I have wanted to cruise through the Panama Canal for a long time and I recently was granted my wish. This was my fifth cruise, and my third with Princess Cruises.
The Island Princess is a large, but not gigantic, cruise ship. It is 965 feet long and 105 feet wide, making it a Panamax Class ship (the largest type of vessel which fits through the current locks of the Panama Canal). It has a crew of approximately 900 and carries about 1960 passengers. Most of the senior officers on the ship are Italian, and the majority of the room stewards and food service people are from the Philippines. The Cruise Director was a high energy, and friendly Canadian named Brett Siborne. One of the nice things about this ship was that the whole crew seemed genuinely happy.
I embarked in San Francisco and disembarked in Fort Lauderdale. The ports during the cruise were Cabo San Lucas (Mexico), Puntarenas (Costa Rica), Puerto Amador (Panama), Cartagena (Columbia), and Aruba. My favorite port was Cartagena since it was the most unusual. Aruba was nice because it was clean, safe, and convenient. This was a fifteen day cruise, and I did not mind at all there were nine sea days. I used Transderm Scopolamine Patches to prevent seasickness, but may not have really needed them.
The food was very good, and participation in the Chef's Table was one of the highlights of the cruise. The Chef's Table is a premium dining experience which a limited number of passengers can take part in during many Princess Cruises. On the Island Princess, the Chef's Table was hosted by Maitre D' Silvio Zampieri and Executive Chef Klaus Baumgarten. We had champagne and appetizers in the galley, then a number of specially prepared courses in the dining room. The experience lasts about 3 hours and costs $75 per person, but it is definitely worth the time and money if you love good food.
Typically, I had breakfast and lunch in the Horizon Court Buffet. They had a different type of Congee (rice porridge) everyday at breakfast, and it was great. In the evening, I happily used 'Anytime Dining' in the dining room, and sat at different tables almost every night. Some other people may prefer traditional dining where you eat at the same table, at the same time, with the same people each night. I also ate at the specialty restaurants which were both excellent (Sabatini's for Italian, and The Bajou Cafe for Cajun cuisine, steaks, and lobster).
Of course, there were all of the normal cruise activities, amenities, and entertainment. I played bingo twice, gambled very little in the casino, but did not go for any special treatments in the spa.
In preparation for this cruise, I had read "The Path Between the Seas". This book describes the building of the Panama Canal and is highly recommended. I was very happy that I did a "Full Transit" so that I could see the whole canal. I also did advance preparation for this trip using the CruiseCritic.com website. CruiseCritic has a lot of useful information, and I met some very nice people from it on the cruise.
Although I booked the cruise relatively late (about seven weeks before sailing), I was able to get a good stateroom with a balcony on the Baja Deck. The decks with staterooms on most cruise ships are named alphabetically going from top to bottom. On the Island Princess, the decks are Aloha, Baja, Caribe, Dolphin, and Emerald.
I purchased my cruise through Susan at Zoe's Cruises & Tours. I met Susan on my last cruise and she is very friendly and helpful. Zoe's had about 240 passengers on this escorted cruise, and Susan (and her husband Jerry) were on board and had daily gifts and other surprises for us. In addition to gifts, such as beach towels or wine, there was a special galley tour, a cocktail party, a group photo, and a slot tournament.
This cruise had a great crew, wonderful food, nice people, and interesting places to see. I had a great time!