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Island Princess Cruise Review
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
1,190 Reviews

Christmas in the Panama Canal

Island Princess Cruise Review by merseydave

4 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Dec 2019
  • Destination: the Panama Canal & Central America
  • Cabin Type: Balcony

After reading reviews for a few months ahead of our first cruise with Princess, I thought I would post about my personal experience.

Island Princess, Christmas in the Panama Canal . A bucket list tick cruise for many. One of the smaller princess ships, built in 2003, remodelled in 2015.

Boarding was flawless. We left our Fort Lauderdale hotel at 11am by cab. We were ordering coffee onboard in La Patisserie by 1130. The boarding time on our ticket was 1230. We were in the cabin by 12.

The balcony cabin was fine. The water package was delivered and on the bed, the medallion WiFi was superb throughout the trip.


The food was generally good. We had set dining at 730pm, the earlier one being 515pm. Some tables for 2 were better than others. We were very lucky.

And onto dining wear, subject of many posts. Smart casual. As long as your not in shorts or beach wear, you’ll get in. Jeans, polo shirts, trainers... even an outdoor puffer jacket and jeans were noted. Formal wear , well tuxedos and ball gowns were rare. Dark suits with or without tie, with or without jacket .... it’s not enforced from what we saw.

It doesn’t really work when the minute you enter a bar before or after dinner, passengers are in shorts and t shirts. Surely only a matter of time before it’s dropped.

For lunchtime , sea days they seem to do crab shack in Cafe Bayou and Alfredos Pizza in Sabatinis on deck 7. The Horizon Buffet is the standard cruise ship “ trough” throughout the day. By the pool, the Grill for hot dogs and burgers - the pizzeria and ice cream bar. The latter at times understaffed leading to waits. Ice cream free, malted milk shakes at a charge.

In the evening , try Cafe Bayou and Sabatinis, both were excellent alternative dining .

Service at Breakfast in the main dining room can be slow. The minute steak takes 15 minutes to come!


There are the pool bars, Crooners on deck 7 of the atrium, squashed in with a piano player, much more suited to a crows nest type venue but the ship doesn’t have one!

Wheelhouse Bar is wooden panelled by the theatre - bands and background music. Venue for morning trivia. The bar only opens pre dinner till 12.

The show lounge bar is Explorers deck 6. Home of Karaoke, Quizzes and Entertainment. They have “ Liars Club” , a game show that is actually Call My Bluff. There’s a quiz there - which seemed quite flat.


Entertainment and Sea Days

Princess Theatre is home of the Production Shows. “ Do you Wanna Dance?” is old school cruise ship camp. The big production offering is called “The Secret Silk” , a complex Chinese/Japanese folk tale which is strangely studied with western music. The best show is “On the Bayou” which works really well. Finally, the “ Encore” show seems to include an added Soprano who adds to the cast.

The production shows were supplemented by an amusing Christmas show, a singer song writer, an acrobatic violinist and American comedian.

The Culinary Show is very entertaining. Then you get to tour the galley which ends of course in an area where there is a shopping sale, which you use to exit. They thought that tactic through !

On that note, Chad the onboard shopping concierge says “shopping is the number one thing to do on a cruise”. The discounted aftershave onboard was more expensive than Amazon or Home Bargains! The rum tasting turned into a mini stampede, one passenger accelerating towards the drinks tray at high speed in a scooter within the bounds of the shop.

To be honest, if it’s overcast or choppy at sea, there isn’t a lot to do. Watch vegetable carving , egg carrying competitions or passengers throwing paper planes in the atrium ..... play Pictionary in the bar by yourself .

Try the Sanctuary for a quiet chill on a comfy sun bed. Book early if you want shade. It’s $20 for a half day. No pool on Island Princess Sanctuary. You get the bed, waiter service and flavoured water. It did seem that a proportion of passengers booked - and paid for the Sanctuary but then didn’t use it , or just came for a few hours if they booked all day. The staff confirmed that to be the case. More money than sense ! Service was variable depending on staffing numbers.

The onboard enrichment lecturer was a retired high school lecturer who threw together some power point presentations based on his research from Wikipedia. Accuracy was not always essential - certainly not on his maritime attempts.

I have sailed on a lot of ships - big and small. Island Princess didn’t seem to be a great sea boat. A lot of movement in not a lot of swell. One passenger said she was cancelling her transatlantic on her on the basis of how she felt that sea day. On the plus side, the WiFi onboard is superb.


Was the Panama Canal worth it? Absolutely. We stayed on the ship to see the transit both ways. Annoying basic commentary on the morning transit from the Wikipedia led ex teacher at 7am. But really enjoyed it - but that’s what we went for , a bucket list tick.

Limon - book the Sloths in advance if you want to go. It was fully booked and people were left frustrated. We went on the Princess tour. I think you could find a taxi to take you there and pay for a tour. It’s open 0800-1400 Tuesday - Sunday with tours on the hour. The sanctuary trip involved a canoe ride which was abandoned when we visited as the river was swollen. This was only after one failed attempt with the group ahead of us. I was amazed to see Princess put pensioners in a small canoe in the fast flowing river without life preservers and attempt to navigate against the stream in torrential rain! Insurance firms would be wincing. Take a light waterproof jacket if you are going to do it. The town itself has a nice vibe and seems safe. The crew were heading to MacDonalds! There are great local cafes not far from the port if you prefer a more local bite- plus a supermarket. The cafe opposite the park was superb and good value.

Falmouth, Jamaica. If you aren't on a tour , the town is small , expect lots of people trying to sell you stuff. The bus round town is $20. You can walk were it goes easily for free. There isn’t much there. There is a port area with over priced shopping.

Cartagena, a great place to wonder. We took the “ by yourself tour” which includes a 30 minute orientation walk. Then you have 90 minutes to explore yourself. Hundreds of street vendors, beautiful colours and architecture. The port actually has a mini zoo you can enjoy plus over priced gift shop.

Grand Cayman - the ship tenders here. We did the land and sea tour, semi submersible, turtle sanctuary, Hell and a rum cake gift shop stop. The latter is what it is, the rest were great and a good way to pack things in as costs are high on Grand Cayman.

Overall, yes we enjoyed our trip. A cruise is what you make it, the people you meet, the experiences you have.


For me, I thought Princess would be more professional , have more to fill sea-days. I’m not sure if their management or onboard entertainment director ever just sits and watch what their staff are told to do. Timings are rigid. People lining up to sing karaoke , the explorers lounge buzzing. The bar busy. But rather than let it roll, the kareoke stops with people left disappointed, the DJ started to change to the disco atmosphere and watched 75% of the passengers walk out. I’m sure the DJ could have waited 20 minutes. Onboard flexibility in creating atmosphere. Some of the game show contestants and karaoke singers have more personality and presence than members of the entertainment team hosting it. And given the sound and light equipment , they could make more of it. Put the song lyrics up for all the audience to see at karaoke aswell even.

The same happens in the Wheelhouse Bar where an older crowd enjoy dancing. 45 minutes later... it’s over and another item starts, loosing the crowd.

Events in bars for new cruisers - morning trivia in wheelhouse bar - where the bar isn’t open to even get a soft drink or coffee. Why ? It’s obvious surely. Opportunities for them to earn income and passengers to relax. Staffing in the wheelhouse at night goes from over staffed to being impossible to get served as they are trying to sort theatre orders ! Meaning that pre dinner drink is rushed.

Unhosted events are often in bars - singles, LGBT...etc. If other passengers are there and there is no signed area or nibbles etc, I’m sure most folk would be nervous to go up to people and ask if they are travelling alone - or are they gay?

I think the problem is that cruising has moved forward at such a pace - and carried passengers expectations with it. So the mid size ships like this at 16 years old struggle to deliver. Where she does deliver is fitting the old locks of the Panama Canal. However, if Princess stopped and looked at what they could do with this class of ship, it could be better with a few tweaks.

Would I book Princess again ? Maybe...it would be destination dependent- not necessarily that I was bowled over. It’s a step above P&O, a step down from Cunard .

We left the ship with great memories and enjoyed it. Experienced really good service and great food, visited fascinating destinations.

I just think it could be so much better with a few obvious improvements that Princess management should be seeing.

merseydave's Full Rating Summary
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Cabin Review


Small, compact, no sofa, small bathroom.

Steward very good.

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