This was our first ocean cruise on a small ship. Star Breeze is comparable to a river cruise in that there were fewer than 200 passengers.. Accordingly, the ship offered little in the way of entertainment, though it did feature a library that offered videos as well as books. The crew-to-passenger ratio was almost 1-1, and the personnel were wonderful. The chef elicited my list of allergies, and prepared versions of the menu choices that I could eat safely. He even made a special anniversary cake for us, whose presentation was accompanied by a chorus of dining room staff. The food in the main dining room was fantastic, as was the breakfast buffet. The latter featured fresh local fruits and squeezed orange juice.
The small number of passengers made for effortless embarkation and disembarkation. However, in the ports, we always dropped anchor in the harbor and got to the shore on zodiacs. Windstar celebrated the adventure of this arrival mode, claiming that the small rubber boats allowed the ship to enter small ports that could not accommodate larger ships. Perhaps that's true, but we did zodiacs even in the large port of Panama City. I did not enjoy the 10-minute rides, and when the sea was choppy, getting back onto the ship was a slightly scary adventure. Port visits were preceded by talks given by the onboard enrichment lecturer; I found them informative.
Our first port was Quepos, where we, along with four other CC members, had booked a guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park.from Odyssey Tours. That is the same local outfit we had engaged to drive us from San Jose to Puerto Caldera; their prices for both services being lower than those offered by Windstar. During our short pre-trip stay in San Jose, we had booked the Rainforest Adventure, which picked us up at our hotel. I got to wear my jaguar pattern rain poncho. One would not wish to do these park visits without a guide. He found the animals we came to see. Only the Capuchine monkeys were easy to spot. We would not have seen the other critters. No-cost optional swimming at a very nice beach was offered at the end of the tour.
Our next stop was Puerto Jimenez, where we had booked a visit to Rancho Raices through Golfo Dulce Dart Tours. It is a chocolate farm run by a family that has been there for several generations. We saw the trees, and followed the stages from pod to chocolate bar. At the end of the tour, we were offered a chocolate drink and other fruits grown on the farm. Owner German and English-speaking guide Marco were excellent hosts, showing us a variety of plants grown there that serve both culinary and medicinal purposes. The highlight might have been the appearance of a large troupe of wild squirrel monkeys, who come daily for the home-grown bananas set out by Marco at noon daily. The monkeys know the schedule. This was my favorite excursion.
The ship offered a barbecue at the next stop, which was a private island. The food was excellent, as we had come to expect, and we had an an opportunity to swim and snorkel, although the latter was unexciting.as the visibility was poor.
After that, the stops were in Panama. We took a Windstar tour in Panama City and another on the post-disembarkation ride from Colon back to Panama City. These were overly expensive with not much to see, and their content overlapped. I cannot recommend either of them.
In between, we traversed the Panama Canal, which we saw from a small ship for the first time. It was interesting to see the locks from the inside. I have to confess that after a while, the excitement waned, at least for me. Most passengers kept doggedly taking pictures.
Would we do it again? No. But I'm glad we did it once. My final bit of advice is to bring a warm jacket. Although the tropics are as warm as you would expect, the public spaces on Star Breeze were always uncomfortably chilly.
The cabin was attractive and spacious. We had great views through the picture window. The room was cold, and the noisy climate control system could not be turned off. Nor could it be set to a comfortable warmth. And the designer made the peculiar decision to put the make-up mirror in front of the bed and the television in front of the minibar. The other way round would be more convenient.
The cabin steward, Ben, did an excellent job of keeping things clean. Bedding was very comfortable.