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Island Princess Review 10/27/03 - 11/06/03
I must say Princess has the best embarkation process of any cruise line I have been on! From the moment I got off the bus til the time I was in my cabin, it was not more than 10 minutes - and I arrived at 1:15 pm.
I had Aloha 221 - forward on the starboard side on Aloha deck. This was a cat BC balcony cabin. I loved the location of the cabin (just past the forward elevators). It is right below the Horizon Court but I NEVER heard anything from above at anytime while I was in the cabin. Robert was my room steward and he came and introduced himself to me within 15 minutes of getting to my cabin. My two special requests were handled expediently. The cabin had the queen bed, two nightstands, a desk/vanity with a chair and a small table, mini fridge and tv all in the bedroom part of the cabin. The closet had ample wood hangers and slacks hangers that you could actually take off the pole and rehang. There was a shelving unit with a door on it that had six or seven shelves in it - on shelf held the safe (you use a 4 digit pin number on these safes). Plenty of storage space for two or more people. The bed did seperate when sleeping, so I put a life preserver between one of the nightstands and the bed and that worked like a charm in keeping the beds pushed together. Now, onto the one thing that Princess did wrong in their standard inside, outside and balcony cabins on the Coral class ships: the bathroom. The sink/vanity area and toilet were ok - plenty of storage on the vanity. It is the shower that is the big problem. The shower measures 2.2 feet by 2.25 feet - literally it is that small. The shower head is high up on the wall, but it is NOT a hand held shower head. The average sized person cannot take a decent shower in that small of a space! Shame on Princess for this!
I had traditional dining - late seating in the Provence dining room (deck 6). Was seated with friends at table 148 where Marco, Henry and Pom were our head waiter, waiter and assistant waiter. These guys were excellent! The food (remember food is very subjective) ranged from good to very good with a couple of dishes and desserts I found to be excellent (amongst them were ricotta filled pasta squares served in a butter sauce and the always available fettucine alfredo.) I will note that traditional early seating was filled up after the first night - there appeared to be plenty of seating available for traditional late seating. I also ate lunch at the Bayou Cafe: the food was excellent, the service was fair. I had the carptebaggers filet and that was the best beef entree I had the entire cruise, and the chocolate pecan cake was the best dessert. I did not go to Sabatini's at all. The Horizon Court buffet was good - not great but good with a good selection of dishes for both breakfast and lunch. There is an omelette/eggs made to order station set up for breakfast. The layout of the Horizon Court is confusing and the traffic pattern results in chaos until passengers figure out how it works. I wish Princess would have trays that you could carry - it is hard carrying your plate, utensils, beverages, etc.
The Wheelhouse Lounge was larger on this ship than on the Grand or Sun class ships - I didn't go in here at all unless trivia was being held in there. Explorers Lounge was nice venue; I went there when trivia was being held there and occasionally in the evening after supper for a drink or to just see what was going on there. Explorer's doubles as the disco later in the evening. My favorite lounge on the ship was Crooners - the martini bar on deck 7 in the atrium. The staff there were fantastic and fun loving and after the first day, they knew our names and our preferred drinks. A big thank you to Maria and Mark the bartenders, Andre and Nadtaya and the other waiters who just made the time spent there special. Entertainment: I did not go to one single show on this cruise, so I can't comment on that. The poolside music was ok - but not spectacular.
There are 4 pools on the Island Princess. The Lido pool is the main outdoor pool. The Lotus pool is under the retractable roof and this pool doubles as the swim against the current pool - the current machine can be turned on and off by pressing a button to the right of the grate just below the water line. Both these pools are over 6 feet deep. The Lotus pool has the steps going down into the pool, the Lido pool has the ladders going down into the water. The Pelican pool far aft on Aloha deck is NOT the childrens pool. It is a small pool about 5 feet deep. The only way to get to this pool is either from the deck above at the back of the ship or you have to go through the Fun Zone and Wired on Aloha deck. There is also a spalsh pool on Sun Deck - about 8 inches deep. There are three hot tubs around the Lido pool and two around the Lotus pool - they were hot and they weren't hogged by kids (there were only 17 passengers under the age of 18 on this particular cruise.)
Ports of Call:
First stop was Ocho Rios - I stayed on board as the Voyager of the Seas got the prime docking space near the shopping center - we were at an industrial pier about a mile away. The Panama canal is just an awesome sight to behold! The whole process of lining up to get into the lock, the mules pulling the ship, the lock gates closing and opening is all fascinating! It takes approximately 8 minutes to raise or lower the ship in each lock. After docking in Gatun Lake, only people on ship sponsored tours are allowed off the ship (this is controlled by the PCA - Panama Canal Authority.) You are tendered to shore where you will meet up with your shore excursion. A group of friends and I did the train excursion in the deluxe vintage dome car - the extra money to get on that car is worth it! The views from the upper deck are wonderful. It takes about an hour to go from Cristobal to Balboa on the Pacific side on the train. The bus tour for the most part on this end of the country was a bust - the only interesting thing was going to the Miraflores locks and watching ships going through there. We happened to be there at the time the people who were on the Ocean to Ocean tour arrived on the Pacifc Queen and we were able to watch them descend from sight as they were going back down to sea level. Then it was back on the train to return to Cristobal. We were then bussed to the ship which was docked at Colon at pier 6. There is a nice shopping area right at the dock and there is a cultural show that is put on there as well. Limon, Costa Rica I did the Jungle River Pontoon Boat ride - had a nice bus ride to a resort where we boarded the boats to go to the river. Saw lots of birds and even saw a three toed sloth hanging in a tree and a huge iguana sunning itself. Back to the resort for shopping and some rest before returning to the ship. There is a small shopping area here at the port - internet access and shops. But do not proceed beyond the gates at the pier there - it is very dangerous once outside the pier area. We were warned repeatedly not to venture past there. Grand Cayman was a busy port - besides us, the Norwegian Dream, the Veendam, The Sensation and the Imagination were all in port that day. Tendering on and off the ship was ok, but there are only two tender terminals with two berths at each terminal. There was a lot of gridlock waiting to get a berth at the tender piers. I did not do an excursion here, just got off and did a little shopping. Cozumel was next - we were berthed at Puerto Maya. Again, I just got off and shopped a little and headed back to the ship to enjoy the peace and quiet.
I just want everyone to know that the scream that was heard in Fort Lauderdale at 8:01 am on November 6 was me getting the first look at the final sign and sail card bill. The weather on debarkation day fit our mood - it poured all morning with occasional thunder and lightning. Debarkation was handled well, we were cleared by immigration and customs and started debarking about 8:30.
This was absolutely one of the best cruises I have been on, between the friends I went with and the friendliness of the onboard staff (even Evil Colin of trivia fame). I never met a staff member who did not smile or say good morning, etc. Never had a request turned down and everyone I dealt with appeared to be enjoying themselves. A special hi to Mike and Betty, Steve and Colleen, Naomi, Charles, Jane, Rita, Camilla, Lucille from Leicester, England, Paul and Marjorie, Lily and all the other wonderful passengers I met onboard playing trivia and pictionary or just lounging by the pool or at Crooners!