Grandma Bert and Grandpa Roy decided early last summer that they wanted to take a cruise to Panama in 2005. By the time they talked about it and researched the available ships, only a few of the better cabins aboard the Coral Princess were still available when they made their reservations in July 2004. Grandpa was able to find a Double A (AA) mini-suite only on the Baja deck, forward. He reserved the one "furthest back" on the starboard (right) side, cabin B223.
Unlike Carnival Miracle and Carnival Conquest, the Coral Princess mini-suite was somewhat smaller, had only one sink in the bathroom and had only a regular tub, not a Jacuzzi. The shower provided only a gentle stream of water or a "massage" stream, both nearly worthless. There also were fewer amenities on the Coral Princess than Carnival provides in its mini-suites. Carnival also provides a stocked refrigerator, but you must pay for anything you take from it. Coral Princess, on the other hand, had an empty refrigerator in which Grandma and Grandpa kept their water after buying a first bottle. Water right from the bathroom tap, although always somewhat warm, tasted good after cooling in the fridge for a couple hours. The empty refrigerator was, therefore, a plus for your grandparents.
One thing really bothered Grandma and Grandpa in comparison with Carnival's ships: sleeping. The bed and pillows were awful on Princess. The Carnival Miracle had thick, fluffy pillows and good mattresses. The Coral Princess' pillows were thin and hard. So hard, in fact, Grandma and Grandpa asked their cabin steward, "George" (actually Gregorio), for better pillows if they were available. All "George" could do was bring them additional pillows, which helped a little. Over the course of the cruise, this busy man also repaired the rattling door that had kept Grandma and Grandpa awake the first night, brought them an additional blanket and was always friendly, cheerful and courteous. He rightfully deserved Grandpa's nomination as the ship's employee-of-the-month.
The mattress in Grandma Bert and Grandpa Roy's cabin was so bad that Grandma Bert had a terrible pain in her back beginning the second full day of the cruise that lasted until her first night home again. Because the Coral Princess, built in only 2002, was smaller and narrower than other ships on which your grandparents have sailed, it bounced and rocked quite a bit more. It was narrower in order to be able to go through the locks of the Panama Canal. It was the rocking, however, that allowed Grandpa to sleep rather well, despite the poor pillows and mattress. And for some reason, the rocking never bothers your grandparents, which is a good thing!
Grandma Bert missed the towel sculptures that awaited them each night on Carnival ships and at the resort in Mexico in 2004. In fact, before dinner the third evening, she asked Grandpa if he thought there would be a sculpture that evening. Grandpa had to tell her sadly that Princess doesn't do that.
She also was disappointed there was no after-dinner entertainment by the waiters and waitresses in the dining room, although some of them did sing a "happy anniversary" tune to your grandparents on the night of their wedding anniversary.
The waiters also marched through the dining room the last evening of the cruise holding high their delicious baked Alaska desserts. And of course there was entertainment in the lounges and bars before and after dinner (more about which later.)
In addition to the tune sung to them on their wedding anniversary, the head waiter gave Grandma and Grandpa a little anniversary cake which they never did eat. There was just too much food. On the morning of your grandparents' wedding anniversary,three congratulatory balloons were taped outside their cabin, announcing to the world (well, to those on board Coral Princess at least) your grandparents' happy celebration. In addition, the captain had signed a happy anniversary card with their names on it which awaited them at their table that evening.
With the exception of the food in the main dining room in the evening, Grandpa Roy could not understand why Princess was rated among the top ten cruise lines by Conde Nast, while Carnival didn't even make the list. Grandma said perhaps it had to do with the passengers. Most of them were your grandparents age or older. There were very few children and not too many young adults, either, on Coral Princess. Carnival, on the other hand, bills themselves as the "Fun Ships" and caters to the more noisy, younger crowds and their children.
It must be understood, however, that Grandma Bert and Grandpa Roy did indeed enjoy this cruise, as they have all their cruises. They noticed only very few differences in terms of quality and service on the Coral Princess from their previous three Carnival cruises and their one Norwegian Cruise Lines voyage a few years ago. For example, Grandma and Grandpa changed to a table for two, as Grandma usually desires, the second night in the traditional dining room. What they didn't understand, though, was why Coral Princess couldn't change them for the first evening, too. On Carnival or Norwegian, one simply visits the maitre 'd and is changed to an available table at once thanks to their computerized systems. This Princess ship had no such system.
The food, as mentioned, was indeed better than Carnival's in the main dining room on the Coral Princess, with the exception of the night the waiter talked Grandpa Roy into having the duck a al orange instead of the pepper steak. The waiter, Daniel from Rumania, said the beef would be tough and there would be better beef later in the week. Grandpa didn't like any of the other menu choices that night, so he chose the duck at Daniel's recommendation. There always were skinless chicken breast and another steak with baked potato or French fries available, but Grandpa decided instead to try the duck. Ugh! What a mistake! Daniel was embarrassed and apologized quite a bit, but Grandpa Roy certainly didn't blame him. Grandpa's just not a duck sort of guy.
In addition to the ever-changing evening meals, there always was a recommended vegetarian dish and those wonderful appetizers and desserts. Both Grandma and Grandpa tried things with which they were unfamiliar and they always found them quite good, especially the soups and appetizers, although salads usually were boring. There were some wonderful desserts, and we know who in this family enjoyed them more (hint: it certainly wasn't your slender Grandma Bert.) The last night of the cruise there was one main choice of dessert, baked Alaska. Daniel allowed Grandpa to have a second piece of this true delight (and instant heart attack!)
Grandma and Grandpa had most breakfasts and all lunches on the Lido deck (deck 14, there is no deck 13.) Here, Grandpa, in particular, felt that Carnival excelled over Princess. Breakfast included only two types of juice, orange and cranberry. The orange juice was watered down a lot and not very good. There was milk, of course, but sometimes it wasn't very cold. A man would fry eggs or omelets to order, so they were okay. But the fried eggs prepared in front of you on the Carnival Miracle were done in little pans and turned out much better. One point, however, the Coral Princess had very nice crispy bacon each morning for breakfast. Grandpa loved it!
The serving lines were confusing at lunch time. One entered the area, cleaned off his or her hands beneath the chemical treatment stuff there (one lady passenger told Grandpa she used it in her job as a druggist every day and believed in it for preventing disease), and received a plate and silverware wrapped in a large, cloth napkin from a gloved steward. With plate in hand, the first thing a passenger encountered was the desserts, not the salads. Entrees and side dishes were on two separate hot lines, but rarely matched to each other and always in a confusing layout. On Carnival there is a theme for the day's luncheon. Also, Carnival provides trays so that the passenger can get everything at once without having to return to the line looking for salads or drinks or desserts while their meal gets cold or perhaps even whisked away by an overly eager steward. Grandpa never had a warm meal on the Lido deck. It was always cold by the time he was able to eat. In fact, it wasn't very warm to begin with.
In the afternoon, real ice cream was served on the Lido deck. On Carnival they serve only the soft stuff out of the machines, and while available longer and in greater quantities, it wasn't very good. The real ice cream on Princess, however, consisted of vanilla and one other flavor each day. Grandpa Roy put the chocolate syrup on his one day that had some type of alcohol in it. Was it ever strong! Grandma Bert agreed. There had been no notice warning about the alcohol.
Whereas Carnival had a large selection of desserts at lunch on their Lido decks (handed out by someone behind the counter so that children couldn't take more than they would eat), Coral Princess had only four: there usually was one hot dessert, normally very tasty, and three or four cold, one of which normally was a fruit cup of some type. In addition, there was a large selection of sliced and whole fruits on the Lido buffet, including freshly carved pineapple that was very tasty.
The only thing to drink at lunch time was coffee, tea or iced tea. On Carnival there is always lemonade and usually another juice, in addition to the three traditional beverages. Because Grandpa Roy has never gotten used to the idea of cold tea, he purchased a sticker that went onto his cruise card that allowed him to have as many cold soft drinks as he wanted during the whole cruise, including in the dining room in the evening. The sticker cost $27.50 and included a fancy cup with lid. Had he known you didn't have to purchase the cup, he could have saved $2.50, but... At any rate, the sticker saved him money over the purchase of traditional cans of soda at $1.50 each during the 10 days of the cruise.
The daily routine aboard the Coral Princess went something like this when not in port: Get up, eat breakfast. Take a nap, get up and eat lunch. Take a nap, get up and eat supper. Go to a show, go to bed, get up, eat breakfast. Take a nap, get up... Well, you get the general idea. Of course, your grandma didn't allow herself to get into that routine. Instead, she would sit in the sun or use the gym. She discovered that , although the gym wasn't very large, if she got there after the morning rush, after 9:00 a.m., she usually had it all to herself. There were televisions to watch while sweating on a treadmill. Or, the user simply could enjoy the view ahead of the ship.
There were two places for shows aboard the Coral Princess. One was the Princess Theater at the front of the ship, a traditional, sloped floor theater with many seats and a large stage. Unlike some ships, there were no columns or supports blocking the view of some patrons in the Princess Theater. The Princess Theater also was the place where Grandma and Grandpa underwent lifeboat training. On other ships, they have gathered on the deck near the lifeboats and stood there until the slower passengers arrived and a head count was completed. This time they were allowed to sit down and be comfortable before standing up and putting on their life jackets. Grandma and Grandpa liked the shows in the Princess Theater, and Grandma especially liked the dark haired singer, Liz. She had an excellent voice and Grandpa agreed with your grandmother on that point.
At the other end of the ship was the Galaxy Lounge with an even larger stage and two levels for patrons, but with tables and comfortable chairs instead of traditional seating. Grandma and Grandpa watched one show there. Some seats did have obstructed views of the stage, so one had to get there early for the better shows.
Unlike Carnival, where it was more difficult to find a quiet corner to listen to music, there was always somewhere on Coral Princess to enjoy a quiet soda and good music. Of course, there also was the loud, traditional band on the Lido deck near the pool.
And speaking of the pool, there were two. They both were larger, much larger, than those found on both Carnival and Norwegian (at least on the ships with which Grandma and Grandpa are familiar), and the Lotus Pool was indoors and reserved for adults only. It was very nice and quiet, but rarely used as a matter of fact.
The first two days were cruising. Grandma spent the time paying her hard-earned money to the spa for different treatments or basking in the sun on deck 15, away from the noise of the Lido deck band. She had had a bad experience with a waiter, whose name she did not catch, on the Lido deck her first day in the sun. Grandma had found a place very near the pool. After she settled in, a waiter approached and she asked for a soda. He tried to convince her that she should have an alcoholic drink, but it was still early and she only wanted a can of soda. The waiter ignored her and she never did get her soda. Grandpa made certain to include that little episode on the critique Coral Princess asked for at the end of the cruise. (He also included his complaints about the pillows, mattress and shower head.)
On the third day, the ship docked in Costa Rica, the first of several countries never visited before by your grandparents. At the suggestion of several people last summer and much to your Grandfather's chagrin (he is afraid of anything higher than his tiptoes unless he is surrounded by an airplane), Grandma and he took the aerial tram ride in a privately owned part of the rain forest. As it turned out, the ride was extremely pleasant and Grandpa wasn't at all nervous.
All they saw, however, from the tram was one animal related to the raccoon in this country and trees.
On a short hike through the rain forest they saw a sloth, high up in a tree, and some leaf cutter ants carrying their bits of leaves back to their nest. The ants fascinated Grandma.
After the tram ride, the bus took the passengers to a restaurant for a typical, and delicious, Costa Rican meal consisting of chicken and the traditional rice and beans.
Grandpa hardly slept the night before the ship headed into the Panama Canal, even though he had placed a wake-up call request on the automated system. He wanted to be up when the ship passed through the locks, which he knew would be very early in the morning. The best place, the cruise director had announced, would be from the balcony of any cabin. He was right.
Grandma and Grandpa stood on the balcony and watched as the Coral Princess entered the first, then the second and finally the third lock. Another cruise ship was behind Coral Princess and Grandpa Roy got some good photos of it passing through the locks, too.
Grandma and Grandpa ate breakfast on their balcony.
And speaking of pictures, Coral Princess photographers had gotten off the ship and were taking pictures with telephoto lenses of the people on their balconies that passengers could buy later.
Once the ship anchored in Gatun Lake after passing through the locks, your grandparents caught a tender to shore and took a bus to the Pacific Ocean.
From there, they took a train back, riding in an observation car built in 1938 that Panama found, old and neglected, in Florida.
Panama was beautiful, but there was very little time for photography on the bus/train tour, which disappointed Grandpa. However, the guide, Marty, was very good and spoke with no accent, as "Mommy and Daddy" had sent him to school in the States (and "Daddy was an American," anyhow, originally.) Of interest was Marty's view on what the American media call the American invasion of Panama when the dictator and drug runner Noriega was arrested and brought back to the U.S. Marty said that most Panamanians declared it was not an invasion at all, but a LIBERATION!
Grandma and Grandpa had been to both Grand Cayman Island and Cozumel before. Grand Cayman still showed signs of the very bad hurricane of last year, but the city of Georgetown had not been hit too hard. While in Grand Cayman, your grandparents took the "partly submerged" submarine tour, aboard which they viewed many types of fish and two shipwrecks, and they visited a butterfly farm.
All the butterflies had been killed during the hurricane and the farm had started over again. The butterflies were beautiful, as you will see from the photos here.
In Cozumel Grandma and Grandpa went to a folklore show which was dancing and music depicting Mexico's history.
They also did some shopping and took some pictures, of course. Of interest was the fact that Grandma needed a bottle of water in one of the shops at the end of the pier. A cold, small bottle of Evian cost $2.50 American. On the ship it would have cost only $1.50. Speaking of prices, Grandma had been looking at two clowns from the well-known Italian Lladro company. The price in the Coral Princess gift shop was $196.00 for each clown. Grandpa looked up the price of these Lladro clowns on the Internet after the cruise and discovered the cost $265.00 here in the U.S. Passengers really can save on the ship.
The last port-of-call was Belize, a little country once a British colony which had been called British Honduras. Grandma and Grandpa's original Sibun River and Mayan Cave Adventure excursion was canceled because the vehicle the tour operator used was being repaired. So, instead they took a boat up the Belize River and visited some Mayan ruins.
The river trip was very interesting. They saw many animals and birds, including young crocodiles, howler monkeys, dolphins (yes! Dolphins in a fresh-water river), parrots, bats and more.
Grandma and Grandpa met some interesting people during their cruise. One couple with whom they had breakfast one morning were on their 35th Princess cruise. In fact, they had taken over 50 cruises since they had married. The wife told a very interesting story about a cruise to Turkey and Greece in which their ship was held up by the Greek government because some crew members were smuggling drugs. Princess, in order to keep the passengers happy and because the ship could not leave, found free excursions, usually on smaller boats to beautiful Greek islands, for all the passengers. After a couple weeks of free, interesting excursions, however, Princess paid back all the money the passengers had spent for their cruise, flew them home at Princess expense, AND gave them vouchers for a free cruise on any Princess ship. That never happens to your grandparents!
Grandpa spoke with another gentleman who admitted that his party had fibbed about a couple birthdays and a wedding anniversary just so they could get the cake. This man felt that because the cruise cost so much, he should get something for his money. Grandpa couldn't do that. His conscious would bother him too much.
As with Carnival, Princess also uses a key card that doubles as your credit card and identification to get back onto the ship after going ashore. If it is your first time sailing with Princess, the card is blue. After that, the card is gold. In that way, repeat guests are recognized instantly by members of the ship's crew. Passengers who have sailed many times with Princess get yet another color card, which Grandpa seems to recall was black. Carnival crew members seem to have no way to distinguish between first-time and repeat guests.
Princess also uses the same photo technique which allows them to see if you are indeed the person to whom the card originally was issued. While the documentation that arrived before the cruise said passengers must carry passports for the cruise, Coral Princess only required a government issued photo identification, such as a driver's license. Grandpa noticed a few security personnel on board the ship, and Grandma noticed a banner on one side of the Coral Princess warning boaters to stay a certain distance away. It remains to be seen, however, if the cannon hidden behind the port holes were accurate enough to destroy any approaching vessels.
Grandma and Grandpa had spent the night before the cruise departed at a motel near Baltimore-Washington International airport because of the very early morning flight Princess Cruises had arranged for them to Cleveland (yes, Cleveland!) and from there to Fort Lauderdale. Your grandparents had gotten their boarding passes the day before off the airline's Web site, so they only had to check their luggage and go through security. Your grandparents got to the airport about an hour and a half before flight time. It turned out that Grandpa's bag was overweight and he had to pay an extra $25.00 for it. Grandma said she will never let him live down the fact that his bag was heavier than hers. After a short wait in a very, very long line to go through security, they headed for the airplane, which took off for Cleveland a while later right on time.
The flight from Cleveland left about 15 minutes late because of congestion in the skies over Fort Lauderdale. As it was, the aircraft landed only about 5 minutes late. Grandma and Grandpa got their bags and went looking for a taxi. A couple people on the rec.travel.cruises news group had told Grandpa to take a taxi from Fort Lauderdale airport to the cruise terminal. What good advice that turned out to be! It took a whole two minutes to get a taxi, then about 10 minutes to the terminal, where the bags with cabin tags attached went into a bin for eventual delivery to the cabin. Once inside the terminal, everyone filled out a card which stated whether or not they had been sick the past two days. (Nope!) Then your grandparents went to a short line to get their boarding passes, went through security, had their pictures taken, and onto the ship. Grandpa was hoping to be on board by 2:30 or 3:00 p.m. As it was, they were boarded at 1:15. The whole check-in and boarding process took less time than the drive from the airport to the ship because the crowds who were coming by Princess transportation were still sitting on the buses at the airport!
Because Grandpa had paid the $25.00 for his bag, and since he wanted to make certain he had extra cash, one morning he put his ATM card into his shirt pocket along with his cruise card. Off he went with camera in hand to take some pictures, perhaps read his book for a while somewhere and then to get money from the ship's ATM. Grandpa decided to read near to one of the bars in the atrium area. A waitress approached and he pulled out his card and asked for a tonic water. The waitress said he couldn't use the card. Grandpa protested briefly, having understood the soda stamp Princess had given him could be used in all bars, lounges and restaurants on the ship, but the waitress replied he couldn't use an ATM card. Whoops! Grandpa had forgotten he had it with him. But the waitress was good-natured and when she saw his book was in Russian, she spoke to him in Russian. She was Bulgarian, but had lived for a time in Russia. Many of the crew were Bulgarian. There also were many Filipinos, some Turks, South Africans, English and some Mexicans. The ship's captain was Italian.
There were many ships preparing to leave at Port Everglades the day your Grandparents' ship did, including the huge, highly touted Queen Mary 2. Grandma and grandpa found someone to take their picture on the deck of the Coral Princess with the Queen Mary 2 in the background.
It was another wonderful cruise for your grandparents. While Grandma and Grandpa do not understand why some people hate Carnival, they do have some insight into why people like Princess (except for the food on the Lido deck.) Given the opportunity or cash, your grandparents would happily sale again with either cruise line. It did seem, however, that Princess excursions cost a bit more than on Carnival. Although Grandma and Grandpa bought fewer photos this cruise, they still paid a bit more for them than they would have liked. Finally, Grandma and Grandpa thought the last souvenir from the ship added a nice touch to a very pleasant voyage: It was an abbreviated log of the whole cruise, with all the times of sailings and arrivals, speeds, ports-of-call, and so forth. It will make a nice addition to their family scrapbook of memories.
But now their cruise is over and Grandma and Grandpa are looking forward to a really different cruise when they go to Egypt in September and sail the Nile River on a much smaller vessel from Aswan to Luxor. Grandpa can hardly wait, but in the meantime, Grandma already is planning what cruise to take in 2006 or early 2007.