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My Review for Cruise Critic

I submitted this review to CruiseCritic and it’s been published at http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=252186

My DH and I sailed on the Coral Princess round trip Panama Canal partial transit from Tuesday, March 4 through Saturday, March 15, 2014.

This was our first Princess cruise. We have previously sailed Windjammer (before they went out of business!), Dolphin (a cruise that became part of Premier Cruise Line, went bankrupt in 2000), Celebrity and Norwegian which we really enjoy. I’ve also taken Royal Caribbean a couple times with a friend of mine. Norwegian, which we took in November was our previous favorite. Not any more. Princess beat them all out for us.

The Coral Princess is a beautiful ship. The Atrium is spectacular with its spiraling staircase covering 4 decks. I loved all the various activities going on in the Atrium at different times. I’m not a fan of all the glitz like RCL has so this was perfect for us.

The 4 levels of the Atrium include: Deck 5 – passenger services, shore excursion and future cruise sales desks. Deck 6- stores. Deck 7 – art gallery and wedding chapel (used for many other things than weddings). Deck 8 – Internet Cafe, card room and library.

I never went to customer service but the lines there never seemed too long. I have been on RCL and waited in several long lines.

Towards the end of the cruise, on the last day, I saw a rip in the carpet near the Lido pool but that may have happened during our cruise. I had walked that way several times before and not noticed it.

EMBARKING: We got to the ship late so I have no idea how it would have been earlier. Even though we got there after 2:00, the line seemed to move along. We didn’t even bother to go to lunch. Staff directed the way and even pushed the elevator buttons for us. We went right to our cabin. Most of our luggage was already there and the last piece arrived in about 5 minutes.

MUSTER: Princess does this differently than RCL but similar to Norwegian and I like it much better. We gathered our life jackets from the closet and headed to our muster station (ours was in the art gallery so we had to be careful not to lean on the walls!) Everyone’s key card was scanned so they knew when all were present. The crew demonstrated how to use the life jackets and then we all put them on.

On NCL, we just went to a restaurant and heard about how to do this. No lifejackets at all. RCL we went to our actual lifeboats and had to line up on deck about 7 deep. Of course, some folks had started drinking and the lines kept getting out of order.

I liked the Princess way best since we learned how to put on the life jackets but didn’t have to line up outside. I trust that the crew would direct us to the correct lifeboat if needed!

GETTING AROUND: When getting our room key, we were given a very nice fold-out map of the ship that was about the same size as the key card so it was easy to take with us. We didn’t really need it that much. There were well designed maps near each elevator telling us where we were.

A few days into the cruise, someone mentioned that the odd (starboard side) deck cabin carpet had a green border and even was a red border. That helped us a lot when finding our cabin.

Elevators were nice and room and came fairly quickly. We often walked up and down, though. There was no Deck 13.

Decks were named as well as numbered. We were on Deck 11 – also called Baja Deck. There was Aloha, Caribe, Dolphin, Emerald…

Unlike RCL, the elevator buttons were never sticky. One thing I like better about RCL is that they have “Day” indications on the floor. Sometimes, we lost track of what day it was.

We never felt crowded or cramped. Sometimes, walking around the ship, we felt like it was just us onboard. A nice feeling.

HAND CLEANING: The first several days of the cruise, we had to use the Purell dispensers before entering the buffet or the grill to get our silverware. Later on, we still had to clean our hands but the silverware and napkins were on the tables. I’m not sure what changed. They had some dispensers a few other places but not as many as I’ve seen on other ships. However, we had no outbreaks of Norovirus so the plan worked!

CABIN: I loved our cabin! It had a balcony and the cabin was the largest one I have had on any ship. The cabin is (or seems) bigger than the one on Norwegian (NCL). There is a desk instead of a couch (NCL). The couch wasn’t very practical – the desk really is. Not having the couch also made the cabin more roomy.

We had a walk-in closet which is really nice. It’s at a right angle to the sleeping area which makes it seem like a separate room.

The bathroom is small, of course. I think the shower is smaller than NCL’s but I don’t spend that much time in there. I like RCL’s round shower door better.

The end tables by the bed have actual drawers instead of open shelves, and lots of storage.

The chairs on the balcony recline. They’re fixed on NCL.

No coffeemaker, though. NCL had one in the cabin. I missed that.

There was a TV guide telling us what is on for the whole trip along with a large flat screen TV.

This ship has a self-service laundry on each deck. I’ve never seen that on another ship. We used that 3 times during the cruise and was really helpful in keeping the amount of luggage down.

The bed was very comfortable, and we had two chairs, a small refrigerator (but not filled with stuff we’d never buy), Egyptian cotton towels, all very classy.

I was so grateful that there were no announcements all the time. On RCL, I had to figure out how to turn off “Anna Banana” and her bingo. The announcements on there were very annoying. Not so on the CP.

Our steward Dante was fantastic. He came and introduced himself before the muster. He showed us some features we might have missed.

Pool/Beach towels are in the closet. We return them to the cabin and the steward brings us new ones. We didn’t have to check them out and return them to the pool each day. Hooray!

The second day – the first sea day – we had a card in our cabin that said we could have fresh fruit delivered each day. A nice touch but we just got ours from the buffet.

DINING: We had Anytime Dining but we never went to the MDR. We were happy enough with the buffet and it fit our schedule perfectly. I loved the selection, especially the Mongolian BBQ. We have a restaurant like that here so I knew how it worked – you take a small bowl, fill it with fresh vegetables, then protein, then you request either rice or rice noodles. They stirfry it quickly and you’re off to eat.

I loved the desserts and probably had more than I should.

We had some snacks in the Grill – I love bratwurst and sauerkraut and was able to get it on the CP. We had it on the first NCL but not the second one, even though it was the same ship (NCL Jewel).

We also had a pizza or 2. There was one standard each day plus the pizza of the day, freshly made and yummy.

The muesli parfaits at breakfast were fantastic. Muesli, yogurt and a couple kinds of fruit all layered. I loved those.

One interesting thing – every meal seemed to have apricots in some form. One night, I thought that there were none but there they were in the Apricot Crumble for dessert. Lots of other fresh fruit at every meal. I think I had melon and pineapple 2-3 times a day for the entire trip.

This ship had no midnight chocolate buffet. I don’t mind – I’m just saying that in passing.

POOL/MUTS: There were a three places to enjoy a pool: the Lido Pool, Splash Pool and Lotus Pool. The Lotus Pool is next to the Lotus Spa. This ias a very lovely, calm and relaxing area. The roof looked like it might have been retractable but we only saw it closed so I don’t know for sure.

The Lido Pool had live bands played mid-day. They also had a variety of pool games and other activities there.

This is also where the Movies Under The Stars (MUTS) big screen is located. We saw several movies at MUTS. They have blankets at night and offer cookies and milk as well as popcorn – all free. The last movie we saw, they also came around with pizza. An annoying thing was the use of a BBC show called Walk on the Wildside about 20 minutes before each show. That was animals dubbed by various comedians. We didn’t find that too funny. The trivia questions were fun, though.

This area got very full quickly on movie nights so we made it a practice to get there early for movies we really wanted to see.

ENTERTAINMENT: All the live musicians throughout the ship were all terrific. Around the ship we heard a pianist (Tetiana) and String Trio who played lovely, classy music throughout the day. Also, a single solo artist named Daniel Oliver was outstanding singing and accompanying himself on the piano.

We went to the second performance of Alexander Great, an illusionist, in the Universe Lounge. We didn’t go to see the mentalist or comedian.

The singers and dancers were excellent. We saw all of their shows including Motown, What a Swell Party featuring many Cole Porter songs and was so good, and Dance!. The Bayou show in the Universe Lounge was fantastic, especially the ship’s orchestra as New Orleans funeral band followed by a jazz band. When they marched up the aisle at the end of the show and out into the foyer, they kept playing – fantastic.

Steven Kane, billed as Fantastic Flying Fingers, was also terrific. He had played on our last cruise but we missed it due to a Cruise Critic Dinner with an Officer so this was our second chance, meant to be. We saw him (and the ship’s orchestra) in the Universe Lounge and that was a great venue for him. When we saw him later, in the Princess Theater, the crowd was smaller. He played just as well, though.

A note about these performers – we saw them all eating in the Horizon Court Buffet, usually after shows or practices and it was nice to be so close to them, made us all feel like a “family”.

EXCURSIONS: Generally – when we returned to the ship after a day in port, crew members are on the pier passing out cold water and cool washcloths. Very much appreciated! Embarkation was generally easy, by group, depending on the tour. Except for the Panama Canal/Gatun Lake, all were docked at a pier.

Aruba: we did a tour of the California Lighthouse, Casibari rock formations and a semi-submersible over the Antilla shipwreck. Even though the tour description read “Your route back to the ship takes you past the fascinating ruins of a 19th-century gold mill at Boca Mahos, and at the end of the tour, you will have the option to independently explore Aruba’s capital city Oranjestad”, neither of those happened. I think that this was our least favorite tour and didn’t show Aruba off as well as it might have.

Cartegena: We did a mostly bus tour to La Popa Monastery. This is a top a large hill and gives some great photo opportunities of the city below. We stopped outside the Old City and there were the pushy streets vendors all over. We also saw the Navy Museum and a display of native dancers/musicians.

Panama Canal: The guide, Dr. Chris Roberts, was excellent and narrated onboard as we entered Gatun Lake. We were on the starboard side, Deck 11, and got a really good view of the whole lock operation. Someone (turned out later that it was a fellow passenger) played the bagpipes for most of the transit.

After getting off the tender for our tour, there was a very steep climb to the busses. I had to use both hands on a railing to pull myself up.

We took the Panama Canal Railway tour and loved it! A bus took us to the train station, then we got into the dome car. The guide (Melvyn) stayed with us for the day – very informative. The “train girls” who brought coffee and sodas gathered together and did a song for us. We saw the Miraflores Locks Observation Center and the new lanes being built for the canal.

Colon, Panama: We drove though this on the way back to the ship and were surprised how run-down and seedy it was.

Limon, Costa Rica: A 2 hour bus ride to the rainforest but the guide (Dennis) was excellent and had brought “show and tell” items for us to pass around. We had been to Costa Rica before but on the Pacific coast so this was different. The rainforest tram was a very relaxing way to glide through the upper trees and our guide (Fernando) was excellent. He’d done his thesis on butterflies so was able to point out a lot.

The walking part of the tour was good, too but we didn’t see as much as we had on the Pacific coast rainforest of Manuel Antonio National Park. They had a very good buffet, too, consisting of fruits, rice, beans, chicken, pasta and a dessert dish of plantains…and wonderful Costa Rican coffee. Other drinks were a mixed fruit juice that was very good, water, ice tea and soursop juice. DH had had soursop before and decided he didn’t want it again.

Ocho Rios, Jamaica: We didn’t get off the ship. I’d been there before and found it too touristy, especially at Dunn’s River Falls. The vendors there were just too pushy, too.

So, we stayed onboard and enjoyed the hot tub and pool.

Fort Lauderdale: We did the Intracoastal Waterway by Boat & Las Olas Blvd with Fort Lauderdale Airport Transfer and the was an easy way to transition from cruise life to the real world although we had to wait 6 hours for our flight. Lots of cruises came in that day and out flight couldn’t be changed.

OVERALL: We loved the Coral Princess. This is our new favorite ship and cruise line. My DH had a few suggestions, one being that there should be at least one more Veteran’s Get Together, and he went to the Cruise Director’s office. They acted quickly and another was added.

This was our first experience with a choir onboard. We loved the Princess Pop Choir, especially the director, James Goodall. He was so enthusiastic and brought so much to our rehearsals and final show in the Atrium.

We saw him just as we were disembarking and did a bit of the choreography.

It made leaving this fantastic cruise just a little bit easier…

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Aruba, March 7 ~ Panama Canal Cruise

The description:

Friday, March 7

8:00 AM-7:00 PM

Dutch influence still lingers on this balmy Caribbean island, part of the former Netherlands Antilles until its independence in 1986. Aruba is a contrast: the island’s arid interior is dotted with cactus and windswept divi-divi trees while secluded coves and sandy beaches make up its coast. Aruba’s long and colorful heritage is reflected in its dialect. Called Papiamento, it is a tongue that combines elements of Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, African and English.

Our Tour:

aruba

Semi-Submarine, Shipwreck & Island Drive

Your tour begins when you board the ferry “Stingray” at Palm Pier, on one of Aruba’s best beaches. After a 20-minute transfer, you’ll board the semi-sub. This is a surface vessel where you sit five feet below the waterline, the perfect way to discover the fascinating sea life that lives in these crystal clear Caribbean waters. The semi-sub will head towards the wreck of the “Antilla,” a German freighter that was sunk off the coast of Aruba during World War II. The tour is narrated and you will learn about how this 440-foot-long freighter met its watery end. You will also be able to view coral and the plentiful sea life, before returning to dry land. Here you will board your air-conditioned transportation for the short yet scenic journey to the California Lighthouse for views of Aruba’s windward coast.

The lighthouse is named after the U.S. ship which sunk in 1893, years before the lighthouse was built. Your captivating day then continues as you drive to the Casibari rock formations, where you will have time to browse the gift shop and view the amazing landscape formed by diorite boulders the size of small houses. Energetic guests may wish to climb the 80 rustic steps to the formation’s summit for stunning views of the island. Finally, it’s time to head to Aruba’s rugged north coast, to view the breath-taking Baby Natural Bridge, carved by the surf from solid coral and limestone. You will also be able to view the collapsed original Natural Bridge, and visit the gift shop here. Your route back to the ship takes you past the fascinating ruins of a 19th-century gold mill at Boca Mahos, and at the end of the tour, you will have the option to independently explore Aruba’s capital city Oranjestad. You will then be responsible for your return to the ship, which is a mere five minute walk away.


Our day:

Aruba, 8:00am–6:00pm

Weather Forecast:  Mostly Sunny High 82 / Low 79

Sunrise 6:52 am / Sunset 6:50 pm

From the Navigator:  Overnight Coral Princess maintained a southeasterly course and this morning we will make our final approach to Aruba.  A local pilot will assist in navigating the vessel to our berth in the capital city of Oranjestad.  This afternoon, with all the passengers onboard, we will let go our lines and maneuver out of the harbor, before altering course to starboard and setting westerly courses toward our next port of call, Cartagena.

When we woke up, we could see that we were approaching port.  I watched the process from the balcony, then we went down to deck 7 (Fiesta) to wait in line for disembarkation.

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Arriving at Aruba

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Of course, I checked in at Foursquare :)

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Container ships on the dock. In the distance, near the crane, is the Hooiberg volcano.

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The Freewinds often hosts local functions in the ports it frequents, such as jazz concerts and movie performances in Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. These events are usually free but often support island charities through entrance fees or suggested donations.[21] Local artists are often showcased. It also caters to different international conferences and events. The ship’s leisure facilities include a restaurant, lounge, cabaret, swimming pool, movie theater and beauty salon.

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More containers

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Arriving at Aruba

Off the ship, we went through the terminal and met our bus.  Turned out, Rosie and Jim were on the same tour.

We rode in the bus for a while as our tour guide mentioned some Aruba facts and showed us some points of interest.  One of the most interesting and pertinent facts for me was that all restrooms on Aruba cost $.50 to use except the Natural Bridge, which was $1.00.  Yuck!

One of the first things we saw was a roundabout with a McDonalds, Wendy’s and other fast food.  I also saw a store called Rat Land which I hope means something in Dutch than in English.

rat-land

Their license plates say “One Happy Island” but people are more happy when it rains.  They get very little rain there.  The island is very desert-like with lots of cacti, like we saw in Phoenix, AZ.

Our first stop was the California Light House.  There were some mini-Stonehenge rocks there.  We couldn’t go in.  This lighthouse was named for the steamship California, which wrecked nearby on September 23, 1891. It was formerly open to the public until a suicide occurred, which prompted authorities to restrict public access to the lighthouse.

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California Lighthouse

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At the California Lighthouse, looking at the sea

In Aruba, they make piles of rocks, similar to those we saw in Iceland.  In Aruba, tourists stack them up and make a wish on each rock they add to the pile.

rockpiles

Back on the bus, we went to DePalma beach.  That was down a path next to the Riu hotel.  All beaches here, like Barbados, are public.  The Riu had a “garden” of big rocks, surrounded by hedges and flowers, complete with a gardner tending these rocks.

Lots of activity there like wind surfing, parasailing, etc.  We walked past the little shops (they had Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins!) and got on a flat-topped ferry boat for our semi-submersible.

The semi-submersible didn’t submerge at all.  The only “submersing” it did was when we walked down the stairs to take our seats by the portholes.  In some of the photos below, you can see the bottom of our craft on the top of the water.

Even their own website says that they do not submerge at all:

The Seaworld Explorer Semi-Submarine is a state-of-the-art semi-submarine developed in Australia for use on the Great Barrier Reef. This unique vessel does not submerge. You step down into the hull of this cruising underwater observatory and sit in air-conditioned comfort just 5 feet below the water’s surface, viewing amazing Aruba sea life through large clear glass windows.

They should call in non-submersible instead.  There must not have been a reef or anything because all we did was circle the shipwreck, the Antilla.

I was a bit upset by all the divers’ bubbles coming from underneath us.  That couldn’t have been safe for them to be diving under a boat, whether it submerged or not.

Whatever.

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Ferry “Stingray”

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Shipwreck of the Antilla. You can see a diver’s fin in the top of this picture.

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Shipwreck of the Antilla. The jellyfish-looking thing in the upper right is air bubbles from a diver.

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Shipwreck of the Antilla.

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Shipwreck of the Antilla.

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Sergeant major fish

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More divers’ air bubbles

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The bottom of our boat at the top of this picture.

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The bottom of our boat at the top of this picture.

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From there, we drove to the Natural Bridge past Arashi Beach.

The Aruba Natural Bridge was a tourist attraction that was formed naturally out of coral limestone. The landmark collapsed on September 2, 2005.  We saw the newer Natural “Baby” Arch at the northeast shore of Aruba at the same site.

I thought I had a video of this arch but it might be on my other camera.  If/when I find it, I’ll put it here.  :)

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Natural Bridge area

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New or baby Natural Bridge

Everything where we were seemed so dry, so there was a lot of cactus.  We also saw some brown doves (close relative of the North American Mourning Dove) and egrets (a type of heron).

egret

The guide said that many of the beaches were made of coral.  They have a volcano on Aruba called Hooiberg, a Dutch word meaning Haystack.  It is actually a dormant volcano located close to the center of the island. The island of Aruba was formed as a result of volcanic activity.

Off to the Casibari rock formations.  Geologists are uncertain about their origins, but think that a collision of the teutonic plates forced the massive slabs to the surface. The limestone steps surrounding them are signs of the changing water levels of the Caribbean throughout the ages.

Aruba is made of lava quartz diorite and limestone.  There is also granite but it’s protected.

 

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Tom under one of the Casibari rock formations

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Casibari Rock Formations

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Casibari Rock Formations

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Casibari Rock Formations

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Arashi Beach

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A little lizard on the rocks.

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We didn’t get to see the gold mill or downtown Oranjestad but we were happy to head back to the ship.  I was surprised and pleased when the crew gave us cold water and cold towels.

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Oranjestad from our ship balcony.

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Back on board, we took a little nap, went to the library saw the singers and dancers do a show called Motor City, another excellent show.

After dinner in the buffet, we went to the Princess Theater to see Gravity with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

http://youtu.be/OiTiKOy59o4

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