Cruise Review – Coral Princess, Panama canal cruise 22nd Jan. 2004.
This was only our 4th cruise but since my wife and I were both celebrating our 60th birthdays in Jan and Feb we decided to push the boat out, so to speak, and opted for the 5 star Coral Princess and we were certainly not disappointed.
Our previous cruises were with Carnival, 4 nights to the Bahamas in the old Carnivale in 1992, Thomson’s Emerald in the Med. During Oct. 1997 and Star cruises Superstar Gemini (a sister ship to Fred Olsen’s Braemar), Malacca straits in Nov. 2000. All of these were enjoyable but catered more for the package tourist market with an easy going style, so we had some reservations as to how much more formal Princess would be, however we need not have worried. On formal nights my dark suit was quite adequate and Pauline’s dressy tops and pants looked elegant, we were surprised that Dinner Suits (Tuxedos) were very much in the minority, especially since the majority of passengers were American. On the other nights which were designated smart casual, no shorts or T-shirts in the dining room, our usual Spanish 4 star hotel dining attire was definitely in the smarter 20%, so our concerns were unfounded.
There are plenty of reviews around the web which detail the qualities of the Coral Princess much better than I can and our experience was up there with the best, it really is a floating 5 star hotel complete with top West End theatres, plenty of interesting bars and with lots of staff all dedicated to making your cruise the most enjoyable of experiences.
So I will just add my personal views on the following:-
Cabin or Stateroom - On the disembarkation day I took a nosey around to see how others compared to our BF category balcony cabin which was forward on Emerald deck, and found that even the Inside staterooms are quite roomy, but the balcony and outside staterooms have a slightly bigger sitting area. Our balcony was the smallest about 4.5 ft X 9.0 ft, but more than adequate, there are some larger balconies and the mini suites also have the larger balconies in addition to a larger sitting area with a sofa bed, the suites are double the size of the standard balcony cabins, again with the deeper balcony, the bathrooms and wardrobe areas are all the same size whichever grade you choose. There is absolutely no need to worry about space for clothes unless you travel with several steamer trunks ‘a la Shirley Bassey’, in our cabin we had 45 coat hangers along with 8 ft. of full length hanging space and 5 large shelves as well as the full length shelf space above the hanging area, there are also about 5 smaller drawers in the bedside tables and dressing table area.
There are some balconies which can be overlooked the worst of these are the BC grades towards the stern on Aloha where the balcony is open to view from the open Lido deck above. The main disadvantage with our cabin was that the balcony did get drenched with spray on one sea day, but the wind on that day was gale force 8 whipping the spray up from the stem and producing sea water rain. I imagine that higher deck cabins may not have been affected as much, but even with this wind and a choppy sea the Coral Princess was very smooth, and the staterooms exceptionally quiet. We really enjoyed having a balcony cabin but if you don’t need a view, or the budget won’t allow, then an inside cabin will provide a very comfortable and economic cruise.
Dining - We chose anytime dining and for dinner always chose a table for 2, this might not always be immediately available but our longest wait was only about 15 mins. If you do find a table or waiter that you like you can always request this table when you enter the dining room, or you can a make a reservation from your stateroom phone. For breakfast we sat where we were placed and enjoyed exchanging views with our fellow passengers, most were our age or older and we probably made up 90% of the total. The quality of the food in the main dining room was excellent but don’t neglect the alternative dining experiences even though there is a cover charge, of these we enjoyed the Bayou Café the best it is intimate and dimly lit and the Cajun cuisine is rather special, in addition Florian the restaurant manager made the occasion feel very special and the coloured blues singer could have doubled for a younger Ella Fitzgerald. We were not quite as impressed with Sabatini’s the Italian restaurant, possibly because on the night we chose it was fairly quiet and therefore lacked atmosphere. The Horizon Court buffet on Lido deck is open 24hrs but can be busy. For lunch when on ship we mainly chose the Pizza or Burger Grill or a light snack from the buffet, but if you want you can eat 24/7! We made good use of the complimentary room service but mainly for morning coffees or late night drinks, but there is a reasonably extensive menu available if you get peckish at anytime.
Entertainment – Coral Princess has 2 theatres, one with conventional seating the other with theatre club type seats, both are superbly equipped and would be the envy of any regional UK city. We enjoyed the 4 West End/Broadway shows the best, the singers and dancers were talented and very professional. We also enjoyed one of the comedians, an American named Billy Vader, his quick fire style had everyone in stitches; however the other comedian, a ventriloquist and an Italian American singer would have struggled at Butlins. There are several other lounges and bars throughout the ship and most have resident singers or groups performing nightly, of these the Explorers lounge with light hearted audience participation shows and quizzes was quite enjoyable.
Shore Excursions - We only booked 2 trips, the pontoon boat trip in Limon and Dunn’s river falls in Ocho Rios, probably the only other one we might have considered would have been the ocean to ocean trip from Panama, however we would have had to disembark when the ship anchored in Gatun Lake after the climb up the locks in which case we would have missed the return lock trip which was much quieter on deck, and with the sun behind you gives far better viewing and photo. conditions. Of the ports we visited ourselves we enjoyed Cozumel best for shopping, but maybe that was because we were in Grand Cayman on Sunday and over half the shops were shut. This cruise has 4 full sea days, plus a late morning arrival in Grand Cayman and Panama itself which can again be a full day aboard, so there is plenty of time to enjoy the ship’s facilities.
Other facilities – Coral has self service launderettes on most decks just in case you need to wash that favourite shirt. On day 1 all the bar staff try to sell you cruise long free soda fountain drinks, eg coke, sprite, club soda etc, since it gets very hot on deck and you will be spending at least 4 days at sea this is worthwhile if you enjoy soft drinks, but save yourself USD 50 and only buy one ticket, we found that even though we had bought one each we normally shared one drink between us, otherwise they went warm and flat.
Would we book with Princess again, most certainly and in fact we are considering Alaska and a Rockies pre-tour for 2005.