We were looking to go through the Panama Canal on a small ship and not have to visit various Caribbean islands that we have already seen. We had not visited Costa Rica or Panama so the itinerary on this ship fit our requirement. Embarkation was terrible and almost had us worrying what we got ourselves into. We took an independent tour from a hotel we booked on our own, which was cheaper than their transfer. We got to the port and they did not tell you that for security purposes your taxi cannot take you directly to the ship. You transfer into another van, which our tour guide seemed to know. Inside the port we were dropped off at a building stating we had to go through immigration. A porter took our bags inside the building and no one was there except a person at a table offering us cookies and lemonade. We asked what do we do and he ran out of the building to find someone. We are now standing waiting with a porter who does not speak English. The person comes back and says someone will be with us shortly. We waited 10 minutes and my husband goes out to find someone. A bus just arrived to the ship so they were busy but not having someone to great you and tell you what to do was crazy. My husband comes back with someone who provides us luggage tags (they do not provide a package in advance) and says to board they ship. We board after the bus load of people and it is a bit chaotic. You go through a metal screener, someone does a peripheral look through your carry on bags. You are asked to take your traditional picture and given some forms and go into a lounge with a number to be called. Once our number was called they state we don’t have all the forms. They ran to get us others and we had more to fill out. So confusing. Finally everything was filled in and we gave them the forms and you need to surrender your passports as they clear customs for you from Costa Rica to Panama. Once you get your key, you are escorted to your cabin and they show you around. Not the best way to start a cruise but it got better from there.
There were about 190 guests with 150 crew so there were very attentive. Staff was very friendly as you met the same servers at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was a pleasure to eat breakfast and lunch without waiting on long buffet lines and trying to find a seat that is an issue on some of the larger ship. Dinner is open seating and you have a choice to eat with other people or on your own each night. Dress is very casual and no formal nights - thank goodness! They have a specialty restaurant, Candles, where they dress up the veranda cafe used for breakfast and lunch. It is very pretty and the menu is excellent. You get to eat their once for no extra fee and if you get lucky, like we did, we ate their twice.
The downside is it is a small ship with a small hot tub and circulating pool to get wet. They could not get the hot tub to the right temperature, on certain days it was too hot to go in. There is also a lack of outdoor seating in the shade. The upper deck has lots of lounge chairs but they will not open the umbrellas when the ship is moving as they will fly away. The Yacht club is very nice on the upper floor with large windows and you can find a quiet space to read or play board games that they provide. The Yacht club serves light food all day until 5 or 6 PM but after that time, you only have the main dining room or room service. I was looking for ice cream when we came back from a shore excursion but the only place to get ice cream is room service. Really? Room service is free as is all soft drinks and types of coffee and teas.
There is limited evening entertainment, a piano player who was pretty poor and a duet who were talented. Select evenings they had music and movie trivia as well as Liar’s Club which were fun. Other nights they only had music. This is not a cruise for you if you want shows or late night entertainment. The ship has a very small fitness area - three treadmills, two bikes and a few weight machines. The ceiling was so low you could not stretch your arms straight up. Person giving some of the evening fitness classes seemed more interested in talking with friends than giving the class. I stopped into the spa for a manicure and they had limited nail polish colors and no drying machine. Sitting still for over an hour did not work to keep the manicure without crinkles. Bring your own nail polish remover and polish.
Ship needs some TLC as it showed signs of rust and wear and tear. Rooms were very nice overall, see my cabin review. The Destination Manager, Steve, was very good and he gave a short port talk every day to give you an overview of what to expect the next day He was available throughout the day to answer questions and was very helpful. He also told you whether you were doing a wet landing or dry. They go to small ports so they use a zodiac to transport guests. It takes 18 people and 2 crew and they get the tours off first so you may have to wait if your doing something independently. The staff are great guiding you on and off and you need to bring shoes, water socks or sandles that will get wet. You usually get off in ankle or higher water on the beach on wet landings. There were people who had canes or some walking challenges who were able to make the transition but it is not comfortable especially if there is rolling waves which we had on two days. Staff do whatever they need to help.
The ship opens a bay in the back which becomes a swimming platform and they place out floating mats to lay on, a trampoline with a slide, noodles as well as kayaks, paddle boards and you can sign up for water skiing and tubing - an adult playground. It is only open when the water is calm from about 10 to 2 or 3.
The ship does a barbecue lunch on a beach on an island which is a national park so it has limited people visiting. You can only get there by boat. They set up lounge chairs with umbrellas or half tents, tables and chairs in a shaded area for eating, a full bar, barbecue with tons of food, a tent from the spa to sign up for massages as well as all the “toys” from the swimming platform. Great day and very well done. They also have an evening barbecue and they pulled out all the stops. They transform the open decks with tables and chairs with tablecloths and soft lighting. Food choices were everything from cold shrimp and crab legs to grilled lobster, steak, chicken, grouper, paella, salads, cheese board, desserts, etc. After they cleared the deck, they had line dancing with guests and staff, it was lots of fun.
Excursions were hit or miss and I thought some were overpriced and others they did not tell you the proper travel time so you spent 3 hours on a bus for a 8 hour tour. We found some tours repetitive since the descriptions they provide are incomplete. They go to different islands, it was hard to find independent tours.
The one at sea day, they had various activities, including a wine tasting, culinary demonstration and a galley tour escorted by the executive chef, various movies and documentaries and other activities. Again it is a small ship so you are not going to find sports or pool activities. I thought the sommelier, Nitish (sp?), who led the wine tasting did an excellent job, giving you information on the area where the wine was made and types of grapes. He is well informed. This was a red wine tasting so we asked if we could have a white wine tasting. He organized one after dinner one evening but because the ship was hitting some rough waters, it had to be canceled. Staff tried very hard to accommodate requests. Disembarkation went very smoothly and we booked a post cruise tour of Old and New Panama, which was good. It dropped you off at the airport but a number of us were staying overnight at the Riande Aeroport Hotel and the driver dropped us off on the way back - again very accomodating.
This may not be a cruise for everyone but I very much appreciated their efforts. They have a slogan of 180 degrees from ordinary, they certainly achieved a good part of it but still have work to do.
We were upgraded to this cabin when there were price drops on the cruise from the time we booked. The rooms were spacious with a sitting area that had a small sofa, two club chairs, coffee table, bar with a stocked refrigerator and a small entertainment center with a swivel TV, DVD player and ability to play music from your mobile device. The room had a large king size bed next to a narrow walkway to the bathroom and walk in closet and a dresser/desk area. Not sure why they didn’t give more room to walk around as we were bumping into each other getting ready in the morning. The bathroom was spacious for a cruise ship with two sinks, a large shower that could fit two people and a toilet. It had plenty of storage for your personal items. The walk in closet had shelves, hanging area and a safe and more drawers. They give you two robes with slippers. Lots of space and quite comfortable. The one issue was the large picture windows were dirty and there was rust on the outside. Again the ship needs some work.
We took the Manuel Antonia National Park Nature Walk. The tour left very early at 7 AM to avoid the crowds. It was a 20 minute bus ride and there were crowds and lots of tours. There is one main path to walk through the park to the beach area. The tour guide brought scopes to make it easier to see the animals in the trees. We saw capuchin and howler monkies, sloths and various birds. The tour guide provided a narrative of the habitat and the animals. There were just so many people that were trying to see the same animals, a bit crazy. The beach is nice but since it is a nature park they do not clean the natural debris from the beach and it is not as pristine as some pictures may show. Water was warm and clear. On the way back, they provided snacks, fresh fruit and drinks. It was very humid so we were glad we went early and were back at the ship before noon. The marina at Quepos is new and has free WiFi and various seating areas with restaurants and shops.
Very pretty Island with a nice beach. The ship had a lunch barbecue on the island. They provided lounge chairs with umbrellas or covers, a full bar, tables and chairs in the shade and an extensive barbecue. They also brought water toys from the ship that included kayaks, paddle boards, noodles, floating mats, trampoline with a slide. The spa set up a tent to provide massages on the beach. The water was calm and warm in a quiet cove. Very nice way to spend the day.