Myself, my finance, and 3 friends had planned this cruise almost a year earlier. I'm a hydrologist and my friend is an engineer, so we both wanted to see this marvel of engineering up close as well as see the progress that was being made on the multi-billion dollar expansion project. Overall the cruise was magnificent! The staff was very attentive. The food was extremely delicious. There seemed to be a nice balance between days at sea plus days in port. We took cruise-sponsored shore excursions at almost every port which were usually hits with small misses. We were at sea for Christmas Day which was a fun and interesting experience. New Years Eve was a blast around the pool even though it followed a long day making the passage through the Canal.
We spent much of our time at the Sunset Bar at the back of the ship. Since we had opted for the Classic Drink Package we made sure we got our money's worth. It was actually quite nice not thinking about the cost of a drink, a beer, a bottled water, a glass of wine, or an espresso. Speaking of espresso, The Cova Cafe was a great place to relax in the atrium area. We spent several evenings enjoying the music of the two-piece band "Five O'clock Somewhere." The lectures on the countries we were going to visit and the Canal itself were very informative. My only complaint was the over-the-top Powerpoint presentations. Simple beats flashy. We only saw one stage show, but enjoyed it.
Very attentive staff that kept our cabin constantly in good shape.
Afternoon canapes delivered to our room.
Sushi available every evening.
The Mongolian BBQ station on the buffet
Tasteful Christmas decorations (not over the top)
Bollywood music constantly blasting in the main dining room
Need for more chairs in the Sunset Bar area
Cigar smoking in the Sunset Bar area
Inconsistent service in other bar areas i.e. tables in need of cleaning for quite a bit of time and waiting for service
It was nice to get away from the touristy Cabo and visit a more typical laid-back Mexican town. It was about an hour bus ride to the town, and our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the area. The town itself is nothing spectacular, but rather a nice view into life in the desert. Shopping opportunities are limited, but just enough as to not be overwhelmed. Lunch was at the Hotel California and was rather disappointing. It was a small plate of "gringofied" Mexican food.
It was a nice sampler to a magnificent city, but there were several occasions where our group was herded into shops where the guide was probably getting a kickback. It was also sometimes hard to understand the significance of a particular place due to the number of tours around and the size of the group. It would have been better to just rent a taxi and get dropped off in Old Town where you could explore the place on your own.
This excursion seemed quite expensive for the things that were included. There was a brief tour of the present set of locks and then another brief tour of the construction site for the new set of locks. While it was interesting, it seemed that it would have been cheaper to just rent a taxi and go out to the sites on our own.
Colon itself reminded me of post-Katrina New Orleans. We talked to another couple who went off into the town on their own. They were picked up by the "tourist police" and brought back to the ship for their own safety.
It's worthwhile to check out the local 99 Supermarket. We picked up several bags of Panamanian coffee at a reasonable price. No need to worry about exchanging money since the good old greenback is still the official currency.
Nothing was planned for this port except a nice walk (about 1.8 miles) to the local Costco to see how a Mexican Costco compares to a U S version. Answer: about the same. It was then back to the port but not before seeing how a Mexican Walmart compares to one in the U.S. Answer: Just change the signs from English/Spanish to Spanish/English and there you have it.
This review is biased because I am a train nut. It was an interesting and relaxing ride through the Costa Rican countryside on an old narrow-gauge railroad. My only complaint was that they herded us directly from the bus to the train leaving us with zero opportunity to photograph the train or the old station. There were very limited opportunities at the end of the ride since we simply stopped at a grade crossing.
The second part of the trip was a boat ride on the Tarcoles River. This was also a very fun trip especially as our guide fed raw chicken to hungry crocodiles. My only complaint was that the trip was too short as we just started to appreciate the variety of plant and bird life found along the river.
The port of Puntarenas was nothing to write home about. There were numerous vendors found along the beach near the pier, but the prices seemed a bit high and there was little bargaining.