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divingaggie

Island Princess Panama Canal LIVE!

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Hi everyone! I am finally on my first cruise ever! It's AMAZING. I have finally figured out the whole internet thing, and I will try to post something every day. I may miss a day or two, but I'll try to catch up when I can. :-)

 

Obviously, I'm already late, but here's the first day:

 

Friday, February 18, 2011

We left DFW at 8:40 a.m. heading towards Fort Lauderdale. The flight was very smooth, and we landed at 12:15 Florida time. We caught our bus to the port and once we arrived, it took us literally fifteen minutes to get into our room. Once you get into the building, you find the counter that matches which deck your room is in. There was nobody in line, and we checked in. We had a 15-second delay (ha!) because the credit card I brought was not the same one I used for my personal identification information that the ship had. She had to manually put the new card in, but even that was barely a delay. We boarded the ship, and everyone was pleasant and welcoming. As this is our first cruise ever, I was hesitant about the boarding, but it was as easy as it could be. We headed up to our room. Our luggage didn’t get to our room until right before dinner (late traditional), so I’m glad that we had clothes on that were appropriate. My son’s suitcase had lost its tag, so we had to go to the purser’s desk to retrieve it. That didn’t take long at all.

One note about cigarettes…I know that this is a very sensitive topic for many people, from both sides. I personally hate smoke—from cigarettes, cigars, whatever. I was afraid that with the liberal smoking policy with Princess that I would enter my cabin and smell smoke. I am that sensitive to the smell. However, I didn’t smell anything. I was very happy about that. During the cruise, once in a while when I sat out on the balcony, I would catch a whiff of it. Whatever…it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t any worse than walking outside at a park or another public area and having someone nearby smoking. The sea air was strong, and I only noticed it a few times outside. I seldom was in my cabin, so maybe that’s why it didn’t bother me too much.

We walked around the ship to orient ourselves to the layout, but it took us about a day and a half to really get it. I am usually really good with directions, but I was all turned around at first. We had lunch at the Horizon Court, and it was really hard to find a table, but as packed as it was, we still found one. The food was good. It was a buffet, so I didn’t expect gourmet. There are plenty of fruits and salad for people who want to eat healthy. There is a good amount of hot food to choose from, and there were cold cuts, cheese and bread. The drinks available were coffee (-ish), tea (-ish), water and lemonade. We had purchased the Ultimate Kid’s Package when we arrived, so we were able to get unlimited sodas, root beer (only with UKP, not with the soda package b/c it’s in cans, not the soda fountain), shakes and mocktails.

At five, we set sail. The water was choppy for the first few days, and it was very windy in the main pool area where most people were. I am one of those people who get carsick if I just look down in a car, even in the front seat, so I took a Bonine pill the morning that we left. That first night, due to a mixture of the movement and my lack of sleep, I felt a little sick. I ate a green apple (plentiful on the ship) and applied a homeopathic oil blend behind my ears. That and getting to bed right after dinner helped me out.

Our dinner was at eight, and we headed to Provence. I like to think that I am a foodie. I have eaten in many good restaurants, and I have also eaten in many greasy spoons. I love all types of food, and I’m open to trying new things. I haven’t, though, experienced any other cruise ships or cruise lines, so I can’t compare to those. From what I’ve had before, this food was great. On top of that, the service was sublime. We were literally pampered. In fact, our waiters Alecks and Clark (there were two that were with us the whole trip) paid attention to little things we’d say, and they surprised us at least once a night with something extra that they knew we’d love. For dinner the first night, I had the shrimp cocktail, piña colada soup, and the barramundi. Both my son and I felt sick before we could eat dessert, so we left early to get to the room. My husband stayed to at least let the waiters know that we were leaving. They sent him back to the cabin with a dessert for each of us. I had the flourless chocolate cake. Yuuuummy.

When we returned to the cabin, our steward, Francisco, had already turned down our beds and left chocolates and the patter for the next day. Francisco was such a pleasant and happy man, and he never complained about the number of rooms he had or the amount of work he had to do. He never seemed upset and was at our service whenever we needed anything. We had asked him and the waiters about what is the best way for us to show them appreciation—outside of tips. They said that the best way for us to do that was to write a letter to the Princess offices after our return. They also said that Princess sends all passengers an e-mail asking them to review the experience, and a mention of the good service with their names is very helpful.

We went to bed and slept like babies. The beds were hard, and as I like softer beds (my Sleep Number is 60), I am happy to report that the bed was plenty comfortable. My husband went back out until about one. He said that the ship was still hopping until about one.

 

I'll try to post again soon. :-)

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Thanks for your report! Enjoy your cruise! :) My first cruise was also on the Island Princess... You're starting with one of the best ships in the fleet, IMHO.

Edited by RickEk

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Thanks for posting. I tried to do a "live" thread from the Island in December so I realize how hard it is to keep up--especially when the Internet is not cooperating.

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Thanks for the LIVE thread. DH and I did one when we were onboard 1/29-2/8. I hope you'll enjoy your first cruise, and I hope you like the Island Princess as much as we did.

 

If you come across Susana and/or Pablo in Provence, please say Hello! from previous passengers from Michigan at Table 183 (I think that was the #) and Martins, Head Waiter in that section.

 

Bon Voyage!

Chris

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have a great trip. We will be on the Coral May 2nd for the Panama from ffl to sfo

 

I think you mean the 4th.. :D:D

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We had asked him and the waiters about what is the best way for us to show them appreciation—outside of tips. They said that the best way for us to do that was to write a letter to the Princess offices after our return.

 

Also stop by the purser's desk and pick up a few "You made the difference" cards.

 

On these you can let Princess know about the great service these people have given you. Return the filled out cards to the purser's desk.

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caribill--they do like the appreciation cards, but they said that the ship personnel see that, but the company doesn't. So they asked for the greater recognition by way of the survey after the cruise and/or an e-mail to the company. But both are great for them.

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Thanks for the LIVE thread. DH and I did one when we were onboard 1/29-2/8. I hope you'll enjoy your first cruise, and I hope you like the Island Princess as much as we did.

 

If you come across Susana and/or Pablo in Provence, please say Hello! from previous passengers from Michigan at Table 183 (I think that was the #) and Martins, Head Waiter in that section.

 

Bon Voyage!

Chris

 

Hi Chris! I enjoyed reading your posts when you were on this cruise. I tried to do the Pop Choir, but I missed both rehearsals. :-( Oh well, it wasn't meant to be.

 

We are also in Provence, but we have different waiters. I will look for Susana & Pablo and tell them you said hi!

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Saturday, February 19, 2011—Sea Day

We woke up at about 8:30. We had requested extra bananas and green apples and they arrived that day. We had breakfast and lunch at the Horizon Court. We must have picked the busiest times of the day, but we still managed to find places to sit. The waiters are very helpful and friendly. The food was good. Today’s lunch menu was a sushi/Oriental theme. The sushi was not good. My family loves sushi, and we have it about once or twice a week. This wasn’t sushi, but I really didn’t expect it to be. The best Oriental food they had was the Filipino food. I’m from the Philippines, and a large percentage of the crew is Filipino. Their food was authentic and delicious.

We had our first try at the Ice Cream Bar today. It was creamy and best of all, it was free. It’s open from 11 to 7. They gave out vanilla, chocolate or swirl cones, and they even had sprinkles on top. The Ice Cream Bar is in the Lotus pool area, but kids can easily go in there as the Ice Cream Bar is right when you enter. The first day, the water outside was so cold, and it was incredibly windy. Many kids were in the Lotus pool. A few adults complained endlessly, but to no avail. Kids stayed in there all day. That evening, though, all of the cabins with kids received a note reminding us about rules on the Island Princess that regard children. One of those rules is to keep kids out of the Lotus area. My son asked that if we go on a cruise again, he requested that we go on a cruise that has more than one pool that kids can go into. The adults have access to the main pool (sometimes crowding it so much that kids can’t get in), and they also have exclusive rights to the indoor Lotus pool (helpful during not-so-perfect days) and the Sanctuary. We tend to agree, and this is definitely one thing that we’ll think about when planning our next cruise.

At the main pool area, we also experienced for the first time the chair hogs. Wow. Seriously, there were people who would put their towels on early during the day and be gone for the whole windy morning and return in the afternoon when the sun was out. Again, whatever. That’s just the way people are going to be. There were really plenty of chairs to go around, and you just have to look around to find empty loungers. On the deck right above the Lido deck (Sun deck?), there were spots further up front that had barely any wind, and the sun was delicious there. It was also quieter and less crowded. During the trip, we were able to find spots really wherever we wanted. You just have to be watchful and aware. A little bit of luck goes a long way. Another way to get a great spot is to attend the Zumba class in the morning (at 9:15). Right afterwards, the deck crew will fill up the exercise area with loungers. Since you are already there, it’s easy to snag whatever chairs you want.

We met up with the other Cruise Critic members at the Meet and Greet arranged by Aaron. The only problem is that I had not set my clock forward, and we arrived at noon instead of the 11 o’clock start time. We missed the captain and other crew, but fortunately, we at least met the other members of the roll call. It was cool to match faces to names.

Formal night tonight. We dressed in a cocktail dress and DH wore a suit and tie. Dinner was Tamarind Soup, Arugula and Field Greens Salad with Balsamic, and Halibut. Dessert was Love Boat Dream. Most people were dressed in suits, but there were a lot of tuxedoes. It was nice to see. They did the champagne waterfall. That was fun. We took lots of pictures. Then we walked around, watched a little of the Movies Under the Stars. Then we went to bed. We’re not big show fans, and with our son, it’s not a big priority. We’ve heard that the comedians are pretty funny. We also hear that the kids’ club is great. We can’t get our son to go even for one part of the day. He’s so shy. It has been fun, though, so I’m not complaining.

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Thanks for the awesome photo, dmwnc. DH and I were on the Island 1/29-2/8 and enjoyed watching our passage through the locks from our balcony.

Chris

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Thanks for the pictures! I have taken and am still taking many pics. I'll get them all organized and into a website for which I'll post a link--but that will have to be when I return home.

 

Here's Day 3!

 

 

Day 3, February 20, 2011—Sea Day

We woke up at 8:30. Had buffet. It was fine.

I did the Zumba class. That was really fun. It’s not as hard as Zumba at home, but I figure that they have to make it do-able for all levels and ages. It still made me sweat a little, and it was better than sitting and eating, right?

We hung out at the pool since I snagged prime seats after Zumba. After a couple of hours, we went back to the cabin to rest. Lunch at the buffet was Mexican food. I’m from Texas, so it wasn’t the best I’ve had. I didn’t eat much, but others seemed to really enjoy their food.

In the afternoon, we experienced another choppy and windy day. We went to the little area above the Lido deck and enjoyed some quiet wind-free time up there. We got ready for dinner. I forgot to add that we were at a 6-top, but our tablemates haven’t shown up yet. I think it sucks that people get waitlisted and denied traditional dining, but people who have traditional dining never even show up. We didn’t mind being alone. We had even better service because of it, I think. I ate the Salmon that is always on the menu. It was really good. I also had the Crabmeat, Shrimp and Spinach soup. If you like seafood broth, this was really good. I enjoyed it. I had the Caesar Salad, and that was also good. For dessert, I had the Crème Brulee.

The thing I discovered tonight was all of the fresh ice cream they serve at dinner. There is always a fresh sorbet that is delicious and refreshing. Tonight’s was guava. Delicious. I also had the banana fudge and the Piña Colada ice creams. They were both creamy and delicious. Tonight, one waiter remembered hearing my husband say something about mussels the first night we had dinner. He brought out as an extra dish for my husband a large plate of garlic wine mussels. We had thought about catching an early dinner at the buffet tonight, and our son refused because he didn’t want to miss seeing our waiters. Are we ever glad that we didn’t skip out. They also told us that since I am Filipina, they were going to make a special dinner for us the next evening—a Filipino feast. I’m looking forward to that.

It was an early night as we head into our first port tomorrow—Aruba, here we come!

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Tonight, one waiter remembered hearing my husband say something about mussels the first night we had dinner. He brought out as an extra dish for my husband a large plate of garlic wine mussels. We had thought about catching an early dinner at the buffet tonight, and our son refused because he didn’t want to miss seeing our waiters. Are we ever glad that we didn’t skip out. They also told us that since I am Filipina, they were going to make a special dinner for us the next evening—a Filipino feast. I’m looking forward to that.

 

And it is this great Princess service that keeps bringing passenegrs back to Princess.

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divingaggie I am glad you liked the webcam grabs! I hated to post them mid-review but wanted you to 'see yourself' from another perspective while the experience was still fresh in your mind. Looking forward to the rest of your daily review updates and your cruise picture album. :)

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Am thoroughly enjoying your live thread. We board in LA on March 15 and end up in FLL at the end of the month. Can't wait!

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I know it has been a while, but we get SO busy with the ports and then trying to get everything in that we can on the ship! And then of course, there is all the food we have to get to! ;-)

 

Cartagena was a beautiful city...here is what we did!

 

 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011—Cartagena

I woke up and headed to the gym at 6:30. I was rewarded by watching the magnificent sun rise above the water. What a great way to start my day!

We went to the HC for an early breakfast and were happy to see that there were many open tables. I guess the early bird does catch the best tables. As we finished breakfast, we were approaching Cartagena. We watched as the city appeared before us, more impressive than we had expected. It was a hot and humid day, but not unbearable.

We immediately found our tour guide as soon as we walked down the gangway. Mercedes with the Lee Miles tours was very knowledgeable and shared her love for her city with us. We went to La Popa Monastery because our tour with only 7 people fit easily into a van. The van is able to travel up to the monastery while the larger tour buses couldn’t. We were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the whole city. We then traveled to the Fortress, took pictures and then headed to the Walled City. We did a walking tour of the city, including a stop in the Gold Museum—it really wasn’t a museum, though. It was two rooms with gold in them. It was still cool, though. Then we went to San Pedro Claver cathedral. That was really cool. We headed to do some shopping and then went back to the ship. The vendors were assertive, but nice.

We returned and had a quick lunch at the Horizon Court. We took our son to the kids’ club. He didn’t want to go, but we told him that he had to try it at least once. After we picked him up later, he said he enjoyed himself but that he didn’t want to go back.

During that time, we walked around the ship to look at different places that we hadn’t visited before, looked around the shops (three of them), and then headed to the dining room to attend afternoon tea. We were very happy that we did. They had white glove service, and it was a good experience. We’ll try it again. The finger sandwiches, pastries and scones were yummy, and we sat with some interesting people.

Dinner was again wonderful. I had chicken and noodle soup, surf & turf, and Sacher torte with stracciatella and café latte ice creams.

We went straight to bed because of an early morning at the Panama Canal.

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THIS was an unforgettable day!

 

 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011—Panamá Canal

I was up by 5:15 to get my spot to watch our entry into the Canal. I went to the Caribe “secret” deck. Both of the “secret” decks didn’t seem to be too secret. They were both pretty full by 7 a.m. but everyone had a place. I’m glad I arrived so early. It was very peaceful in the dark before sunrise. As the sun rose, we began to go into the locks. What a marvelous and humbling experience, to see something that was created before all of the modern-day machines and equipment, and furthermore, to see it work so perfectly. We watched until we had to leave for our shore excursion.

Our excursion today was the only one we signed up for through Princess. All of the excursions out of Panamá had to be ship excursions. No others were allowed. We had signed up for the Embera Village Tour. That did not disappoint. It began with a fairly long bus ride—a little more than an hour. We then climbed into dug-out canoes (with a motor in the back—funny to see both together!). The first two to three rows get soaked if you don’t wear ponchos. The spray coming off the lake by the canoe is what gets you. The ride lasted about thirty minutes. It was a very scenic ride. We arrived at the Embera Purú village where we were greeted by their music, played by some men from the village. They were painted and dressed in loin cloths (men) and traditional skirts (women). We began with a talk by the chief. We were served very plain American style sandwiches, a beverage, and then an authentic Embera lunch—fried fresh tilapia with fried plantains served in a banana leaf ‘pocket.’ It was delicious.

Then we had time to go around and visit with the villagers. Afterwards, they did some traditional dances and then invited us to take part as well. Then we had time to view the individual families’ crafts and bought a whole bunch. We returned home after that.

When we arrived back at the ship, it had just landed in Colón. The non-excursioners were leaving the ship to go shopping. Apparently, Colón is the second largest duty-free shopping in the world, second only to Hong Kong. We were able to eat quickly and without crowds, and then we were able to snag (very easily) three poolside loungers. What a difference being on the ship while others are at port makes. We sat at the pool, ate and hung out.

Dinner later was Caesar Salad, an appetizer portion of the basil pesto and linguine, and then the pan-fried salmon steak. For dessert, we had Grand Marnier Orange Souffle with a warm vanilla sauce. WOW. Yummers.

I checked out the bar for the karaoke. It was a lot of fun, it seemed. I went back to the cabin and slept. It’s going to be an early morning again.

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I know there is not an International Cafe on the Island but I see something called La Pasterissa of something like that. Could you describe what it is and what is available there. We are thinking of making this cruise in December and were curious as we love the International Cafe's on other ships.

Edited by Potstech

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LaPatisserie is basically a coffee bar but you can order drinks, too. Freshly brewed coffee is served here but it isn't free unless you have a pre-paid coffee card. You can also get cappucino, latte, iced coffee beverages, and specialty teas. There is a limited selection of breakfast pastries, Danish, muffins, etc. in the morning, and cookies, brownies in the afternoon and evening at no charge.

 

DH and I missed the IC on the Island because we like the light salads and sandwiches that are available at lunchtime.

Chris

Edited by cruzinchris

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Welcome home, divingaggie. I hope you've enjoyed your cruise and that you'll have a safe trip home. Please share more about your voyage when you have time.

Chris

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have a great trip. We will be on the Coral May 2nd for the Panama from ffl to sfo

We are going on the Coral on your cruise. We (6 of the 8 of us doing the cruise) are leaving for Orlando from Oakland, CA and see some of the sights there before going down to Fort Lauderdale on May 4. We live in the greater San Francisco Bay area so this is a good cruise for us.

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