My husband and I and another couple are going on the Classic Panama Canal cruise leaving from Costa Rica, ending up in San Juan. We are sailing on the Sun Princess, and are leaving on Feb. 14.
It's our 4th cruise, but our 1st with Princess. We would appreciate any info on the cruise line, ports,and excursions. Our ports of call are Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; Cartagena, Colombia; Aruba, Barbados; Dominica; St. Thomas and San Juan. We've been to St. Thomas and San Juan, but would like info on shore excursions on the other ports.I should tell you so you can keep this in mind for any info; my husband has pulmonary fibrosis, so alot of uphill or fast walking would be out. I would LOVE to see the rain forest; which is the best one? We would also like to know if the ship docks at these ports or do we use tenders?
I'm sorry this is so long with so many Questions. We would really appreciate any ship, port and excursions info.
please e-mail me at email@example.com
Thanks so much!!!!!
I took westbound “Classic Panama Canal” cruise aboard MV Sun Princess on 30 October 2000, and had an absolutely wonderful time.
MV Sun Princess truly is a stunning ship, and Princess has maintained her in excellent condition. I'm particularly fond of the magical teak deck lounges on the Promenade Deck, especially during the daytime at sea (caution: be sure to use the lounges on the shaded side of the Promenade Deck rather than on the sunny side, as their wonderful magical properties often cause passengers to lose all sense of the passage of time -- which could lead to serious sunburn -- in addition to becoming completely oblivious to all of the world's cares and burdens). For daytime activities, you will find just about everything from trivia contests and bridge tournaments to pool games, a well-equipped gym and spa, aerobics classes, and golf and putting tournaments — including bridge tours, a cooking demonstration and galley tour, dance lessons, vegetable and ice carving demonstrations.
The wine tasting on the first full day at sea is a very good deal. You sign up in advance and pay $5 for the tasting, but you receive a credit of $5 toward any bottle of wine that you order at the tasting for dinner on the evening of your choice. Thus, if you order a bottle of wine, you effec-tively receive the wine tasting for free. They generally sample two white wines, two red wines, and a sparkling wine at the tasting. The head waiters explain the characteristics of each wine. If you don’t know much about wines, it’s a great opportunity to learn.
As far as dining is concerned, I generally grab breakfast at the Horizon Court -- which serves food continuously (“24x7”). It’s a breakfast buffet in the morning, a luncheon/dinner buffet in the afternoon and the evening, and a bistro with table service late at night continuing well into the wee hours. It also has live music in the later part of the evening. The Marquis Dining Room also serves breakfast and lunch on an “open seating” basis and, of course, room service is avail-able at all times. There’s a limited room service menu that’s always available, and additionally any item served in the main dining rooms is available via room service during the respective meal hours of the main dining rooms.
There are two additional options for lunch. Verdi’s Pizzeria at the top of the atrium (just forward of the casino on the Dolphin Deck), open all afternoon and again at night, serves excellent pizza and calzones. The Terrace Grill, located at the forward end of the pool area on the Lido Deck, serves knockwurst and sauerkraut in addition to the usual burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, and French fries.
Be sure to enjoy tea in the Regency Dining Room (open seating, 3:30-4:30) at least one day of your cruise. The white-gloved waiters serve finger sandwiches, scones, biscuits, and tea in the finest of British style.
I would not miss dinner in the main dining room for anything. The food is excellent, the service is impeccable, and the waiters provide quite a bit of entertainment while serving your meal. The waiters will be very disappointed if you don’t show up for dinner, too!
Finally, for late night snacks, there’s Verdi’s Pizzeria and either the Horizon Court’s Bistro or the Island Night Buffet. It’s not widely advertised, but one of the Horizon Court’s buffet lines usually does remain open for desserts and beverages during the bistro hours.
Overall, Princess’s production shows really are outstanding. There are two show rooms -- the Broadway style Princess Theater at the forward end of the Promenade Deck and the Las Vegas style Vista Show Lounge at the aft end of the Promenade Deck. Both facilities have excellent acoustics and totally unobstructed lines of sight. One facility generally features a production show and the other often has a headliner act. Many of the headliners are very talented, too. One night, for example, we enjoyed a terrific piano concert by Anthony Salci. Additionally, you will find the following entertainment options every night:
>> The Wheelhouse Bar has two combos that play live music for dancing between 5:00 PM and 1:00 AM in a very dignified setting. Even many younger passengers find this venue to be much more comfortable than the pounding disco beat and pulsating lights of Shooting Stars.
>> The Shooting Stars Night Club often offers Karioke in the early evening, then turns into a disco from 10:30 or 11:00 until the wee hours.
>> The Grand Casino offers slot machines and all the usual casino games.
As to dress, you should expect three formal nights (Day 3, Day 7, and Day 9), two semiformal nights (Day 5 and Day 8), and five casual nights. “Formal” does mean FORMAL -- tuxes, or at least DARK suits for gentlemen and evening gowns or cocktail dresses for ladies -- on Princess. Likewise, on the semiformal nights, coat and tie (either a business suit or a sport coat and dress slacks) are expected for gentlemen and a cocktail dress or dressy pants suit for ladies. The first formal night is the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party. The last formal night is the Cap-tain’s Gala Dinner, followed by the Champagne Waterfall. I recommend being prepared for an extra semiformal occasion, as there’s a possibility another occasion calling for semiformal attire could arise unexpectedly (yes, I have seen it happen).
There are special events on at least two of the casual evenings:
>> On Island Night, you will want colorful tropical attire (shirts for men and dresses for ladies) for the Island Night party out on deck around the swimming pools. It’s standard on all Princess Caribbean excursions. There’s also the Island Night Buffet with all kinds of fancy vegetable and ice carvings, served both on the Horizon Court and by the Terrace Grill on the Lido Deck. Yes, do bring your camera and prepare for a night of fun! On Island Night only, the Horizon Court does not operate as a bistro.
>> On another night, your cruise staff will present London Pub Night in the Vista Show Lounge. It’s rated PG because some of the humor is a tad off-color (as one might expect of a British pub), but it’s absolutely hilarious.
Here's a run-down on the ports of call on this itinerary.
>> Puntarenas, Costa Rica -- Most attractions are in the Central Valley region, which is an hour by bus from the pier. You can also walk ashore to visit the largely unspoiled village. Be sure to buy some Costa Rican "dark roast" coffee as souvenirs for your coffee-drinking friends.
>> Cartagena, Columbia -- You can choose from three versions of substantially the same tour, each of which will give you "bragging rights" about going to the actual continent of South America. I recommend the “A” tour, which vists at the fort, rather than the “B” tour, which drives past the fort without stopping, as the tours are otherwise identical. This is not a port to which I’m eager to return, but shoppers might find some good deals on emeralds and on coffee.
>> Aruba -- Plenty of "fun in the sun" and lots of excursions. This port will not disappoint. The Catamaran Sail, Snorkel, and Beach Barbecue is definitely worthwhile.
>> Barbados -- Again, plenty of "fun in the sun" and lots of excursions. There's a rather unique new excursion that visits Orchid World, followed by a tour of the mansion and high tea at Sun-bury Plantation, that's most enjoyable. Best of all, this tour is in the afternoon so you can “sleep in” and still take it.
>> Dominica -- Fascinating rain forests, the only Carib Indian reservation in the world, and quite a few other unique attractions. The “Grand Tour of Dominica” is an all-day event, but very in-teresting.
>> St. Thomas -- Definitely go for the "Champagne Catamaran Sailaway to St. John" for a day of "fun in the sun" that's well worth the price ($96 per person). The champagne, the beer, and the rum punch definitely won't run out. (This excursion might be a Princess exclusive since the op-erator has only one catamaran.)
I have found that Princess's descriptions of tours are very reliable, partly because the company actually sends cruise staff on the excursions to verify that they do conform to the published descriptions. If your husband has difficulty walking, pay close attention to the picture symbols printed next to the descriptions in the shore excursion booklet. I'm guessing that the excursions marked with the symbol showing a man walking on level ground ("requires walking short to moderate distances over relatively level terrain and possibly some steps") probably will be okay for your husband, but the excursions marked with the symbol showing a man starting up a flight of stairs or the symbol showing a man climbing a hill probably will be too strenuous for him based upon your description of his condition.
As to visiting rain forests, you can't avoid it because there are rain forests along the "highway" (this is a Costa Rican term that means "two-lane twisting and winding mountain road") between the airport outside of San Jose, in Costa Rica's Central Valley, and the cruise ship terminal at Puerto Caldera. Also, most of the tours on Dominica do visit the rain forest somewhere along the way.
Well, Norm pretty well hit it direct. Returned on 11/29 from the Costa Rica to San Juan sailing of the Sun Princess, and it was fantastic.
I had been to all the spots before, so I took no tours at the ports. During the whole trip, I was only off the ship about 5 hours. We flew in the day prior and ended up taking a cab to the ship from the hotel (Princess picked us up at the airport and were to transport us to the ship), but we wanted to get to the ship as soon as possible. Our cab driver was great, but spoke no english but we managed to communicate.
We only took one tour, that was on disembarking in San Juan. We had a 6:00 pm flight and took the resort getaway, they took us to the Intercontinental and we had full use of the facilities. About 1 1/2 hours before the flight, we were picked up to go to the airport. It was money well spent, but you know, people refused to spend the money (54 per person and included lunch) and sat at the airport all day.
I was on a 2-week land tour of Costa Rica in January several years ago, and also visited Barbados, St. Thomas/St. John and Puerto Rico on a cruise in Jan. 1999. Here are my suggestions for optional tours at these ports:
Costa Rica: I'd recommend the Coffee Tour. We enjoyed touring the Cafe Britt coffee plantation. The staff put on an excellent show depicting Costa Rican history in a nutshell. Costa Rican coffee is wonderful, and we felt we got it at a bargain at the Cafe Britt store. Should be a very nice drive up through various elevations enroute to Cafe Britt and wouldn't involve any strenuous walking. I think the tours to the cloud forest or Carara Biological Reserve would be very interesting (although, we found that the orchids aren't blooming in Costa Rica in January) but according to the Princess tour brochure, these are more strenuous trips involving lots of walking. We spent several days in the capital city, San Jose, and the National Museum is indeed very interesting--especially their collection of the strange round stone balls of varying sizes that have been uncovered in southern Costa Rica. BUT you will just have seen much of the same trip as you go from the San Jose airport to the pier--think you'd see a more attractive part of the country on the Coffee Tour. (We're going to try the "Eco-Jungle River Adventure" since that is one part of the country we missed on our earlier trip.)
Barbados: We took a morning tour on the Atlantis Submarine and considered it the "high spot" of that cruise, even though we were actually 150 feet under water! If you scuba, this might be old hat, but we don't and found it was a marvelous way to see the amazing underwater life on a reef. The sub slowly descended on the face of the reef and we all got very good views. They had a guide aboard who alerted everyone to any special sights. I thought it would be claustrophobic, but after the first colorful fish swam by my porthole I forgot all about feeling "closed in." The cruise ships dock at a nice pier that even has a very attractive indoor "mall" of shops right there. We walked into town (Bridgetown) in the afternoon but it was a warm walk--some of the group took a cab back to the ship, others just took their time strolling back. Interesting local fish market on the way to town. The main street is pretty touristy, but if you go about one or two blocks beyond that, you find the "real" Bridgetown with public markets, and the local people doing their shopping. They drive on the left in Barbados, and they walk on the left side of the sidewalks too! Took us awhile to figure that out as we kept colliding with oncoming pedestrians. Architecture in Bridgetown is an interesting mix of Caribbean with hurricane shutters, etc. and Parliament buildings that are right out of England. The book I just read on the Panama Canal said that the great majority of the workers on the Canal were from Barbados--and they had the greatest loss of life from Yellow Fever and malaria, etc. while in Panama. (This cruise, we're going to try the photography tour so we can see more of the island.)
You said you've been to St. Thomas/St. John so probably know what you want to do there. Part of our group took a catamaran trip from St. Thomas to St. John and snorkeled at Trunk Bay--this is rated as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world--and I'd wholeheartedly agree. Having the underwater "trail markers" and the reassurance of National Park Rangers in boats nearby made it fun and comfortable even though I'm below average on snorkeling skills. Others in our group took the Coral World tour on St. Thomas--I think they actually saw more marine life than we did at Trunk Bay, and we're going to repeat that tour this time.
San Juan, Puerto Rico-we spent two days before and two days after our cruise in Puerto Rico so had time to see a little bit beyond the city and the airport. Again, you've been there and maybe "done that." I can't imagine that any other old Spanish fort will surpass "El Morro" in San Juan, but then, I haven't seen Cartagena--yet. We thoroughly enjoyed the fort and Old San Juan. Also enjoyed visiting the only tropical US National Forest at El Yunque. In Jan. 1999 Puerto Rico was still cleaning up from a hurricane, and it was interesting to see the effects of that on the tropical forest. Again, no orchids blooming in January, but the bromeliads were colorful and there were a couple lovely waterfalls along the road.
I think this Sun Princess cruise itinerary is excellent--we'll see a nice variety of tropical habitat and will forget all about Winter for ten days!
This isn't exactly what your looking for but, we are going on the same ship only backward through the canal when you return. If you think about it could you e-mail me back and let me know what you thought. I have posted several messages on 3 different sites and have yet to find anyone going the same time we are. I hope you'll have a wonderful time. Make sure you take time to enjoy the beauty of Costa Rica We have been there 3 times, It's a beautiful country and the people are very friendly.