Fodor’s Expert Review
One of the Vista-class Princess ships, barely small enough for Panama Canal, good quality.Read More
Coral Princess and Island Princess, both launched in 2003 (Coral first), were the only two ships Princess built after 2000 that are small enough to get through the Panama Canal (with 24 inches on each side to spare!). Smaller than the fleet’s biggest ships, yet bigger than the mid-sized Sun Princess class that dominated the 90s, these sisters in many ways represent the best of both worlds. The public rooms are the same as on the Grand-class megaships, but Island and Coral passengers feel they have much more elbow room; though a fifth larger than Princess’s Sun-class ships, they carry only 20 more passengers apiece based on double occupancy.
By all appearances, Princess caught sight of the upside-down design of the Carnival Spirit-class ships presented in 2000 and couldn’t resist adopting the concept of putting all the public rooms on the lower decks and the cabin decks higher up; affording the ability to add a balcony (75% of all cabins) to almost every outside stateroom (83% of all cabins), in fact. The result is a ship with beautifully appointed and spacious cabins and a hive of adjacent public rooms that are easy to navigate and offer exemplary passenger flow.
“ScholarShip@Sea” classes are held in the high-tech Universe Lounge, a two-story venue that at night, unlike any other classroom you’ve ever been cooped up in, becomes a show lounge or cabaret! You can learn everything from how to assemble a Web site to how to paint pottery (these are the only ships at sea with real kilns). Of course, a range of culinary classes will teach you how to cook a wide range of exotic dishes.
As with most Princess ships, the atrium is the focal point with light woods and brass railings surrounding walls of glass. Due to a more generous space to passenger ratio, public rooms and restaurants are more spacious than their counterparts on other Princess ships. In the cabins, upholstery and walls are invariably in restful earth tones and off-whites, with butterscotch wood trim.
You’ll find no scarcity of invitingly intimate lounges, many with live music. Crooners, a martini bar, evokes the heyday of the Rat Pack, while the cozy cigar lounge Churchill’s evokes an English country manor. The clubby, nautical-themed Wheelhouse Bar is filled with original oil paintings. If you find yourself longing for contemporary decor, you’ll find it, along with cappuccino and pastries, at Le Patisserie, which offers free-for-the-taking cookies and sweets.
In the bow, the Princess Theater, a classic sloping one-level space. offers a good view from every comfortable theater-style seat; put your drink – or notebook – on the little flip-up table. When the ceiling lights are left on during lectures, please note, it can get infernally hot in the back rows, so sit in the front!
The ship’s Internet cafe, card room and library do brisk business during days at sea; indeed, you’re sometimes lucky to find a place to sit! Because there are entrances from both the atrium and the midships elevators/stair tower, the rooms are often used as passageways, not exactly ideal for a library!
The Captain can marry you quite legally in the wedding chapel. The Universe Lounge presents floor shows at night, while cabaret rules the Africa-themed Explorer’s Lounge. The bright, kid-scaled Fun Zone and Pelican’s Playhouse children’s center and smallish Off Limits teen center may be found at the stern on Deck 12.
Predictably, the main restaurants and Lido cafeteria serve Continental ship cuisine – fettuccine Alfredo, broiled lobster tail, Beef Wellington, that sort of thing – unlikely either to offend or amaze most diners. If you ask the kitchen for something less bland, it will happily oblige, or try the Bayou Cafe’s spicy shrimp gumbo. barbecued alligator ribs appetizers, “mud-bug” bisque soup, fried catfish, grilled jumbo prawns, and chicken and chorizo jambalaya in a subdued, woody ambience, with faux brick walls and lantern lighting. Sabatini’s, which warms your palate up with more than a dozen quite substantial antipasti before it brings out your main course, will test even the most energetic gourmand’s capacity. Allow three hours for this “event dining” experience. The Lotus Spa menu offers such innovative options as chilled yogurt and tamarind soup sprinkled with grated lemon rind, filet of baby turbot with a fennel pernod sauce, and a tropical fruit smoothie flavored with lime.
As is true of all Princess vessels, the 33 cabin categories on offer are misleading; the range of choice is closer to 10. Princess puts virtually identical quarters into different categories based on location. If you love balconies, though, this is the ship for you.
Island Princess has the largest number of balconies in the fleet. Eight-five percent of the cabins are outside, and 85% of those have private verandas. Refining the Princess vision of gigantic ships with an intimate feel, their tiered design eschews the too-familiar “wall of balconies” look, achieving a clean, flowing profile.
Standard outside cabins are 160 sq. ft., standard balcony cabins 217-248 sq. ft. The mini-suites, much more spacious for not a lot more money, offer 280 to 302 sq. ft., but the privacy of the balconies of those on Dolphin Deck is severely compromised; they can be observed from the balconies of the three decks above. The largest cabins measure 470 sq. ft. Suite occupants should expect neither butler service nor amenities beyond such standard one as TV/radio, hair dryers, mini refrigerators, bathrobes, and personal safes, daily deliveries of ice, and evening turndown service. Closet and drawer space is at a real premium; pack light! The shower stalls in standard cabins are pretty cramped.
Premium suites and minisuites amenities include complimentary laundry and shoe shine, a selection of pillows, daily in-room canapes and high tea, and free Internet access.
A self-service launderette ($1.75 washers, $1 soap, $1.50 dryers) is located on each stateroom deck.
The Steiners-operated Lotus Spa offers not only massages and hair and beauty treatments (for which be sure to book as you board), but also seminars on everything from abs enhancement and metabolism to aging and detoxifying. There are also Tahitian scalp massages, a mud room for couples, “gentle touch” teeth whitening, and a cellulite reduction program, popular in Europe, called ionithermie algae detox. The gym, though smallish, has all the weight training, running, and aerobic equipment anyone could reasonably demand.
There are a basketball/volleyball court and a computerized golf simulator, as well as a nine-hole miniature-golf course up on the top deck, which you access via a windowless wooden door that makes it look permanently closed. It’s not; just go on in.
Best For People Who Want
A modern, right-sized ship with elegant surroundings; plenty to do on board but not so big that you feel like you missed something.
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
Extensive children’s program, an ultra-lively late-night scene.
Princess’s “Personal Choices” flexible dining program, whereby passengers can opt either for traditional two-seating dining, or dine when and with whom they please, is nowhere better implemented than on these ships. In the Bayou Cafe, you can enjoy zingy New Orleans-style cuisine to a jazz trio’s accompaniment for $10 per person, including a cocktail. Sabatini’s offers alternative diners a gigantic multi-course Italian feast for $15. The always-open Horizon Court dishes up standard cafeteria fare during breakfast and lunch; but at night gets swanky, offering its patrons items from the ship’s main restaurant. During the day, the circular layout of food stations and the lack of clear paths between them occasionally results in mild chaos.
The Provence and Bordeaux dining rooms are nearly indistinguishable, but for one distinction. Provence is dedicated to traditional fixed-seating dining (6 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.) and Bordeaux offers Anytime Personal Choice dining; anytime the whim strikes you between 5:30 and 10 p.m.
The extremely international staff is unfailingly chipper and professional. Flatteringly, the waiters seem to take particular delight in remembering diners’ personal preferences.
Regardless of which dining plan you choose, you’ll be charged $10 per person per day for dining and stateroom personnel, even if you’re a child. Consult the purser, at the reception desk, about raising or lowering this amount. All beverage tabs automatically include 15-percent gratuity. Tip the spa, casino, and other staff as you deem fit.
With a dozen or so venues for nightlife, you’re virtually assured of finding something that floats your boat, to coin a phrase. There’s no faulting the lavishness of the production shows, which feature extravagant special effects. The performers in the cabaret are a talented bunch.
A typical cruise includes two formal evenings. The other evenings are “smart casual”, meaning sweaters, skirts and blouses, and slacks and collared shirts. Shorts and jeans are considered too casual.
Launched in 2003, Island Princess is one of just two cruise ships in the Princess fleet that was specially built to sail through the Panama Canal, giving the vessel, along with her sister ship Coral Princess, access to more worldwide destinations than some of their fleetmates. Renovations have added many of the cruise line’s most popular signature elements, including Movies Under the Stars and The Sanctuary.
All the Personal Choice features attributed to the larger Grand-class ships were incorporated into the design of the slightly smaller Coral Class ships. The four-story atrium is similar to that on Sun Princess, but public rooms are mainly spread fore and aft on two lower decks.
Princess Cruises may be best known for introducing cruise travel to millions of viewers, when its flagship became the setting for The Love Boat television series in 1977. Since that heady time of small-screen stardom, the Princess fleet has grown both in the number and size of ships. Although most are large in scale, Princess vessels manage to create the illusion of intimacy through the use of color and decor in understated yet lovely public rooms graced by multimillion-dollar art collections.
Princess has also become more flexible; Personal Choice Cruising offers alternatives for open seating dining (when you wish and with whom you please) and entertainment options as diverse as those found in resorts ashore.
Lovely chapels or the wide-open decks are romantic settings for weddings at sea with the captain officiating.
- 11 passenger decks
- 2 specialty restaurants, 2 dining rooms, buffet, ice cream parlor, pizzeria
- Wi-Fi, safe, refrigerator, DVD (some)
- 3 pools (1 indoor), children’s pool
- fitness classes, gym, hot tubs, sauna, spa
- 7 bars, casino, 2 dance clubs, library, 2 showrooms, video game room
- children’s programs
- dry cleaning, laundry facilities, laundry service
- Internet terminal
- no kids under 6 months, no-smoking cabins