Sunday, 10 March 2013

Panama Canal Cruise, Day 3 – More Leisure At Sea

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

Another Day At Sea

As we are now properly chilled out from our first day at sea, there is more chance to unwind and explore our ocean-going ‘home’ for the next eight days with a second successive sea day, en route to the Netherlands Antilles.

Coral Princess is certainly not a small ship, but she is not gigantic by modern terms. At 90,000 tons and carrying around 2,000 passengers, she takes a fair bit of navigating but, once you get your bearings, everything is fairly straightforward.

The central Atrium is the core around which much of ship life radiates, with the four decks from 5-8 housing most of the entertainment and dining choice. At the top are the Card Room, Library and rather snazzy Internet Café, while the lower level offers the Shore Excursions deck, Patisserie Bar, Hotel Front Desk and Bordeaux dining room (for the Princess Anytime Dining option, which means you turn up when you’re ready, not at one of the two ‘fixed’ seatings in more traditional fashion, which is the case at the Provence Dining Room on Deck 6).

The full array of decks 6 and 7 house the three main entertainment options of the Princess Theatre, Universe Lounge (a surprisingly large, two-tiered second show-lounge) and the Explorers Lounge; the alternative dining of the Bayou Café, Sabatini’s and the International Café; and the other bar-lounges of the ultra-traditional Wheelhouse Bar, Crooners piano bar, the Churchill Lounge (for cigar smokers) and the Casino, as well as the neat array of shops (four of them) and the Wedding Chapel.

Deck 7 is also the Promenade Deck, with the chance to walk a full circuit of the ship and enjoy ocean views from a proper steamer chair, which is something of a Princess/P&O signature touch.

The rest of decks 8-12 are given over to accommodations, with a high percentage of staterooms boasting a balcony, which is pure bliss here in the Caribbean. Finally, the top three decks are home to most of the ‘outdoor’ facilities, from the sports deck and putting green to the main pool, covered area of the Lotus Pool, the Lotus Spa, Fitness Center, adults-only retreat of The Sanctuary and the buffet-style of the newly-refitted Horizon Court, Pizzeria and The Bar & Grill.

Princess pioneered the outdoor-film phenomenon several years ago with the introduction of Caribbean Princess, complete with a huge LED video screen above the pool deck that provided a genuine new entertainment offering that they call Movies Under The Stars, and this is something we enjoy immensely as another great source of cruise-going relaxation.

We have yet to sample the Lotus Spa or the Sanctuary but, with two more sea days to enjoy before the end of the cruise, there is a very good chance we will do that!

Our stateroom, B423, is one of the many balcony versions, a spacious and comfortable retreat on Deck 11 midships with that wonderful amenity of your own private outdoor space in which to sit and watch the Caribbean go by; to soak up some sun, read a book and enjoy breakfast on from time to time. Go back little more than 15 years, and balcony cabins were a rarity; now they are almost de rigueur.

If those are the broad outlines of this cruise, the detail is pretty good, too. Service from the mixture of East European and Filippino staff is smooth and well-grooved, with a smattering of Brits in the hotel department (notably Cruise Director Stuart and Hotel Manager Martin), an Italian Captain and engineering dept, and American entertainers. It is a tried and trusted mix, and everything works extremely well (so far), with

Given that broad outline, our second sea day was, if anything, even more indulgently laid back than the first. A late rising gave way to a light breakfast (coffee and pastry) at the International Café, followed by some home-made arts and crafts at the make-your-own-Panama-poster station just along on Deck 6.

After a quick break to get today’s blog under way, we returned to the International Café for a light early lunch (some tasty chicken paninis and Greek salad) as we wanted to take in the 1pm showing the movie Argo at the Princess Theater, which proved pretty popular. It is, as the Oscars would attest, a gripping film, but we still think Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is better.

Afternoon tea in the Bordeaux dining room followed at 3.30, with a couple of turns around the Promenade Deck afterwards to walk off some of the tea-time largesse! That was then complemented by another few hours on the balcony in the grip of The Path Between The Seas, which is quickly turning into a major book-reading event.

Startled by our clock revealing it was now past 6.30, we made a quick assault on the bathroom to freshen up for dinner, where a table for six was procured with great alacrity and we enjoyed another memorable and convivial meal, with tonight’s highlights being the excellent Corvina fish dish and the Crawfish Crockpot. With dessert and coffee things were now progressing well past 9pm and we had to decide whether to retire for a final few hours’ reading or visit one of the entertainment lounges.

‘The Book’ won (again), on the basis that the comedian and magician will be on again later in the cruise – and I’m keen to read as much as possible before the Canal…!

Tomorrow – Land Ahoy! Aruba.

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.