Beautiful, spacious, and at the same time surprisingly intimate, Coral and Island look beautiful inside and out, with a nice range of entertainment options and venues, and great onboard learning experiences.
Typical Per Diems: $110-$190
Coral Panama Canal, from Fort Lauderdale & Los Angeles (Sept-May). Alaska, from Vancouver and Anchorage/Whittier (May-Sept).
Island Panama Canal, from Fort Lauderdale & Los Angeles (Sept-May). Alaska, from Vancouver and Anchorage/Whittier (May-Sept).
Coral Princess and Island Princess are two of the loveliest cruise vessels out there, further refining Princess's vision of mega-size ships with an intimate feel. Outside, there are balconies on some 83% of their outside cabins, but their tiered design is a vast improvement over the typical megaship "wall of balconies" look, contributing to a clean and flowing profile. Up top, the ships' futuristic-looking but purely decorative jet-engine funnels give you the impression the ships are going to fly right out of the water and into orbit.
Built to j-u-u-u-u-ust be able to squeeze through the Panama Canal (with approximately 2 ft. of space on each side), these ships are extremely spacious and well laid out, and never feel crowded even when full. Though they're a fifth larger than the line's older Sun-class ships, they carry only 20 more passengers apiece based on double occupancy, meaning more room for you. Understated interiors are both classic and modern, with Internet centers and Times Squarestyle news tickers right around the corner from woodsy, almost Edwardian lounges. Our favorite spaces: the clubby Wheelhouse Bar for a before-dinner drink; the bar at the New Orleansthemed Bayou Restaurant for jazz until around midnight; the peaceful, Balinese-style solarium, where your book will have to be damn good to keep you from dozing off; and the Universe Lounge for everything from cooking classes and lectures to full-blown production performances.
Decor sticks to Princess's fleetwide standard, with upholstery and walls done in easy-on-the-eyes earth tones and off whites, all trimmed in butterscotch wood. All have safes, hair dryers, minifridges, and TVs. Inside and standard outside cabins are serviceable if smallish at 160 and 168 square feet respectively. Most private balconies are set up in descending tiers -- a positive for soaking up the sun, a negative for total privacy. Standard cabin bathrooms have smallish shower stalls and adequate counter space.
Minisuites (323 sq. ft.) provide substantially more space without jumping into the cost stratosphere, and have larger balconies and sizable sitting areas with sofa beds and two televisions, one facing the sitting area and the other the bed -- an odd touch since there's no partition, but what the hell. Bathrooms have bathtubs and more counter space than in standard cabins. Storage space in both standard outside cabins and minisuites is more than adequate, with a large shelved closet and open-sided clothes rack facing a small dressing alcove by the bathroom door. Sixteen full suites have curtained-off sitting and sleeping areas, very large balconies, complimentary stocked minibars, robes, whirlpool tubs and separate showers in the bathroom, and a walk-in closet. Suite guests get additional perks.
Twenty cabins on each ship are wheelchair accessible.
To accommodate Princess's Personal Choice concept, two similar dining rooms -- the Provence and the Bordeaux -- are dedicated to traditional fixed-seating dining and to anytime Personal Choice dining, respectively. Both single-level rooms are understated and spacious, with lots of elbowroom (except, that is, in the unusually narrow armchairs at some tables).
There are two specialty restaurants aboard: Sabatini's ($20 per person) for eight-course Italian extravaganzas and the Bayou Cafe and Steakhouse ($15 per person), a New Orleansthemed restaurant with a subdued, woodsy ambience, faux brick walls, lantern lighting, and New Orleans murals on the walls. Dinners here include a barbecued alligator ribs appetizer and main courses like seafood gumbo, fried catfish, grilled jumbo prawns, and chicken-and-chorizo jambalaya. Steak options include New York strip and porterhouse. A jazz trio plays during dinner, then continues on until midnight for patrons of the attached bar. Tables are sprinkled with Mardi Gras beads for extra atmosphere.
The ships' 24-hour Horizon Court buffet restaurants are comfortable enough, though the circular layout of the food stations -- and no clear path through them -- often leads to light chaos. Overlooking the main pool, the Grill serves burgers, hot dogs, and the like in the afternoon, with excellent pizza available one deck down (just forward of the pool) and ice cream and fresh juices available aftward at the solarium's ice-cream bar and juice bar. Inside, at the bottom of the atrium, La Patisserie is a pleasant lounge/cafe serving regular coffee free and specialty coffees at extra cost, with cookies and sweets free for the taking. As the room is almost at sea level, it's a great spot from which to watch the waves go by, and it's worth spending at least a minute here as your ship goes through the Panama Canal, with the canal walls literally only a couple of feet away. It's a startlingly weird experience.
Layout is one of the areas in which these vessels really shine, with decks and public areas arranged so it's always easy to find your way around. Most indoor public spaces are on Decks 6 and 7, starting with the large Princess Theater in the bow. Unlike the ornately decorated, two- and three-deck theaters on many new ships, this is a classic sloping one-level space, decorated with no theme whatsoever. You get a good view from every one of the comfortable theater seats, which have little flip-up tables in their arms to hold drinks or, when the room is used for lectures or other enrichment activities, your notebook. Farther aft, the Explorer's Lounge is a smaller-scale show lounge for comedians, karaoke, game shows, and dancing, decorated to evoke the romantic European explorers of the 19th century, with vaguely Islamic tile motifs, African and Asian art pieces, primitivist exotic paintings on the walls, and a dark, woodsy atmosphere. Important sports events are broadcast here on multiple large screens.
In the stern, the Universe Lounge is an innovative multipurpose space, hosting TV-style cooking demonstrations (with a full kitchen onstage), computer classes (with hookups for 50 computers around the room), lectures, and full-blown production performances on three low interconnected stages, which revolve and rise and segment and contort and do more things than you think a stage could -- it's a regular three-ring circus. Shows are tailored to utilize all these options, with much of the action taking place at ground level for a true floor-show feel.
Some standout bars and lounges include the maritime-themed Wheelhouse Bar, an intimate spot decorated in classic dark woods, with heavy leather and corduroy armchairs and love seats, faux marble pillars, domed ceiling lights, and small end-table lamps. In the evening, a small band performs smooth jazz and pop numbers for dancing, and in some afternoons, the ships' string quartets perform classical repertoire. At one entrance to the lounge, a small museum displays memorabilia from P&O history. Nearby, the low-key four-deck atrium is surrounded by the ships' shops, Internet center, news ticker, and several other rooms. Churchill's cigar lounge is a cozy room with big windows, a humidor under a portrait of the room's namesake, and armchairs and sofas seating just 10 people. Crooners is a Rat Packthemed piano bar with a Vegas/martini vibe. A real live crooner performs at the piano each evening.
One level down, the ship's library and card room are both exceptionally large and comfortable, though the layout -- with entrances both from the atrium and from the midships elevators/stair tower -- means that people often use the rooms as a passageway, adding more bustle than we'd like in a library. Themed casinos (London on Coral, Paris on Island) and a wedding chapel round out the adult public room spaces.
At the stern on Deck 12, there's the bright and very kid-scaled Fun Zone and Pelican's Playhouse children's center and smallish Off Limits teen center, with computers and a dance floor. Outside is a children's play area and the small Pelican Pool. The ships' bright pottery studio is hidden away back here as well, giving it the feel of a playroom for grown-ups.
Pool, Fitness & Spa Facilities
The ships' main pool areas are spacious but surprisingly plain, with a main pool and three large hot tubs surrounded by sunning areas. A steel-drum duo performs on a tiny, low-key stage at one end during the day. Moving toward the stern, the solarium (aka the Lotus Pool) is a much more interesting area, decorated with a Balinese motif that gives a sense of tranquillity -- though if there are lots of kids aboard, that tranquillity probably won't last. The stylish wooden deck chairs here (and the more traditional "Royal Teak" ones on the wraparound Promenade Deck) are much classier than the white plastic loungers around the main pool. A sliding-glass roof protects the area during inclement weather. Up on the Sports Deck, there's a wading pool for adults. Both ships also offer Princess's Movies Under the Stars outdoor movie screens and adults-only Sanctuary relaxation areas.
Fitness facilities include a surprisingly small though reasonably equipped gym, plus a relatively large separate aerobics room. Up on the top decks, there's a basketball/volleyball court, a computerized golf simulator, and a 9-hole miniature-golf course. Though the latter is in the open air, you have to enter through a windowless wooden door that makes it look permanently closed. It's not; just go on in.
In the stern on Deck 14, the Balinese-themed Lotus Spa offers the usual massage, mud, and beauty treatments, plus a thermal suite (a unisex room with various heat treatments) and a lovely seaview salon. For what it's worth -- because the spa is run by Steiner (the company that runs almost all cruise ship spas) and personnel change regularly -- we had one of our best cruise ship massages on Coral Princess, an almost painful deep-tissue sports massage that left us feeling completely loose and refreshed.