This was a small group cruise that I arranged and hosted with several friends from an on-line community. I have sailed on several Princess ships – Grand, Caribbean, Ocean, Emerald and Regal, but this was my first on the Coral.
Pre-cruise: Hyatt Place Fort Lauderdale 17th Street. Nice, affordable hotel in a great location, near lots of shopping and restaurants. Hotel provides airport and cruise port transportation. They will also call a taxi to Port Everglades if that’s your preference, which is what we did. The room was big, with a small kitchenette and a large, sectional-style sofa. Continental breakfast was good, though a bit limited in selections. The dining area was pleasant with a selection of cafe items, coffee, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as the complimentary items at breakfast. The hotel, in general, was clean and inviting, with the exception of the pool, which could have used a serious vacuuming and a dose of something to clear up the somewhat cloudy water, though that didn’t stop us from swimming! Otherwise, we had a good night’s stay before our cruise.
Embarkation: This was the speediest embarkation we’ve ever had. Being a Tuesday, Coral was the only ship in port which no doubt had an impact on the ease of boarding. We arrived at Port Everglades at about 11:45am, where the crew took our bags. We breezed through security and priority boarding, but there didn’t seem to be a line for regular boarding, either.
Sail-away Storm: As we were getting ready to watch sail-away from our balcony, some very dark, threatening clouds were forming in the distance. Just as the ship pulled away and was making its way out of port, the nastiest storm I’ve ever sailed away in blew through Fort Lauderdale. We could see funnel clouds forming over the water ahead, and before you know it, the winds picked up, driving rain started falling, marble-size balls of hail were pounding on the deck and sliding balcony door, and it stayed this way for about a half hour. We heard later that a small tornado landed at FLL, and in fact a few folks booked on our cruise were stuck at the airport and missed the ship. Fortunately, they were able to meet up with us two days later in Aruba.
THE SHIP. I love most everything about this ship – the relatively small size, the ease of getting everywhere, the interior design and hardwood found all over the ship, especially the area of the Wheelhouse Bar. We originally had a balcony cabin on Baha deck, but later upgraded ourselves when one of the four corner-hump mini suites became available on Aloha Deck, A429. It was a good decision and worth it just for the full bath alone, but we fully enjoyed the cabin size, the full size sofa, and the corner balcony facing forward. Our cabin steward, Arnel, was very attentive, friendly, always eager to please. The much talked about Princess bedding lived up to its reputation and was the most comfortable night’s sleep I’ve had at sea.
WI-FI: For social networking and email, I never had a problem connecting, no matter what time of day. Photo uploads sometimes took a little longer. The Princess@Sea tool, where you can message friends and family, check your account, purchase excursions, and see what’s happening on board each day, came in very handy.
Pools: There are two really nice, large midship pools. The Lido pool is the one where all the action takes place – music, movies, and so on. It is by ladder entry only, so that would be a concern for the physically challenged. The quieter, more serene (and covered) pool is the Lotus pool, which was my preference, mainly for the warmer water and steps to enter. However, I wisely followed my husband’s lead and we spent tons of pool time at the lido, which turned out to be the best! A third small pool – Sanctuary Pool – is located in full sun on Aloha deck-Aft. Being below the sanctuary located above on Decks 14 and 15, I’m assuming it’s meant for use for a quick dip by paid Sanctuary guests. Oddly enough, it’s fully accessible from the kids clubs on Aloha Deck. It’s a pool not much bigger than a hot tub, and there are no deck chairs nearby. A fourth small pool, more for wading than soaking, is located way up top forward. Two things I love about Princess Pools: One, there are no towel police – no signing in and out. Princess trusts that you will return what you take. Refreshing! The second thing I like – fresh water pools!
Speaking of kids clubs, there was only a handful of kids on board for this itinerary, and when I walked through the kids clubs to access the Sanctuary pool, needless to say, it was closed and unused.
Fitness Center: There was only one working exercise bike, which was disappointing, being my machine of choice. Otherwise, the facilities were good, with a fair number of treadmills.
It was hard to find anything about the Coral that I didn’t like, but if I had to list one unpleasantry, it would be the stinky sewage smell in and around the women’s restroom on lido deck between the pools. It wasn’t occasional, but all the time. When possible, I would go back to the stateroom to take care of nature’s calls. The same odor could sometimes be detected in the areas of the elevators.
Bordeaux Dining Room. This is the Anytime Dining room. The first night, there was a lengthy wait for prime dining time, 6:00 pm or so, both to get a handheld beeper, and then to be called for our table. We tried to make a reservation for the next evening, but called too late, because they were all taken. However, we went at 8:00 pm, and there was no wait. The food was excellent, especially the beef dishes – medallions, prime rib, surf and turf, beef filet, and all those to-die-for Chocolate Journey desserts.
Provence Dining Room: Not only does this venue serve fixed, traditional dining, but it also takes the overflow reservations from anytime dining, as we found out when we made reservations on more than one night.
Alfredo’s Pizza: Sabatini’s, a specialty restaurant at night, becomes Alfredo’s Pizzeria during lunch time. We found it to be not nearly as good as Alfredo’s on the Grand a couple of years ago.
Horizon Court: This was the typical standard buffet fare, and the only thing that stood out was a delicious lightly battered haddock and the calamari on one of the sea days. It was so good that my calamari-loving hubby had me go back and fill up a whole plate of it just for him. I can only imagine what the people behind me were thinking as I scooped up shovels full of calamari!!!!
The Grill: A stairway above the Lido deck, the Grill features burgers, dogs, chicken, bratwurst and fries. The hot dogs were excellent (my husband couldn’t stop talking about them), but the burger was bland. It’s a very small area, with burgers and fries served in assembly line fashion. If you want something besides a burger, you’ll have to ask.
Pizza Bar: Princess at one time had the best pizza at sea. I’m not talking about Alfredo’s pizzeria pizza, but rather the pizza by the slice. Well, I don’t know what has happened, but the pizza slices were cold, tasteless, and otherwise pretty disappointing. I took one bite, and that was enough.
Ice Cream Bar: Soft-serve ice cream served up daily on lido deck adjacent to the Lotus Pool. Yum!
International Cafe: one of my favorite places to grab a quick bite on any Princess ship. The Cafe on Coral is on a smaller scale, but with the same good sandwiches, salads and and pastry. Because the Atrium is too small to accommodate the International Cafe and coffee bar, as on the larger ships, it’s located on Deck 6 outside the casino. The specialty coffees were good and served as my afternoon pick-me-up each day.
Bayou Cafe & Steakhouse: This is Coral’s specialty steak house, Cajun style. I am not a fan of spicy food, but since my husband wanted to try it, I thought I’d give it a go. Despite having lost our reservation made on embarkation day and having to wait too long for a waiter to come with water and take our drink and dinner orders, the food was very good and not too spicy, at all. He had a huge porterhouse that literally filled the plate, and my breaded catfish was delicious.
Pub Lunch: The Bayou Cafe served up fish & chips, shepherds pie, and traditional English pub grub for lunch on sea days. Sadly, I missed it, but heard it was very good.
Music: Here’s what we saw and heard:
Icon – This dance/party band provided a good, solid variety of music to boogy to, both on Lido deck and in the clubs at night.
Orphea Quartet: This was an excellent jazz quartet from Argentina featuring superb jazz musicians. They were excited to learn that my husband was a saxophonist and would surely have invited him to play if he had brought his sax.
Imperial Trio. A very good classical ensemble, with an amazing violinist who played without sheet music.
Production Show – Encore. A great set, phenomenal live orchestra, and an amazing soprano were the highlights of this entertaining song and dance show.
Comedy: Scott Wyler. Very funny, even if a few of his jokes were a bit politically incorrect.
Guitarist/Comedian – Duncan Tuck: This guy was very entertaining – an amazing guitarist, playing both electric and acoustic, and his one liners were pretty funny.
Comedy/Magic Show, Jean Boucher: Featuring audience participation, of course. Entertaining and funny.
Aruba: We did the Four Highlights Island tour with the ship. I’m not that fond of bus tours, but it was a short day in Aruba, 7 am to 12 noon, and since this was our first visit to the island, we thought a tour would be a good overview. The tour included stops at the California Lighthouse, Alto Vista Chapel, the Baby Natural Bridge, and the Rock Formations. We also did a drive-by at the Gold Mine ruins, which was a total waste of time without the benefit of getting off and exploring. I would have liked to have that few more minutes at Natural Bridge, which was beautiful. Overall, it was a good time, with a bit of free time for photo ops at each stop, and a good peak at the island. I knew much of the island would be dry like a desert, but was surprised at just how dry and the amount of cacti around the island.
Cartagena: This was my least favorite port, mostly due to the selected ship excursion. The original plan was to negotiate a taxi and go into the Old City on our own, but my husband was just getting over an illness and decided to stay on board. So I hopped on this tour with some friends to the Old City, San Filipe Fort, the Historical Museum, Navy Museum and San Pedro Claver Church. I’m not a fan of big bus tours, but since I had never been to this part of the world, I decided to stick with one. Our guide had a lot of information to share, but it sounded scripted and boring, which made me tune out through most of it. It was scorchingly hot, and the climb up the fortress was exhausting for this not very fit female, despite the panoramic view. A 20-minute stop for shopping at the old military barracks followed, where we were herded into the “recommended” shop, even though there were 50 others nearby. Next was the Old City, and the Claver church, where there was some seating, a shaded, pretty courtyard, and some electric fans blowing some much needed air around. The nearby museum was an interesting look at the Spanish Inquisition. However, nowhere in the tour description did it mention that guests would be herded into the small, stuffy, back room of an emerald store for a “lecture”. I knew it was coming – the dreaded sales pitch. I should have ran, but instead followed the crowd where we had to stand and listen to a guy talk about emeralds. I could have cared less, and even less about the free time remaining in Cartagena. I just wanted to get back on the bus and go back to the ship. They ended this long, drawn-out tour with a visit to a Navy Museum and a dance performance by the locals. The museum was boring, but I enjoyed the brief performance by the dancers – though not as much as the water and seats given to us to rest our weary souls. Cartagena and the Old City are full of history, character and beauty. I would choose a small private tour next time because this one only re-affirmed my dislike of big bus, prepackaged tours. At least I got some good photos. My husband had a better time – he took a quick stroll just to the terminal area which has a delightful aviary, a comprehensive gift shop and a small coffee cafe – a Juan Valdez Cafe, no less, where he had his authentic Colombian coffee overlooking the pink flamingos. He said it was definitely worth the walk. Sounds perfect to me!
Panama Canal/Colon: The Main Event of this cruise, The canal lived up to its expectations. It’s really incredible how in 1914 they were able to engineer and design this 8th wonder of the world and it’s still going strong today. It really is an engineering marvel, and it was fascinating to see ships being lifted and lowered through the lock chambers. Being a partial transit, we went through just one set of locks, Gatun Lock. The best places to watch the advancement through the lock are Decks 10 and 11, forward (and Aft, too, I think). These are emergency exits normally, but are available for viewing the Canal. Other places are the upper decks forward, but photographers will have to shoot their pics through the spaces between glass panes. Deck 7 aft would be a good vantage point to see where the ship came from after it passed through.
Once through the lock and in Gatun Lake, the ship let off guests signed up for excursions, and once all were off, returned through the locks and on to Colon to pick up the folks returning from their tours. Those who chose to stay on board were allowed off the ship in Colon, if they chose. It’s true what they say about Colon – there is a whole lot of nothing there. There are two shops in the terminal, and a 10 minute walk through a chain link fenced construction zone brings you to a shopping area with most stores selling the same touristy stuff. However, there is a supermarket and pharmacy, and it is a good place to pick up supplies, if needed.
I had read a lot of back and forth discussion about whether or not to do an excursion while the ship parked in Gatun Lake or to stay on board. We chose to stay aboard, for a couple of reasons. There is a lot of guesswork about the timing of getting through the canal, letting off people for excursions and the ship’s return to Colon for the pick up. We didn’t want to take the chance of having to sit in Colon waiting for return of the ship if it was late. Two, the ship, without half of its passengers, is a peaceful place. Plus, if you missed viewing the cruise through the locks in the morning, you can have the opportunity to view them on the return. In fact, I went to Deck 11 forward to watch the return through the locks, and there were only a handful of people nearby. As it turned out, all went very smoothly. The ship was ahead of schedule in Colon, and excursion guests I talked to found the ship waiting for them on return. Still, I don’t regret not getting off the ship in Gatun Lake.
Limon, Costa Rica: We booked a morning Tortuguero Canal cruise through the ship, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Including a 20 minute bus ride in each direction and a 20 minute shopping/snack break after the boat ride, we wound up with about 2 hours on the water, which was perfect. Our guide was knowledgeable and a good storyteller, with added humor for emphasis. The boat wasn’t full, which made it easy to move around and photograph howler monkeys, a sloth, baby crocodile, lizards, flowers, birds, wild bananas, and more, as our small vessel meandered through the jungle. After the tour, there were refreshments awaiting – water, iced tea, bananas and the most delicious fresh pineapple I’ve ever tasted. Other than the Panama Canal, I’d say this was our favorite excursion – easy, unhurried, and lots of photo ops.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica: I had previously done Dunn’s River Falls, and because anything else that interested me in the ship tours was tied in with Dunn’s River Falls, I went through ShoreTrips and booked a local tour of Shaw Botanical Gardensand Firefly, the vacation home of British play-write/actor, Noel Coward. Miranda from our group joined me, and we had the best time. We were picked up at 9:00 am by “Mama” Mazine from Jamaica Unique Tours and her trainee Bobby. It wound up being a private tour, just the two of us. In fact, there were no other guests that morning at either the garden or Firefly. How great is that! The botanical gardens were beautiful, quiet and peaceful, centered by a cascading waterfall, and accented by huge banyan trees, colorful flowers and tropical vegetation. A park guide led us around the property, pointing out the species of plants, flowers and trees, and even introduced us to large web-weaving spiders and tree-residing termites. On the way to Firefly, Mama proudly pointed out sights along the way, including James Bond Beach, Beaches and Sandals all inclusive resorts, unique house designs (one shaped like a ship), and even Mick Jagger’s house. Now, I didn’t know anything about Noël Coward except for what our guide told us and what I had read on Wikipedia the night before the tour. But I can certainly see why the man chose this picturesque location for his Jamaican hideaway. His very simple, humble residence sits at the top of a hill in a serene, secluded location, with an ocean view to die for. In fact, Coward, who died in 1973, is buried in a pristine location on the property overlooking the same gorgeous view. At one time a few years back, big busses used to make the climb up the hill bringing hoards of tourists. Since a hurricane wiped out the road a few years back, only small vehicles can navigate the winding, narrow, bumpy road. So if you are at all interested in Firefly, you’ll have to hire a taxi or local guide. The view is worth it.
Disembarkation: Guests receive luggage tags in their stateroom the night before the last day, and leaving the ship is a pretty organized affair. In fact, they were ahead of schedule in announcing tag colors, and we were off the ship earlier than expected. We found our bags right away, waited in a long, but quickly moving line through customs, and were out the door and into a taxi to the airport.
To sum it up, this was an amazing cruise with great friends on a fabulous ship to awesome destinations and some wonderful new experiences. It was fun reconnecting with my childhood friend, Donna and her husband Rene. Thanks to friends, Andi & Ed, Debbie & Zach, and Miranda for joining in the fun and making our cruise a memorable one. Can’t wait to see what 2019 brings!