Private and On-Your-Own Tours in the Amazon Region: Pacific Princess Cruise Review by cboyle
Overall Member Rating
Private and On-Your-Own Tours in the Amazon Region
Destination: South America
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
John and I (Carolyn) are retired university professors in our late fifties, who have been cruising since October, 1991. We are Elite Captain's Circle members on Princess but have also cruised on Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Costa, and Commodore. Most of our cruises have been in the Caribbean but we have also cruised to Alaska, the Panama Canal, the Mediterranean/Greek Isles, Scandinavia/Russia, Hawaii, French Polynesia, South America/Antarctic Peninsula, and the Far East.
For shore excursions, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving, or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves, or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, forts, castles, and anything else we can legally climb up on for a good view. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. On More this trip, I was looking for a flag from St. Lucia.
About the Review
Other reviews give extensive information on the ship, cabins, food, etc. Our review is not like that; it is primarily a diary of what we did in the various ports, including links to tourist sites and maps. As is our custom, we mostly took self-guided tours/hikes or private tours arranged with other members of our Cruise Critic roll call. However, we do take some Princess tours when timing or availability is a major issue. We had previously visited only two of the ports, Dominica and Devil's Island.
We found that the following two books greatly enhanced our enjoyment of this itinerary. (Note: Both are available on www.amazon.com.)
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Milard
The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire by Joe Jackson
Day -1 (Thursday, March 26) Ft. Lauderdale, FL
We flew nonstop from RDU to FLL on JetBlue. The SpringHill Suites in Dania Beach has a free shuttle from the airport and to the cruise ship terminal at Port Everglades. They also sell tickets for a post-cruise shuttle from the port to the airport ($8 pp). The hotel is within easy walking distance of a shopping center with restaurants and a grocery store.
Day 0 (Friday, March 27) Ft. Lauderdale, FL (Embarkation Day)
A large number of cruise ship passengers stayed at the SpringHill Suites the night before their cruises; the shuttle was packed. Only one other couple rode with us to the last stop, the Pacific Princess. They were amazed that we had so little luggage for a 28-day cruise. We each had a personal item (dive bag with mask, snorkel, wetsuit, booties, and fins) and a 22" rolling bag (other clothes and shoes plus dress shoes and formal clothes). We would run into this couple later in the cruise after not seeing them since boarding. They joked that they thought we had been denied boarding because we hadn't brought enough luggage!
Day 1 (Saturday, March 28) At Sea
This morning there was a Cruise Critic get-together (code named the CC Cruisers in the Princess Patter) in the Pacific Lounge; many of the officers and entertainers stopped by to welcome us aboard. Tonight was the first of six (three on each leg) formal nights on this cruise and also the Captain's Welcome Aboard Cocktail party.
Day 2 (Sunday, March 29) At Sea
Day 3 (Monday, March 30) Saint BarthElemy, 9:00AM to 4:00PM, TENDER
For our first visit to St. Barths (www.caribbean-on-line.com/st-barts/st-barts-map.html), we did a two-tank dive with PlongEe Caraïbes (www.plongee-caraibes.com/Description.htm). The dive boat was just a few yards from where the tenders docked. There was only one other couple diving (they were staying on the island), so there was plenty of room and attention for the divers. Both of the dives were in the Marine Preserve near Gustavia: Pain de Sucre and Les Gros Islets. We saw 2 turtles, a gray reef shark, the elusive yellow jawfish, lots of barracuda, and some HUGE lobsters! I even spotted a flounder. Unfortunately, John had problems with the dive camera, so we did not get any pictures.
Day 4 (Tuesday, March 31) Dominica, overnight
The Pacific Princess docked at Roseau (www.avirtualdominica.com/maps.cfm), near the tourist information center. We were anxious to disembark as early as possible for our hikes, so we were on the Promenade watching the docking progress while waiting for the announcement that passengers could disembark. We heard a loud THUNK but did not think much about it. This would prove to be a THUNK that changed the course of the cruise.
On a previous visit to Dominica, we had an excellent tour with KHATTS (Ken's Hinterland Adventure Tours and Taxi Service), which included a hike to Trafalgar Falls (right up to the base of the falls!), Ti Tou Gorge (almost drowned John's good friend!), a soak in a hot spring, and a quick ride through the Botanical Gardens. This time, we were interested in doing a different waterfall hike with KHATTS, but I was unable to get a response from them through any of their web sites or e-mail addresses. I contacted a number of other operators mentioned on cruisecritic.com and finally chose Andy (Lion) Hogan of Lion Tours for our hike. I was not able to interest anyone else on the CC roll call in this tour, so it was just John and I.
As promised, Andy was waiting between the Royal Bank and the Information Center holding a LION TOURS sign. Andy had led us to believe that we would be hiking with him, but he passed us off to another guide. While the guide was pretty good, he was a bit out of shape for these hikes --- maybe Andy had thought we would be too. Anyway, our first stop was at the Botanical Gardens, where our guide had to find someone to sell him the user fee passes for the sites where we would be hiking (these were supposed to have been purchased for us in advance). Next we embarked on an adrenalin-charged drive along the narrow, disintegrating, and poorly-signed Dominican roads, which once again confirmed our good sense in not renting a car and driving ourselves to the trailheads.
The drive from Roseau to Laudat takes about a half hour. From there, we took the trail to Middleham Falls This is a fairly strenuous hike through the Morne Trois Pitons National Park along a dirt path, up to a ridge and down the other side to the falls. There is a viewing platform above the falls and people obviously descend on a steep unofficial path from there to get better views of these gorgeous falls. However, that path was quite muddy and slippery the day we were there, so we resisted the temptation to go farther. The round-trip hike, including time spent admiring and photographing the falls, took about an hour and a half. From here we drove another half hour to the Emerald Pool; this is a very short walk, maybe 10 minutes each way. This site is also much more developed, with boardwalks instead of dirt paths. It was also the only place where we were asked to show the site pass. The Emerald Pool is pretty, with lots of ferns growing on the walls of the grotto, but perhaps over-hyped. We thought that the next stop, Jaco Falls, was very much like the Emerald Pool but far less touristy. Jaco Falls is about 20 minutes from the Emerald Pool and you walk through a local fruit/trinket stand to get to the steps down to it. There is a nice view from the top and it takes maybe 15 minutes to walk down and back up. We relaxed a bit longer there than we really needed to so that our guide could recuperate. We also drove through the Layou Valley where we stopped at the "Nice to be Nice" fruit stand, where Mr. Nice has a fun shtick where he cuts up fruit and chats up the tourists. You are treated to all the local fruits you want and tip Mr. Nice if you enjoy them (like you won't tip him?). Finally, we drove along the West Coast, where we could see some of the local villages and a glimpse into how the local people live. We also saw banana, coconut, and pineapple plantations on the return trip to Roseau.
As we walked down the pier to the ship, we were surprised to see divers in the water at the stern of the Pacific Princess. As we checked back in, we asked the security officer what was going on and were told "Routine maintenance." Ha! After we got cleaned up from our hike, we watched as the divers swam back and forth from a boat at the dock to the stern of our ship, carrying objects such as a carpenter's saw and a machete. There was also a length of frayed mooring line stretched out on the dock. Obviously, the THUNK we had heard in the morning was more serious than we realized! The Captain eventually informed us that as we were docking this morning, the little boat that carries the line to the capstan ashore had dropped the line. The ship's starboard screw slurped it up like candy and wrapped 120 feet of line around itself. Lights were going to be brought in so that the divers could continue to chop away at the line. The captain said that he was expecting to leave by 11:00PM; however, St. Lucia is so close that we could leave as late as midnight and still get there on time, even using just one engine. Later, the Captain announced that because there were no lights available after all, the local divers were unable to work on disentangling the line once it got dark. Besides, the correct tools were not available locally --- a special team of marine repair divers would have to be flown in from Miami. The plan was to overnight in Dominica and arrive later than scheduled in St. Lucia the next day.
Day 5 (Wednesday, April 1) Dominica, departed 11:00PM
The Miami Divers were supposed to be in the water by 7:00AM. However, they still had not arrived on Dominica. The Captain announced that they were scheduled to land at the international airport in a half hour; then would have least an hour drive over the mountains on VERY bad roads to reach Roseau. As a result, we would spend the day in Dominica and everyone had to be back onboard at 5:30PM, when the ship would depart for St. Lucia.
In contrast to yesterday, there was almost no one at the dock trying to sell tours. I think that the local residents were amazed to wake up and see the Pacific Princess still sitting at the dock. John and I headed to the tourist information office to try to book a whale watching tour or a dive. The young lady there was extremely helpful and called every SCUBA operator on her list but all of the morning dive boats were full. Both the afternoon dive boats and the whale watching tour were not scheduled to return until (you guessed it!) 5:30PM. Out of options there, we did a walking tour I had found online (www.avirtualdominica.com/walkingtours/index.html), explored the Botanical Gardens (big attraction is a school bus that was crushed by a falling baobab tree in 1979), and climbed up to the Morne Bruce overlook, where we had a great view of all of Roseau and our stranded cruise ship. To reach the overlook, walk through the Botanical Gardens to the parrot aviary. Just east of the aviary, you will see a wide, moss-covered stairway; this is "Jack's Walk." It is about 250 steps to the top. Be careful, it can be slippery! The lady who kidded us about our luggage fell and broke her wrist. Morne Bruce was once the main British garrison for troops defending Dominica. The remains of some of the ramparts can be seen near the large white cross and shrine at the top.
When we got back to the ship from our walk, we learned that the Miami Divers STILL had not arrived. They were supposed to have a stopover in Puerto Rico. However, their plane ran low on gas and had to land at a non-US island to fill up. Because of that stop, they did not have the proper documents to land in PR. The Miami Divers eventually managed to arrive on Dominica and made it to the ship around 5:00PM. They used dry suits and modified masks so they had communications and air sent from the surface; they also appeared to have real-time video. They got the remaining rope cut off fairly quickly, by about 6:00PM. It had actually melted into a circular hunk around the shaft. Tests to make sure the propeller was safe to continue the cruise kept us from leaving port until around 11:00PM.
To make up for the fiasco with the mooring rope, we all got a free glass of wine at dinner and a $75 onboard credit. John and I had hoped the ship would go on to St. Lucia and Tobago a day late and skip Devil's Island to get back on schedule. Instead, the stop at Tobago was canceled. Fortunately, DonahCBrown (who had arranged group tours for both St. Lucia and Tobago) was able to contact the provider (Cosol) in St. Lucia and get the tour date changed. She was also able to cancel the prepaid jeep safari with Yes Tours in Tobago and we all received a full refund. This is why we only book with tour operators who do not require prepayment or will refund your deposit/advance payment if the ship does not dock!
Day 6 (Thursday, April 2) St. Lucia, 8:00AM to 6:00PM
The Pacific Princess docked at the Serafina Pier. We met for Cosol's tour (www.cosol-tours.com) in the cruise terminal. There were some walk-up customers, but Cosol put our group of 14 in its own van and the others in another van; there was a third van with the mobile bar --- rum punch, local beer, water, soft drinks --- that served you as much as you wanted at each stop. We drove south along the main highway, stopping at a banana plantation and overlooks of fishing villages, including Marigot Bay (where Dr. Doolittle was filmed). We stopped at a hotel (pay toilets, $1) for a breakfast of local fish cakes, Johnny cakes, coconut cakes, and different local fruits and dishes. Next we headed to Soufriere for an overlook of the Pitons followed by a visit to the Botanical Gardens, which has a lovely waterfall. After that, we went to the drive-in volcano where we had a short tour by a park guide and a little free time to walk around on our own. Next we went to a beach to catch a bouncy water taxi to Jalousie Beach, which is between the Pitons. Most of our group went snorkeling and the rest relaxed on the beach. While snorkeling, John and I saw squid and a barracuda. After we returned to the vans, we were plied with liquor --- every beer cap had to be exchanged for two more beers. After stops for a sample of local spiced rum, local hot bread and cheese, and a bit of shopping, we returned to the ship feeling mighty happy. This tour lasted about 6 hours and was a real bargain at only $65 pp.
There are many shops at the Serafina cruise terminal. I had no trouble finding a flag and John bought some Scotch at one of the duty-free shops. This is one of the few ports where we have ever had to show our government-issued ID to port security in order to return to the ship.
Day 7 (Friday, April 3) At Sea - Formal Night and Captain's Circle Party.
Day 8 (Saturday, April 4) Devil's Island, 1:00PM to 6:00PM
Today we tendered into Île Royale, part of the island group with Devil's Island. We have been there before and it is a nice place to walk around. You can see the whole island in about 2 hours. Not a whole lot there, except a lovely tropical island and ruins of the French penal colony. This time we saw two separate batches of monkeys. During our walk, there was rain of the downpour variety; the ponchos helped a little.
Day 9 (Palm Sunday, April 5) At Sea
Today we prepared to enter the Amazon River. Although we were still many miles away, the ocean was now brown from the sediment discharge. We attended the most traveled passenger luncheon; I would have thought with so many Elites on board we would not have had a chance. There were probably 75 Elites - over 10% of the passengers. It turned out that we were numbers 39 and 40 on the 40-person guest list!
Day 10 (Monday, April 6) At Sea
We took on the river pilot about 7 a.m. this morning at Santana. We went upriver all day today and were scheduled to arrive in Santarem at about 7 a.m. tomorrow. As advertised, the water looked like coffee with lots of milk. The banks were solid green with vegetation. There were lots of branches and even whole trees and rafts of green vegetation that had broken off from the banks floating in the river. Only where there are rivers coming out of the jungle can you see houses or other signs of human habitation.
Day 11 (Tuesday, April 7) SantarEm, 9:00AM to 7:00PM
Today we docked in Santarem in the state of Para. It is on a so-called blue or clear water river, the Tapajos. The Pacific Princess docked at the Docas de SantarEm cruise ship dock, next to the Cargill soybean processing plant. There is a flea market on the dock that sells local crafts, art, and souvenirs (many involving dried piranha).
For our first visit to SantarEm, we had planned a self-guided walking tour. We walked about 1-3/4 miles along the waterfront to the downtown area. It is not a bad walk but hot and humid. If you don't want to walk, taxis are waiting as you exit the port gates. Walk down the main road and turn left on Rua da Juventude, which becomes Av. Tapajós. Soon you will come to the Nova Orla Fluvial promenade, which follows the riverfront for over a mile and ends near the Museu de SantarEm.
The waterfront promenade is lined with colorful boats, loading and unloading goods. The riverboats have 3 levels --- goods on the bottom and pax on the top 2. The top is most desirable because you get more breezes. Everyone brings a hammock and that is what you sit and sleep on. Also along the way into town, you can see a lot of markets, including a floating one. There is also a large statue of a pink river dolphin.
Once in town, we tried to go by the blue Church of Our Lady to see their "famous von Martius crucifix", which was presented to the cathedral by the German scientist in thanksgiving for his surviving a shipwreck. The crucifix is 1.62 meters high and made of iron; it is unusual because it depicts Jesus still alive. However, the cathedral was all locked up. You could peek in through the bars though and see that they follow the old custom of draping all the statues, including the crucifix, in purple cloth for holy week.
We continued on past a number of plazas to the aforementioned Museu de SantarEm, a very small museum. The museum had about five open rooms and we toured it in about ten minutes. Next, we went up to the Praça Mirante do Tapajós, on a hill in the center of town and just a few blocks from the waterfront, where we could see the "Meeting of the Waters" of the Amazon and the Tapajos Rivers. Heading back to the ship, we stopped by Museu Dica Frazão. Dona Dica Frazão makes women's clothing and fabrics from natural fibers, including grasses and wood pulp. Pieces on display include reproductions of a dress made for a Belgian queen, a tablecloth for Pope John Paul II and costumes for the Boi-Bumbá festival at Parintins. The museum is actually her home, with a sewing area on one side of the entrance and a display area on the other side. The walls are covered with awards she has received for her designs. She was obviously very proud of her work and tried to describe it to us, although she didn't speak any English and we didn't speak Portuguese. I have studied a little Spanish, and that helped some. I Googled Dona Dica; she celebrated her 90th birthday in September, 2010, so she may still be going strong when you visit SantarEm.
Day 12 (Wednesday, April 8) Boca de Valeria, Noon to 7:00PM, TENDER
Today we visited Boca de Valeria, a small native town on the Amazon. As advertised, Boca da Valeria was a VERY small village, most of which was underwater (being that it was the rainy season). We walked around and took a short (less than 1/2 mile) hike with a "guide" into the jungle. We were adopted by the "guide" and she expected a tip which we provided. She would have preferred a bandana or lipstick. Saw some beautiful neon blue butterflies, but they close their wings when they land and fly too fast to get a photo with the wings open. The local people had all kinds of animals that you could photograph for $1 a photo --- sloth, boa, monkey, marmoset, capybara, lizards, parrots, etc. --- and many of them were also dressed in traditional costumes. We did not take any pix of that as we are hoping to see more wildlife on the tours we would be taking on Friday and Saturday.
Before and after we went into town, we were able to see the pink dolphins from the ship. They really are pink (like bubble gum) and don't jump much, unlike the dolphins you would see off the Atlantic Coast or the Gulf of Mexico. They mostly breach just enough to take a breath, probably since they just eat shrimp and crabs and didn't need to chase or herd fish. However, John did manage to get a couple of decent pictures.
Day 13 (Holy Thursday, April 9) Manaus (arrive Noon)
The port lecturer started a narration about 1-1/2 hours before we reached Manaus to point out the main sights. There is another "Meeting of the Waters" there where the two rivers that form the Amazon join.
We got into Manaus around noon and docked at the Porto Flutuante (floating docks). From there we took off on a self-guided walking tour that I put together from the Internet (www.frommers.com/images/destinations/maps/jpg-2006/2859_manausattractions.jpg). We got to the main attraction, the Opera House, just as it was opening and had a tour before the hoards of people on the Princess bus tours got there. At the opera house, we met up with some people whom we would be touring with on Friday; they were doing a private guided tour. We had decided not to join them for their Manuas city tour because we felt we could see just as much on our own for a lot fewer $$. I am sure that some of the things we saw (like the big mural of the abolishment of slavery in the Public Library) were not seen by anyone else on the ship. Anyway, we walked around for about 2-1/2 hours and then came back to the ship for a nice cold drink. It should be noted that many attractions were closed because it was Holy Thursday. South American countries take Holy Week and other Catholic religious holy days more seriously than we do in the USA, so that is something to consider when you are planning a cruise to that part of the world.
After dinner that night there was a folkloric show, which was quite good. Today was the last full day for the people who were only cruising from FLL-Manaus; they would be leaving the ship Saturday morning. About 300 of us were on for the full 28 days and I know one couple who continued back from FLL through the Panama Canal to California for a total of 50 days (to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary).
Day 14 (Good Friday, April 10) Manaus
DonahCBrown had organized a private "Meeting of the Waters" riverboat tour for a group of 8 with Amazon Explorers (www.amazonexplorers.com.br). This was to be an all-day tour to see the Meeting of the Waters, the huge Victoria Regia water lilies in January Ecological Park, cocoa plantations, and natives extracting latex from hevea trees. We were to view wildlife, fish for piranhas fishing and go alligator spotting, where the guide would catch alligators. Lunch and dinner at floating restaurant were also supposed to be included.
This tour was so-so, if only because it took so long (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) and didn't deliver everything promised (except lots of waiting). We had been told that this would be a private tour and that we would be met at the pier, outside the glass doors, at 9 a.m. The meeting time came and went with no sign of anyone from Amazon Explorers. Luckily we happened to catch sight of someone passing through the terminal wearing an Amazon Explorers polo shirt. He told us that we were supposed to go to the tour boat (which was docked back by the Pacific Princess). It was at this point that we found out that the first few hours of our "private tour" would be on a cattle boat. This was not really a problem until the lunch stop. After lunch, we were supposed to canoe among the creeks and flooded forests. However, there were not enough canoes to accommodate our group of 8 plus all the other people who were on the tour boat. As a result, our group had to wait at the restaurant (with nothing to do except visit a tiny gift shop) until the other people returned from their canoe tours. Finally we were able to take the canoe ride, fish for piranha (John caught one!) and go alligator spotting after it got dark. Unfortunately, our guide neglected to bring along the rope he needed to catch larger alligators and he only could try to catch babies. Nevertheless, he did catch one baby; John was the only one on the boat willing to hold it. By the time we returned to the restaurant, it was closed, so no dinner was provided. Also, we did not visit the native village to see the cocoa plantations and see how latex is extracted from hevea trees. We did get a very harrowing ride in the dark back to the cruise ship dock and were never asked for the balance of the tour fee (we had paid half in advance). All in all, I guess we got a decent tour for what we paid. Some of the problems were due to it being Good Friday (although DonahCBrown had specifically asked the tour operator whether that would be a problem when she made the reservation). However, I cannot recommend Amazon Explorers.
Day 15 (Saturday, April 11) Manaus (depart 6PM)
Today was our best tour from Manaus --- an all-day hike to the waterfalls and through a flooded cavern system in Presidente Figueiredo, which is about 100 km from Manaus. The tour operator was Amazon Mystery Tours (www.amazon-outdoor.com).
The "Land of the Waterfalls" day tour (www.amazon-outdoor.com/textos.php?MENU=Day%20Trips) is usually a 12-hour tour from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. However, the ship was departing at 6 p.m. and passengers were required to be back onboard at 5:30 p.m.; we wanted to be back at 4:30 to allow for any problems. Jean Claude (the business manager and also a guide) was very helpful in suggesting modifications to the timetable that would fit our limited schedule and still include most of the listed program.
Our guide, Juan, was supposed to meet us at 7 a.m. at the security gates of the port terminal. In our experience, tour guides are usually at the meeting place early and Juan was about 5 minutes late. Once he arrived we proceeded out of the port building to his Toyota and headed off to Presidente Figueiredo. Juan is originally from Chile and spoke pretty good English; my limited knowledge of Spanish was a help though.
It took a solid 2 hours to reach the main entrance to the Iracema Falls Ecological Park (www.idaam.org/iracema). After a quick pit stop at the convention center, we drove slowly along an extremely rutted and slippery dirt road to the parking area for the trail to Iracema Falls. We hiked down the trail to the waterfall, passing some interesting caves (with bats) along the way. The falls themselves were quite impressive with a very strong flow of tea-colored water. There was a boardwalk along the shoreline and we walked north to see the top of the falls and some rapids. Returning to the Iracema Falls, Juan expected us to head back to the car. However, we had seen the sign to Araras Falls (1 km) and wanted to see those. This posed a bit of a problem for Juan because his shoes were not really suitable for the wet (ankle-deep water in some spots) and muddy trail. However, we proceeded to Araras Falls, passing more interesting caves along the way. From Araras Falls, we could take a different trail back to the convention center and from there back to the car. In retrospect, it would have been better to have parked near the convention center and walked to the trailhead in the first place. That would have saved the time needed for the slippery drive back from the trailhead.
Because we had spent longer than originally planed at the Iracema Falls Ecological Park, it was getting close to lunch time. We headed to the Urubui Municipal Park for lunch at the Churrascaria e Peixaria Urubui. Juan ordered a fish lunch for us (which was supposed to be ready in 20 minutes). The park has a beach area but the main attraction is the Urubui Rapids. Some people were running the rapids in rafts, life vests, and helmets; while others were simply body surfing or using inner tubes. While we were watching those daredevils, it started to rain. Heading back to the restaurant, we expected lunch to be ready but we had to wait another half hour for the food. After having read so many enthusiastic reviews of the local fish, we were disappointed by the fish dish; the beans and rice side dish was very good though. It rained hard during lunch. We thought that the lunch took entirely too much time but we finally left once the rain had slacked off.
The local guide (Edilson) required for visits to Refúgio do Maruaga had met us at Urubui municipal park and rode with us to the Refúgio. As we hiked through the forest to the caverns, Edilson stopped frequently to show us various plants and explain their uses. A gorgeous waterfall cascaded down in front of the entrance to the Maruaga Cavern. We waded in clear, ankle-deep water into the cavern; the bottom of the cavern was white sand. We saw a cave cricket there. We walked along the bottom of limestone bluffs to the Cave of Judea, where there was another waterfall, a deep pool, and some interesting limestone formations. Juan was getting a little ragged by now and decided to dive into the pool. Unfortunately, he forgot that he had the remote control door opener for the car in his pocket. On the way back to the car, he kept blowing on the remote, trying to dry it out.
When we got back to the trailhead (1-1/2 hours before we were scheduled to be back at the ship) Juan continued trying to dry out the remote and its batteries but that did not work. After awhile, he gave up and tried to open the car with the key, which set off the theft alarm and made the lights flash. Eventually, he was able to disengage the alarm and get the car to start; the lights eventually stopped flashing on their own. This all took quite a lot of time and we were starting to become a little worried about getting back to the ship on time! However, we had purposely asked him to schedule our return to the port an hour early to allow for unforeseen problems like this.
Once Juan got the car started, we had to take Edilson back to Urubui and stop for gas. Edilson gave us a nice map of the sights in Presidente Figueiredo. By the time we dropped off Edilson, there was not enough time left to go to the Santuário Waterfall. We had seen more of the Iracema Falls Ecological Park than originally planned, so we were not too disappointed that we had to skip Santuário.
Our return to Manaus was an exciting, high-speed drive in the rain. The highway between Manaus and Presidente Figueiredo extends all the way to Venezuela and is a major drug-trafficking route. We zoomed past a police checkpoint, passed other vehicles in "no passing" zones, and exceeded the speed limit by 40 km/h. Nevertheless, we made it back to the port terminal alive and only 15 minutes behind schedule.
Day 16 (Easter Sunday, April 12) Boca de Valeria, Noon to 7:00PM, TENDER
Princess finally brought a Catholic priest onboard for Easter (one had been promised, but not delivered, for Palm Sunday too) and we had Mass at 8:30 am. The priest was obviously feeling under the weather. There was also a morning meeting of our CC Cruisers group. After that we made our second stop at Boca de Valeria. We didn't bother going back into the town; we decide to stay on the ship and look for more pink dolphins.
At dinner, there was a display of giant decorated chocolate Easter eggs. Those suckers must have been 18 inches high (but hollow). The next night they were giving pieces of the eggs away. We declined - what do we need that much chocolate for and when would we eat them!! However, many others were taking away plates full of chocolate.
Day 17 (Monday, April 13) SantarEm, 9:00AM to 7:00PM
Today we had a river boat and Lake Maica tour with a famous local guide, Gil Serique (www.gilserique.com). This was another outstanding tour. After driving from the cruise pier to Richard Hemmington's pier downtown, we boarded a riverboat and motored off to enjoy yet another meeting of the waters. From there we proceeded to explore Maica Lake, viewing considerable wildlife (gray and pink dolphins, tree sloths, and many types of rare birds) along the way. It was fun to continue on when the boats for the Princess ship tours turned around to return to the ship! We still had a lot of touring to do!
Gil is a real character; he is extremely enthusiastic about birds and his excitement is contagious, even to those of us who are not serious birders. He provided a substantial snack of local foods that was plenty to us for lunch. At the time of year we visited, the water was quite high, which allowed us to explore the flood plain (which represents only about 5% of the Amazon Basin) by canoeing. While half of our group canoed with Gil for about an hour, the rest fished for piranha (which Gil later cooked for us). During our canoe ride, we saw big bats and both the Greater and Lesser Potoo. Gil gave each of us an autographed copy of his book on birds of the Amazon Basin, as well as t-shirts and tote bags for the ladies and kerchiefs for the men (all of which feature a Hoatzin). Gil asks that you bring him a t-shirt/Frisbee from your town.
Day 18 (Tuesday, April 14) At Sea
We dropped off the river pilot late this morning at Santana and shortly after sailed across the equator back into the northern hemisphere. I forgot to mention that each time we do this, there is an initiation ceremony for the "pollywogs" (people who have never crossed the equator before). They are charged with various crimes (like taking the elevator to the fitness center) and invariably found guilty by King Neptune's court. Then they are smeared with whipped cream, red Jell-O, and spaghetti. Usually only the first 3 couples get this treatment, then the rest just get mopped with cold water and have the buckets of water dumped on them.
We crossed the Norte Barre later that night but would still have mixing of the waters from the Amazon with the Atlantic for quite some time before the water turned blue again.
Day 19 (Wednesday, April 15) At Sea
Today was the Princess Grapevine wine tasting as well as the "Most Traveled Passengers" luncheon. The luncheon, held in Sabatini's Trattoria; was as great as usual. We were a little surprised we made the cutoff again this time, but we ended up sitting with the Chief Engineer and his wife.
Day 20 (Thursday, April 16) Devil's Island, 7:00AM to 2:00PM, TENDER
We walked a lot today on Île Royale. It's much better walking on a tropical island looking at monkeys and birds and sea turtles than making interminable circuits of the tiny walking deck. There were lots of sea turtles visible from the hiking trail and even from the paved path near the dock.
We had another ship malfunction today. They couldn't get the engine started after we were ready to leave our anchorage at Île Royale. They figured out the problem after an hour and took another hour to fix it. This was the second to last place on this itinerary to get stuck, 15 miles off the coast of French Guiana. (Boca de Valeria would be the worst.) No airport for miles - only the Ariana space port! Apparently, the propeller could still be a problem. The professional divers put a patch on in Dominica and would be meeting us again in St. Lucia to fix it for good. This implies to me that we damaged some sort of bearing when the rope got caught.
Day 21 (Friday, April 17) At Sea - Formal Night and Captain's Circle Party.
Day 22 (Saturday, April 18) Tobago, 9:00AM to 5:00PM
Today we had an OK tour in Tobago with Yes Tours (www.yes-tourism.com). This tour was organized by DonahCBrown for a dozen people from our CC roll call. The"Little Tobago Tour" consisted of a very long drive (over an hour) along Tobago's scenic Atlantic coast to Speyside, 1/2 hour in a glass-bottomed boat to the Bird Sanctuary on Little Tobago, and maybe an hour of very slow hiking in the sanctuary. We did see some interesting birds and overlooks of the coastline. Then it was back in the glass-bottomed boat for a short ride over the reef that just made us jealous of the divers we saw in the area. After that we had a lunch of local foods and then the drive back. We were a little ahead of schedule and got to stop at an old fort that had some nice views of the harbor. The museum there was closed (closed Sat. and Sun. !?!) so we couldn't go in. I wish we had been able to do the jeep tour that we had arranged for the first stop in Tobago (but which we had to miss due to the propeller fiasco).
Day 23 (Sunday, April 19) St. Lucia, 5:00AM to midnight
Today we were supposed to be in St. Lucia only from 8:00AM to 6:00PM. They flew the divers from Miami here again so that they could replace the temporary seals that they put on the propeller shaft in Dominica 2 weeks previously. If they did not finish by midnight, we were supposed to sail anyway and take the divers with us to Dominica to finish the job.
Sunday morning Mass was not as well attended as on Easter but at least 50 people were there. The priest was still not feeling well. It was a little weird to see him use the hand sanitizer to cleanse his hands at the "Lord wash away my iniquity and cleanse me of my sins" part. He was serious about not passing his bug around! One of the petitions at Mass was for the ship to get fixed so we would all get back to Fort Lauderdale on time.
One thing to note is that we were in port on a Sunday and Island Divers (www.islanddiversstlucia.com) was the only dive operation I could find that was willing to pick us up at the dock. Other operators would do this on Sunday for a larger group but not for just two divers. Or they would do it if we paid in advance with no refund if the ship did not stop in St. Lucia. Because of this, we had originally booked the dive through the ship. However, the ship's tour was canceled because we were the only two divers to sign up for it.
We booked the "Diver Package," which includes the transfers (by boat) to and from your ship, a 2-tank boat dive, all dive gear (including wetsuits), lunch, and use of the facilities at the Ti Kaye resort, which is located on a beautiful beach. There were 5 divers on our boat: the two of us, two people from the Sea Princess, and one person who was staying at the resort. We saw spiny lobsters, turtles, barracuda, and a scorpionfish. John saw some other things, but he was behind me and there was no way to signal. We thought we would have time to enjoy the beach, but the dives and lunch took too long. However, we did have an excellent lunch at the resort. It turned out that it started to rain heavily just as the boat left to return us to the ship, so it would have been a soggy time at the beach! When we returned to the ship, the divers were still working at the stern of the ship!
Day 24 (Monday, April 20) Dominica, 8:00AM to 6:00PM
For today, we had booked two tours through the ship, because we wanted to go whale watching in the morning and diving in the afternoon. However, the whale watching tour operator had not bothered to renew his insurance and Princess had to cancel that tour. The dive company the ship used was so-so but we saw some good stuff. The first dive was on a wall and we saw lots of sponges and coral plus a turtle, a small school of squid, and a couple of sea horses. The next dive was at Champagne Reef and the sea life was even better there --- another turtle, squid, and electric skate, etc. Plus this is the area where there are small vents with hot gases coming out (Dominca is very volcanically active). It looks like streams of bubbles in champagne and is especially pretty if you move around so that they are backlit by the sun. And we saw another seahorse! In 56 previous dives we had never seen one; they are so hard to spot!
Day 25 (Tuesday, April 21) St. Barths, 9:00AM to 4:00PM, TENDER
We originally were going to rent a car for today but decided the island was so small (6 square miles) it would be a waste of money. Our first stop was the fish market, where a huge school of tarpon congregate to fight over fish scraps. We had picked up a printed walking tour of Gustavia at the tourist office and did that in reverse order. Plus we added a walk to the other side of the island to see a beautiful beach there (only 2 topless women). To get to that beach you have to climb over a saddle in the hills. Planes descend through the saddle to the airport on the other side. Only two engine prop planes can land and after clearing the saddle, they have to drop immediately down to the runway. We watched several of them come in --- they are so close you really can almost touch them. I don't think I would like to fly into St. Barths! Back in town, we visited the local grocery store --- where we spotted our Head Chef stocking up on French delicacies.
Day 26 (Wednesday, April 22) At Sea - Formal Night
Day 27 (Thursday, April 23) At Sea - CC Cruisers get-together.
Day 28 (Friday, April 24) Ft. Lauderdale, FL - Flight back home! Less
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