Background: We are a professional couple...him late 30's, her late 40's. This was our 8th cruise together, 6th on Princess. We've previously sailed on the Sun Princess, Dawn Princess, Grand Princess, Crown Princess, and Ruby Princess. We consider ourselves somewhat well-traveled usually with multiple trips out of the country each year.
Pre-cruise: We arrived in Acapulco a day early. We had pre-arranged the airport transfer with Hector, often mentioned on various travel boards. His vehicle was old and the AC was just so-so but his cheerful demeanor more than made up for it. We had booked one night at the Crowne Plaza hotel right in the middle of the bay. Upon check-in, we were given a surprise upgrade to an ocean front suite with two balconies on the 8th floor. The hotel has seen better days but was perfectly fine for a pre-cruise overnight. Luckily, we missed the MTV spring breakers by one day. Others told us the noise was quite bad the prior evening. We met some of our CC group for dinner at el Fogon across the street from the hotel. The food was good and reasonably priced. We then shared a ride from Hector with one of the other couples to see the cliff divers. We got there a little late to get a good spot so we weren't able to see the divers actually enter the water, but still, it was something we're glad we decided to do. Something you can't really see anywhere else. The next morning we had arranged for Hector to pick us up at 10:30 am so we were at the pier by 10:45. After waiting about an hour in a small shopping area, embarkation began.
Embarkation: We were led to the embarkation terminal along with about 60 - 80 other people who had arrived early. We loaded our large bags into cages to be transferred onto the ship and then took our hand baggage with us into the Priority Check-in line. This was our first cruise at Platinum Captain's Circle status and thus, the first time using priority check-in. It was a nice perk since the majority of the group was not priority. We were 3rd in the priority line while the other line was quite long. Check-in was smooth and fast and we were on the ship by Noon. We went straight to our stateroom and dropped off our hand baggage and then immediately headed up to the Sanctuary to reserve our spot. We had read on CC that some people had not been allowed to book for the entire cruise on previous voyages and others had said that while they were able to book for the whole cruise, they were not able to choose their loungers. Instead, they had to arrive each morning to choose loungers before the daily users began to choose theirs. So, we did not know exactly what to expect when we arrived there. We were the first ones there and after a minor misunderstanding about the price (the Sanctuary Steward had tried to charge $20 per day...good thing we knew from CC that it should only be $15 per day), we got our choice of loungers for the whole trip. We chose one of the four cabanas on the upper of the two Sanctuary decks. Not sure if it matters, but it seemed like you could choose your loungers only if you booked the entire cruise as well as purchasing the Panama Canal day package ($70 pp), which we did. After securing our seats in the Sanctuary, we headed down to the dining room for lunch.
Sailaway: After lunch, we decided to complete our Scavenger Hunt cards. We figured it would be a good way to self-tour the ship and we each picked up all 9 stamps needed to complete our cards. By the time we finished, it was time to head to our CC Meet & Greet in the Wheelhouse Bar. Some of our CC friends (thanks Alex & Tara!) had set it up ahead of time and several of us had pre-paid for a one-hour open bar. Things wrapped up when they kicked us out of the bar to go get our life jackets for the muster drill. With the muster drill complete we went back to our stateroom to unpack before heading out to the Sailaway party to see if we had won anything for our efforts getting our Treasure Hunt cards stamped earlier in the day. Turns out, we did! DH ended up the "grand prize" winner of an art print valued at $500. We would have preferred one of the other prizes but winning is winning. Maybe we'll even find someone to buy it someday. We ended the day with a trip to the buffet and some fun conversation with a few of our new CC friends.
Ship Info: The ship is beautiful. It is a bit smaller than the last few ships we've been on, but still very familiar. It was easy to find our way around and we really like the different carpet colors on the stateroom decks. That makes it really easy to figure out which way to go when you step out of an elevator. Blue on the Starboard side (odd stateroom numbers) and red on the Port side (even stateroom numbers). We did miss the International Cafe but the La Patisserie had very good White & Milk Chocolate Mochas! This was also the first ship we've been on that had the covered Lotus Pool. While we spent most of our time in the Sanctuary, we did use this pool one day when the Sanctuary Pool was closed. It was very quiet and nice even though it was a bit deep for me. All in all, we would rank the Island up there with our favorite Princess ships.
Stateroom: We booked a Category AA (mini-suite) Guarantee and were assigned the category we booked...Room B229 on Baja deck. This is the first time we have booked a mini-suite and while we did enjoy the extra space, we're not entirely convinced that it is worth the extra money for just the two of us. In the future, we will likely stick to our regular balcony rooms unless we can get a great deal on the mini. There was plenty of storage as we have become accustomed to on Princess. The bathroom is a bit larger with a small tub but it is still a tight squeeze if you are tall and the "affectionate" shower curtains were no different here than in the shower-only bathrooms. The balcony was slightly larger than we are used to in the regular balcony rooms with four chairs instead of two. But, we really didn't use it much except in the morning for breakfast. The bed seemed harder than we are used to but not so bad as to request an egg-crate mattress. We felt the location of the room was quite good, especially for the Panama Canal itinerary. It is just down the hall from the forward open decks, so we were able to get a spot on the rail the morning of the canal transit for a great forward view through the first two sets of locks.
Dining: We prefer Princess' anytime dining and request it on every cruise. We ate at a table for two most nights and only the 2nd formal night were we not able to be seated immediately. Even then, we waited just 10 minutes for a table. If we had agreed to be seated with others, we would have been seated immediately. Overall, we felt the food in the dining rooms was very good. We were also pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food in the buffet. We normally don't enjoy the buffet, but we did eat there a few times on this trip for the sake of convenience. Other than a few issues with the temperature of the food (which is always an issue with buffets), the food was very good. The desserts in particular were much better than we've experienced on other ships recently. The Dessert Extravaganza lunch buffet, in particular, had some very good offerings. We enjoyed the English Pub Lunch in the Bayou Cafe. It was a nice change of pace for lunch. We also utilized both the on-deck grill and pizza place for lunch some days. The food from the grill was good and the pizza was very good. Along with the free ice-cream now offered daily, we also enjoyed the milk shakes and smoothies available with the ultimate drink card. With multiple drinks per day, the card was definitely a value for us.
Service: We felt the service was on par with previous Princess cruises we've been on. We never ran into a rude or seemingly unhappy crew member. Everyone was friendly and helpful. Overall, service was very good.
Activities/Entertainment: Daytime Activities - There was the typical daytime fare. We always enjoy the trivia games and I joined a team for "Body Language" which was fun. We had an exciting come-from-behind victory and left with Princess gold medals for our efforts. As already mentioned, we spent a lot of time in the Sanctuary. Despite the cost, we really enjoyed the Panama Canal day package which included champagne (or mimosa), food delivered to your lounger (without the normal delivery charge), a map of the canal, a stock photo of the Island Princess in the canal (several to choose from), binoculars to use for the entire day, Evian spritzer water, and cool face cloths along with a quiet place with amazing views of the canal off the rear of the ship. Our stewardesses, Eliza, Renata, & Yris, were fantastic. They really went out of their way to make sure we were always comfortable and relaxed. Nighttime Entertainment - This is probably the only real disappointment on this cruise. The first production show we saw, "Do You Wanna Dance", was not good. The dancing was very amateurish and the vocalists were terrible. We thought we would give them another chance with the next production show, "Piano Man", but it was even worse than the first. The dancing was terrible. DH couldn't help laughing out loud when the girls kept turning and hitting each other in the face with their balloon-covered showgirl costumes. And, the vocals were just as bad as the previous show. Needless to say, we didn't give them a third chance and skipped the final production show, "Motor City", and we're actually from the Detroit area. Amazingly though, we went to the Adrian Zmed show after reading all the reviews here on CC, and we thought it was quite good even though it was the same singers and dancers backing him up. Go figure. The comedy ventriloquist, Dan Horn, was just OK. We sat too far back to really appreciate his ventriloquism talent and some jokes were hits, others missed. The comedy magician, Jean Boucher, was funny. He really gets the audience involved so if you don't like going on stage, stay away from the front and the aisles.
Casino - We both enjoy gambling a bit but we do it just for fun so we are what you would call "low rollers". But, we did spend some time at the tables and had fun. After a nice hit on the Let It Ride table the first night we played, we were able to play almost the entire rest of the trip using their money. Of course, in the end we did give it all back and a little more. We were glad that the casino offered non-smoking nights and in fact, we don't remember ever having a single smoker at any of the tables we played. We understand that there is going to be smoke in a casino and we tolerate it because we enjoy playing but it was nice to not have to breathe all that second-hand smoke in order to play.
Spa - We decided not to use the spa this time except for a trip to the salon for a nail polish change. It was, of course, more expensive than at home ($19 + tip) but that was expected. However, what wasn't expected was that the new polish chipped after three days. But, that may have been due to the high humidity the day the polish was applied.
Ports/Shore Excursions: We pre-booked all of our excursions through Princess. We usually use Princess excursions in ports that we've never been to before because we like the security of knowing that they are already set up on the ship's timetable and we've always been pleased with Princess' execution of the tours.
Huatulco, Mexico - We did the "Rural Communities & Traditions" tour. This was a bus tour to the rural area outside the town of Huatulco with stops at several different local homes for demonstrations of traditional life in this part of Mexico. We saw demonstrations of tortilla and tamale making (delicious!), adobe brick making, straw weaving, citrus and cactus growing, and medicinal plant growing. This was a very enjoyable experience and it was nice to see actual examples of people using our tourist dollars to improve their lives. The extra structures they are able to build on their properties and the fact that their children must attend school in order for the families to participate in the program made us feel like we were helping in some small way while learning about their culture.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala - This stop was cancelled due to an unexpected general transportation strike. Our Princess tour was refunded while some friends who had booked independently and prepaid lost their money, unfortunately. This is one time when booking a Princess tour actually saved us a little money.
San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua - We did the "Discover Nicaragua" tour where we stopped at the shore of Lake Nicaragua to view the two volcanoes on the island of Ometepe. Then, we were able to see how tobacco is grown and dried and each try our hand at rolling a cigar. That was fun and we got to keep the cigars that we rolled. Afterward, we visited the town of Granada and enjoyed a leisurely walk through the town visiting many of the old buildings and churches. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience but it was a long drive each way.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica - We did the "Scarlet Macaw Sanctuary & Mangrove Boat Tour". This was our favorite of all the excursions on this trip. It was about a 45 minute bus ride to the sanctuary with commentary on the history and wildlife of the area. Once at the sanctuary, we were led on a walk through the grounds where we saw many different bird species, a howler monkey, several other types of monkeys, and at least 20 macaws of various types. It was very enjoyable to see these beautiful birds flying free so close to us. We then took a short bus ride to the covered boat and slowly cruised through the mangroves where we saw several types of birds and a few crocodiles.
Cristobal, Panama - There was a 3 hr stop in Cristobal after completing the transit of the canal. There are no tours offered by Princess at this port so we just got off the ship along with virtually everyone else and fought our way through the shops in the tiny shopping center at the pier. We bought a few souvenirs and then got back on the ship before the rush. This port is only for those who enjoy shopping with 1900 of their new friends.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica - We've been to Ocho Rios before on land-based vacations and previous cruises so we've done all the usual stuff like Dunn's River Falls, etc. so we just quickly got off and walked to the end of the pier to take some photos of the ship. Then, we got right back on and spent another enjoyable day in the Sanctuary.
Disembarkation: Because we had an later flight, we decided to book a tour in Ft. Lauderdale rather than spend the morning and early afternoon in the airport. We did the "Everglades Airboat Ride & Flamingo Gardens" tour. First, we went to the Flamingo Gardens park and got there just as they were opening so our group was one of only two in the park at that time. We did a short guided tram ride through the park and then had over an hour to leisurely stroll through and enjoy the plants and animals. They have two Florida Panthers and a bird aviary where you can walk among many different types of small and large sea birds. They also have several beautiful peacocks roaming the grounds. Then, we took a short bus ride to Everglades Holiday Park for a fun and exciting 30-minute airboat ride where we saw more birds and several alligators. After the airboat ride, we watched a short alligator wrestling show hosted by some guy that has appeared on lots of TV shows on Fox, CNN, and Discovery Channel. He uses the money and tips from the show to buy "nuisance alligators" from the guys who catch them from people's back yards, pools, etc. After using them in his show for a few weeks, he transports them to sanctuaries to live out the rest of their lives. Also, after the show, you can get your picture taken (with your own camera) holding a baby alligator for $5. We enjoyed the tour and we're glad we chose to do this to fill our time on the last day of our vacation. The tour ends at the airport and since we had used Princess' EZ Check, our boarding passes had already been provided to us and our large bags had already been picked up outside our room and transported to the airline. So, all we had to do was head straight through security to our gate. This was our first time using EZ Check, but we will definitely do it again in the right situation.
Summary: Overall we had a wonderful time as we've done on every Princess cruise previously. If you enjoy the good stuff and don't sweat the bad stuff, it's pretty difficult to have a bad time on a cruise. We loved the Island Princess and now we've finally experienced the Panama Canal!
Great location for PC itinerary. Close to open forward deck for great forward views through canal.