Moving away from the Caribbean homeporting concept, Royal Caribbean plans to become the first cruise line to base a ship in Panama. The cruise line has announced that its 80,700-ton, 2,252-passenger Enchantment of the Seas will offer 17 weeklong sailings from Colon between December 2008 and April 2009.
What's notable here is the effort to provide fresh new itineraries in the Caribbean. It's challenging, particularly in the Western Caribbean, where the last launch of an "exotic" itinerary included places like Belize and Costa Rica's east coast; these are now so ubiquitous they're on most lines' offerings. Colon itself is interesting because it is an ideal gateway for visits to the nearby Canal locks -- and less than two hours away from Panama City (you'd likely fly in here).
This isn't the only interesting move that Royal Caribbean's made. Beginning in December of this year the line will base Legend of the Seas in the Dominican Republic's Santo Domingo, a country largely ignored by cruise lines despite its proximity to Puerto Rico -- save for some that call at the upscale resort village of Casa de Campo. Also starting in December 2007, Splendour of the Seas will operate a series of South America voyages (its first since 2002) from Sao Paulo, Brazil, with a heavy emphasis on Brazilian ports.
Enchantment of the Seas' trips from Colon in 2008/2009 will call at Cartegena and Santa Marta in Colombia, and the Southern Caribbean's "ABC" islands, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. As an added benefit, particularly for Dutch Antilles and Colombian residents, passengers can also embark in Aruba or Cartegena for these cruises -- but they must sail roundtrip (disembarking in the same port they joined the cruise). However, all cruises are also available to North Americans.
There are also two eight-night repositioning cruises that add two sea days and a call at Costa Rica's Puerto Limon.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Senior Editor
Royal Caribbean Picks Up Panama Homeport
August 2, 2007