Azamara Quest through the Panama Canal – January 5-17, 2014
Stayed overnight at the Hampton Inn a couple miles from the airport. Watch for the right van, there’s 3 Hampton Inns… Decently clean, better then usual TP, towels. Granite counter in the bath and a large room. Good dinner at the Cuban restaurant next door. Good breakfast included, a little birding behind the hotel (separate report in the Ecology Board), then a $12 pp trip to the pier. Look at the lines for the other big ships, walk right up to the Azamara counter, second in line, and pick up our boarding materials. Up to the Windows Café for some sushi and salads and some of that free beer (very limited selection for free, but I’m not too picky). In the cabin about 2, muster drill at 4. Dinner was shrimp cocktail, French Onion Soup, Tenderloin. The white wine is Albarino, good. Taste them first if you like your wines, sometimes they have leftover bottles from the day before if you don’t like tonight’s selection. Nice sugar-free strawberry gelato for dessert. Very important: don’t accept a seat in the aft 20 feet or so, unless you like propeller vibration and noise.
Day 2: at sea
The first of my 12 days of smoked salmon, but they have trout, halibut, and herring as well. Baked eggs and some fruit. Coffee bad, think they forgot to rinse the pot after cleaning it yesterday? Trivia contests, daily suduko from the library, some Candy Crush… Lunch is Beef/Broccoi stir fry with rice, and the gelato is Raspberry now. Moderate swell and the ship is rolling a bit for dinner. Shrimp Wontons, Gumbo, Prime Rib.
Time for the “Dining Hints”. The portions are modest, but if you want to really load it in, ask for another! There is a limited drink menu for the free stuff, so I always started with a Cutty Sark on the rocks, then switched to wine. After dinner drinks (brandy, liqueurs) are not on the free list. The baker, the soup maker, the ice cream guy really are good – make sure you have those. The sugar free desserts are quite good (sorry, near diabetic). There is always sushi, a Oriental stir fry, and a carved meat in the Windows Café for lunch and dinner. When you find a good waiter / assistant, ask for them and sit in their section every night – they really appreciate it. It will be worth it, and I got my Cutty Sark without asking every night – most usually waiting for me…. Show your appreciation at the end of the voyage. Barbesco and Sylvani will be aboard until May on their current contracts… You get fresh fruit in your cabin, a vase of flowers, and a couple of truffles every night. The coffee bar on deck 5 opens at 7 every morning – get a takeaway cup of latte with an extra shot there. Small snacks available there also.
Day 3: at sea
Hand carved lamb for lunch, no sugar Hazelnut gelato (very good…) Dinner had a great crab cake and some weird stroganoff (with red/green peppers?), Butter pecan gelato this time.
Day 4: Cartagena
I’ve been here twice before, so I no longer go into the town. There is a shopping area at the end of the pier behind the Duty Free with restrooms, a couple dozen vendors that don’t pester you, and what I think are reasonable prices (I’m not a shopper) They have coffee, souvenirs, emeralds… In front is a beer stand with 2 dollar beers, and you can get 2 hours of internet access for 5 bucks, along with the crew. Mostly I go birding in the woods behind this center for a couple of hours, with beer to replenish those body fluids. Dinner in the Prime C was disappointing – A great piece of meat, expertly cooked, with some of the lousiest sauces. The twice baked potatoes were ok. We make better stuff at home!
Day 5: at sea
Day 6: Panama Canal transit
Pilot station: 5 AM 6:30 – Gatun Lock 2:00 passing Gamboa (in Gatun Lake) 3:15 Miguel locks. Out about 6. You get a map to look at, and our narrator really knew the history and minor little facts to dress up the journey. Officer’s BBQ on deck for lunch: tacos, volcano pizza, baked potato. We had about 3-4 of these deck meals during the voyage. Lunch had carved roast beef, good sides and plentiful horseradish! Our room attendant stored our bottle of welcoming champagne, and we had that on the balcony during the transit.
This night was the Azamazing Evening, and it was about as close to a fiasco as you can get. There was a DJ concert right on the main road to Old Town Panama with about 10,000 young people blocking traffic. Old Town has narrow streets, this was Friday night, and everybody was out on the town. We had 32 small buses, 20 people in each. We were promised tapas and sangria – my first “tapa” was a cube of Manchego cheese with a green grape and a toothpick to hold it together. No sangria – white or red wine. The National Theater was about 50 seats short of needed, and with the traffic, the Ballet Folklorico got going about 1.5 hours late. (They were very good, incidentally). All the guides, one in each bus, knew a lot about the process. We never heard word one from any of the ship’s staff. By the time we worked our way back through the DJ contest, bedtime was close to midnight. Opinions were openly shared among the passengers, and a nice refund showed up later, both SBC and future cruise credit.
Day 7: Panama
Took the history tour. Archaelogy Museum, the Very old town from 1600 that Henry Morgan burned, then the Old Town walking tour, where I promptly got lost. Found another group, and they called around and I found my group again at the cathedral. Nice history tour. Panama is working on their tourist industry. I spent a week there last April and liked the food and people, but I proved to be allergic to the whole place. Bring some Claritin… The ship is running a shuttle to the local shopping center, and it looks like the crew has internet access in the bar where the tender docks. Ate dinner in Aqualina tonight, and that was a lot better.
Day 8: cruise to Goltrito
Cruised all day, and docked in Golfrito about sunset. There were at least 500 people on the shore taking pictures, and we found out that we were the first ship to visit in about a year or so. We’re tied up to the old banana dock. They no longer raise bananas here commercially, but there is a few tanks full of palm oil scattered around.
Day 9: Golfrito
Took a tour to the local wildlife refuge(across from the airport). Hiked to a waterfall, maybe a mile off moderate grade with some mud and rocks. Guide tried hard to show us stuff, but not a great place to do it. Shopping? There was two tent vendors off the end of the pier with the usual souvenirs, but not any wood puzzle boxes for MY grandchildren. Opening offer on a Tshirt was 20 bucks. (last year, I got an embroidered one for 10). No coffee – we had to buy it in the airport! Really getting used to stopping at the Pool Bar when we return for a couple of beers, it’s hot out!
Day 10: Quepos (Manuel Antonio National Park)
Nice touch – note on our bed that “hey, you’re leaving at 7:30 for a tour, shouldn’t you order some breakfast at 6:30?” Tour of Manuel Antonio is well done, guides very knowledgeable, and I got to see the camo frogs and a hummingbird nest to boot! Watch your valuables, the monkeys will take your glasses up the tree and the raccoons will open your backpack for food. About a mile to the beach with decent footing, short cut back to a fruit snack. Lunch on the ship was Cajun chicken and beef goulasch. In the afternoon, I turned in my activities card for a Tshirt and a notebook. Dinner was an excellent lamb chop and wiener schnitzel.
Day 11: Debark in Caldera, Costa Rica
We were signed up for stopping in Sachi on the way to San Jose, but they told us we wouldn’t have enough time… We got to the airport at 10, and the staff didn’t show up to check us in until 12:30. Maybe Azamara should’ve timed this out a bit? Plenty of time to stop and buy an oxcart or something. Decent airport, we asked the attendant and got some beans and rice for lunch. ChoiceAir routed us through Charlotte, NC on the way to Denver – a route not appreciated by us, particularly when only one security line was open at that time of night in Charlotte.