We recently returned from the Jan. 18-28 Sun Princess Panama Canal cruise. Our only
previous cruises (2) were on Celebrity’s Galaxy (Southern Caribbean in Jan. 1999) and
Mercury (Inside Passage, Alaska, August, 1999). So, we were making comparisons
between the two cruise lines and ships all during this cruise. Overall, both Celebrity and
Princess offered very comparable experiences. The Panama Canal transit exceeded our
expectations. A full day’s entertainment, just watching our 77,000-ton ship be lifted up 85
feet from the Pacific and then gently deposited in the Atlantic. Sailing over Gatun Lake
was much more beautiful than anyone had described.
We had a “BB” category verandah cabin on the starboard side of Baja Deck. The
verandah was worth it! We started out with the other early birds at 5 a.m. at the railing on
Deck 12--grab a plastic chair from the Lido pool area--it’s tiring standing up after awhile.
The early rising is necessary if you want a front-row seat and to see dawn coming up as
you sail under the Bridge of the Americas. The Canal Authority provided an excellent
narrator--he could be heard very well from the outside decks--but not from your cabin.
We had learned from this Phorum that there were excellent viewing areas at the forward
end of Decks 10 and 11. Very true--a full 180-degree view from these decks and even
some shade (much appreciated). Very few people there, but no seating. Our verandah
was a great place to spend the time sailing across Gatun Lake. When going down through
Gatun Locks we found the best views of the “mules” (tractors keeping the ship under
control) were on the Promenade Deck--you were about 2 feet from the side of the lock,
and at the forward end of the Promenade Deck you had a great view of the huge gates
opening and closing above you. You could buy the definitive book on the Panama Canal (“Pathway
Between the Seas, by David McCullough) in the ship’s shops, but it would be much better
to read it before the trip. The “expert” who gave us a lecture on the ship was full of
misinformation--whatever Princess paid him was too much!
Our cabin was smaller than on Celebrity, but adequate. Other good advice gleaned from
this Phorum--bring a multiple extension cord to expand the one outlet at the desk. We
had a digital camera and needed to recharge its batteries. The TV had the proper jack for
plugging in the camera’s cable and we could review the day’s shots, culling the poor ones
and freeing up more space on the camera memory card. Very convenient.
Good things about the Sun Princess: cabin refrigerator wasn’t full of mini-bottles--room
to stash the cold drinks we bought in ports. Self-service laundry--big capacity washers
and dryers (2 per laundry) and FREE. Soap is $1.00 for one-load box. Bring your own.
Nice steam iron, ironing board. Laundry got crowded after a few days--try to find an “off
time” to use it. Good room service menu, and very prompt. I figured out that we could
order potato chips from room service to go with our cold drinks. Enjoyed the fresh fruit
bowl--oranges, pears, apples and bananas. Always kept stocked by the room steward.
Your suitcases will slide under the bed. Good safe in the closet, easy to use. Beautiful
public rooms, but the elevators were hard to get used to. Only the forward ones went to
all decks. Loved the circular pool and hot and cool whirlpool tubs on the aft of Deck 12.
Never crowded, and I liked the additional overhead shading from that hot tropical sun, but
there was a sun deck close by for sun lovers. You could access the sparkling clean
restrooms by the spa from this pool area. Even had free lockers there if you wanted to
stash your valuables while swimming. Meals were not quite as elaborate as on Celebrity,
but beef in the Regency dining room was outstanding and all meals were more than good.
Buffet had special “themes” (Mexican, Asian, etc.) with interesting variety. No fancy
midnight buffet, but one “Island” midnight buffet on Lido deck. We’re not keen on a big
meal after midnight, so didn’t miss the elaborate food display at all. Enjoyed the “Bistro”
one evening--served in the Horizon Buffet, from a menu. Equally good quality and
service as in the dining room. Entertainment: we only went to the musical revues--dancers
were outstanding, much better shows than on Celebrity.
Now, for the complaints! Placing a liter bottle of water on our desk, with no indication
that if we opened it, we’d be charged $2.95. Chintzy. Charging for ice cream, except as a
dining room dessert. Chintzy. We got a “special deal” that included air fare at no extra
cost. Princess put over 400 of us on a World Airways charter flight, leaving Los Angeles
at 11:30 p.m., arriving in San Jose, Costa Rica at 6:30 a.m. Most uncomfortable night we
ever spent. NO leg room, or elbow room. Seat arrangement across: 3-5-3. After
boarding the Princess buses at the San Jose airport, we were told we couldn’t leave for the
ship for five hours. This was understandable--they had 2200 people to get off the ship and
clean it up for us. They gave us a long tour around the outskirts of San Jose and then two
hours at a pleasant resort where we got a fine Costa Rican breakfast and a cool, breezy
place to rest. But, we were all glassy-eyed after being up for over 24 hours. When using
their own charter plane, why schedule it to arrive so early in Costa Rica?
Optional Tours ranged from outstanding to terrible. The best: the Eco-Jungle River Trip
from Puntarenas. Knowledgeable guide and very comfortable, shady boat that put us up
close to birds, iguanas and--crocodiles! Gave us a nice fruit buffet and clean restrooms at
the boarding area as well. The worst: “Best of Cartagena” which gave us 20 minutes at
the Fortaleza (10 minutes walking to the top, 10 minutes walking back down, 10 minutes
at “La Popa monastery,” 20 minutes at Old Town and the balance of our 4 hour trip was
at the emerald/diamond shops area. This was NOT described as a shopping tour in the
brochure. Skipped the “dungeons” entirely. Guide unintelligible. In-your-face vendors
and crowds from two Princess ships in port didn’t help either.
Overall, a great trip, but Princess needs to monitor what their tour contractors are actually
providing for the price the passengers pay, and work out better arrangements for getting
people to the cruise departure point.
This is way too long already, but if you want more info on other islands and tours we
took, e-mail me.