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.
Thanks so much for sharing all this info about the Sun Princess. We will be sailing Inside Passage in Alaska in August. I've made many notes from your write-up. Every little bit of information helps.
Hey Barb, there were four of us on the Sun the same time you were. We had an inside cabin so I can't relate to the balcony regarding the Panama Canal crossing, however, hubby and I got up at 4:30 to go up top/front to grab our seats for the bridge, the locks and some of the lake. We decided to view the rest of the lake and the the last two locks from a nice comfy seat near the pool.
The water clearly had a note attached to the top (a la a hang tag like you place on your door) that said if you drink the water, you will be charged. We noticed this our first Princess cruise so knew what to expect for this, our third.
We had a fabulous time. We all agree that this was our favorite cruise. We took the Eco-Jungle tour in Costa Rica and had a great time, saw lots of birds and crocodiles. The ride to and from the river was wonderful and we had a very informative tour guide.
We, too, went on the La Popa/Shopping trip and it was wonderful as well. We loved Cartegena and the old town was especially quaint and beautiful. We had another informative tour guide which I think makes a huge difference. The shopping at the Dungeons was good, especially for coffee (cheapest there of anywhere) and the pictures I have of that interesting place are priceless! We have one of my husband in one of the low-ceiling accesses between two of the "cells" (stores). The best shopping were the vendors outside our second shopping stop!! They really wheeled and dealed!
Aruba is awesome and while our husbands were SCUBA diving, Linda and I went to the beach and then returned to Oranjestead for shopping...and oh, did we shop! We love Aruba and it was just as we remembered.
In Barbados, again the men SCUBA dived and so we shopped at the port mall. Not great deals like you find in town but good enough shopping to get the required souviners for our respective daughters. In the afternoon, we went parasailing (well, I sat in the boat while the rest of them ventured out. If anyone is interested in doing this, go to the tourism office in the port mall and they will direct you to these people. They parasail off the Boatyard which is a popular beach especially with the ship's crew, not far from the port. They had a great time and can all check another "must do" off of their lists.
Dominica is by far our favorite island and remains so after our visit there two weeks ago. In the morning, Linda and I went on the Trafalgar Fall/Roseau Highlights tour and had a marvelous time. The hike to the Falls was worth every painful step. I am sure those in good shape will handle the hike just fine...it winded me but once I saw the sights, I was glad I managed each step. The ride through the island was incredibly beautiful, there is no other place like Dominica. The guys were again SCUBA diving so Linda and I shopped and then went back to the Dining room for lunch...one of just three times we did this.
St. Thomas was...St. Thomas. Shopping and Views of St. Thomas made our day complete. We will be going there again with our girls (ages 10 and 7) in December so we will do the Megean's bay thing then. We saw the Bay during our tour and got some fabulous photos of it!! If you get the chance, take the tram up to the top of the "mountain" near the port. You will get a great view of the ships in port and it is worth the time and money to do this.
The ship is wonderful, the crew is awesome and most of the entertainment was good. My only big complaint lies with our waiter. It was his last sailing and he acted very indifferent and sometimes rude. Not at all like our waiters during the last two cruises. The entertainment was probably wonderful for those who are not music people like my husband and myself. We sing everything from classical to broadway in a semi-professional fashion and my husband was a music minor in college. The dancers lip synched to all of the songs and the only ones who actually sang were the lead singers.
A big "thank you" to Brett Siborne, one of the members of the cruise direction staff. He went out of his way to develop a friendship with us and we appreciated it so much.
Well, this is long enough...if anyone has any questions, feel free to email me!
Well, now, how did we miss you on the Jan. 18 sailing!! Probably something to do with the 2200 others on board, huh! Enjoyed your review, but in defense of my complaint about the water--nope, there was NO TAG on the bottle--only discovered the extra charge after reading through the cabin information book the next day. And, we did NOT purchase the shopping trip--guess we should have. We were supposed to see the Dungeons but never did. Oh well, like childbirth, the pain fades, and you just remember all the good things. Really a fine cruise and the Canal was the "star" of the show.