My wife and I took a trip through the Panama Canal with Pearl Seas February 14 – 23, 2016, which turned out to be anything but what was advertised. Much was promised and next to nothing delivered. If you’re planning on taking this cruise (which is advertised for 2017), but sure to ask about what you’ll see exactly.
Pearl Seas advertised a two-day trip through the Panama Canal and delivered only an overnight transit of four hours in which we could see nothing. We saw the locks at either end, but that was it. We did not see the Gaillard Cut, Soberania National Park or Lake Gatun. The major reason all of us on the ship took this trip was to see the Panama Canal. The trip was a waste of time, money and put us in danger on several occasions. Most of the people on this cruise were old enough they will not have the opportunity in the future to take a second trip through the canal to see what Pearl Cruise didn’t deliver.
Pearl Seas advertised two National Parks and Coiba Island and delivered none of them. These were major draws for signing up and major disappointments when they didn’t deliver them.
Pearl Seas tour staff was incompetent. The problems started with arrival-date botched reservations and food and beverage gouging at the Marriott in Costa Rica, and the fact that no Pearl Seas representative was at the hotel to meet us. Pearl Seas tour staff did not accompany the passengers on tours except when they wanted to tour themselves, and when they did, they always did it together, rather than splitting up to cover several groups. It was very hard to understand most of the guides, so it would have been helpful to have someone from the ship to clarify when necessary. Likewise, there were no radios with the groups other than at the tender to call back to the ship in case of emergency. The tour staff didn’t provide maps, or water at the start of the trip (although the water situation they later corrected). The scheduling of when rooms left for tours was done in numerical order, so people on the upper decks only got late tours and people on the lower decks only early ones. They also did not organize the people getting back on the tender from tours, which resulted in some pushing and shoving. Quite frankly, it seems they had not scouted out the stops we were making, and were unfamiliar with the local arrangements that had been made.
The ship was apparently having stabilizer problems so could not navigate the seas in the open Caribbean, necessitating a longer journey to Cartagena in which we hugged the coastline.
On February 17, we had a scheduled “nature” hike and were told it was an easy one. It turned out to be anything but. We were taken by local boat to Gobernadora Island. No one from Pearl Mist was with us. The “local” guide was from another island and we had to wait for a truly local man (who was not a guide and could not speak English) to lead us. No water was provided, and no maps. After waiting for quite some time for the two “guides” to get organized, we started our hike. There was nothing to see. No animals or flowers, and no commentary was provided. We just hiked along a barbed wire fence through dry leaves. The hike was hot and up and down hills and across streams. Most of the people were not physically able to complete the hike without difficulty. The first person to fall behind was rather frail. The English-speaking guide stayed behind with him as he and his wife worked slowly thorough the hike. This made it difficult for us to communicate with the truly local man, who spoke a dialect of Spanish. The second person to go down was a very large man, fainting in spectacular fashion, and hitting the ground hard. Four gentlemen helped him most of the way to the beach, but he finally couldn’t go any further and they had to stop short of the beach.
The truly local man from the island did not know where to go and lead the group onto private property. When the situation was explained to the couple who lived there, they came out and showed the group the way to the beach. Even then, three of the hikers got separated from the group and had to pay $40 to a local boat to be taken back. When the main group got back onboard and the situation explained, the ship sent a medic, stretchers, a wheelchair and four strong men to carry the big guy out. The frail man, his wife, and the English-speaking guide were lost for a while but caught up with the people helping the big guy. We all made it back to the ship, but both men had numerous cuts and bruises. A one-hour hike had turned into a four-hour nightmare. We had no way of communicating with the ship, but luckily, the common sense of some of the hikers (including bringing excess water, some military training and the presence of a doctor on the hike), and the sympathy of the property-owning couple saw us through.
We were not the only passengers on this ship who were disappointed and many expressed their disappointment. The end result was not anything like the original advertisement. I noticed the verbiage in this year’s advertisement for the cruise has been toned down considerably. With such a major change in itinerary, wouldn’t you have thought the company would have informed it’s customers and offered them the opportunity to cancel? Time and again we were “dumped” on non-descript beaches with poor amenities to pass the time. We received next-to-no value for what we paid.
Aside from the touring, the Pearl Seas hotel staff was excellent. The rooms were well taken care of, and the food was very good. The hotel staff and entertainers stepped in to provide overtime efforts the night we were going through the locks to please people when it became obvious many were disgruntled about the passage though the canal.