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We stayed pre-cruise at the Holiday Inn Airport. The staff was friendly and the room clean. It was a good deal for the price. Breakfast was included with the room. They also have a shuttle from the airport and to the pier.
We arrived at the Princess pier around 11:30 and were in our cabin by 12:10. Princess does an excellent job at boarding. We were on Caribe deck cabin 515 a balcony. Princess has larger staterooms and great closet space but the bathrooms are some of the tiniest we have ever seen. Strangest thing about this ship is the food is located forward, an odd place since the front get the brunt of the waves. The lines for embarkation lunch were very, very long about 1:30 so we decided to try the grill and pizza place. The grill served hamburgers, bratwurst, hot dogs & chicken sandwiches. The Pizza was very good and several varieties are available each day. Our cabin steward Noon was wonderful and filled our few requests very efficiently.
Dining-We had traditional dining at 8:15 each night. Our waiter was Henry and he was wonderful. Princess?s food is well done for the most part. Princess?s pasta dishes were quite good so I ate my fair share all week. They also have afternoon tea in the dining room or snack in the Lido at 3:30 where they serve homemade ice cream. They have different flavors each day. Breakfast and Lunch in the Lido were the similar to other lines. Biggest problem is not enough seating especially at Breakfast.
Our head waiter Henrique was the worst one we have ever had. He didn?t come to our table on the 1st or the last night. We aren?t sure why he even bothered since every night his greeting was the same, ?How is your dinner.? We would answer and he would say ?Very Good.? And walk away. It became a running joke. Princess has cut back since our last cruise with them a year ago. The anytime dining room had fresh cooked pasta, (you could smell the garlic throughout the ship) but the traditional didn?t. Our waiter had the assistant go down to anytime to get me the pasta and it was excellent! I had some trouble eating a few nights since many of the dishes had peppers in them and they just don?t sit well with me. I could have had this taken care of if we had a decent head waiter but since ours was non-existent it made it difficult. Henry took good care of me however but I did leave a long note on our comment card about Henrique.
The ports were Aruba, Cartegena Columbia, Panama Canal (into Gatun Lake) and then dock at Cristobel, Panama, Limon Costa Rica, and Ocho Rios Jamaica. The South American ports were all new to us so I?ll give you the rundown of our days in each. If you can read ?A Man, A Plan, A Canal? a great book of the canals history but dry reading at times.
Cartegena, Columbia was a lovely place but the poverty level is 80%. We had a tour with Lee Miles. We had a large group 16 total and it cost $40.00 each. It was 5 hours. We had a private guide named Claudia. She was excellent!!! We visited many of the same places the ship tours go to including, churches, gold museum, the fort and shopping. We went shopping first and beat all the ships tours there. I only shopped in 2 stores, Mr. Emerald, where I bought a coffee bean pendant $17 and an emerald set in sterling silver. Because we were on Lee?s tour (he owns Mr. Emerald) we got a 20% discount. Then I went across to the coffee store and bought about 5 lbs. of coffee. ($5-7 lb.) I?ve been drinking it and it?s excellent! The coffee store also sells the local beer at a good price for those who like to taste different beers. Only real problem here is when the bus door opens you are swarmed with vendors selling t-shirts, tablecloths, ladies with fruit hats, people carrying a sloth to take a picture with you, etc. This was the worst part of Columbia and was very uncomfortable. It really is a lovely country but the people swarming you were more than I could take. Another note, friends did the beach tour and were also bothered by the sales people as well as those that would just walk up to you and start to massage you. Anything to make a buck here for sure so be careful!
Cristobel-Let me first say that Princess had problems all day. We went through the locks late and that caused everything to back-up all day. They also didn?t coordinate the order the tours left the ship well as shorter tours tendered before some of the longer tours. If you don?t get off the ship in Gatun lake then you would return through the locks and dock at Cristobel where there was shopping at the pier. We did the tour to Gatun Locks and Portobelo, 5 hours total. This is the worst tour we have ever taken. The drive to the ruins was over an hour in each direction. The ruins were just that but the worst part was the building in which they showed a short video of the fort. There are bathrooms located there and to say the least they were unsanitary. I won?t go into details as it was disgusting. The building itself was moldy and really smelled like it. My allergies were going crazy. The drive through Panama was pretty awful. They do not have garbage service there so the trash is strewn throughout the countryside and near people?s homes. The vultures were the only ones happy about it. If we did this trip again I would definitely stay on the ship and return out of Lake Gatun instead of doing a tour. We left the ship at around 11:30 and didn?t return until nearly 5 pm. Everyone who did the canal by boat loved it but be forewarned that it is a very long tour at least 7 or 8 hours. One tour had to wait to get in the locks and was 2 hours late. That tour included food somewhere along the way so they didn?t starve. I did purchase coffee at the market but haven?t tried it yet. ($5 lb)
Panama Canal was the reason for this trip and did not disappoint! Definitely a must do for any cruiser. The weather was pretty awful which is common in Panama. It poured rain all morning and was kind of chilly. I awoke at 5:30 had my coffee and then headed up to the 15th deck for a front row seat. If you get up there later than 6:30, you will be SRO. My DH gave up when it started to pour but I stayed put since this is the one thing I wanted to see more then anything. He was so wonderful and brought me a jacket, my poncho and a towel to dry off with. We were late getting into the locks and the rain finally cleared. The canal is a truly amazing and you need to get the perspective from different areas of the ship. I stayed up front through the 1st lock and then went to the promenade deck (excellent to get the prospective of how much room between the wall and the ship) and the rear for the 2nd lock. The 3rd lock I enjoyed from our balcony with a nice hot cup of coffee. It was pretty interesting to watch the ship next to us rise in the canal next to us. We had a narrator for the entire crossing into the locks which was very informative and a great addition to seeing it. I would definitely go again!
Limon Costa Rica- I loved this port. The people were very friendly here and I felt safe at all times. We walked around through the city and it was pouring again. Fortunately it cleared up later for our tour. Bought the usual magnet, t-shirt, etc. as well as coffee at the market by the pier for $5 a lb. It was good.
We took the ships Eco-cruise and Banana Plantation tour and it was excellent! The banana plantation was just long enough to understand the process. The eco-cruise (2 hour cruise) through the canals was a highlight for us. Our guide was excellent and we saw iguana, birds, monkeys, sloths, etc. After the tour they served refreshments and a snack of fresh fruit. The local beer Imperial was great! I would do this tour again. I also bought a local wine called Awapa, made with passion fruit. Didn?t love it but it was interesting. Coffee about $6 a lb. Very good.
Ocho Rios Jamaica- We got off to get some Blue Mountain Rum Cream one of my favorites. The prices have climbed in Jamaica in recent years but there is a store just after you leave the security of the pier that has signs that say t-shirts 3 for $12. I bought the Rum Cream there and they had the best liquor prices in town. I saved $10.00 a bottle by shopping there.
Sorry this is so long but I really wanted to be detailed about the ports. Let me also say Princess has the best debarkation I?ve seen. You must vacate your room at 8:00 am and then go to the assigned bar or lounge for each color luggage tag. We went about 5 minutes before our departure time and only had to wait 10 minutes to disembark. Very orderly, kudos to Princess! The Coral was a lovely ship and we had a good time. The staff was very friendly and we enjoyed talking to them. The clientele on this ship is definitely older and the casino was dead most of the trip. I would definitely do this trip again but skip the Panama tour.