Posted November 13th, 2017, 11:23 PM
I guess I'm going to get a bit wordy here, and remember that it's only my opinion and observations relayed here. Others may disagree, and that's fine.
For the canal transit - it's an all-day event - make sure you move around in order to get the experience from different perspectives. Decks 10 and 11 at the front of the ship are opened up on transit day. You get a great view of the operation of the locks from the aft decks as well (decks 8 and above). We never went up to the Lido and the dreaded blue glass panels diffusing the view. If you don't have a balcony, the Promenade (Deck 7) will give you an unobstructed view of the lock operations. Otherwise, if you have a balcony - this is the opportunity to use it as well. Finally, don't forget to go down to deck 6 for one of the locks, looking through the windows near the Explorers Club. It looks like the ship will scrape the wall as it moves vertically, but the 'mules' keep everything in place.
Princess encourages you to make a 'homemade' sign for the canal transit. They supply the poster board, stencils, decorations, pens and markers. You are supposed to hold it up as the ship photographers snap photos and shoot videos of you going through the locks. Then you can buy the photo or see yourself in the DVD they produce and sell later on in the cruise. If you have an artistic side to your personality, you might want to give this some thought and come up with a good idea.
We had a very short stop at Aruba, and it was on Sunday morning (7:00 AM - Noon), so not much was open other than the Princess-approved shopping. We found the Dutch Pancake House in an outdoor mall near the helipad, and had an interesting and delicious breakfast there. Cartegena was short(ish), 6 hours, and HOT. We just took the Old City On Your Own excursion. Unfortunately it was a holiday the day we were there, so most of the museums and churches were closed. For Puntarenas/Costa Rica, get off the ship and help the economy. Hurricane Nate blew through there this fall, and they need your help to rebuild. Puntarenas itself is sort of remote and sleepy, so you probably will want a tour of some kind to see a highlight or two of the country. Our stop in Nicaragua was cancelled due to tendering problems in the high winds. It was replaced by Puerto Vallarta. Since it was short notice, we just took a cab to the Melancon and strolled.
We had a great port lecturer, Richard Munroe, a geologist from Winnipeg. He had very dry sense of humor, and worked in a bit of geology in his presentations. The theater got more and more crowded for each one of his entertaining lectures. He also did a fine job narrating the canal transit throughout the day.
All of the production shows were entertaining, especially 'On the Bayou' that's held in the Universe Lounge. The casino was tiny, with 'tight' machines, poor table game rules, and easy to avoid. Of the acts that they picked up along the way, I enjoyed Duncan Tuck the most. He is an accomplished guitar player, and put on an entertaining set of somewhat obscure favorites from the 60's/70's. I also enjoyed the classical artists and piano players that played in the atrium every day.
I never had a bad meal. I tried to watch my intake, and thought I did a good job, but my downfall was any 'Chocolate Journeys' offering. They were all fantastic and not to be missed! Breakfast and lunch were eaten in both the Horizon Court and the Bordeaux dining room. The dining room was closed for lunch on port days. Usually, if we ate one meal at one, we would have the other meal in the opposite venue. We ate dinner at our assigned 7:30 (late) dining time nearly every night. We did visit and enjoyed both the Bayou Café and Sabatini's. Our waiter at Sabatini's said the menu would be changing soon and the Lobster Three Ways and NY Strip Steak offerings were going away. I looked for the Seafood Shack at the Horizon Café, but it was never offered.
You're probably not going to pack enough clothes for a 15 day journey, and you will be doing laundry at some point. There are only 3 washers and 3 dryers on each deck with cabins (decks 8-12), so they are heavily used on sea days. Our secret was to use them on port days. We got back about 2 hours before sail away on Cartegena day, and our Puerto Vallarta stop was unplanned, so we had an early return there as well. We got back on board in time to keep up with cleaning the dirty clothes in the unused laundry room at those times.
I hope this helps! Enjoy your cruise in January!
SS Independence - July 1991 (Hawaii Eclipse Cruise!)
Carnival Spirit - November 2009 (Mexican Riviera)
Norwegian Dawn - September 2010 (Bermuda)
Carnival Elation - March 2011 (Progreso/Cozumel)
Carnival Glory - November 2011 (E. Caribbean)
Island Princess - September 2012 (Alaska)
Carnival Freedom - February 2013 (W. Caribbean)
Carnival Liberty - October 2014 (W. Caribbean rerouted by Hurricane Gonzalo)
Carnival Dream - December 2015 (W Caribbean)
Coral Princess - October 2017 (Panama Canal)