Wanted to experience the new locks of the Panama Canal and enjoy some sunshine over the Christmas Season.
We have cruised with Princess 5 times previously and agree with other reviewers that the atmosphere is slipping. Our room steward was fabulous but the Anytime dining servers are generally too rushed and the officers appeared stressed and were not friendly or helpful. In general all the room stewards we passed on our travels through the ship greeted us with smiles, the other staff, somehow "Consummate Host" motto seems to be forgotten. We are not expecting a conversation, but smile would be appreciated.
Embarkation in Fort Lauderdale was slow and we were not provided with any information on the delay.
We need to use the wheelchair service to board and were left outside in the heat and near the vehicle exhaust from before 12 to 1:30 pm before boarding began for anyone. I realize this isn't an unusual boarding delay, my frustration was due to lack of communication. Fortunately, we have priority boarding status now, so once boarding started we were in our cabin in about 25 min! Yeah!
We really appreciated hearing a Christmas choir in the Piazza as we boarded, sure helped relieve the stress of embarkation and help us get in the Christmas spirit.
The ship was beautifully decorated for Christmas throughout the public spaces.
Generally found the ship over air conditioned even during the day.
Our room steward, Rick, was fabulous, learned our names, always kept our room in great shape and responded graciously and immediately to any request..
We choose Anytime dining and though we didn't have a bad experience, often felt rushed. The food was good and we enjoyed the variety of the menu. Interesting, the temperature of the plates and hot food was better/hotter in the Da Vinci dining room; the Michelangelo was borderline warm at times.
We tend to relax on vacation and don't take in many of the day time activities, though did appreciate the Lecture series by Dr. Wineland and I was intrigued by David Klinenberg's Da Vinci Code talks, his violin concert was fabulous and I am not a knowledgeable music fan.
The Stargazing Discovery event was a bust for us - though we arrived early there was no organization in how the headsets were handed out and they ran out at the party before us. To their credit, they did schedule it again the next day but the weather didn't cooperate and sadly it wasn't possible to try again.
The production shows including the "Magic To Do" Production Show were very enjoyable and the Magic to Do, could be experienced more than once as so much was going on.
The comedian, Carl Guepra was fun and entertaining and IMO suitable for all audiences.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were memorable and there were multiple options to bring in the New Year!
Disembarkation went well for us in Los Angeles.
Cartagena - Hop On/Hop Off bus tour - this was a bust. The tour guide spoke over the pre-recorded audio and provided much less information. Our intent was only to tour around once as it was so hot and humid; but the timing was better set up to also complete the 90 min, walking tour through the Old Town. Getting back to the ship earlier wasn't well organized. Even on the bus the local vendors were very persistent.
Panama Canal Transit - Incredible day as such an engineering marvel. We chose to start the day in the Stargazer Lounge on the 18 deck to ensure we had seating. The commentary wasn't being played anywhere inside the ship and it took a few of us asking at Guest Services to get this set up in this one lounge. It could be done if you were willing to be somewhat persistent.
Puerto Amador - hadn't plan anything official and after hearing there were tendering issues (mechanical) chose to stay on the ship. All passengers were given a drink voucher to compensate for these issues.
Puntarenas - had previously thoroughly enjoyed the "hike in the clouds" tour, but didn't enjoy the bus ride to the rain forest. Other tours of interest also included a long bus ride, so I passed and only walked through the market at the port. There was great variety and the vendors were friendly and their persistence was manageable.
San Juan Del Sur - another tendering port and again more issues apparently weather related this time. We were asked to meet by 7:20 am but didn't actually get onto a tender under 9:00. Though a few announcements were made that there was sufficient time to go the the restroom - no idea of how long or any reason for the delay was ever given. At about 8:30 am I asked the shore excursion manager for information and the reply was surprisingly abrupt. Sure would have prefered to spend that 90 min. some other way.
I had booked the cloud forest hike at the Mombacho volcano. Full day excursion with the 90 min. bus ride followed by a 4 wheel drive journey up to about 4000 ft/1300 meters. This tour is highly recommended if you are up for a 90 min. hike with uneven steps and ups and downs. It was well organized with knowledgeable and friendly guides.
Huatulco - very pleasant surprise, We took the 5 Bay Catamaran tour and really enjoyed ourselves. I wandered through the market at the pier after and appreciated the friendly vendors. It is a beautiful area which I would visit again.
Puerto Vallarta - we spent the day with friends who live there through the Winter season, so won't comment further.
We did not travel with children though I spoke to a few "Grandmas" whos grandchildren were having a wonderful time with the youth leaders and their New Year's Eve celebrations were very well managed.
We have now traversed both the Historic and New Panama Canal locks and do not plan to go again.
Our balcony cabin, Baja deck aft was typical - only concern is the small shower, glad to be under 6' tall and 225#; Bed was very comfortable; A/C struggled with the heat and humidity.