Arrived in Florida 4 days early to spend some time in Key West. One great day for a boat ride to the Dry Tortugas (I'm a birder – no rational person would want to go there), then the weather turned bad for the last two. We had frost on the motel roof south of Miami on the morning of the 11th.
Jan 11: Turned the rental car back in near the airport, then took the RCL charter bus to the ship. Got a line of BS from the driver that “he had to supervise the unloading of our suitcases personally”. I've had a lot better pleas for tips than that! Took a solid 15 minutes to get on the ship, and that was because the bar code didn't print on our preboard documents. Did the usual roam around the ship tour and sampled the cold cuts, etc in the Windjammer. Standard cabin, standard shower knobs (one for temp, one for more water). Good towels, good soap (no snot in a bottle this time) Water always hot in a hurry. Smelled like sulfides a couple of times.
Jan 12:at sea. a couple of trivia games, tour the Royal Suite in preparation for the bingo (lost). Dinner featured escargot (had two, good), lobster bisque (fair, fishy tasting) and Cherries Jubilee for dessert (not enough/any booze in it).
Jan 13: at sea Usual activities, lunch had warm peach cobbler (look behind the dessert table near the ice cream machine). Dinner had lamb shanks and an excellent garlic soup.
Jan 14: Aruba 7-3 Took an taxi to the Bubali Bird Preserve ($15 each way), then did some birding along the waterfront near the pier and in the local trees. Lunch had warm banana cobbler (excellent, think Bananas Foster) and dried out BBQ ribs. Dinner had a great Berry Compote. Went to the show, ordinary and I don't remember what it was!
Jan 15: Cartagena Sea and Land Tour, which showed the same forts from a boat and then a bus. Meager shopping area, so I sat and drank a beer instead of fighting off the street vendors. Beat up city, another in the long list that hasn't figured out that if they clean up the waterfront a little and pick up the trash, maybe people will actually get off the big boat and spend some money? Fort interesting, old – needs to have some cannon and pageantry for the tourists. Reference Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario for how it should be done. Dinner had Osso Buco (fatty, mostly bone) and a lime-basil parfait that I ordered because I couldn't believe a chef would make something like that; and it was good!
Jan 16: at sea, wandering around at 8-10 knots. Why not pour some speed on and get to a port? 4 trivia contests – lost them all! Dinner only fair. NFL playoffs on the tv in the cabin and the bars. Wander into the Captain's reception for Crown and Anchor members for the free drinks.
Jan 17: Colon Rain Forest hike, since I came mostly for the birding. Americans don't usually go on these, I notice; mostly it's the foreigners who are interested in the woods. The tour crosses the Panama at the Gatun Locks, so we get to take pictures and watch a ship going through, no extra charge. Hike for a mile or two in San Lorenzo National Park, then go to the park behind the closed army base where the green berets trained for Vietnam next to Gatun Lake. If you're a birder, wear your costume so Louis will know – he's an excellent guide. Lunch: what lunch? I had a couple of beers in the shopping center next to the ship (Panama is the best, like a Heineken), go aboard to watch the football game. Halftime comes, I'm still thirsty, go back onland and have a couple of more beers. 2 bucks on land vs 4 bucks on the ship. Hey, I'm on a fixed income... Speaking of which, why doesn't RCL put a couple of local beers on board? I like a little variety, I'm from Colorado, the land of the microbrewery! The gift of choice is wooden puzzle boxes with hidden compartments for the grandchildren for 12 bucks (They're 2 dollars cheaper in Costa Rica, I discovered). Dinner unremarkable.
Jan 18: Puerto Limon Bocuare Jungle tour to a private nature reserve. 1 ½ hours there, the last 20 minutes over a really lousy road crossing single lane bridges with no side rails. The advertised hanging bridge over the lagoon is about 3 feet above the water with no alligators, disappointing all the Indiana Jones fans. Hike around for a couple of hours. Hints for birders: Xavier was the guide, but when you get there, stay near Sebastian – he speaks no English, but he's got a good ear for the local birds and will point to a picture of the birds for you. I figure a buck a bird for Sebastian at the end is about right... After the hike, we squeezed some sugar cane and drank the fresh juice – excellent! A brief make a tortilla party. Then a lunch, with a couple of local Imperial beers. Great glass of juice at lunch – mango, lemon, watermelon. Then some folk dancing. All in all, kinda fun. Xavier will do some guiding – costaricatravelinfo.com will get to him. He's based in San Jose. Dinner unremarkable again – I think the quality is down somewhat on RCL, eh?
Jan 19: at sea Won a second trivia, hats this time. Lobster night, finished my second and my plate was removed before I could get a third. See note above about getting cheap on the food. Someplace in here the show was the BeatleManiacs. Excellent and I actually considered staying up for the second show.
Jan 20: Grand Cayman Walked to the right of the dock to the shack labeled “Taxi Dispatch”. Got a taxi for 4 people, 4 hours for $240 US. Went to the Queen Elizabeth Botanical Park and roamed around a couple of hours birding (best is the flower garden). Then we toured the island: Run Point, the blowholes (good), the San Pedro house (dull). Notice the Bird Sanctuary sign on the way back, but not enough time to stop. Lunch at the Paradise Cafe – good Cuban Black Bean Soup, best Mahi-mahi my wife has ever had. Its just south of the docks on the shore. Kind of expensive, all the prices are in Cayman dollars. Walked around, buying only a Mango Haagen Daaz (single scoop $3.50 US). Dinner was Steak Diane. Good, but I make this at home, and mine is better.
Jan 21: at sea won another trivia, and it's hats again. Let's see, thats 2 hats, keychains, pens, highlighters, and that little notebook to hang around your neck. Not a bad haul. I always lose in the casino so it only got about 40 bucks from me. My wife always wins, this time about four hundred. Unlike most ships, the bar in the casino gives only a regular size pour. Look around, you'll find the one to drink at.
Jan 22: back in Miami Scheduled to depart ship at 8:40, get off at 9:50. Excuse is not enough customs agents. Excuse me – you didn't know we were coming? Doesn't the port do this every day? On the bus at 10:40, leave at 11:00 and a half hour to the airport, with a driver narration on the way to earn his tip. One of America's crummiest airports.
Overall: Breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer is pretty boring, with the same stuff every day, except the curries and the back hot tables with pizza, tacos, etc. Check out the hot dessert at the back. And I know some people have a hamburger and fries every day, too. Myself, I had smoked salmon every morning (way in back...). I thought most of the dinners were unexceptional. The coffee cups smelled of dishwasher detergent a few times - inadequate rising. The waitstaff and housekeepers were great as always. The crack about to the Panama Canal (sorta) was for the poor folks who figured we would actually go into the canal on OUR SHIP. Nope.... (Apparently, RCL used to do that on this route)