Arrival: We arrived the night before and stayed at the Airport La Quinta which was nice. The hotel had a free shuttle to the port. We arrived at the port around noon and check in was very quick, no lines to speak of. But then they took us onto busses and we had to wait in another building while the Coast Guard was checking the ship. One representative said they were taking us for sandwiches and refreshments, but all they had were little bottles of water, chips, and cookies from Aramark. We waited in folding seats for a few hours until they called us by our group number (assigned when we left for the busses) and bussed us back and we re-screened our carry on luggage. Got on the ship, went to our room, and went to a late lunch in the Windjammer. Even though everyone was there getting something to eat after our wait to board, there was no problem finding a place to sit. We sat, as we did every other meal from then on, in the very back where there were outside tables covered by canopies. Got our luggage later in the day after the required emergency drill. Explored ship most of the day.
The Ship: The ship was big but very easy to navigate. The elevators listed everything that was on each deck (on the outside as well as the inside). There were also maps at each main elevator bank. There were three types of elevators: inside ones, glass ones that looked outside through a large window to the sea, and glass Centrum elevators. There was a lot of interesting art (paintings, photos, statues, glass pickles). Our deck had an animal theme.
Pools/Sunning areas: There were three pools: the main outdoor pool, the kids pool with a slide, and the adult pool in the Solarium (enclosed with a glass ceiling). The main pool had a two covered hot tubs and the adult pool had one hot tub. The main and adult pools were 24 hours (which I had never seen before on a boat). The main pool was closed a couple times for cleaning. The one day we had sort of rough seas and they put up sides to the adult pool because it was sloshing so much. There were certain times of the day when you could not find a deck chair next to the pools, but other times of the day it was fine. Overall, there were lots of places to sit. If you ventured over to the climbing wall or kids pool area, there was always somewhere to sit in the sun. On previous cruises it seemed you had to fight for a place, but on this ship there was no problem. There were also plenty of places to sit in the shade. There were always places on the 5th deck to sit outside in the shade. The pools had really shallow areas along the edges so you could sit in the water, which was really nice.
Spa: There was a nice spa area where you could get all kinds of treatments as well as a sauna and steam room. There was also a Thermal suite which you could pay to use which had heated tile recliners, steam room, mild steam room, aromatherapy room, and tropical/ice showers. I bought a three day pass for the Thermal suite and it was very nice to go in there where it was quiet and few people were. I do have to say that I also used the free steam room and there was never anyone in there, but the Thermal suite had windows which was very nice. I had an excellent head and shoulder massage in the salon. My mom would not recommend the Fire and Ice pedicure which she said was expensive and not very good.
Rooms: We had a room on deck 3, just a regular outside room with a window. The shower was much nicer than others we have had, it was round with doors. I would say that compared to other rooms we have had, it had less closet room. Our stateroom attendant was nice and had excellent towel folding skills. This was the first time we had towel animals! We did have to ask for more pant hangers, which were happily provided. It was very quiet at night.
Restaurants: I have to admit that we only ate in the Windjammer and Seaview Cafe. We prefer the buffet style to eating in the dining rooms. There was never any problem finding seating in the Windjammer, especially because we ate in the very back outside. The other place we ate, the Seaview Cafe, few people seemed to know about. It was upstairs from the Windjammer in the back of the boat. You could eat inside or out. All the food was free, including fish and chips, brownies, and other items. You ordered and then sat down to be served. We also got snacks at Latte-tudes, the coffee shop. The snacks in the glass case (cookies and cakes) were complimentary. Overall the food at meals was pretty good. They had different desserts each night. In general the breakfasts were always the same (although there were tons of things to choose from), the lunches were the same every day, and dinner was the same every day. Lunches were different from dinners. There was always a lot to choose from and there was some variation in the meats. The food was not fancy, but it suited the eating style of my mom and I. The best dessert was the warm banana surrounded by brownie and flaky crust.
Entertainment: My mom went to the shows in the Coral Theater. She only walked out on one (a magician). She reported that they were "ok". The only one she seemed to be impressed with was the tenor performance. We went to movies a couple nights in the little movie theater. The focus was a little blurry and wherever you sat, you were close to the screen. For a couple movies, the sound was too loud for the speakers to handle. But they had a wide range of movies, although when you saw the times in the daily newsletter, it didn't give a summary of what it was about! To give you an idea of the movies, I went to: Julie & Julia, Duplicity, Obsessed, Land of the Lost, and Angels & Demons. I was super excited that the boat had a cinema, but was disappointed that some days only one movie was showing (some days there were two). We went to some of the arts and crafts classes. The teacher was terrible, but the projects themselves were good. We also went to origami and napkin folding. There was a library so if you finished all your books on the trip you could get a new one to read and leave the ones you finished if you wanted. Departing: The disembarkation process was very easy. They put you into groups based on your flight time. Our flight was at 3:30pm so we were on one of the last ones to get off. We had time for a shower, breakfast, and sat in the Coral theater until our group was called at 8:45am. We had arranged through Royal Caribbean for a bus to MIA and it was well organized and were happy we planned ahead.
Overall: I may have complained a bit above, but we had a great time and the ship was really comfortable feeling. There was always something to do or somewhere to go, on the ship or off. The ports (see my reviews) were amazing and 11 nights was definately not too long. I could have stayed longer!! We had a mixture of weather, some overcast, some rain, lots of sun and plenty of heat. Just a note on our fellow passengers... there were very few children and the majority of passengers were older (70+), there were several wheelchairs, etc. In otherwords, it wasn't a party atmosphere (which was fine for us!)!
The day was extremely humid and rainy. After wandering around a bit and taking pictures of the city, we went back to the port where all the port shops were open. There was quite a bit to look at, so we did get to do some shopping. The shops were indoor and just in a horseshoe shaped area, mostly cheap jewelry, t-shirts, dresses, some local handicrafts, etc. They took US dollars and at least some of them took credit cards.
If at this port again, I would definately book a tour to see other parts of the island.
Found the Hard Rock Cafe right inside. We wandered around inside the Old City and it was very beautiful. The parts we explored were not touristy (other than the Hard Rock) and no one was pushy. While some of the bigger shops took credit cards, most places did not take US dollars. Next time I would get some local currency and try to learn more Spanish. There were many ribbon and fabric shops (a textile area), small restaurants, clothing shops, street vendors selling jewelry and fruit as well as socks, old blender parts and whatever else! Several vendors had cell phones that you could pay to use right there on the street. In other words, most everything seemed geared toward locals and mostly we were the only tourists walking around (which I liked!). We always felt safe and no one bothered us even though we were obviously not locals. The streets were tiny and full of people, it was very neat.
When we were done walking around, we caught a cab right outside the Old City and he took us to the port for $10. At the port there was a nice little area with trees and a bird habitat. The air-conditioned shop inside the port was very nice and had local handicrafts, coffee, etc. There was also a vendor outside selling delicious fruit drinks (although they were expensive). The port shop accepted US dollars and credit cards. It was very hot here, so wear something that breathes and bring lots of water. I would love to go here again and see more of the city. Next time I would definately get local currency.
Portabelo was a small town with ruins. It was very beautiful, but poor. We were there right before the annual pilgrimage to the church of the Jesus of Nazareth. There were little boys and girls who tried to sell you jewelry as you walked around. There were a couple vendors selling jewelry and mola. Mola is a reverse applique technique done by a particular native indian population. You can buy this and some jewelry from a couple local vendors. Panama uses the US dollar and their own coins (although they use our coins too sometimes. We did walk around a bit, so wear comfortable shoes. It was quite hot, so wear something cool.
After we left this area (and given a muffin and bottled water by the tour guide), we went to the Gatun Locks. It happened that a car carrier was going through right when we arrived so we got to see the locks open and the boat go through that one portion. Apparently it can cost over 300K for some of the larger ships to go through! There were soda machines so you could get water and a small gift shop. After this, the bus took us back to the port. I would recommend this particular tour if you would like to see how people live in Panama in addition to seeing the canal.
There were lots of shops at the port, including a large grocery store. The shops were almost identical (having pretty much the same things), but it was fun to walk through them all. There was a soda machine with cans for 60 cents, so stock up before you go on board (soda is 2.25 on board for a can). To see more than the port shops, I agree with the suggestion that you should book a tour.
It is a very nice area to walk around, get something to drink, shop, etc. I think if we come to this stop again, we would take a tour because once you have walked in the area near the dock once, you have seen it. It was definately cooler here than at any of our other ports of call. I was glad that they used the ferries this time to get us to and from the port rather than the tenders they used the previous year (on Princess). The tenders made me a little ill!
Then we went into an area with a few of the residents and the guide introduced us to them. One of the residents was one of the only babies born at the sanctuary, she was with her mother. After this, we went on a canoe ride through the jungle. The boats were low in the water, but very safe. My mom was nervous about them, but she agreed afterwards that it was very fun and she felt safe. We saw a sloth in the wild climbing down a tree. We also saw crabs, birds, crocodile, and bright green iguana. It was very relaxing, but I would suggest that you put on some bug spray. The mosquitos were not terrible, but they were biting a bit.
Then we went on a walking tour in the jungle and our guide talked about the plants of the area. We went to a porch and ate fresh fruit. The final part of the tour was the baby sloth introduction. They were in little bins on towels. Some were sleeping, some were eating, some were making cute faces. You could not touch them, but you could take pictures (no flash). Finally, there was a nice gift shop with lots of sloth items. The bus took us back to the port after we were done in the shop. Overall, the sanctuary tour was very nice because our group was the only ones at each step of the tour. So it was not crowded. There were a couple children on the tour and they got tired and bored partway through the canoe ride.
At the port, there was a very nice market under a tent (which was good because it rained while we were in there). We also went out into the town where there were shops and restaurants as well. Everywhere accepted US dollars in this area.