Monday, 18 March 2013

The Great Panama Canal Cruise, Day 8, At Sea

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

More Leisurely Thoughts

After a run of four straight port calls, it is good to take things down a notch or two with another relaxed sea day, giving us a chance to catch our breath, review the amazing experiences of the past few days, and enjoy the full array of facilities aboard the expansive Coral Princess.

With no tours in the offing and no wake-up calls to set, we take the opportunity for a lie-in and give breakfast a miss completely. Instead, we wander down to the International Café for a coffee and pastry and take a stroll around the ship.

We are keen to take in lecturer Chris Roberts’ port talk on Grand Cayman – the next port of call – at 1.30pm, so we head for an early lunch at the Provence dining room. That gives us plenty of time to reach the Princess Theater and enjoy the last of Chris’ excellent port insights (sadly, he won’t be on the next cruise, as he’s contracted elsewhere, but there will, of course, be another expert lecturer to take his place).

In need of exercise, we take a couple of turns around the Promenade Deck and then have a look around the pool decks. The genuinely amazing thing about this ship is just how much space there is for lounging and relaxing. Almost everywhere you look there is somewhere open to enjoy the sun, the sea view or just a quiet corner. It is the perfect recipe for really enjoying your sea-going home.

This is also a major movie-going ship, with the chance to catch a film on the big Movies Under The Stars screen overlooking the Lido Deck, in the Princess Theater, the Explorers Lounge or just in your cabin on TV (with 4 dedicated movie channels). Today, we take in the Oscar-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild in the main theatre – but wish we hadn’t. What total, inexplicable, atrocious nonsense. What was the Academy thinking??

Anyway, the more relaxed day also gives us the chance to review the cruise in more detail and decide what we like (and aren’t so keen about) over the eight days so far since we embarked back at Port Everglades.

What We Like

I’ve already said it, but the spaciousness of the ship is remarkable, easily the best we have seen on a vessel of this size (90,000 tons, 2,050 passengers). There is virtually nowhere that feels crowded, and the occasional bottleneck (initial disembarkation in port, occasionally at the Bordeaux dining room around 6pm and exiting the Princess Theater) usually smoothes out quickly.

The enormous variety of activities and programmes during the day is also impressive, with an imaginative array of options, from lectures and fitness seminars to daily trivia, bingo, deck games, music, dance classes and, of course, movies. There are usually three or four choices at any one time.

The ship is wonderfully steady and has great sea-going characteristics, which means she sails well, even in moderate weather. She is a sleek shape for a modern vessel, almost 970ft long and 106ft wide, but only 14 decks high, which makes her a bit less ‘top-heavy’ in appearance than many of her contemporaries.

Excellent dining choice – from the two main dining rooms (one for Anytime Dining, the other for fixed, regular seating), to the two signature alternative restaurants (Bayou Café & Steakhouse and Sabatini’s) and the newly-redesigned Horizon Court buffet, plus the on-deck Bar & Grill, Pizzeria and Ice Cream bar, plus the recent addition of the International Café, there is something for everyone at all times of the day. The addition of afternoon tea (on sea days) and a Pub Lunch (periodically throughout the cruise) provide even more reason to enjoy time aboard.

By the same token, the onboard service is rarely less than highly proficient and usually wonderfully personable, too. The bar service is a real highlight (notably in the Wheelhouse Bar) but the Bordeaux dining room, led by head waiters Carlos and Marius, is simply excellent.

And, as two places that epitomise pretty much all of the above, we especially enjoy spending time in the indoor Lotus Pool and the Bayou Café, where the restaurant/bar ambience is enhanced by the cool jazz sounds of the Argo Trio – possibly the best of the ship’s many live music offerings.

And What We Don’t

The stateroom shower. Ugh. This is so tiny it could have been designed in the 1980s, when most cabins were equally poorly designed, space-wise. My elbows have taken a real beating in here.

Early port disembarkations can be a bit chaotic; it’s almost the only time things feel a bit crowded from the 2,050 aboard. Then, and when leaving after a show at the Princess Theater, which has only two exits. The air-conditioning in the Theater also varied between Cold and Arctic. Taking a sweater or jacket here is highly advisable.

And that’s about all the negatives we can come up with so far. Definitely a lot on the plus side.

Tomorrow – Grand Cayman.

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.