The day before: We were brought to a taxi by a HAL rep that took us to the our hotel. A great hotel and after breakfast we went on the 3 hr "highlights of Vancouver" tour. A great way to spent the hours before going to the ship.
Embarkation: It took us about 15 minutes from getting of the bus to entering our stateroom. Can't get quicker then that I guess. We had a small inside stateroom. Plenty big for us. We slept there and there was enough closetspace. The airco system was a bit noisy though. After dropping our stuff off in our stateroom we went to explore the ship and have a bite to eat at the Lido.
I can't really see the problem with Code Red. It kept the ship NORO free and not being able to scoop your own food isn't really that much of a problem for us.
Apart from the "designed by a colourblind" colour scheme it looked fine. Some wear and there in some places.
The average age was (a lot) lower in the first 3 days than after San Francisco.
Which didn't bother us as much as some people thought. Apart from one encounter with an extremely rude man at the Jade museum in Guatemala(you know who you are) we only had good experiences with our fellow cruisers.
Food: The Pinnacle grill was incredible. We went there twice (on our third day and on our last day of the trip).
The Lido: Great for breakfast and Lunch. Spoiled for choice.
The Lido fast food place next to the taco stand. Also good for a quick lunch. Never had to wait long. A VERY cheery girl behind the counter.
The Vista: Great place for lunch and dinner.: Every time after dinner they would give us the menu for the next day so my wife (having many food allergies) could tell them what she wanted and what they had to leave out).
The open seating worked well. We never had to wait long (we ate early). It was nice talking to all the different people. Very nice to see those familiar faces on board later on.
Overall a great eating experience on board.
Entertainment: We really enjoyed the entertainment on the ship.
The shows: A great cast and especially the "dream park" show with all the props was incredible.
The"unexpected boys" were also great. Although their first show was a bit better than their second one.
The magician, ventriloquist and comedian were fun too. They knew how to work the crowd well.
The crows nest was our retreat after our dinner and the show. We came in after 9 to find an almost deserted crows nest. We think there was a curfew or something and we missed the memo ;-)
Gregg, the musician, was great and deserved a bigger audience. Luckily there were some regulars and we had great time with Gregg and the bas staff anyway.
We didn't go to the adagio strings or the Jazz band, so we can't comment on them. We were amazed that the halcats could play behind every visiting act.
The staff. In one word: "incredible". From our cabin steward Andy to the Captain nothing but smiles and great service. Always smiling and offering their help. I can't imaging how hard it is to be away from my family for 10 months and work the hours that they do.
Never pushing stuff or services.
Pricing: The photographs. My only real "peeve". We took a picture with the captain: $25... A set of formal photos: $40.. Really far to expensive. Make them $9.95 and everyone will a least buy one and your walls wouldn't be so full at the end of the trip.
The Spa treatments: also too expensive in our opinion. Although the 2 person 19 day pass for the hydropool/sauna was a good deal (we showered there instead of our smallish shower). And nothing could beat the hydropool after a hot long day on a tour.
As a result of a great staff and very nice fellow cruisers we had the best experience.
The Panama canal was a great experience!
Disembarkation:We were in the last group let of the ship. It didn't take us very long to go through customs. It was the first HAL arrival in 4 months and the transition to the hotel and subsequent transfer to the airport wasn't handled correctly. After calling a couple of times we had the distinct feeling they had to scramble for an airport taxi. I think they forgot about us. Too bad, it was a blemish on an otherwise perfect trip.
I'd like to thank cruising4Fun for putting the meet 'n greet together. A great way to get acquainted.
Bird Watching Eco-Tour The tour was at a golf course with a lot of water features. We saw a lot of birds and even a very (i mean very) large iguana. Great guide with a lot of time spent in the shade. He also had spare binoculars with him and a check sheet for us to tick of all the birds we saw.
Mangrove Boat Ride & Bird Watching Tour.
Puerto Chiapas, Mexico The tide was pretty low in the Mangrove. The boats hat to be pushed by 1 or 2 man. On the other hand we saw a lot of birds that were attracted to the mangroves because the water was so low. We saw a lot of birds we would otherwise wouldn't have spotted.
We had a good guide who wasn't afraid to ask the boatman if he didn't know an answer.
Past and Present Colonial Antigua
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
A lot of information about the people, economics, politics, an scenery on our way to antiqua. He wasn't even being stopped by the fact that at one point half of the road was gone due to an mud slide).
The cathedral was very nice and a easy climb giving a great view.
The Jade museum was very interesting (can't believe they let you touch all the jewelery).
The lunch was very nice at a great secluded garden (too bad water had to be bought)
The only problem I had was the fact that the street vendors were unrelenting in their pursuit. On other tours after saying no they would leave you alone, but not in Guatemala. They were even sent away by the tourist police.
Colonial Leon & The Bubbling Mud Pots
A very informative narration by the guide on our bus trip to leon. He took his time to tell about everything important to Nicaragua. He was really impartial when discussing politics, giving both sides of the story.
Leon itself wasn't that impressive. Although the cathedral was nice the surrounding streets were not that interesting.
The bubbling mudpots were very nice. No where in the litigious western world would you be able to walk up to the mudpots this close only held back by a plastic ribbon.
The villagers there are allowed to sell pre-colombian fragments to tourists. The guide told us that it was not wise to just give the kids money (they drop out of school if the find this way of making money too tempting). and only to give them money if they performed a service (pointing out something etc.).
Again the guide made all the difference.
El Valle Ecological Paradise
Fuerte Amador, Panama
Something here about a guide making all the difference...
The waterfall at the el vale park is very beautiful but not worth the 2 hour bus drive (and 2 back). Than there is the fact you are kinda "forced" to move along on the path of rope bridges. You really couldn't walk there at your own pace.
We only stayed there for about 30-40 minutes.
Lunch was served at the warm springs (which consisted of a couple of concrete basins.
The guide was unprepared (even the fact we weren't a spanish speaking group came as a surprise)and sometimes mentioned things like: "aah, we just drove past it so I can't show it to you but... (It happed time and time again).
The only cool thing was the fact he stopped the bus so we could get out to see and take pictures of a sloth "racing" into a tree