In September we cruised to Canada and met a couple where it was their 10th cruise THIS CALENDAR YEAR and they had FIVE MORE BOOKED!! This gal had a nose for travel bargains. So here I was checking my email one day in late October when she sent me a link to this cruise with an amazingly low last minute price. I got Kathy's "OK" and went thru the process of booking the cruise. 2-1/2 weeks later we were in Florida getting onto a cruise ship.
Most cruises thru the Panama Canal are 13-14 day "repositioning" cruises from California to Florida OR Florida to California. This cruise was different in that it was a round trip cruise from Ft. Lauderdale Florida and was only 10 days in length. Basically, Princess takes the ship thru the first set of locks on the Atlantic end of the canal, anchors just inside, drops off people going on excursions, then comes back thru the locks to tie up in Colon Panama. Of course there were several other stops along the way to/from the canal.
Most of our cruises have been on Norwegian (NCL) and a couple were on Carnival. This cruise hit several new experiences for us. 1) We were able to affordably try Princess, 2) the cruise was booked thru an internet travel company (we usually book direct), 3) we were able to cross the canal off our "bucket list" and 4) four of the five ports were totally new to us.
Like previous cruises, we signed onto the Cruise Critic "Roll Call" for this cruise and began making contact with a bunch of fellow cruisers. We participated in a Meet & Greet but this wasn't as active a group as we've seen on other cruises.
Be sure and click on any image for a larger view, some additional information about the image, some camera information and a satellite image of where the picture was taken.
Click here for more information on what the flickr images contain--> flickr instruction.
This was our second time in Aruba and rather than spend the day on an excursion we decided to walk the short distance into town. This was a short stop with the ship arriving around 7am and heading out around noon. Our goal was to walk around taking some pictures and maybe find a hot spot so we could check some emails. We walked a couple little parks by the water and wandered thru some stores. I have a thing for watches and took a look at some of them as well. In our travels we came across a Starbucks and stopped for a coffee, a bottle of water and their free wi-fi connection.
This was without a doubt, the most picturesque stop on the cruise. Everyone said to wander the narrow streets of the old city so we signed up for the "Colonial City Explorer" excursion that was part guided walking tour and part free time. As photographers, we can't stand organized bus tours where everything is viewed thru a window. We especially enjoyed the "free time" part of the excursion because we could walk around and explore at our own pace. Our guide warned us that in the old days one would be assaulted by pirates however, in the present, it's street vendors. They were persistent and we kept thinking about how much fun our son, Scott, would have had negotiating prices. Columbia is famous for it's emeralds and Kathy ended up buying some ear rings and a necklace in one of the shops. Nothing big, just something from the local area. Most of our time was spent taking in the old world look of the place. We even walked part of the wall which surrounds the old city. As we sailed into the harbor, we were TOTALLY surprised to see the high-rises in the more modern part of the city. Just didn't expect that.
The Panama Canal....
Our approach to the canal started at 5:30-6:00am with everyone crowding around on the upper decks facing forward. We secured a spot but abandoned it when the rains started, rains we were told are a daily occurrence. Needless to say, the approach is very slow so we headed to the Lido deck for breakfast when the rain started in earnest. Most of our picture taking during transit thru the locks was from the promenade deck where there was plenty of unobstructed rail space and some shelter from the rain. An expert on the canal broadcast the play-by-play as the ship locked thru. A couple interesting facts: The ship is right at the maximum width allowed and only has 2-3 feet of clearance on each side ...AND... the fee paid by Princess was $408,000!!!! Lifeboats had to be repositioned because they stick out from the sides and could be struck by the "mules".
Once thru the canal, the ship anchors in the lake to drop passengers off who have signed up for shore excursions. We signed up for the "Panama Rainforest Aerial Tram" excursion. We traveled by bus to the "Gamboa Rainforest Resort" some distance away where we went by tram thru the rainforest canopy and then climbed a tower for some views of the canal. The resort also had some displays of local wildlife and plants. Orchids were grown naturally in this climate but none were in bloom. We also stopped briefly in the resorts' lobby before heading back to the ship in Colon Panama. While we were on the excursion, the ship went back thru the locks and tied up in Colon for a couple hours before heading out to sea.
Limon, Costa Rica....
Our stop in Limon was for a full 7am to 6pm day. Everything we had read about the place seemed to suggest that signing up for a ship excursion was the way to go at least for a first visit. For this port, we signed up for the "Rainforest Walk, Canal Cruise & Banana Plantation" excursion. We traveled by bus to a nature preserve where injured animals are nursed back to health before being released into the wild. Besides the preserves animals, birds, butterflies and flowers, we cruised on a nearby canal on an open boat taking in any wildlife we could find. Before heading back to the ship, we stopped at a Del Monte banana plantation. I was hoping to try a vine ripened banana but found out that bananas consumed locally are NOT the same as the ones shipped to the states. Our bus driver did stop at a roadside stand to purchase a bunch of bananas for us to try. Locally consumed bananas are small, have an interior that is very yellow, and have a sweeter taste. We returned to the pier and spent some time going thru the straw market before boarding the ship.
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands....
Grand Cayman was our last port before heading back to Florida. This was an unprotected tendered port that made for some interesting times getting on/off the tender. Grand Cayman is known for it's jewelry and watch shopping. We did not book any excursions and decided to spend the morning shopping and go on the hunt for a free wi-fi hotspot. Some locals directed us to a local coffee shop where we purchased some coffee and took advantage of the hotspot. Got a kick out of their wi-fi name, "NotStarbucks". Kathy ordered sheets from "Cariloha" that are made from bamboo. For me it was a couple low cost watches, a Citizen and a Tissot. We returned to the ship around 1pm for lunch and a dip in the pool.
As mentioned before, we booked the cruise 2-1/2 weeks before. To secure the low price, we booked an INSIDE under the "guaranteed cabin type" process. Basically we let the cruise line decide where to place us and where that is could be an unknown to us right up until we board the ship. We've done this before and have been very pleased with where they locate us. Some people prefer to pay extra and select a cabin location but, for us, price is more important. We ended up with a "handicap" cabin which turned out to be the roomiest inside we've ever had. As Kathy puts it, "you could hold a dance in the bathroom". In addition to it's size, it was conveniently located on deck 5 just around the corner from the mid-ship stairs, elevator, atrium and the Bordeaux Dining room where the "Anytime" diners go for dinner. We boarded the ship around noon on embarkation day and were surprised to find that cabins were available. On NCL and Carnival, cabin access doesn't happen until around 2pm.
This was our first time on on a Princess ship. Coral Princess was dimensionally similar to other ships we've been on but carried 200-400 fewer passengers. Even though we were told the ship was full, it never felt crowded in the dining rooms, buffet, around the pools, sun decks, and on the promenade deck. We never had problems finding a place to sit. We enjoy simply kicking back and reading our Kindles (between naps) and particularly enjoyed the promenade deck and the indoor pool area. Both had comfortable seating and were away from much of the noise. We found that the production shows were short (35-40 minutes) but were the best we've seen on a ship. The buffet was small but adequate and it was nice having people around to make sure tables were cleaned pronto. We were always able to find a clean table to sit at. This was our 11th cruise and was the first where we had dinner in the buffet because jackets were required in the dining room during the two "formal" nights. In addition to the buffet, one of the dining rooms was also open for lunch on embarkation day.
For the photographers among you: Joe's images were captured with a Nikon D300 and a Nikon Coolpix P7000 P&S. Kathy's images were taken with a Nikon D5100 DSLR. In addition, we also geotagged our images with a Sony GPS-CS3KA.
For those who might be interested in some numbers: We booked the cruise thru cruise.com for $500/pp. Taxes, insurance, and air (PHL to/from FLL) came out to $700/pp bringing our grand total to $2400. Very reasonable considering air is included. In addition, we used cruise.com to book a room for the night before which included airport to hotel transfer and breakfast on embarkation day. Hotel to pier transfer was $8/pp. The van driver gave us a card with a phone number to call upon our return which we did. Pier to airport transfer was also $8/pp.Return To Main Page
|New November 2012|