Reflections of an 18-Night Princess Cruise – Is It for You?

Have you ever wondered what it is really like on a cruise ship? Is it relaxing, invigorating and fun OR boring, crowded and just one giant food fest?

We recently disembarked from an 18-night cruise on the Island Princess, a mid-sized ship in the Princess cruise fleet. This is our longest cruise to date and one that confirmed for me that I prefer the days in port to the days at sea, but all are fun in their own way. Honestly, I was never bored and despite sailing with 2,000 other passengers, there was more than enough space that it never felt crowded. After three days, I shared my initial impressions.

Two weeks later, I can reflect on the entire Princess Cruise. Personally, I am a believer that cruising can be for everyone. Not every cruise – you need to choose carefully. This was our eighth cruise, so I am no expert, but I have opinions.

The Island Princess cruise ship docked at the port of Puntarenas in Costa Rica

The Island Princess docked at the port of Puntarenas in Costa Rica

My highlight of this cruise was the Panama Canal crossing, followed by the port days. These included Aruba, Cartagena (Colombia), Puntarenas (Costa Rica), Nicaragua (missed due to weather), Cabo San Lucas (Mexico), Los Angeles (USA), and disembarking in Vancouver (Canada). This left us with 12 days at sea. Let’s be clear, there is no shortage of things to do onboard while at sea.

Our Princess Cruise itinerary:

Our 18-night Princess Cruise itinerary through the Panama Canal onboard the Island Princess.

Our 18-night itinerary sailed through the Panama Canal. The same cruise in 2017 will include three additional ports. I think that will be a better balance.

From the beginning . . .

We chose our cabin based on price, opting for the least expensive, rather than a balcony (a personal mistake we probably won’t be making in the future). While similar in size, our interior cabin had huge mirrors on both the back wall and over the desk so there was no feeling of claustrophobia (except in the shower, but that was the same in most cabins). With so many days at sea, I would have enjoyed sitting on my balcony in the mornings whilst still in my pyjamas and listening to the sound of the ocean.

Our interior cabin on the Island Princess

This is our cabin. I am standing next to the dressing area, which has a closet, enclosed shelves, a safe, and a bathroom. There was plenty of room, just no window or door to the outside.

Hallway on a cabin deck of the Island Princess

Our cabin from the outside, decorated on the day we celebrated our wedding anniversary. We had an interior cabin. The Island Princess is 90% balcony cabins. All of the other cabins you can see in the photo have an outside deck.

Once we borded, unpacked, and participated in our safety drill, we were free to do what we wanted.  The options are listed in a daily bulletin left in each cabin by the room steward. They range from active (dance classes, Zumba, personal training sessions, scavenger hunts, children’s activities, passenger tournaments in mini golf, basketball, or random games, discos) to passive (interesting lectures, piano bar, knitting circles, movies under the stars, live theatre, star gazing, in-cabin movies) and everything in between (shopping, casinos, photos sessions, afternoon tea, art auctions, spa treatments, galley tours, poolside activities).

The Island Princess is light and lively, the tasteful decor understated and welcoming. A mid-sized ship, purpose built for the Panama Canal, it is formatted different than most of the Princess Cruise fleet. A quick photo tour:

The reception desk on the Island Princess

Reception desk

The atrium was beautiful, yet not over the top.

The atrium was beautiful yet not over the top.

One of the pools on the Island Princess cruise ship

The outdoor pool (there was a similar sized indoor pool as well). The massive 4×7 metre outdoor screen above had action all day and “Movies Under the Stars” in the evenings.

Relaxing out the outdoor pool on the Island Princess

This is me relaxing at the pool. On many ships it is difficult to find an empty poolside lounge chair, however, it was never a problem on this Princess Cruise. Plus, there were loungers on several outdoor decks that were perfect for quiet reading time.

An exterior walkway and great place for a view as we approach land on our Princess Cruise

An exterior walkway on an upper deck allows us to see some of the balcony cabins.

Keeping us safe, these are officers on the bridge. We felt very honoured to be invited onto this area of the ship.

Keeping us safe, these are officers on the bridge. We are very honoured to have been invited onto this area of the ship.

Flags on the bridge of a Princess Cruise ship

Tucked on the back wall of the bridge are the flags – both nautical and for the countries in which the ship enters.

Standing on deck of the Island Princess

Hubby standing on the deck as we left a port.

Photo gallery on the Island Princess

The ship employed a team of photographers who took our photos at every port, on most evenings, and at other random times. This hallway displayed the photos and also led to the art gallery (right). There was also a studio for formal sittings.

Food service entertainment on the Island Princess

The professional entertainment included dancers, magicians, singers, comedians and more. One of my personal favorite events was this cook-off between the head chef and the maitre d’hotel.

Galley tour on the Island Princess

A galley tour

One of many shopping options on the Island Princess

One of many onboard shopping options

Casino on the Island Princess

The back of the casino was one of only three spots on the ship that allowed smoking. The others were an enclosed and well ventilated cigar lounge and a section of an outdoor deck. From where I stood, I couldn’t smell it at all.

Piano bar on the Island Princess

The piano bar was a great place to relax.

Enjoying dinner at one of the specialty restaurants, we noticed the nearby table of officers. Our meal was the best we had on the ship, and the ambiance was special too. I know see the value in booking at least one meal in a specialty restaurant. It really is worth the additional cover charge.

While we enjoyed dinner at one of the specialty restaurants, we noticed the nearby table of officers. Our meal was the best we had on the ship and the ambiance was special too. I now see the value in booking at least one meal in a specialty restaurant. It really is worth the additional cover charge.

At the champaigne party at the end of each sailing, they drop about 500 balloons. It's a Princess Cruise tradition.

At the champagne party at the end of each sailing they drop about 500 balloons. It’s a Princess Cruise tradition.

To answer the most commonly asked question:

Would we do it again? 


How would we do it different?

We would have booked a balcony cabin, and probably brought less (although I was in carry-on, so not too much less).

Have you been on a Princess Cruise? If you could cruise anywhere, where would you go?

If you enjoyed this post, please pin it.

Life onboard a Princess Cruise

This post is linked at Our World Tuesdays, Ruby Tuesday Too, Outdoor Wednesday at A Southern Daydreamer.
Disclaimer: In addition to VIP treatment onboard the Island Princess we were provided with many complimentary extras. The opinions expressed here are strictly my own.

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  1. says

    We took a Princess cruise, and your boat was identical to ours. Although I loved cruising, I think eighteen days would be a bit much for me. Although, I would love to cross the Panama canal.

  2. says

    We’ve never been on such a cruise. The most similar to a cruise for us was a ferry in Croatia that took us from dubrovnik up to the north. We choose the cheapest of all exterior cabins. Also in the ferry from Denmark to Norway (16 hours) we have chosen the cheapest exterior cabin. Paul doesn’t like interior cabins, he founds them claustrophobic.

    • says

      With the mirrors on this ship he might be fine. I can handle the interior just fine on a week long cruise, but this one was just too long not to have a balcony. Live and learn.

  3. says

    Hi Rhonda – sounds wonderful – and I can see the preference for a balcony room next time … still – you made the most of your time …

    They do some cruises down the Rhine here and on to the Danube … and I’d love to do that Panama crossing one … and you mention Alaska is great … I’m still not sure – but that’s me! Lovely to see your photos and hear your ideas .. cheers Hilary

    • says

      You know us, we always make the best of everything. The interior cabin is fine, especially if money is your driving motivation. I just would have been happier with a balcony. We loved our cruise to Alaska also.

  4. Kristi says

    I’ve been on two cruises in my life – one to Bermuda and one to the Virgin Islands. I loved both. I would do it again. Based on your experience and lovely photos, I would not hesitate to choose the Princess Cruise line and quite frankly they could take me any place! 🙂

    • says

      I probably should have talked about this. The ships are huge and you generally don’t feel the motion at all. Embarrassingly, as I race yachts in the summer, I do get sea sick on small vessels sometimes, but have never had even a touch of it on a cruise ship. I do carry the meds for it just in case, but have never had to use even one.

  5. says

    Cruising is not for everyone. Hubby hated both the cruises we went on, but didn’t tell me until after the second cruise. We’d rather be on our own boat. I do agree about eating in a specialty restaurant though. It’s far better than what they serve in the dining room.

    I did love the balcony on both the cruises. You’ve a private area to enjoy a glass of wine or your morning coffee.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

    • says

      Sorry that hubby didn’t enjoy the cruises, but what a great man to not spoil your holiday. We don’t sail off-shore in a private vessel, as we are fair-weather sailors. So, I would never go to the places that I can get to via cruise ship on my own boat.

    • says

      We did only one excursion with the ship, the rest of the ports we did on our own. Sorry your food wasn’t us to scratch – ours sure was. The entertainment on our ship was a bit short (30-45 minutes) but pretty good. Especially the comedians they brought onboard. I have been on other cruise lines that didn’t impress me, but I am quite happy with Princess.

  6. says

    Looks like you had a great time. I am still not convinced there is a cruise for me. Maybe one day I will try a 3 night taster cruise but I feel like I would feel trapped – even long harbour cruises and I want to get off.

    • says

      Big cruise ships are nothing like long harbour cruises. The ship is like being on a floating city. The Island Princess is only midsized but it had at 11 decks we could access, about 8 places to eat, 3 swimming pools, a library, bars, etc. I worried about the “feeling trapped” before our first cruise, but it never happened to me yet.

  7. says

    It’s hard to imagine there are 2000 guests aboard and yet the decks, walkways, pools and restaurants don’t seem to be full or crowded at all. It looks absolutely heavenly! Thanks so much for allowing us to spend parts of your journey with you! 🙂

    • says

      Hubby and I were discussing that one day. There are so many things to do, and places to go that it almost never felt crowded. Only the balloon drop, but that was just because everyone wanted the best spot. I have been on other cruises that had more children where the pools were crowded on nice, sunny days at sea.

  8. says

    Very interesting narrative. My favorite is the Alaskan, which we have taken three times. Northbound is best, as the sun is behind the ship and there is the anticipation of seeing the glaciers. Have taken several cruises on small ships– all were wonderful and were much more personal and relaxed. Would never do any without a balcony (if there is one– the small ships were all outside cabins anyway. Thanks for visiting my post!

    • says

      We loved Alaska as well, but did it Southbound. We live in a country with glaciers, so that isn’t necessarily the big excitement for us, although the Alaska glaciers are pretty amazing. We hope to try a small, river boat later in the year.

  9. says

    I’m so happy that you had a tremendous cruise Rhonda. I’ll tell you, we always get a balcony. Even though you are out of the room a great deal, It’s great sitting on your balcony, especially in early morning. Having coffee in the morning sitting on balcony means a big thing. I would love taking this cruise but unfortunately my wife won’t. She feels that anything more than an 8 day cruise is to much. For me, if I could, I’d stay for weeks on a ship. The same with the specialty restaurants, I’d like to have the steak room but she feels that the price doesn’t make any sense to her. As you can see, I’m the cruising nut and she isn’t. If I could get someone to go with me ( need someone to with me especially now or I would go by myself every cruise ) I”d do it even though I’d feel lonely without her. Oh well I’ll just enjoy the cruises that we have.
    Our next cruise will be on the new Carnival Vista. This ship is unbelievable and we’ll be going back to Curacao, a wonderful port. We’ll be going back to Aruba and Grand Turk,( this will be our 5th time, I love the place and a new port is La Romana, Dominican Republic.
    Well, glad that you are back safe & sound. I loved all the photos and I hope there are more to come. I’ll love the photos of cruising.
    Have a wonderful day my cruisin friend. See ya.

    Cruisin Paul

    • says

      I so agree on the balcony. In the past we have always cruised with our girls, so it was different. An interior family cabin was fine. Next time. The Panama Canal is really special and can’t be done in only 8 days, so maybe one day she will change her mind. Personally I am the opposite. I prefer at least 8 days Have fun on your next cruise. I look forward to the photos.

  10. says

    I cruised through the Panama Canal 30+ years ago, on a two-week FREE cruise (offered as compensation for writing a cruise newsletter) that convinced me NEVER to go on a cruise again. Ever. I’ve traveled the world independently since then, immersing myself in cultures and cities in ways you can never do on a cruise. You got it right in your lead: cruises are “boring, crowded and just one giant food fest,” meant for people who want to take the comforts of home with them to far corners of the world, avoiding cultural differences and their destinations. Glad you had fun but not for me!

    • says

      Believe it or not, I agree with most of what you say. We generally travel immersed in culture, often doing home exchanges so we are right into a community. However, the variety is nice, and sometimes so is a bit of luxury.

  11. says

    I don’t know if I could do a cruise like that. I’m not sure I’d like having a bus load of people everywhere I went (on land)…but the cost always makes me look at them and wonder – such amazing value!

    • says

      As for the cost, there are a lot of additional expenses, like tipping (they charged about $13USD, per day per person) and things you do off the ship. However the bus loads of people are optional. On this cruise we only did one excursion with the ship, the rest of the time we went off on our own.

  12. says

    Hi Rhonda, yes we have been on two cruises so far. One with Norwegian to Central America and the Caribbean which was fantastic; and the other with Princess to South East Asia. Both cruises had their pros and cons but we enjoyed both immensely. Both times we had a balcony cabin and I don’t think I could have it any other way. It is wonderful sitting out on your balcony throughout the day. I know what you mean about cruises having the reputation for only being for retirees and a big foodfest! There were many people who spent a large part of their days in the buffet! We made sure we watched the amount of food we ate and exercised daily. I enjoyed reading about this particular cruise – gives me food for thought for future cruises.

    • says

      The Panama Canal was fascinating. However this cruise did attract an older crowd than the others we have been on. Most likely due to length of cruising and it is a bit more expensive to go through the canal.

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