Port and Shore Excursions
We booked our Green Zebra Adventures in Aruba online several months in advance of our January cruise. They have a limited number of ATV's (Tomcars), and I wanted to be guarantee that we didn't miss out on the adventure. They have recently added several 4 passenger ATV's. We signed up for their morning Baby Beach 4 hour tour. I also got on their email list and was later offered a 15% discount. The final cost for both of us was $185.30 plus tax and a tip for our marvelous guide Bernard. It was worth every penny! The morning we arrived in Aruba, we had a rain shower with a beautiful rainbow - which I took as a good omen! Bernard picked us up, only minutes from the cruise ship dock. We signed the waiver and off we went after a short intro to how to drive the Tomcars. They were automatic -so very easy to drive. We felt very secure with the 4 point safety harness. After going down some residential streets, we were off-roading quickly. On the way to the Arikok National Park we went through several large puddles (thanks to the before mentioned rain shower) What a blast! My husband & I both had a chance to drive. We followed Bernard along dirt roads bordered by large rocks, but the best part was a section with several sand moguls where I actually caught air! I think that's where I earned my stripes! Scenery was spectacular, with large rock outcroppings, cactus, divi divi trees, sheep, donkeys, a pet cemetery that was guarded by two barking dogs and a string of immense wind turbines! Most other Aruba tours show you the broken natural bridge, but Green Zebra brought us to Seroe Colorado Natural Bridge with spectacular Caribbean blue water. It was so cool! We were given 1/2 hour at Baby Beach at the Southern end of Aruba for a short swim. It was very shallow and a great photo op. Bernard provided us with water, soft drinks and granola bars. There were bathrooms and a food stand at Baby Beach. My only complain was that we had stopped at a cave for about 1/2 hour, not that impressive (we would have preferred to spend a whole hour at Baby Beach instead)
Four couples sailing on the RCI Jewel of the Sea 1/24/11 Southern Caribbean cruise (who met on the Cruise Critic boards) pre-arranged a tour of Cartagena, Colombia with Dora De Zubiria's Company. Very personal emails and phone calls from Dora, she's a real pleasure to talk to, you could tell she loves to show off her city!. We all decided that we wanted to spend quality time in the Old Town and opted not to do the 1/2 hour shopping at a mall (I personally need more than a 1/2 hour to shop!) We arrived in Cartagena on 1/29 and were immediately greeted by our English speaking guide Fernado Lopez Prens and our driver Pilar. We had an air-conditioned bus - which was fortunate as it was very hot & humid. Each time we came back to the bus Pilar had it nice & cool! Our first stop was to La Popa Hill, which was up a very winding road. The 440 year old monastery is built on a 500 ft hill, the highest point in the city - so from there you could see both Old Town and the New City. Great photo op! There was a serene courtyard with beautiful flowers and a small museum with history of La Popa and the Virgin de la Candelaria. It was extremely busy, as their annual Patron Saint's Day (La Virgin de la Candelaria) is on February 2. Many people were making pilgrimages, they would walk up the hill to thank the Virgin for a favor that had been granted during the previous year. We actually saw one man who was crawling up the hill on his hands & knees over cobbled stones. Next we were off to Fort de San Felipe. Our entrance fee was paid by Fernando and we spend about an hour touring the whole fort, actually walking the historic tunnels and turrets. Fernando described the battles that had been fought here over the centuries. Next we went to the Old Town and walked narrow streets with beautiful balconies and ornate wood residential doors. Walked through Plaza Bolivar with Simon Bolivar's statue and a fountain under a grove of trees and many benches for sitting in the shade. Also passed by the statue of Christoper Columbus as we walked to the Church of San Pedro Claver, he was the "slave to the slaves" and the first South American saint. There was a beautiful cloister courtyard with trees, walkways and two parrots. The church was serene and had large stained glass windows. After a short bus ride we arrived at Las Bovedas in El Centro, which is a series of 23 shops that were originally dungeons. A few of us decided to go to the Bullfighters bar where we purchased two Eagle beers from owner Juan for $5.00. All of Juan's bullfighting mementos are on the walls (including several bull heads!) On our trip back to the cruise ship we passed by the Walled City and the Clock Tower. The amazing thing was Dora doesn't ask for a deposit and we paid at the end $65.00 per person (for a party of 8) for the 4.5 hour tour. A tip was definitely earned by Fernando & Pilar. Dora and her team want to make sure you are totally satisfied. And we were!
I had read many reviews about different tours being offered in Panama. We were going to be spending a day in Panama and MyFriendMario kept getting rave reviews. After checking Mario's website we really wanted to visit the indigenous Embera Indian village that he had grown up in. We booked it in August 2010. Our cruise ship docked in Colon, Panama on January 30, 2011. Off the gangway, turned left on the sidewalk, entered the building, took escalator up, crossed a bridge way, took the escalator down & within minutes we were greeted by our tour guide Rey. We were lead to an air-conditioned bus and introduced to our driver Felix. First we stopped at the Gutun locks observation deck, saw two ships and one submarine go through. As we left the Gutun locks, Felix spotted an iguana and he made a stop for a photo op! Then a1/2 hour ride to the Charges River through Panama back country. It was hot outside and several times during our journey we were offered a refreshing cerveza (Panamanian beer) or soda. We arrived at a small village and we got into a dugout canoe, with two native Embera Indians wearing traditional beaded loincloths. One was named Manelo. After a 1/2 hour boat ride past beautiful scenery, we arrived at the village (there was a short stop at the waterfall, but no one in our group wanted to swim.) We were greeted by bare-footed villagers playing handmade musical instruments. The Embera Indians are a very happy people, smiling all the time, even though they have few modern conveniences. They showed us into their meeting hut, that had low opened walls and a thatched roof. The chief and one of the Embera women crafters told us about their life and how they made their lovely hand woven baskets. They basically charge $1 per day that it takes them to make the item. The more complicated, the more days it takes to make. Also a well-made basket should not show any light when held towards the sun. They then served us fried fish and plantains in a banana leaf bowl. The fish were caught that morning and prepared over their open fires. We also had fresh watermelon and the best freshest pineapple we've ever had. After lunch, the Embera people danced and then we were asked to join in, what fun! I had asked Mario - via email - if I could bring anything for the kids in the village. He said there were about 20 kids, so I brought splash toys for each of them. Even the very youngest seemed to enjoy them. Then we were able to purchase some of the native handicrafts. There were many to choose from - and each seller has her own table. I had read on Trip Advisor to have my picture taken with the item & the crafter, so I did. What a true souvenir! I noticed one of the women was rocking her baby to sleep in a cloth hammock under her stand (see photo) Rey was the best! We had some interesting conversations. Felix was an excellent driver! Don't miss this tour CL007-1. It was $85 per person and was about 7 hours in length. Thank you Mario! This was our best tour ever!!!!!
We arrived by cruise ship (this was the only port that you had to be tendered). Plan on 1/2 hour from cruise ship to the Grand Cayman dock. The weather on February 2, 2011 was perfect! Since we had been to Grand Cayman twice before, we just caught a local bus out to Seven Mile Beach ($5.00 for two of us) You pay the driver when you arrive at your destination. We had the driver drop us off at the last section where there were bath houses. Lounge chairs were $8 each and a large red Tommy Bahama umbrella could be rented for $4. We had gotten there early, so we were able to use one of the many open-sided shelters, which had a picnic table and wooden seats along both sides. There was a lot of activities to watch such as para sailing. But, the real crowd pleaser was 2 large clear plastic balls that were tethered, $10 would get you ten minutes. The idea is: you get inside and then you tried to walk on the water. Several younger folks tried and they entertained the whole beach! We had a couple of bottled beers from Calico Jack's. They had a special bucket of 5 local canned beers for $20. They also served frozen drinks, smoothies and food. Instead we caught the local bus (really a mini van) back to town ($5 again for 2) and we ate at Hammerheads (another review) Bought a few tourist items, as this was our last port of call. I did find a photo album that held 100 photos & had an imprint of the whole Caribbean on the cover. I think it was $12.00. We had a great day at the beach, Very laid back & enjoyable!
After hours of Internet research, we booked this Limon, Costa Rica tour online 5 months before our cruise ship landed on January 31, 2011. And we are so glad we did! Most nature tours you seldom see much, but not with Greenway Nature Tours. We saw a lot of nature in their natural settings. Our guide Jacqeline "Jackie" met us at the dock and we went to our air-conditioned bus. Jackie introduced us to our driver - Victor & off we went. Our first stop was to the rain forest, where we rode on a wagon with padded seats being pulled by a tractor. Our fearless guide/tractor driver Chico pointed out several howler monkeys, sought out both the red and green poisonous frogs, we watched many family groups of sloths and a very colorful spider (see photos) During the tractor ride Chico and Jackie pointed out bamboo, birds of paradise, red torch ginger and orange malinche trees and cheese plant (which grows flat against tree trunks) and walked on a 300 ft metal bridge that ended at the highest point where we could look down onto the Banano River. Then off to the Del Monte banana plantation where we got to observe the banana fields & the packing house. Next we went to the Tortuguero Canals. Cornellio was our driver for the covered canal boat. While he was driving he spotted sloths, green iguanas, blue herons, tiger herons and a crocodile. A green iguana with lust tropical greenery - I couldn't spot it at all! Fortunately, Jackie was very helpful in taking a photo of the green iguana for me. As we returned to the cruise dock - there were souvenir shops set up. I had read on Trip Advisor about the puzzle boxes. They are carved out of solid hardwood into different designs with hidden compartments. I bought three wooden puzzle boxes (a cat, a heart and a sea shell) for $20. If you buy coffee in Costa Rica or another Southern Caribbean country - buy the whole beans. If you buy the ground coffee, sometimes they are not 100% coffee - but they can have added chicory or grains. The usual charge is $95 per person for a 6 hour tour. We paid $171 for the two of us, using the 10% Cruise Critic discount. Some walking, had to climb onto the wagon in the rain forest and climb down into the canal boat. Fruit was served at the Tortuguero Canals and samples of fruit was offered on the bus and at the rain forest gift shop. Water was available on the bus also.