Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Panama Canal Voyage - Day 2

Continuing the day-by-day account of our big Panama Canal cruise, sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale with Princess Cruises.

First Sea Day

There is something wonderfully indolent about a sea day. It is a chance to properly unwind, relax and get into the rhythm of your ocean-going vehicle, which is travelling at a much slower pace than the rest of the world.

There are no shore excursions to rush off for, no shopping to be done, no sights to see. It is just you and the sea, with no particular agenda, other than whenever you are hungry or in need of a drink.

Sure, there are lectures to attend; crafts to try; card seminars to learn from; and games to play. There is TV, movies on the big video screen, dance lessons and the ship’s own shopping boutiques. There is the blissful Lotus Spa, three swimming pools and the adults-only retreat of The Sanctuary. If you really feel the need, you can work out in the state-of-the-art Fitness Center.

But, with two full days to truly kick back and enjoy the ship, there is plenty of time for all that. The first sea day is therefore all about relaxing as much as possible, paying no heed to the clock, schedule or anything else aboard, but just honestly, completely and totally chilling out.

Which we managed superbly. Thanks to a very thoughtful embarkation gift from our Princess friends Lorraine, Pieter and Katy back in London, we were able to enjoy a breakfast of fresh fruit, chocolate-covered strawberries and a glass of champagne on our balcony (Cabin B423), when we finally decided to stir (which was still far earlier than we would have liked, but who can resist the siren lure of a balcony in the Caribbean?

Admittedly, we did have the coast of Cuba to keep us company for much of the day (especially late in the afternoon, when the more mountainous eastern portion was only 15 miles or so to starboard), but that was about the limit of the extraneous distractions, and our binoculars came into use only a few times.

Reading, circumnavigating the excellent Promenade Deck, napping and, if opportunity arose, a lecture, were the limit of our ambitions, and we stayed true to our intentions, idling away the morning in laid-back fashion (after posting Day 1 of the blog, of course), although we did stop by the ship’s Cruise Critic member meeting at 11am in the Wheelhouse Bar, where space had been set aside for the 20 or so members of the forum’s Princess Roll Call to meet up and discuss their cruise experiences, along with a greeting from Cruise Director Stuart and Hotel Manager Martin.

It was good fun to catch up with some of the CC members who had been avidly counting down to this cruise for the past few months, and our meeting concluded with a neat little gift exchange and fervent promises of future chats throughout the voyage.

Lunch in the Provence Dining Room (one of the two main-sitting restaurants, the other being the Bordeaux) provided more good company on a table for eight, and then a quick scamper aft to the Universe Lounge to catch the day’s lecture on UNESCO World Heritage sites.

After all that hard work, we grabbed a tea and coffee at the excellent new International CafĂ© (part of the ship’s recent refit), where an outlay of $30 provided a discount card for 15 speciality coffees over the duration of the cruise – something I am sure to take full advantage of! This neat little lounge is open 24 hours a day and also offers snacks, pastries, cookies and sandwiches, just in case going to any of the restaurants is too much trouble!

The rest of the afternoon we spent sunbathing and reading on our balcony, enjoying the superb Caribbean sun and the chance to get much deeper into David McCullough’s excellent volume, The Path Between The Seas, on the history of the Panama Canal. It is long time since I dedicated any serious time to a good read, and I have to admit this had me spellbound – an utterly captivating story that reads like fiction but is 100% true. Essential reading for a trip on this particular voyage.

All too soon, it was 5.40pm and time to get ready for dinner, with our venue this evening being the Bordeaux dining room (having pre-ordered our meals for low sodium the previous evening).

We arrived at 6.35pm and were given a pager with the promise the next table would be 20-30 minutes. Just enough time for a trip to the Patisserie Bar and a Bombay Sapphire and tonic. However, before we could get too far, the pager was blinking at us and it was time to dine.

Happily, we were paired at a table for four with a British couple, Malcolm and Anne from Bournemouth, and we had a thoroughly enjoyable meal talking about their very first cruise experience and swapping travel stories of our own.

With an excellent dinner fully completed (highlighted by some succulent Barrimundi and Bananas Foster for dessert), it was time to enjoy the evening show at the Princess Theater, What A Swell Party, based around the music of Cole Porter. Now, instead of the more traditional two showtimes of 45 minutes each, Princess are offering their main theatre entertainment three times at half an hour each, and this seemed ideal for this stage in the evening (9.45pm by now).

And, with that, it was time to turn in for the end of our second day aboard Coral Princess, albeit with the obligatory day’s blog to post first…!

Tomorrow – More About The Ship.

For more info and bookings – in the UK, call Princess Cruises on 0843 373 0333 or visit the expert cruise agents of The Cruise Line Limited on this link; in the US, call 1866 335 6379, or visit www.princess.com.