This cruise was a family one over the holidays to mark the Panama Canal transit off my Grandmother's bucket list. We traveled in a party of eight with my mom, grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousin, brother, and sister-in-law.
I consider this to be my first cruise since the last one I was on I was 18 months old. There were a few hiccups along the way but overall I had an absolute blast.
The Impressive Parts:
* Cruise Director Aaron Hawkins and his staff (Phil, Scottish Ken, Alex, and Sophie) were all phenomenal. I'm not an outside person so I spent most of my time doing various onboard activities.
Aaron: Very enthusiastic and his good mood was contagious. He's youthful and reminds me a little of Peter Pan. There was always laughter and smiles when he hosted an event (trivia, game shows, theater shows, piazza events, etc) He was very professional in keeping the crowd engaged when there was a technical problem with the stage ramps before the Magic To Do show.
Phil: If you want a workout, do his Dance Aerobics class. No Zumba on this cruise. Only Aerobics. There wasn't a whole lot of instruction on the steps, but the moves were simple enough that after a few beats you were able to catch on. If you went to most of the classes you'd figure out most of the moves. His music selection was also good.
Alex from Serbia: Alex really kept it real. He taught Line Dance and a few origami arts & crafts sessions. If you were bad, he would tell you in no uncertain words (not mean, but funny). He was also patient and would walk you through the process again.
Scottish Ken: Every karaoke song chosen is his favorite song which is encouraging when you’re nervous. He’s also not afraid to be a backup dancer during said karaoke song which is fun for both the singer and the audience. Very lovely man.
Sophie: She has a bubbly personality that really brightens your day. She ran most of the art & crafts sessions and was very thorough in going through the steps of the project. Heard from some of the passengers I met at trivia that she ran the pop choir and has a pretty singing voice.
*The second comedian was absolutely hilarious. My family went to both of his scheduled shows. The first one was all planned bits but the second one he played off the crowd most of the time to make it an unique show.
* Dining Staff: It was a pleasure to get to know our dinner wait staff Kateryna and Maria over the course of the cruise. They were very patient with our family when we would pepper them with questions about cruise life. My cousin gets sea sick pretty bad and Kateryna gave her some tips to help with it.
* Steward: Our room steward Rona was attentive to our various needs and requests. She always had good advice for things to do at the different ports.
*Room Escape: First time doing a room escape. Cost $8 and you have to sign up ahead of time. It’s a good deal considering room escapes on shore cost upwards of $40. We didn’t escape but it was highlight for my family.
The No Huge Opinion Parts:
* Embarkation & Disembarkation
There wasn't really a line to get on the boat. From airport to shuttle bus to check-in to boat, it all went smoothly.
There was a delay getting off the boat, but that was on the US Government customs. Once we got through that, it was smooth sailing to the airport.
* Room temperatures were either freezing (according to my grandmother) or sweltering (according to me). Definitely when the sun hit our side of the boat, there was no amount of AC that could cool down the area by the window.
*Food: Plated meals and buffet were middle of the road (except for the fettuccine which was heaven sent). The best things were the variety and not having to cook for myself. I did find myself going to Afternoon Tea most times instead of a normal lunch due to being too full from breakfast. Not a huge tea drinker, but the tea there might have converted me. Ate at the International cafe (Deck 5) once had the chicken sandwich (9/10). Pizza at Slice (Deck 15) (10/10 tasted like normal pizza), Triple Smoked Burger from Salty Dog Grill(?) (Deck 15) (9/10), make your own omelet in buffet area for breakfast (6/10 I didn't pick very good ingredients so that was on me), Mongolian grill in buffet area for lunch (9/10, only went once and it was never open the other days I went to the buffet for lunch).
*Magician & First Comedian: The magician and the first comedian were both entertaining but they weren’t really ‘Wow!!’.
*Fitness Room: Larger fitness room than expected. About a third of the treadmills were under maintenance, but if you showed up when they opened, there’s no problem getting one.
The running track on floor 19 is a little treacherous. I only went up there once one morning and ran a mile (16 laps for 1 mile). It’s slippery when wet so it was slow going but if you go in the evening, it will most likely be dry.
* Well. The power went out. Engines, elevators, toilets all stopped working. There was a backup system in place so some lights and all keycard access to rooms still worked. I'm just glad I wasn't in the shower yet when it happened, though I did later run into some one who was.
It lasted for 10-20 minutes before everything was back and running so it shows that the crew is competent and they know how to work fast in an emergency situation. Unfortunately, the internet was down for the rest of the night and part of the next day.
Felt kind of bad for the cruise director's staff since there was a dance party going on at the time that was already moved to one of the inside lounges due to weather. They handled it well with keeping the crowd engaged and when the power came back on, the party picked up where it left off.
* Tenders. For the Fort Amador, Panama stop, the first tendered port for us, two of the four tenders were under maintenance. Thus there was a huge backup for getting off the boat. We had to wait just over 2 hours from our scheduled meetup time before we could get to port. From reading other reviews, in early April 2019 there seemed to be an issue with how tour groups gathered (there wasn't any on board organization so it was up to passengers to get off the boat and to the port meetup site). Now when you go to the meetup area on the ship (either Princess Theater, Wheelhouse, Explorers, or Michelangelo), you get a sticker with a group number and you leave the boat by that group number. So when we all finally got off the boat, our tour group was caroled onto a tour bus and we were still able to do our activity.
This also applied to our Nicaragua stop. There was about an hour delay in getting off the boat but it wasn't from broken tenders. It was more from it taking longer to get to port than expected due to rougher waters and the cruise ship having to anchor farther away from port than desired. The excursion was scheduled for most of the time at port, but by the time we started, we had to cut five or so minutes off each stop in order to get back in time. There was also road construction and a few major traffic accidents on the way back to port.
* Stage Issues: On New Year's Eve, my family planned to see the Magic To Do show together, but it ended up getting cancelled due to an issue with the stage ramp. It was fixed for the late showing and they put on the show again the following night, but we didn't plan to go together again. My mother vouches that the show was good. She actually went twice.
* Other technical issues: The computers they used for the lounges need to be updated. They were slow and sometimes took 5-10 minutes to get things working. Sometimes they crashed in the middle of a game. The cruise director staff and technicians did their best with what they had and most things were able to run with the exception of some audio files embedded into powerpoints.
Overall: I had so much fun. The trip was relaxing and it was nice to disconnect from the stresses of land life for a while. Hiccups were there, but since they were handled professionally, I think they made for a more interesting trip.
We had a handicap room for my grandmother. VERY spacious especially after seeing the cabins of my aunt's and brother's. Had two twin beds, a pull out bed/couch, and a desk. Ample space for three people