We drove from Canada and stayed in Plantation at the Hampton Inn. We did this last year as well and found it very convenient. We didn't want to stay too close to port as our car would be parked for an extended amount of time. The hotel was $135/night and we paid $25 for unlimited parking while we were away. They had complimentary breakfast and shuttle to and from the port.
We took the 10:00 shuttle and arrived about 10:45 after dropping others off at the other ship in port. Check-in was painless. No lines at all. We we seated in the waiting area by 11:05. They allowed us to board at 11:15 (the seat wasn't even warm yet). We were notified our rooms would not be ready until 1pm, so we went exploring the ship as everyone else was headed for the Windjammer. No one else was doing this, so we didn't have any crowds to contend with.
Our room was ready by 1:00 -we stayed in 8558 -balcony starboard side. It was beautiful. More
We had an extended deck above us to protect from any rain and it gave us some extra privacy from anyone looking over. We slept with the door open every night to hear the waves (it was wonderful). We had a sleeper sofa in the room. The bathroom was adequate (look for the hairdryer in the desk drawer) with a cupboard to hold your things. Wrinkling was a problem for a lot of our clothes. If I hung the item on a hanger on the shower cord and put the hand-held shower low on the bar, running the hot water with the door closed for 2 min removed the wrinkles quite well. The shower was great -lots of pressure and it was adjustable for height. Lots of closet space and hangers. The TV was old and would sometimes turn itself on (weird). The safe was large. there was a lot of cupboard space to hold things like cameras, sunblock, binoculars.
We ate in the main dining room at 8:30 -dinner usually ended at 10:00. This allowed us to go to the 7:00 shows and also the evening events at 10:30 (even time to change clothes if we wanted) The food was fantastic and so much selection.
Day 2 and 3 -At sea
Nice for lounging around. Never had trouble getting a chair whether in the sun or shade. A lot of people got really badly burned these two days. Please wear your suncreen. Many looked awful at the formal dinner on Day 2 with strapless dresses and bright red faces. We started going to the afternoon trivia games in the schooner bar. they were all music related. We found a team our first day and had a blast the entire cruise singing and laughing. We won everytime -the prizes get better at the days go on.
Day 4 Aruba
We chose AR06 Aruba Sailaway Beach and Snorkel Cruise.
It was a popular excursion. The boat was right at the port, so no big tour of Aruba. The staff was great -we sat at the back beside the captain and got a lot of information about Aruba from him. We had 2 snorkeling stops -one included a sunken war ship. We then went to a beach resort and had a fantastic lunch and went swimming at the beach. The boat served free drinks (rum punch, vodka, etc) in abundance. Definitely worth tipping at the end.
Day 5 -At Sea
The ship was travelling really slowly today so we didn't get to Columbia too early -it was really hot as there was not a lot of wind. -Again, wear a lot of sunscreen.
Day 6 -Cartagena
CA14 Rosario Island Tour. This tour left on a boat from the pier. I don't think a lot of people read the tour description. It was a speedboat to take us 24 miles away. It was a very bumpy ride (we were actually catching air) over the ocean. It took about an hour. Many people felt unwell by the time we arrived and were complaining a lot. We like adventure and found it to be the best part of the excursion. The resort on the island was old, but beautiful. Some peddlers selling necklaces. The water was shallow and a little cloudy, but we did snorkel (we brought our own equipment) We saw starfish, crabs, eels, and a ray of some kind. You will need water shoes here as there is a lot of broken coral and it will cut your feet. Do not pay the extra money to go to a snorkeling stop -there is plenty to see here for free if you have your own stuff. There is a large pool and many chairs to enjoy the sunshine.
The aquarium visit was a short calmer boat ride. Dolphins, sharks, baracuda, stingrays, turtles -most could come and go as they please -the 'pools' we actually fenced off areas in the ocean. The dolphins could jump over. Lunch back at the resort was nice -we didn't drink the juice (just in case). On the rough ride back the boat ran out of gas -but they did have an extra can to get us back to pier.
Day 7 Colon Panama
Would never go back here. So much poverty. Everything is closed down. There is some sort of a compound in the middle of town with high concrete walls and armed guards at the gates. All the malls and shopping areas have armed gates to pass through. Apparently the tenants have stopped paying rent as the land lords stopped the up-keep. So they have plasma tv's and leather sofas inside these run down buildings. Ew!
CO 26 -Panama Canal Tour -
there were 9 coach bus loads that went on this tour. The port is packed when you get off the ship -you must get a coloured sticker to identify your bus group. Keep an eye on your tour guide so you don't miss your chance to get on your bus! The bus trip was almost 2 hours, but we saw and heard a lot about Panama. The ferry we got on was 3 floors -suitable for those in wheelchairs. Not a lot of shade on the top level -a lot of people forgot sunscreen. There were Panama hats, shirt and bags for sale on the ferry. The lunch was simple, but healthy. The tour through 2 sets of locks took about 4 hours and was very informative. Many opportunities for great photos. Won't need to do it again.
Will never go back to Panama
Day 8 Costa Rica
My favourite port. PL 32 Aerial Tram and Zip Line Tour.
They put 2 tours on the same bus (those doing just the tram tour and us) The bus ride was 2 hours to get to the rainforest. Very scenic drive. Our driver even stopped the bus occasionally to show us something. Many banana plants and pineapple fields along the way. The zip line tour was awesome. 12 platforms. We took a lot of pictures. There was a 74 year old woman with us as well. The zip lines were long and sometimes quite fast. Beautiful scenery. The tram ride was excellent. Our guide identified the different plants and animals we saw (no monkeys this time) We arrived back for a nice lunch. The store here was wonderful. Really clean and nice quality stuff.
There is a flea market at the pier. Worth checking out. You can get your eyebrows waxed for $10 and have pedicures etc. There are a lot of wooden items for sale as mahogany wood is prevalent here.
Day 9 -At sea
Day 10 Grand Cayman -tendering.
GC 91 Stingray city barrier and 7 mile beach lunch.
Stingray city is a must for any first timers. Always a great experience. the barrier reef was full of sea life. 7 mile beach had a great lunch. We went snorkeling at the beach -there was a lot to see here, but it was spaced out quite a bit. A lot of swimming was required. If you are just swimming you will need water shoes as there is a lot of coral. We went shopping in town. Definitely the place to get your jewelry.
We did the Quest game show and won. Tip- if you have never played this, it is a lot of fun and hilarity at what people will do. Ladies need to bring a handbag.
Day 11 -At sea
A good day to recover and pack your bags.
The ship was really well organized for disembarkation and embarkation at each of the ports. The stairs at the center of the ship were always a quick way to get to deck 2 to leave. Even final disembarkation went smoothly. We chose to carry our own luggage off. We got in line at 7:00 and we were standing in the shuttle pick up by 7:20 after going through customs.
I can't encourage enough about sunscreen. In Panama we were 9 degrees north of the equator. It' really hot!
The shows on the ship were okay, we preferred the guest entertainers to the ship's own group. The illusionist and tango shows were amazing.
The picture package is worth it, if you like to keep photo memories. You get all your photos from each port and each evening (not including the photo-shopped ones) They do take a lot of pictures while on board.
We participated in a lot of the games on board. There was always a good crowd at the events. the Cruise staff was really energetic and a lot of fun.
The vortex was really busy most nights with a lot of people on the dance floor.
The outdoor pool and hot tubs were emptied every night, scrubbed and refilled. All the pools are saltwater, and there are showers to remove the salt after. The solarium pool is always warm and is covered, so no sunburn. The kids pool is great with a huge slide. The mini-putt course is in good condition. You must try the self-leveling pool tables in the schooner bar -very cool.
The coffee bar was great -Seattle's Best
I think that is it for now. If there is something I haven't mentioned, please let me know and I'll try to answer it for you.