was Jessy, our cabin steward who was almost perfect (no one is perfect), friendly, helpful, cheery and always there when we needed him. He kept the cabin immaculate and did such a good job we tipped him in addition to the normal tips. Rick, the shore and shopping advisor, checked on and kept tabs on all the people shopping on shore to ensure everything was going all right. Our table mates from Colorado were amazed that he kept checking in on them during their shopping. His shopping tips, especially the puzzle boxes in Costa Rica, were right on. Last, but certainly not least, was Samantha, one of the asst. cruise directors. She was one cute, bubbly ball of energy and our line dance instructor. Please, do not feed her any caffeine, she has enough energy to power the ship in an emergency. Constantly smiling, friendly, outgoing, helpful, she represents the best of Princess's most important resource, the personnel. Now, its important to note that all of the other people we ran into, our wait staff, Susan, Trevor and Josh, the other asst cruise staff, the buffet cooks, TK in the Explorer Lounge, were wonderful as well. But we had more contact with Rick, Sam and Jessy and were able to notice their above and beyond contribution to a wonderful cruise. All cruise lines have to realize that without great personnel, you can never have a great cruise and with lousy personnel you will have a lousy cruise. Everything, we liked on this cruise is directly attributable to a specific person or persons doing an outstanding job. Without those people, you just have a motel that moves with a Denny's out front.
2: Cruise Price/Value - For the price paid, this cruise was incredible. 10 day, mini-suite, beautiful ship, great food, the overall value or "bang for the buck" was sensational. None of the "worst" list detracted from the experience. We spoke to many other veteran cruisers and their unanimous opinion was that this was one of the best cruises. One couple was on their 27th cruise spread out among all of the major cruise lines and this was in the top five.
3: Food - As near to perfect as you can expect on a cruise ship. Consistently good quality with some surprise exceptional taste treats sprinkled in -lobster at dinner, kiwi tarlett in the lunch buffet, eggplant appetizer on Italian night, incredible prime rib and a lot of others. Based on our previous two cruises we expected differences between the buffet, the dining room, the grill and the alternatives, but in this case the quality was well above average everywhere.
4: Mini-suite Layout - We are now spoiled. The mini-suite with its extra length and couch was just the right size. All of the "stuff" that ends up on the bed and just migrates to the desk, table and chair in a regular room now has a place on the couch. Full bathtub, huge closet and a larger balcony -however, our balcony was not covered which caused some issues (see negatives). But all in all, well worth the extra money on a 10 day trip.
5: Activities and Entertainment - From Kevin Huges (comic) to the shows (Panama [Pub] Night) to the production shows and activities (Cowboy night), there was too much to do it all. We missed a lot of stuff going on and were never bored.
6: Ship Cleanliness - The Island Princess was in immaculate condition. Every restroom, every public area was spotless. Dining rooms were exceptionally clean. (The only exception was the Lotus Pool which had rust spots where the coating was not applied properly.)
7: Ship Layout - The Island Princess layout reminded us of an upgraded Sun class. The separate Lotus Pool area with its swim current and 2 meter depth made it the exercise pool of choice. Three main ship's elevator wells plus the normal atrium elevators made navigation easy. It almost appears that they added an additional deck by lowering slightly the ceiling of all of the other decks. The designers also used mirrors a lot to add a sense of openness to spaces. The gym was full of modern workout equipment including Precor ellipticals and a full set of circuit training weight machines.
8: Sabbatini's - An experience all in itself. You choose your soup and your main course. Everything else on the menu is provided to you to taste. Don't even try and eat it all. Skip lunch for this one. Well worth the $20 extra per person. Service is exquisite. The wait staff love to talk to you. Let them explain the history of the dishes and the wines.
9: Discover SCUBA Cozumel: In Alaska it was glacier trekking, in the Caribbean its SCUBA. No certification required. A 20 minute orientation, checkout in shallow water and then 30 minutes down to 25 feet examining fish, coral, rays, eels and other divers. We might just get certified now.
10: Stingray Sandbar Catamaran Grand Caymen: An un-crowded (22 of us) trip on a catamaran out to the Stingray Sandbar to dance with, touch and feed the stingrays. One stingray is over 30 years old and is blind in both eyes due to cataracts, but she sure can dance and find the squid ok. Princess really does a good job of finding great companies for their excursions. This was no exception. The personnel were friendly, knowledgeable and really cared about the rays. The trip out and back aboard the catamaran was a real treat as well. For value added the crew does a video of the excursion, in and out of the water. You can buy the DVD for $60 and it will be mailed to your house. The VHS is cheaper. Great for those who don't want to take their $600 digital video camera into the salt water.
Top 7 Worst List (Just Could Not Come Up With Ten and some of these are real nits)
1: Sell/Sell/Sell - All of the cruise lines are reducing prices to attract guests. To make up the difference they are selling everything in sight during the cruise. During the cooking demonstration, they will push a cookbook, during lunch in the horizon court, they will walk by with the same cookbook for sale. The photographers are everywhere taking pictures. 5x7 photos are overlaid with stock maps or information on an 8x10 format and sold as an 8x10. 8x10's are up to $20 each. Some of this is not bad - the personalized trip specific video is a great idea, but they need more than one video camera. Unobtrusive photographers on special occasions are welcomed, but some of them get pushed out of shape when you refuse a picture. The Lotus Spa's prices on products are outrageous. No you don't have to buy and we recommend you don't - at all. Pocket the money, call the Mary Kay lady and save a literal fortune. For example, the minimum for Judy's skin care products that she "must" have, was over $300 for three items. That's just insane.
2: Bar Staff Tips - Sales vs. Service; This is a corollary to #1 above. Princess adds 15% to each drink tab that the server him or herself gets directly. This creates a feeding frenzy of drink waiters and waitresses that put sales above service. People who want water will only get bottled water. People who want coffee, or coke (with the coke sticker) or tea that are free with no tip will be ignored or lied to as in, " we don't have any coffee or tea" or " we're not allowed to do that". There were a few waiters that did put service above sales and brought water or coke promptly. I truly believe that if a drink waiter would walk around with a tray of free water glasses, he or she just might even score more drink orders with the good will generated. Princess needs to do something about this situation. I would even suggest going as far as paying the wait staff to deliver the free dinks by accounting for them and giving them $0.25 for each glass given out.
3: Princess Personnel (The Bad): The sell/sell/sell probably contributed to this as well, but on one occasion we actually saw a waitress leave a restroom without washing her hands, and went right on serving drinks - touching napkins, glasses, straws. Not good. Room service was bad as well. Out of 5 different room services orders, all were screwed up somehow. Three were delivered to the wrong room, one had a canned coke instead of a "free" glass of coke (sell/sell/sell again?) and one was incomplete.
4: Deck Washing/Balcony Cover - As regular as clockwork between 0200 and 0300, the upper deck would be hosed off, right onto our balcony table and chairs, 4 stories below. The dolphin centerline balconies protrude out and anything washed off the top deck would land on our balcony. We liked to sleep with the door open and the first few nights we though it was rain. Found out later it wasn't. This was a bad design choice. The uncovered balcony removes some privacy and does not provide any shade or rain cover. Things from the top deck that are dropped or blow/roll off inevitably end up on the Dolphin deck balconies. The Sun class balconies are covered and we did prefer that.
5: Coffee Outside the Horizon Court - On the Sun class ships there is coffee service on both sides of the grill on deck 15. In the Coral class, there is not. This means that for a cup of coffee you have to fight the lines in the Horizon Court. They did add coffee service at the entrance to the buffet line, but when its busy, it's a challenge to reach it.
6: Bayou Café - A big disappointment. The food was good, the service was good, but it wasn't Cajun. In fact when I asked for recommendations, none of the recommendations were the "New Orleans" style courses. The recommended dished were normal, typical Nuevo French or European cuisine. After Sabbatini's this was a downer. We did go against the recommendations and order the "New Orleans" style - the best of which was the gator ribs, but everything else, while good, was not as good as what we were getting in the dining room.
7: Universal Lounge Layout - Unlike the Sun class, the Universal Lounge is not tiered, but sloped. This sloping is inadequate and frequently allows taller people in the front to completely block the view of people behind them. In the upper deck, a great design idea and makes for a spectacular view from above, the second row of seats has their view almost totally blocked.