This is our seventh cruise and our third one with the kids in tow. There were six in our party, my wife, myself and our four children - ranging in age from 11 to 18. We left London and flew the eleven and a half hour flight to Mexico City and then, after three long hours, got a connection to Acapulco. So it was a very long day travelling (20 hours door to door). We traveled Business Class which always helps on such lengthy journeys. We stayed in The Grand Hotel in Acapulco for one night, which is perfectly okay for a night, and we boarded the ship at about 2pm. Embarkation took about 15 minutes from arrival to getting aboard. I checked in online before we left, which definitely speeds up the process. Our staterooms were ready and very clean and the luggage arrived within the hour. We had two connecting (by balcony) mini-suites (D522 and D524), which are on the port side and reasonably central. The room steward, Henry, was a real gem - top bloke!
First impressions of the Coral were that it was far bigger than I expected. We went on the Crown last year and I told the kids to expect a much smaller ship. In fact, it felt pretty much the same size as the Crown (it's slightly longer in fact) - and because it's a big ship, with 30% less passengers, it felt very uncrowded. This was a real pleasant surprise. In fact, my wife and I have decided that when we book future cruises we're going to look carefully at the size/passenger ratio.
The public rooms were very well kept and the service throughout was impeccable - which we've almost always have found to be case with Princess. We ate in the Bordeaux dining room on the 'anytime' option. Only on one occasion did we have to wait for a table - which is pretty good given there are six of us. Oddly, I noticed it seemed to be the 'couples' that had to wait more often than families. Thought the entertainment was 'okay' but not outstanding. We particularly liked the pianist and violinist who played in the atrium and they also did a 'classical' show in the Universe Lounge one evening - they are truly talented. The two younger kids (11 and 13) absolutely loved the kids clubs - it was impossible to keep them away - they've both got lots more friends now. Emails were waiting for them by the time we got home! As for the cruise itinerary, as follows: Because there are six of us we find it infinitely more preferable do our own thing (in the main), so we do a bit of research in advance. For example, it's generally cheaper to hire a taxi for the day than it is to pay for six excursions - generally speaking we reckon it's about one third the cost, plus you have more independence. Guatemala: Google Earth revealed an interesting place called 'Iztapa' (not featured on any cruise excursion), which has a beach where all the locals go. It is about five miles from the port. Interestingly, the first cabbie quoted me $160 (one way) to which I said a few words which I won't repeat in this review. The next cabbie, witnessing this, immediately quoted me $30 return. Guess which one I used? We had a great day on the beach (which is then reached by a five minute boat trip from Iztapa.) The kids loved the huge Pacific waves! Nicaragua: Didn't do much here - just went for a wander off the boat, down some back streets, bought a few bits and bobs and then returned to the ship. It was one hot day and we were glad to be back in an air-conditioned ship. Costa Rica: This is the only place we did a Princess excursion because it looked interesting. We went rafting through (slightly) white water and rain forest, where we saw lots of wildlife (monkeys, birds, bats, lizards, etc..) I was somewhat surprised to also see 'crocodiles' - as an inflatable raft seemed like minimal protection to me! However, the organizers really knew their stuff and we felt very safe in their care. An excellent trip which I would wholeheartedly recommend. Panama Canal Transit: 'Awesome' is the only word I can describe this. The scale of the thing is mind blowing in all respects. Each one (of six) is 1000 feet long and 110 feet wide - there was only about a six inch gap each side of the ship! Out of curiosity on one descent I went into the dining room and if felt like a submarine!!! Lots of things appealed to me, including: The close proximity to other huge ships; The scenery - especially through the lake;
The sight of the locks from all angles - and it's worth noting that on deck ten, right at the front, there is a door which says 'keep out crew only'. Well don't keep out because you're allowed there. I reckon it's the best place on the ship for viewing the Canal. Cristobal: What a waste of time that was! We were allowed off the ship, but just onto the pier for two hours. For some reason the Panama stop was canceled so people were keen to get off. So we all queued up for half an hour, trudged off the ship and on to the pier, looked through piles of souvenirs (mainly tat) and then waltzed back on the ship. But do you know what, it didn't matter to me because I was still on a high after the Panama Canal transit. Jamaica: Again, we did our own thing. We hopped on a taxi to Dunns River Falls (a five minute Taxi ride from the port) and then paid to go there ($15 per person). The whole day cost us about $100 for six of us - I reckon it would have been nearer $400 had we have gone on an excursion, plus we could come and go as we liked. Great fun it was, climbing up the falls - it was more ferocious and longer than I expected! Then we chilled out on the beach for a few hours. A very nice day it was! On the sea days, and there were quite a few of these, we did loads of different things - kids clubs, trivia, cream teas, swimming, and more. We were never bored. Fort Lauderdale: Disembarkation took a long time. I presume it was because we didn't have a plane to catch so we were low priority. We assembled in the appropriate place at 8:30am (as requested) but weren't clear of customs until about 11:30am. So three hours hanging around was a bit of a pain. We stayed in Fort Lauderdale for three days at the Pelican Beach Grand Hotel. I can highly recommend it because it's right on the beach (unlike most other hotels) and the service was pretty good. It was a bit pricey, but worth it in my view. Overall, a most excellent holiday. We have already booked our next cruise with Princess (August 2009 - Norway and Iceland), who manage to get it just right for our family. No real gripes, other than a couple of stops didn't happen (Panama and one in Mexico), but I tend to be quite pragmatic about such things. As such, four and a half stars out of five from me.
The two mini-suites were fine. Three people slept in each with ample room. We also made good use of the balconies.