First, the bad news:
Now, the good news:
This cruise sails from Ft. Lauderdale's Port Everglades. The port is very convenient to the airport. If you use Princess's air package, you should be to the ship less than an hour after touch-down. If you travel on your own, the taxi ride is short and reasonably-priced. If you come in early and rent a car, the rental companies will drop you off at the ship.
After leaving Florida, there are two glorious days at sea; the more you cruise, the more you learn to enjoy those relaxed days. Our weather was good -- not too hot, not too cool. The seas were a little rough, but the Crown is well-stabilized and I heard no reports of sea sickness.
The usual daily activities are offered, such as bingo, movies in the Princess Theatre, crafts, pool parties, etc. The activities are more geared toward the older crowd, so don't expect the "frat party" ambience of Carnival.
The first stop is Cartagena, Colombia. Been to Jamaica? This place will remind you of that, with pushy and ubiquitous vendors. They're pushy, but very negotiable. If you pay more than 50% of their original asking price, you're paying way too much.
Cartagena is a place you want to stay with the group. As a school principal I once worked for liked to say, "The banana that breaks away from the bunch gets peeled." The place is probably safe enough, but the army guards carrying M-16's were not enough to inspire confidence. We went on a general tour of the city, visiting most of the significant points. After seeing the fort, we were impressed with Michael Douglas' diving abilities: In "Romancing the Stone," he dove off the walls into the harbor. Since the walls are a couple of blocks from the water, that was some dive! By the way, the condition of a vehicle's horn is more important than that of its brakes here!
The following day was really a sea day, but spent in entering and exiting the Panama Canal. This cruise enters from the Atlantic side, passes through the Gatún locks into Lake Gatún, then turns around and exits back through the Gatún Locks into the Atlantic. It would be fun to go all the way through, but that would increase the cost of the cruise, due to different start and end locations.
(Here's a hot tip: the Crown Princess has an outside promenade on either side on Deck 7. One side is shady, convenient for watching the passage, and underused.) Another good spot is from one of the rear decks, from Deck 8 to 14. On our cruise, we entered the canal a little later than scheduled, then turned right around and went back out.
The next day was in the port of Limón, Costa Rica. We personally saw little of the city. The general tour was booked solid. We did go on an excellent tour of a banana plantation. It was informative, and we passed through neighborhoods that gave us a real insight into the daily life of the area. The people are obviously poor, but we were surprised at their friendliness and cleanliness.
Following another relaxing sea day, our next port was Grand Cayman. We've been there a number of times, and always find it to be a refreshing change from the squalor and frenzy of some of the other ports. We went on the traditional Stingray City excursion aboard the Emerald Eyes. The crew was careful and competent, the boat was roomy and stable, and the stingrays were numerous and friendly. What more could we have asked for?
The next day was Cozumel. It's still Cozumel; what more is there to say? There were eight ships in port: two Carnival ships, the Celebrity Century, a Holland America ship, the Norwegian Sea, the Norwegian Majesty, the Sundream, and us. There are dock facilities for 6, so we and the Sundream had to anchor and tender passengers in. The good news is that the dock is right downtown, and very convenient. The bad news is that the sea was often so rough tender operations had to be suspended for a while.
("Carlos and Charlies," by the way, doesn't start to jump until after 1 p.m. or so. This is important information, so note it well.)
The mad dash of cruise ships out of Cozumel began around 6 p.m., and provided quite a show for shipwatchers.
Ah, then another day at sea (marred only by less than great weather), and then that worst of all cruise days, debarkation!
Dinners aboard were the usual Princess quality. The selections were varied, and often it was difficult to choose which one to have. Every dinner usually included a beef entrée, a fish entrée, lamb, veal, or pork, and a full vegetarian menu. If none of those suited, you could always get salmon, chicken breasts, or a steak. The one surprise was the night they served rabbit.
A cruise is a good opportunity to try something new that you wouldn't normally order at a restaurant, because the expense would be too great if you didn't like it. So, try the escargots. Try the caviar. Order a sample of the pasta specialty each night. Try the chilled soups, which are often closer to a milk shake than to anything you would call soup. [If you don't like something, your waiter will bring you something else!]
The Lido buffet did a very good job, too. We especially liked the fruit selections at breakfast. However, the variety is not the same as in the dining room. If you want your eggs cooked to order, you usually need to go to the dining room for that. And be warned that at certain times, the lines (two of them) for the buffets can get pretty long. At lunch, there is also a salad buffet and a grill buffet on the pool deck. We never tried the alternate dining in the evening in the Lido buffet, and never talked to anyone else who did, so I can't comment on that.
One minor point: the menu called the lobster "Maine Lobster," but the consensus was that the critters had never been north of Jacksonville.
The evening entertainment in the show lounge was good, but not great. The ensemble never seemed to really work well, for some reason. Everyone seemed competent enough, but there just wasn't much excitement there.
The "Pirates" show was probably the best evening show, and I thought it missed the mark, if only just barely. The magician was quite good, and very understated. The comedian told the same old jokes (such as the traditional one about the woman stuck in the suction toilet: "I can get your wife out, but the guy in the hat is just too far gone!"), and confessed to being the veteran of years of cruises. The harmonica player, once one of the HarmoniCats, also was a veteran of over 1,000 cruises. His style and patter greatly appealed to the older crowd.
The International Show Lounge itself is far too small for this ship, and was often over-full and turning passengers away. A number of the seats are blocked by pillars. This is one area where the ship shows its age.
As you might expect, one of the most popular spots every evening was the Intermezzo lounge, where a piano player conducted sing-alongs, etc. It was packed every night, as he played the older tunes you just don't hear anymore. Kipling's lounge, on the other hand, was almost empty. The musicians performing there just couldn't draw.
The performer on the pool deck was one of the lamest parts of the entertainment package. Whatever happened to a real steel band? This guy was weak, and while he was probably competent enough, he was thoroughly ignored wherever he performed. The 50's and 60's party in the disco (The Stage Door) was a complete bust, according to those who attended it.
Everyone had a good time, so we all apparently found something we could like; my complaint in this area is probably not a significant one.
Embarkation and Debarkation
As usual, Princess handled the logistics very well. By the time we arrived to embark, there was virtually no line. Plan to arrive around 3 p.m., if you have any choice. It will save you a world of aggravation. Have all your paperwork ready and handy, including your credit card registration, ID, and immigration sheet.
Debarkation went very smoothly, and everyone was off before 10:30, including those of us who had driven down and did not need to get off in a hurry.
The shore excursions booked by Princess went smoothly and on time. The equipment used (buses, etc.) were usually in good shape, which isn't always true in these ports. Our excursion to Stingray City on the Emerald Eyes was excellent, with not a complaint to be heard.
One passenger (that we saw) missed the ship's sailing as we left from Limón. He was quickly ferried out once the ship cleared the dock. This is only the second time I have ever seen this happen.
This was our second cruise on the Crown Princess. She was quite new on our first voyage. This time, she's showing a little age. It's no big thing, but it's not the newest ship on the block anymore. However, she is still roomy, steady, competent, and clean. The one area that really doesn't work is the casino/observation dome/dance floor/lounge. It was a great idea, but the execution satisfies no one.
Our waiters did a great job, and our room steward knew our name from the first day. The young people we saw on the cruise (and there weren't very many) all said they were having a great time, so don't worry about bringing the kids. If we were to suggest any improvements in this cruise and ship, it would only be in the entertainment category; everything else went smoothly and competently. In fact, this was the most glitch-free cruise we have ever done. Princess still has its act together.
Photos courtesy of Princess Cruises.
Mike and his wife Dottie are long haul truckers who spend most of their lives on the road and away from their Dallas, TX home. The Blanche's are original Cruise Bash members and join us every year for the SeaLetter Cruise Bash. Mike and Dottie may be reached at: email@example.com.
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