We just returned from our 10 night Panama Canal cruise on the Island Pacific. Overall, we give the cruise a 4 star rating since 3.5 is not available.
First, and most importantly, this itinerary and time of year will not give you a ship full of energy. The average age of our fellow passengers was about 75. There were many canes and walkers and for the most part, the public areas of the ship were empty by 9 PM. No one was around for the 11PM DJ. There were always seats in the smaller bars after dinner because most passengers went to bed after dinner. We saw only a handful of children. Ship activities were sparsely attended, except for an occasional trivia game. Luckily we were traveling with family, or I have to say, we would have been out of place and bored for the most part. And guaranteed we would have had nothing in common with the vast majority of passengers if we had to share a table with them. Keep this in mind if you are planning this cruise. There is more energy and younger people if you do this cruise over the Christmas Holiday as we did seven years ago.
Embarkation was a breeze. We were in terminal 21 and security and check in was quick and easy. We checked into the port about noon and our room was available. We opted for lunch in the dining room which was empty. Much better than the crowded buffet. Luggage was promptly delivered after lunch. We were very impressed with the quickness of luggage delivery and check in. HINT: many people boarded the ship at 11. Ignore your check in time. If you want to board early, you may do so. We were in a minisuite with balcony. The cabin space was generous and the condition of the room was acceptable. It will be time soon for a new mattress, sofa and bathtub area.
We had late dining which was at 7:15. We found out on the first night that this dinner time conflicted with many activities that were going on throughout the ship such as trivia and game shows. HINT: We would investigate the anytime dining option next time so we did not have to gobble our dinner to make a 8:30PM event.
Our first port was Grand Cayman. The ship uses tenders in Grand Cayman. The elderly had some trouble on and off tthe 2 level tenders. Since we've stayed on Grand Cayman before, we knew our way around. We walked to the bus station, next to the library, and HINT: took the public bus ($2.50) to Seven Mile Beach. We got off at the Marriott and walked on the beautiful beach to the Ritz for drinks. A beautiful property with good service. Recommended by most blogs, we had lunch at the Veranda Restaurant in the Marriott. It was good, not great, with the exception of the Coconut Shrimp which was amazing. Great service. Again we took the public bus back to Georgetown. HINT: All you have to do is wave down the bus and they will stop for you. The bus is actually a van, by the way. Georgetown has tourist shops to offer so we spent only a few minutes there before we boarded the tender.
We had 4 days at sea on this trip. The only activities that we really participated in was the trivia games. They had a few other games which were not well attended. The Voice auditions had to be canceled due to lack of participants. There was really no karaoke. The typical Qwest Game Show was horrible. Instead of just having the teams stay in the venue, one of the cruise directors hid around the area of the venue and you had to search him down. So if you weren't running to look for him, you just sat there. Other cruise lines, this game is fun. Here it was boring. Speaking of the entertainment staff....Benny, the cruise director, and the majority of his staff were just annoying. The staff had a hard audience with the elderly. However, the personality of the staff got on your nerves. Princess also needs more variety on activities to do on sea days. It's the same thing over and over again. We saw three shows in the Princess Theater. Greg London had a wonderful show. He's an impressionist who is very talented. Plus he seems like a nice guy. The Elton John impressionist, Jeffrey Allen, performed two shows. Both were very good. Don't miss these men if you are lucky enough to have them on your trip.
Our next port was Cartagena. We took the walking tour of the Old City. It could have been the worse excursion that I have ever been on. As soon as you exited the tour bus, you were harassed by the people selling junk. They stayed in your face, following you around even if you politely said "no thank you". It was so awful that I hated getting off the bus. The tour itself was horrible. No fault of anyone, it started pouring rain. The bus had no choice but to drop us off in thick mud as this whole city is not very tourist friendly. Our tour guide, Roosevelt, had limited English. First, we went to the old fort. The sellers were harassing us to no end. Then we went to their modern art museum, which was a waste of time since you could not hear Roosevelt or understand his very broken English. The whole time on the walking tour, the sellers of junk were in your face. One more note: At the beginning of the tour, Robinson gave us a piece of tape with his name on it. We figured out why. He only talked about buying stuff from store number 3 ("the best") which was our final stop....he spoke often about this shopping excursion. He was probably getting a kick back from those who shopped in store number 3 since the shopkeepers saw his name on our chests. Roosevelt's sole goal was to get us in the shop. In our view, there is really nothing to see in the old town. I would have opted to drive through the old town and also the modern section of town never getting off the bus since the junk sellers were so awful. So sad for such an impressive skyline when sailing in.
The only reason to go on this itinerary is the Panama Canal. We went to the Horizon Cafe at 4:10AM to secure a seat by the windows in front. In reality, we did not have to show up until 5:30 to get a good seat. You can watch from outside, but with the heat and humidity, we opted for inside viewing. Seven years ago when we were on Princess for the Canal, the narration was from a husband and wife team and they were spectacular. Kerry, on this cruise, was only average. She did not have enough facts, or history, or little stories about the canal to share. It's a long time to talk while we were in the Canal, but she did not do her homework. After the passage of three locks on the Island Princess, we boarded lifeboats for the excursion that completes the full passage of the Canal. This was the highlight of the trip. We took an hour + trip on a beautiful bus to Gamboa where we boarded a 500 passenger boat. Two levels with folding chairs and an air conditioned section. Lunch was offered, but we worried about the sanitation situation and did not eat. Our guide was Rafael and he was very good. Good English and full of facts about the Canal. On the small boat you actually see the boat dropping and are surrounded by the walls of the Canal. Be prepared for pouring rain. It rains over 250 days a year in Panama and that day was no exception. Luckily the top level is covered. There are restrooms on the boat and the staff tries very hard to make you comfortable. We were an hour late returning to the Island Princess as we had to be inside the locks with another larger ship that was very wide. The wider the ship, the longer it takes. That wide ship had inches to spare on each side. We were able to see the mules (the electric carts that keep the ship stable and prevent the ship from hitting the wall) in action right in front of our face. The bus ride back to the Island Princess from the Pacific side of the locks is just over an hour. This is a must excursion. While pricey, it's the reason why you came on this cruise. HINT: Do not miss this.
Limon in Costa Rica is a port that I could do without. There is a little flea market when you exit the ship (with a wonderful, four person band playing). When you leave the gates of the flea market, look out. You will have people in your face again, but his time you will feel threatened. The town is in run down and the poverty is abundant. We walked about a half block and turned around. Don't even think about going in the park area if you value your life. Most passengers enjoyed their excursions mainly of the rainforest and bananas, but having been there before, we did not need a repeat. HINT: The spa had a port special of a massage and facial, so take advantage of 75 minutes for $129. This was the first time that I visited the spa without having to endure a sales pitch for some kind of product. Thank you!
Another day at sea on our way to our final port. A word about the food. It was actually delicious. Three weeks ago we were on the Disney Wonder, and I have to say that I enjoyed the food on the Island Princess more. We ate most of our meals in the dining room. Breakfast had a limited menu and there was one day we could not find anything that we liked on the lunch menu. On the days that we did go to the Horizon Court, we found something that kept us happy. Also the grill had great dogs and brats and the pizza was not all that bad. The delivery of dinner was so quick in the dining room. Our servers, Edwin and Claricyn were great. Our thanks to them for making dinner fun. We would start our evening in the Crooners Martin Bar and enjoyed the servers shaking the martinis especially Marlon.
Falmouth Jamaca had the most beautiful port area that I have ever been to. Modern, new and quite stunning. As soon as you walk off the ship, you see this very impressive area. They even have a Starbucks! Typical tourist souvenir stores. Be warned....if you leave this gated, secured area, you will find it as bad as Limon when you exit. People in your face, following you hawking something. You cannot walk around here once you exit the port area.
Don't miss the culinary show with kitchen galley tour. It was entertaining and we were super impressed with the galley.
Getting off the ship was a breeze also. We left our bags in the hall the night before and had a meeting time of 8:10AM to disembark. HINT: We got off the ship with the independent passengers earlier than our assigned time. While we had to wait for our bags in the port building for about 15 minutes, we had a jump on the rest of the passengers who had later meeting times. We waited about 2 minutes to go through customs. Also note that we arrived in a different terminal than where we departed. If you park a car, you will have to take a shuttle bus to it.
Our overall impression of the Island Princess: While refurbished in 2015, you can tell that the "bones" of this ship are tired. For example, the toilets in the public areas could not handle the load, so to speak, and the smell of sewage was present. Other areas had an old ship smell. The tile in the bathroom was regrouted so many times that it looked disgusting. A new entertainment staff is needed, but anyone who had anything to do with food and beverage were wonderful. A 3.5 would be the prefect score for the ship. The Panama Canal is a perfect 5.
Mini Suite was good in size. Bathtub versus the dreaded extra small shower. Bed can be replaced....getting to feel springs. Good storage. Large balcony that everyone looks down upon.