We are experienced cruisers from AZ. We've been on RCCL, NCL, HA and Azamara but had never been on Princess. We decided to try it for this "Holiday Week" trip through the Panama Canal, which we had long wanted to travel and for a chance to see some Central American ports.
We arrived in Acapulco the evening before the cruise with time only for dinner due to plane delays. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza. We knew is wasn't going to be perfect but even so were not happy. It was fully booked with many many Mexican families of very noisy children and their parents who filled the elevators, restaurant and all public areas. It was nearly impossible to get an elevator down in the morning when we were checking out and then it got stuck between floors for several minutes (not fun at all). I heard from others on the cruise that Las Brisas would have been a better choice but have a feeling it was out of our price range.
There don't seem to be hotel shuttles to the port in Acapulco but we got a taxi driven by the self proclaimed "Second Best Taxi Driver in Acapulco (the best is in the hospital recovering from an accident). We arrived at the port by 11:30 and waited with a porter for 12:00 to board. Boarding went smoothly and our cabin was already ready for us.
We headed directly up to the Sanctuary having heard that to book for the full week we should do that first thing and traveling alone on a cruise that would have over 500 children on board we felt we needed the "serenity" of Sanctuary. We had over 30 minutes to wait (with a few other CC Members) for an attendant to arrive at about 1:00 and then were told that a) there was no discount to book for ther full week, b) there was a significant upcharge for Canal Day (more about that later), c) there would be no refunds and d) we could not reserve seating for the week. We all tried to argue with her to little avail. The best we could get was that she would make note of our seating preferences and give us preference during the week for shade (if that's what we wanted) and for the four cabanas (if that's what we wanted). So $230 per person later we headed to the Horizon Court for our first lunch.
I have no complaints about the cabin The size was adequate, there was no motion/vibration problem and it was kept clean by an attendant who we almost never saw.
This itinerary included four ports in the first four days. In Huatulco we took a walk around the town and beach. Not that much to do there and we were still acclimating to the cruise. In Puerto Quetzal we took took the Filadelfia Coffee Plantation tour and it was one of the highlights of the week. The tour of the plantation was well done both educational and fun and the lunch was probably the best I've ever had on a tour (note: on request we were provided with a vegetarian lunch). In San Juan del Sur, we arranged a short tour of the town on a pedicab and saw the local library (the first in Nicaragua, we were told) and participated in a holiday party for the local children. In Costa Rica we did a river rafting tour (also well done) all before our first sea day. Whew...
In between al that we found time to eat and be entertained on the ship. Although we had signed up for Traditional Late Dining, we only ate that once and ate all other dinners in the Anytime Dining Room with the exception of one night at Sabatini's and one night in the Horizon (I think, or maybe not). We are pescetarians (we eat fish but otherwise are vegetarian). Also, I am trying to diet (not a good thing when cruising, I know). The food was not as good, in general, as we have had on the other cruise lines. The menus on the Formal Nights were very "informal" with lobster tail only offered in the main dining room on the Captain's Night (not a formal night). The salmon from the "Alternative (every night)" menu was nearly petrified (tough and dry). Other fish was marginally better with the exception of Barramundi (sp?) late in the cruise which was very good and sea bass which was good once and fair the other time. Salads were ok but skimpy. One appetizer, the last night, with seafood in it tasted really off and we returned it. There was pasta every night with fettucini alfredo there every (or nearly every) night. Bread and rolls with butter on the table every night were a downfall for me, I must get the courage to ask for crudites instead in the future.
We had breakfast in the Horizon each morning, nothing special. Note that the coffee is AWFUL. We bought a "coffee card" which entitled us to "unlimited premium filtered coffee" and 15 espresso based drinks for $24. The premium coffee was hard to find (and why couldn't it be standard?) and the espresso was sometimes good, sometimes too acid. My DH got to like the cappucinos though. Also note that we were disappointed with the service in Horizon. We were never asked if we wanted coffee or juice. Also the only juices easily available were orange and apple, anything else was a special order.
Dinner at Sabatinis was good quality. I can't remember what I ate, though, they just kept bringing out more and more and more.
The production shows were better than average. We liked one comedian who did a fun act together with the cruise director. My husband liked the ventriloquist. My favorite (as always) was the piano bar. On this cruise it was Martin Kaye, a Manchester-Brit with a passion for Elton John who also managed to introduce us to Cold Play and some other post-modern music.
When not on tour, we spent our time in the Sanctuary. Service there was spotty, sometimes getting the cabana we had expressed a preference for but about half the time, not. Sometimes we were spoiled with ice-water refills cold cloths and towels and other times, we were pretty much ignored. There was fruit-water set out each day but as the cruise wore on they neglected to put cups out for it. The gates to the Sanctuary area were often bolted shut to keep out non-paying guests but that made access hard for those of us who had paid. Canal day was a bit chaotic. We paid $70 per person for that day and were told we would get champagne, food, use of binoculars and free photos. We got a skimpy glass of champagne (refills were charged for), the same food that was offered every day (nothing special), binoculars that were collected before the transit was completed and the photos... well that was the part that pushed me over the edge. I had presumed (incorrectly) that the photos would be of US ! The photos were stock shots of the ship going through the canal. Oooh (not). I complained about this to the Director of Passenger Services (who responded by sending me a couple of extra stock shots). Also, the afternoon after the canal, a group of passengers decided to have a party on the Sanctuary deck with music played through speakers they attached to their iPods and loud talking and smoking by at least one of them. I complained about this to the attendant and she brought me chips and salsa in response to my complaint.
But and however, the Sanctuary is a really good concept and when it works, it works and is a good thing.
We are back home now and I have good memories of my cruise and I'm relaxed and ready to get back to the real world (as well as ready to plan more vacations). Who could ask for anything more?