We signed up for the Pearl Seas cruise through the Panama Canal mostly because we were interested in the two national parks in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio National Park and Corcovade National Park, as well as Coiba Island in Panama. The first and third of these parks are UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Pearl Seas website and the pre-cruise materials described the parks in glowing terms and talked about all the wildlife that we would be likely to see.
As it was, the ship did not visit any of the three locations! Manuel Antonio park is closed in Monday, and has been for many years, and yet we were scheduled to visit on a Monday! This is clearly blatant and false advertising! No explanation was ever given as to why we did not stop at the advertised locations. The ship's crew repeatedly said that they had the right to change ports of call at any time. Maybe Pearl Seas should advertise trips to the moon! It is obvious that the ship never intended to stop at the advertised ports; they were merely used to lure unsuspecting victims into taking (and paying for!) this cruise.
The cruise was a disaster from the beginning. We were met by Pearl Seas' staff at the airport. They were confused and didn't know which passengers were staying in which hotels. We were told we were staying at the Courtyard of Marriott and were taken there. We waited behind a long line of people to check in only to find out there was no reservation for us when it was our turn! This was the case with all members of our group who arrived at different times from different cities in the US and Canada. We were then taken to the Marriott Residence where we were finally given a room.
The outings that the ship did arrange were of very poor quality and were poorly planned and executed. There was not even enough space for all passengers on the few activities that were offered. We saw virtually no wildlife which was the reason for booking this trip in the first place. On one outing, we were scheduled to go on a nature hike. The boat transfer dropped us off on an inhabited island. There were no paths and no guide and the residents of the island were clearly offended at our presence. There was no way to contact the boat to return for us and no way to call the ship. How could the shop disregard such a cardinal rule of safety. No ship employee or representative was even with us during this outing. We were accompanied on the short walk we did take by several very skinny stray dogs who growled at us from time to time! The outing was so bad that it was almost funny; if we had not paid a boatload of money to go on this trip, that is! Snorkeling was advertised as an activity at some locations but no equipment was available for use or for rent.
The ship's advertising talked about traversing the Panama Canal as a day activity, but our transit was overnight. We went through the three locks on the Pacific side from around 8:00 PM to midnight. We then went to bed. In preparation for this trip I had read David McCullough's book "The Path Between the Seas", and excellent 698 page book about the building of the Panama Canal. I was eager to see the famed Culebra cut in which the mountain that runs from north to south through central America was cut through to allow for the building of the canal. Alas, it was very late at night and dark and there was nothing to see. What a disappointment!
The stabilizers of the ship were broken, causing much rocking and rolling during even relatively calm seas. As a result, I spent two evenings with my head in the trash can, vomiting. We also missed a snorkeling outing as the captain decided to hug the coast in the return to Cartagena rather than take the direct route. I believe he was worried about the sea-worthiness of a ship designed for still rivers with broken stabilizers.
One member of the ship's staff was particularly beligerent and rude to passengers. At one of the evening briefings about the next day's outing, a passenger who was not with our group stood up to complain about the missed national park outings and the crossing of the Panama canal at night. Crew member John began to argue with the passenger and ended up shoving him? This was absolutely beyond belief!
Final words - do not sail with Pearl Seas if the destination is important to you. You may not see or do what is advertised. Beware!!!
Decent cabin. Roomy and clean.