Itinerary: Ft. Lauderdale, At Sea, Falmouth, At Sea, Cartagena, Panama Canal, Limón, At Sea, Grand Cayman, At Sea, Ft. Lauderdale - Read Cruise Blog
When Island Princess was inaugurated in 2003, her 92,822 tons would have classified her as a large ship. Princess' newest ship, Majestic Princess, is 143,000 tons and can carry 3,500+ guests. Our concern going into this project was that our previous experience aboard Royal Princess would leave us wanting more from the smaller, older Island Princess. As we would soon learn, youth and size are not everything.
Cruise Personalizer Website
Princess' website allows you to pre-book shore excursions in each port, make restaurant reservations (at alternate restaurants), book spa treatments and more. Pre-booking these items does require that you pay using a credit card prior to the cruise. If you have shipboard credit, those charges will be reversed and refunded to you after you board the ship. You can also print all of your cruise documents right from the website. More info here.
We arrived at Port Everglades Terminal 2 at 12:15, just as embarkation was getting underway. We were shocked when we breezed through security and document check. We were issued our stateroom key cards (which also serve as charge cards and ID cards when disembarking the ship in port).
Our stateroom was ready as soon as we boarded. When we arrived, our excellent room steward, Dario, greeted us in the hallway.
Like all Princess ships, Island Princess features an impressive multi-deck, centrally-located atrium.
Shops can be found on Deck 6 and Deck 7 in the Atrium and offered many opportunities to grab a bargain on a wide variety of goods including jewelry, liquor, clothing, sundries and Princess logo items. Main dining venues and several lounges are either in the Atrium or close by. The Promenade Deck (7) has an outdoor teak promenade, but it does not wrap around the aft section of the ship.
There are two swimming pools on the Lido Deck (14). The Lido Pool is the larger of the two and is completely exposed to the elements. This is the pool where you will find the most sun.
There are three hot tubs at corners of the pool and the sun loungers here are your basic mesh style.
There is a big-screen television at one end of the Lido Pool deck with programming throughout the day, and Movies Under the Stars in the evening.
There are more sun loungers located on Deck 15, above and looking down on the Lido Pool.
For families with little ones who want to get wet, there is a Splash Pool on Deck 16 forward.
For those who enjoy a quieter poolside experience, the Lotus Pool is located forward of the Lido Pool and is covered with a glass roof.
The loungers in Lotus Pool are cushioned, making them a more comfortable alternative to the Lido Pool loungers.
Swirls, Island Princess' ice cream dispensary is located in this area.
The Sanctuary, located on Deck 15 aft, is the ultimate sun-lover's retreat. This adult-only space is available by reservation only. The Sanctuary offers two levels of comfort. Sun loungers are available for a half-day or full-day at $20/$40 respectively. The loungers are super plush and very comfortable. Upgraded towels are provided.
Private cabanas are available for half-/full-day as well at $140/$220 respectively.
Cabanas are furnished with a large sectional sofa, wicker chair and coffee table, flat-screen TV, mini-fridge, and two sun loungers. A ceiling fan helps keep air flowing through the cabana on warm Caribbean days.
Sanctuary guests are served complimentary cold cucumber-infused or orange-infused water throughout the day.
A team of Sanctuary crew members provided excellent service throughout our cruise.
At lunchtime, guests at The Sanctuary don't have to interrupt their sun-soaking. A crew member will come to your lounger with a lunch menu to take your order and deliver your meal right to your lounger (there is a modest $3 service charge for food orders).
In our opinion, The Sanctuary is one of the best features of a Princess Cruise. You get five-star resort service and amenities for a very reasonable price. We visited The Sanctuary several times during this cruise and loved the uncrowded, peaceful environment.
We observed some areas of the ship that look a little tired and in need of a refresh. The Explorer's Lounge, Wheelhouse Bar, and Atrium on Decks 6 and 8 could benefit from new carpet and furnishings. Carpet on Deck 7 in the Atrium looks new and modern, as does Crooner's Bar. Carpet in the staterooms looks new, as well.
Our Balcony Stateroom (E211) was located on Deck 8 Forward. The layout of the stateroom was similar to our Balcony Stateroom on Royal Princess in 2014. The large flat-screen television was mounted in the corner over the mini-bar rather than on the wall facing the bed. The desk on Island Princess is wider and has two drawers and a small shelf that provide some additional storage.
There are only two electrical outlets in the entire stateroom. And, they are right next to each other, making it hard for some battery chargers to fit with other plug-in items. To further complicate matters, a light switch is very close to one of the plugs.
There is a desk chair (shown above) and another chair paired with a small round coffee table of sorts. The small table remained up against the wall next to the mini-bar/fridge the entire cruise. A cube-style table with storage inside might be a better choice.
Storage space is at a premium in this stateroom. Our advice: pack light. The only drawers are in the small nightstands and the two in the desk. The closet has a cabinet with a series of relatively narrow shelves (although wider than the ones on Royal Princess) for storage.
The bathroom is quite small and dimly lit and has one of the smallest shower stalls we have seen on a modern ship. Pump bottles mounted to the shower wall contain shampoo and body wash.
The bottle of conditioner you see is one we brought with us from our hotel. No conditioner is provided nor is body lotion. By the end of the cruise, you will have an intimate relationship with the shower curtain, especially if you bend over in the shower. Gone is the handheld shower wand. It has been replaced with a fixed shower head, which can be moved only slightly on its base from left to right.
There are three shelves mounted to the back wall of the bathroom, and a long shelf under the sink. There are no cabinets or drawers.
The balcony is modest, but very usable. The decking is covered in a blue non-skid plastic material. There are two chairs and a small table (sorry, no photo). The sliding balcony door was easy to open and close. The stateroom door, left unattended, would slam shut with a wall-shaking intensity.
The Princess Luxury Bed was designed and created in conjunction with sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus and HGTV design star, Candice Olsen. Princess has installed 44,000 of these beds fleet-wide in an effort to provide their guests with a better sleep experience. After spending 10 nights on this bed, we have to admit, it is one of the most comfortable beds on which we have slept.
The Balcony Stateroom is compact, but comfortable enough for a 10-day Panama Canal cruise. Princess should consider adding additional electrical outlets, USB charging ports, a better hair dryer and a lighted makeup mirror in the bathroom.
Food and Dining
Island Princess has a variety of dining options available for guests. Bordeaux Restaurant (Deck 5 midship) is designated for guests with Anytime Dining from 5:15pm to 9:30pm. The Provence Restaurant (Deck 6 midship) is for those who prefer Traditional Dining (early or late seating at assigned tables). Breakfast and lunch are offered in the restaurants on sea days and dinner is served every evening. Evening menus offer an Always Available selection as well as items that change every day.
We ordered the Prime Rib in Provence Restaurant one evening, which was very good and cooked perfectly.
Princess now features a main course each evening designed by celebrity chef, Curtis Stone. On our second visit, I tried Chef Stone's Roasted Pork Belly and found it to be delicious.
On one visit to Provence, I ordered the New York Strip with Green Peppercorn Sauce. Unfortunately, it arrived seriously undercooked. I ordered Medium, and the steak served to me was extremely rare. Also, I never did receive the Green Peppercorn Sauce.
Our waiter quickly replaced my undercooked steak with a new one which, too, was blood rare. At this point, I asked the waiter to change my order to the Roasted Pork Belly from Chef Stone's menu (for some reason, it was on the menu again that night). No problem.
Horizon Court is Princess' Lido buffet restaurant and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. Horizon Court is a cafeteria-style buffet with long serving lines on port and starboard side, each serving identical fare.
Horizon Court is very popular for breakfast and lunch, and also attracts a crowd at dinner.
Self-serve coffee, decaf, and hot water are available here. The coffee is actually drinkable, high praise coming from someone who travels with his own French Press and ground coffee.
The food served at Horizon Court is pretty standard cruise ship buffet fare. There are lots of choices, but rarely do any of them rise to the level of stand-out cuisine. As is the case with most buffets, food that should be served hot was usually lukewarm.
The Grill on Deck 15 midship serves burgers, hot dogs, fries, etc. The Grill is open from 11am until 10pm and, after 6pm, also offers Smokehouse BBQ items, which change each evening. We did not try the Smokehouse items, but the burgers were better than what I remembered from Royal Princess in 2014. They have improved the bun and the meat is juicier. Fries are good when they are fresh and hot.
Pizza is also available at the Pizzeria on Deck 14 midship. We have decided that the pizza may be the best pizza on any cruise ship.
Sabatini's is Princess' Italian-themed alternate restaurant and Bayou Cafe and Steakhouse is a New Orleans/Cajun-themed venue. Both restaurants have a $29/per person cover charge.
Of the two, Sabatini's was our favorite. The atmosphere is more romantic and the menu more 'mainstream', while still being innovative. We consider Sabatini's to be well worth the $29 cover charge. You can read our full Sabatini's review here.
Bayou Café, on the other hand, is a toss-up. It is much more casual and a concept we have a hard time understanding. How many people are really into Cajun cuisine?
The food at Bayou Café was good, just not as impressive as Sabatini's. Bottom line, while we would return to Sabatini's, we would probably skip a return visit to Bayou Café.
The ultimate dining experience on Island Princess is The Chef's Table. This 'once-per-cruise' event is limited to a maximum of 12 guests. After a five-course appetizer tasting in the galley, guests then enjoy a multi-course feast prepared by the Executive Chef. Foodies will have no problem with the $95/pp cover charge (which includes premium wine pairings). This was perhaps, one of the best meals we have ever had on a cruise ship.
For more information on The Chef's Table, click here.
Service in every restaurant on board was excellent. A choice of very nice wines is available in every restaurant but wine choices vary from one restaurant to the next.
Entertainment and Activities
The Princess Patter (daily newsletter) is filled with all sorts of activities going on during the daytime. Trivia is one of our favorite daytime activities, and there were several trivia games offered throughout the day.
All entertainment and activities onboard Island Princess are under the auspices of Cruise Director, Kevin Tugwell, who is from Canada. Kevin could be seen around the ship and was very approachable and always willing to converse.
Evening entertainment includes musical performances in the various lounges onboard, and typically two shows (early and late) in the Princess Theater. The Princess Theater has an excellent sound system, great sight lines and the latest tech. The highlight of the cruise's production show series was The Secret Silk, produced by Stephen Schwartz, the producer and composer of the Broadway play, WICKED. It was one of the best shows we have seen on any ship. Read more about The Secret Silk here.
In addition to production shows, a variety of comedians, magicians and musical acts were presented throughout the cruise. It is clear that Princess is stepping up its game in the area of entertainment.
There is a very well-equipped fitness center with all of the latest cardio equipment and weight machines. The Lotus Spa occupies Deck 14 aft and offers every possible spa treatment you could ever want. A very nice beauty salon is on hand for tending to hair and nails.
If, like us, you have to stay in touch with your business or friends back home, you will be pleased to know that whatever Princess did to the Internet/WiFi on board during the last refurbishment of Island Princess worked. Not only is the Internet service reliable (I did not lose my connection one time in 10 days), but the interface is one of the best you will find on a cruise ship.
Once you CONFIRM your intent to connect to the Internet (above), CONNECTED screen appears in your web browser that allows you to log out, and shows a running total of your minutes remaining.
You can keep this window open in a separate browser tab or window so you always know how much time you have remaining. Princess offers several Internet plans starting with 100 minutes for $69 all the way up to 600 minutes for $199. If you pre-purchase your Internet through Cruise Personlizer before your cruise, you can get bonus minutes added to your plan. I got 80 bonus minutes on the 600-minute plan.
I would have to say that the Internet/WiFi on Island Princess was the best we have experienced on a ship this size. Sure, it is not the blazing fast Internet we get at home, but for a cruise ship it was impressive. I was able to post my daily blog which requires uploading of several fairly large photos to our server in Dallas. And, the WiFi was available from everywhere on the ship that I tried, even The Sanctuary!
Itinerary and Excursions
The highlight of this 10-Day Panama Canal sailing is definitely the transiting of the canal locks from the Caribbean into Gatun Lake.
Princess does offer a lot of shore excursion opportunities in each port. We had a good experience with the shore excursions and felt like they were a good value.
Tour Desk staff do a good job of organizing disembarkation for the various excursions. Even with relatively mundane ports such as Limón, Falmouth and even Cartagena, Princess does a great job of bringing out the best of each port with an excellent choice of interesting excursions.
We were very pleased with the service of the entire crew and staff throughout the ship. Guest Services Manager, Christine, was extremely helpful. We have already mentioned the great service we received from our room steward, Dario. The team at The Sanctuary was nothing short of amazing. And, we cannot forget Maitre'd Hotel, Silvio Zampieri. Silvio has been with Princess for more than 30 years and his level of service and personal attention harkens back to the early days of cruising.
The bigger ships may have newer facilities, more restaurants, etc. But, ships like Island Princess have the charm and small-ship feel that you just cannot get on the larger vessels. We were impressed with how the staff and crew made it feel like a much smaller, more personal ship. Island Princess delivers the traditional cruise experience that we have come to expect from Princess Cruises. As for the Panama Canal, it is a destination that every cruise enthusiast should have on their bucket list. And, there is no better way to see the canal than onboard a Princess ship!
For more information on Princess Cruises, visit their website at www.Princess.com