Cruise ship interview - - Princess Cruises - - Coral Princess - - Hotel General Manager Timothy Ellis
Coral Princess was created with the Panama Canal in mind. Not only are her dimensions designed to just fit the Canal's locks but “we were named in the Panama Canal. We did the naming of this ship in one of the locks in Panama and it was named by the President of Panama at the time who is our godmother.”
Accordingly, while most other cruise ships spenmd their careers going between the Caribbean islands and/or sailing the Mediterranean, the focus of Coral Princess has always been on the Panama Canal. During the hot summer months, the ship does vacation in Alaska but from the Fall through the Spring, the Panama Canal is the centerpiece of Coral Princess' itineraries.
There are two types of Panama Canal cruises. In a full transit, the ship sails through the Canal going between Fort Lauderdale and Los Angles. During a partial transit, the cruise begins and ends in Fort Lauderdale with the ship entering and exiting the Canal via the Gatun Locks at the Caribbean end of the Canal.
A partial transit involves calls at a number of ports both before and after visiting the Canal. “You have a touch of the Caribbean in that you have Aruba, Ocho Rios or Grand Cayman. You have South America with Cartagena, Costa Rica and also Panama. There is a lot to see. There is the shopping element that you can look at, the historical element and obviously, there is the Panama Canal.”
“For those passengers who like to cruise and like good sea days, we have got a perfect balance of good, long sea days for people to relax and just get away, kick back on the open decks, read a book, watch a football game on Movies Under the Stars.”
“I think it is a very balanced and strong itinerary. It is an itinerary that will appeal to quite a broad group.”
While the itinerary includes some well-known cruise ports, it also includes some that are more off the beaten track and unfamiliar to many cruisers. “All the ports that we go to are very safe. Our security team shoreside in Los Angles regularly conducts inspections on all the ports of call and all the tours that we have leaving the ship. There is no problem there whatsoever. Obviously, [we advise] passengers when they are in foreign countries to take the usual precautions - - don't dress up to much, go around in groups, be aware, be vigilant but these are regular advisories that you would put in place anywhere in the world right now when you are traveling. But our ports of call, they are vetted, they are secure and you shouldn't be afraid of anything. There is so much to take out of the area - - South America, Panama, Costa Rica - - these are all great, great countries and very exciting as well.”
“Obviously, the Panama Canal is the highlight of this cruise.” Visiting the Panama Canal is a special experience, even for seasoned travelers and those who have been there before.
“I first went through the Panama Canal in 1986. Still, I have to take five minutes every time I go through there and get my head around what a huge challenge it was - - what they were dealing with at the time and what they achieved. It is unbelievable.”
During a partial transit of the Canal, Coral Princess enters the Caribbean end of the Canal in the pre-dawn hours and then proceeds through the Gatun Locks in the early morning light. Once through this series of three lock chambers, the ship anchors for the day in Gatun Lake. In the afternoon, she goes back through the Gatun Locks and makes a brief stop at the port of Colon to retrieve those passengers who have gone off on shore excursions.
Most passengers choose to do the shore excursions. “You get the perfect world. You get to see coming in through the locks, anchor in Gatun Lake, then drive right on through to the other side [of the isthmus], Its a great experience. You get the best of both worlds, on the ship and off the ship.”
“It is very, very popular. Generally, we move around 1,200 people going off on the tours. We do that in about an hour to an hour and 20 minutes.”
The Panama Canal experience is evolving. A massive construction project is underway to expand the canal so as to be capable of handling larger ships. “You can just about see one of the [new] locks as we are coming [into the Canal]. A couple of weeks ago, we saw one of the lock gates coming through - - they are huge. They have done a lot of work dredging, widening - - it is a huge commitment for them. I believe they are looking [to complete the project] at the end of 2015, beginning of 2016.”
Why Coral Princess?
There are other cruise ships that do cruises through or to the Panama Canal, thus the question becomes why sail on Coral Princess?
“We have at Princess, a wonderful team of crew who are very passionate, very dedicated. Our primary responsibilty is to make sure that our passengers have a great vacation, a relaxing vacation.”
To achieve this goal, Coral Princess presents the Princess Cruises cruise experience. “We want consistency across the fleet. We want the passenger to experience here what they can experience on [Princess' newest ships] the Royal and the Regal. It gives passengers comfort and also they know what to expect. At Princess, they know they can do these things on every single ship.”
Thus, Coral Princess has signature features that can be found on every Princess ship. “For example, the MUTS [Movies Under The Stars] is one of our signatures. The Wheelhouse Bar is a signature across the fleet. The Sanctuary, which is the adults-only area. The focus is on peace and tranquility there and getting away from everything. It is like having your own private yacht.”
Of course, Coral Princess is not as large or as new as Royal Princess and Regal Princess and so she cannot offer everything those ships offer but Princess has cleverly incorporated a surprising number of new features into Coral Princess. To illustrate, the space used for the Sabantini's specialty restaurant does double duty becoming Alfredo's Pizzeria at lunchtime. Sinilarly, the steakhouse, the Bayou Cafe, is used to present the Crab Shack dining experience. A new LED wall has been installed in the Princess Theater to enhance the scenery during production shows just as on Princess' newest ships.
At the same time, Coral has some features that are unique to Coral and her sister ship Island Princess. The Bayou Cafe with its New Orleans influenced setting and menu is one example. Another is the Universe Lounge.
“The Universe Lounge is just on Island and Coral Princess. It is a great lounge with a stage that can do what no other stage can do - - it goes up, down, revolves. We can host full production shows there. We can have comedians, bands. It can triple up as a disco. It is a very versitle lounge.”
“The entertainment is a big feature on this ship and we have some great productions shows. We have a lot of guest entertainers who come on and off during the cruise. And with this being the Panama Canal, we have a lot of enrichment lectures about the cruising area that we are in and about the Canal itself.”
Since most Panama Canal cruises are longer itineraries done when school is in session in North America, they tend to attract mature passengers. However, families with children do sail on Coral Princess. “We have a full children's program and a full children's center for the various age groups. We can take care of children and without your knowing that we have a lot of children onboard. We can have a lot of children onboard. Parents can come on with their families with children, drop the kids off, then they can get off and do their own thing and relax as well We have a lot for everybody.”