Panama Canal relocation Vancouver-Port Everglades
Panama Canal & Central America
We had a wonderful cruise thanks to the amazing cruise staff on the Pearl. The staff recognized us from the crowded Vancouver to LA leg of the cruise and made us feel special for the remainder of the cruise. The LA to Florida leg was was full of fun activities. I was originally concerned with the amount of sea days and how to pass the time. The Pearl's "free style" cruising is great for someone who's relaxed and casual. If you want a more formal and structured cruise you may be disappointed. You MUST participate in all the hokey trivia, games, and activities. The murder mystery, bowling tournament, and ports of calls were the highlights. The climbing wall looked fun but I never got around to it.
The food is the usual assembly line hotel/convention fare. The dining rooms were decent, the Blue Lagoon disappointing, and the buffet was better than expected. We actually had the buffet dinner one hurried night and was shocked to see pork tenderloin and salmon wellington being More
served. We didn't use any of the "Pay" restaurants but were told that they were good.
Overall the Panama cruise from NCL was great value for the money. The inside cabins were $300-$500 cheaper than those from Celebrity and Princess. We choose to use the savings toward excursions. NCL brought on-board an expert to "narrate" the 7 hours through the canal. We found that added extreme value to the Panama experience. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
We wanted to get away from the city and took a tour to:
Tehuacalco Astro-Archaeological Zone, in Guerrero, is an ancient Yope ceremonial center, one of the few seigniories never dominated by Aztecs. It was inaugurated in December 16th 2008. The site includes the remains of a ball court, residential space, and a holy temple.
The rebuilt 'Juego de Pelota' (Ball Court). Here the game was played differently than at other parts of the Mayan world. There was no ring where the 11-pound ball made of tree sap had to go through. Rather there was a goal pocket at each end. Strangely the winning team was sacrificed - not the loser.
We were told this site was just opened in 2008 to the public. Unlike the other Mayan site in Mexico which was dedicated to the God of Sun , this site was dedicated to the God of Water. This site is located in a valley at the base of 4 mountains facing north, south, east, and west. the first ruin we visited was a stadium were a game similar to water polo was played. The ruins were recently damaged by heavy rain and stones were being put back in place. After that we visited 2 pyramids of which 1 held the governor of it's day and the one on higher ground being of the high priest. The 4 sided pyramids had 91 steps on each side to a platform on top. This represented the 365 days of the year with each side representing a season. As the sun passed over the pyramids they were able to determine when Equinox and the summer or winter Solstice was happening. the guide was outstanding as he had postcards and props to explain the occurrences. The pyramids also had stone tablets marking where the commoners could not pass. Along the trails to each pyramid we noticed some bright red mushrooms growing as well as a variety of butterflies amongst the fields. Near the end of our visit I noticed some huge caterpillars which must turn into the gorgeous butterflies in the area.
The temperature was in the mid 90's and it took awhile to get used to it. We walked along the boardwalk around the harbor amongst all the merchants and tour operators. We went to the International Diamonds shop for the "free gift" and I saw a nice bracelet but it was $995 and all the bargaining in the world was not going to lower it to what I want. ;>) We walked around a bit and found a Starbuck's so we stopped to use their free Wi-Fi. After a nice "espresso Americano" we headed back toward the the ship. As the tendering line was long, we entered the "Marina Mercado" to see some local wares.
Not much to see or do in Cabo unless you enjoy souvenir shopping in a tourist town.
We got up at 8:00 for an early breakfast to start our tour of "Magnificent Cartagena". Sitting at the buffet at the rear of the ship we noticed the monastery we planned to tour on the top of the hill. Cartagena is a lot more modern than I had envisioned. The tour of the monastery was interesting and had a magnificent 360 degree view of the city below. Our next stop was the old Spanish fort which guarded the city from pirates. We didn't get to go in but stopped for a photo opportunity and some street vendor bargaining. We then ended up inside the walled city of "Old Cartagena". The barracks of the fort have been turned into souvenir vendor shops. the streets had an old colonial feel to them with old buildings in painted in rather bright colors. the guide took us for a walking tour from the bay area to visit a cathedral and Simon Bolivar Plaza. At the plaza we were entertained by a group of young Colombia break dancers. After the tour then took us to a bunch of shops that sold emerald's as the very best emeralds come from Colombia. I was going to buy a bunch for souvenirs, NOT! Seems like all of the Cartagena tours include shopping somewhere in which the guides must get kickbacks. We got back to the ship at 4:00 and had a quick lunch before heading back on shore to use the Wi-Fi at the cruise ship terminal plaza.
It gave us a leisurely start to the morning and plenty of time to get ready for our "Rain Forest Skywalk" tour. We were taken to the rainforest area about 40 minutes southwest of Puntarenas. We were taken to a hotel site which owned the property to sign our waivers. The tour was a 1 mile walk down through the rain forest crossing 3 suspension bridges. On the tour we saw a lot of butterflies and tropical fauna. We spotted a poisonous frog as well as leaf ants for the group. The guide showed us a Tarantula nest as well as wild cashew and mango trees. The views form the openings in the forest were spectacular. I saw a huge beetle sitting on a leaf as well as some cup shaped fungus growing on some dead wood. When we stopped for our fruit and juice break the waiter showed us a tree frog sitting on a leaf. after the break we noticed 2 Iguanas sitting on a river bank. There was a black one and a huge one walking along the shore. On the way back to the ship we crossed a river and saw 2 crocodiles basking in the sun along the shore. Once we got back on board the ship we had a quick snack, dropped off our gear and scurried onto the shore to spend the last couple of hours in port. I went to the coffee shop at the end of the pier to use the free Wi-Fi and went shopping in the marketplace. As we were on the pier returning to the ship, we noticed the beauty of the beach and the scenery in the area. There was group of people peering over the railing so we also stopped to see what they were looking at. We saw a school of stingray swimming near the water surface. The site of them was stunning and so cool! The pier had flags of the world flying and we had to stop and take a picture with the Canadian flag. Once on ship we went on deck to watch the sail away. It was delayed for about 45 minutes as a tour was late getting back. The wharf area looked great in the dimming light of sunset.
The sun finally came our as it was 85-90 degrees today. The ship was docked at Pier 27 which was farther east than the other coastal cruises that we've been on. On deck 12 we had wonderful views of Alcatraz, Coit Tower, and the Trans-America building. We got it together quickly this morning and left the ship at 10:30 to go to Union Square area. We took the F-Market/Castrol bus for $2 per person. We asked for a transfer which was good till 1:30 so we had return fare to Ghirardelli Square. (You could take always take the Mason-Powell cable cars to Chinatown then walk towards Union Square for $5 and take the F-market bus back as we did the year before)
The F Market & Wharves line is one of several light rail lines in San Francisco, California. Unlike the other lines, the F line is operated as a heritage streetcar service, using exclusively historic equipment both from San Francisco's retired fleet as well as from cities around the world. Despite its heritage status, the F Market & Wharves line is an integral part of Muni's intermodal urban transport network, operating at frequent intervals for 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Unlike the San Francisco cable car system, standard Muni $2 fares are levied.
We strolled along the street from Pier 47 back to Pier 27 visiting all the shops along the way. We stopped to see the sea lions at Pier 39. Hundreds of sea lions basking in the sun making a terrible racket for the tourists. We got back onboard at 4:00 which was longer on shore than we expected.
Pier 39 is a popular tourist attraction built on a pier in San Francisco waterfront. There are shops, restaurants, street performances, the Aquarium of the Bay, and views of California sea lions hauled out on docks on Pier 39's marina. A two-story carousel is one of the pier's more dominant features, although it is not directly visible from the street and sits towards the end of the pier. The family-oriented entertainment and presence of marine mammals make this a popular tourist location for families with kids.