With all that said, if you are tired of the old Caribbean cruises that do the standard Eastern, Western islands or the standard Southern out of Puerto Rico, this is a great cruise that will provide you with different islands and a totally different feel on the ship.
Since this was the first cruise that debarks out of Colon there were a few wrinkles.
This is a brand new facility and staff. Panama did not really have the boarding process ready. They did have a lot of staff from Miami that help start new ports. One other thing that hurt is this is a new area for cruising. There were only 24 diamond/diamond plus members. Most cruisers where latin American and this was their first cruise. They did not know or understand what documents needed to be ready before arriving and where to go. This is no a criticism. It is just a fact that there was a large portion of the cruisers compared to Miami or Lauderdale cruises.
As normal they tell you that you cannot board until 1 or 2 p.m. Yeah right, I know how this works. We were there at 11:30am and dropped off our luggage outside the pier. There is parking there and it was free. I think this was because it wasn't 100% ready. Since we live in Panama now, we drove (yeah no flying) and parked in the lot.
We entered the terminal building. Got our immigration forms and showed that we had our forms preprinted and signed. We were directed to the Diamond passenger line. We were first in line and waited 5 minutes mainly waiting on the staff to learn how to check in people and plus many of the people there where suite people and was their first cruise so they had to fill out documents.
Once we got there, we had the main RCL person from Miami that was there to help. Took us all of 3 minutes to get our cards and go to the waiting area. There are bathrooms, snacks and drinks in the waiting area. At 11:50 am they started to board. We where 6th on the ship. They scan your card and take your picture and on you go.
They let you on the public areas. They block the room areas off and don't open the rooms until 1 p.m. The Windjammer opens at noon for lunch.
One note, this is the last day of the cruisers that board in Cartagena, Colombia so they will be touring and eating and using the ships services.
The public areas are very clean and classy. Chairs in the Windjammer are hard to come buy. Since these are newbies to cruising, they would get food eat and just hang out waiting on their room thus keeping the tables occupied. This was an issue through out the cruise.
The food was excellent for the entire cruise. We enjoyed the Windjammer for breakfast and lunch the entire cruise. The quality was very good and great variety. The dinning room service was good, not great. The food was excellent in the dinning room. We did eat at Chops one night and was excellent and well worth the $20 a person in my opinion.
This ship is very large for this class. It is as long as the Radiance Class ships. There are two large pools, kids sprinkle pool, two nice bars on the pool deck. Then there is the covered sun pool that they can open and close the roof on. There where many deck chairs and we could almost always find a chair in the shade.
I recommend that you look at the deck plans on the RCL web site for more information. Again, the ship was clean and new looking even thought it is a 11 year ship that has been refitted. The staff where excellent and eager to please.
If you are a suite, Diamond, or Diamond+, they have a concierge lounge on deck 8. The concierge was average but did help me out by getting me cuff links for my tux which I had forgotten. There were very few of us so we had the run of it. Free drinks/cocktails from 6pm to 9:30 pm. We really enjoyed this (the drinks) and meeting the great people that came there.
On the dinning side, early seating dinner is at 7 pm because of the Central and South American culture of eating late. The late seating was 9:30 pm. There were 2 formal nights and they are the 3rd and 6th nights. One semi-formal night was on night 5. The rest where business casual.
The ports of call were Cartagena, Colombia; Santa Marta, Colombia; Aruba; Curacao; Bonaire; Sea Day.
Santa Marta was a tender port and the seas where so rough that we could not stop there so that turned into another sea day.
In Cartagena, we just go get a taxi there. Taxis start at $15 to take you to the old city to shop or the old Fort. You can find some that will take you all around and wait. The Monastery is a good stop as well. They are forceful when trying to sell you things but I always felt safe every time I've been there. Many places will accept US Dollars but some will only accept Colombian Pesos. Make sure that you understand this before buying with cash or negotiate the price.
Aruba we booked a ship snorkel tour. It was cancelled so we just walked the city. It seems a large number of tours are cancelled throughout the cruise. Also be aware that many tours will only be in Spanish. Make sure you understand this before booking or boarding a bus. Please note that right off the ship is the public bus system. It is excellent. You can take a bus round trip to Palm Beach area for $2.30 a person. You just go to the bus and pay when you get on board. When you get to where you want to get off, just pull the cord or push the button and the bus will stop at the next stop. Coming back there are marked bus stops along the way. Just give them your return ticket or buy another one way and off you go. I like to use the Holiday Inn bathrooms by the casino. There are places that rent chairs along the beach and there are plenty of food and drink stops.
Renting a car is a good option. We have done that in the past. You really want a 4x4 because some of the area is kind of rough.
This trip we docked at the Mega pier and just walked over to the city and walked around. Taxis are prevalent and Avis has a rental there at the Mega pier. Just make sure that you are going to be docking there. If a bigger ship is there with you, you might be at the city pier.
Again, if you want a great change, I recommend this cruise. It only goes out from December to mid-April. They will be back in 2009-10. If you want to take this and want the details of how to come in to Panama, email me and I will be glad to help you.
Happy cruising - John
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