A little background - I booked this Panama Canal cruise specifically for my husband. I figured he'd be more interested in the history and workings of the Canal than the usual cruises and T.T.'s (Tourist Traps). As well, 2002 celebrates our 35th Anniversary (we're 57 and 55) and I felt we needed to do something special. Hubby's a very comfortable, at-home, kind of guy. It takes a lot to make him laugh and he feels most relaxed with people he knows well. I, on the other hand, am more like horse dung. I'm most comfortable when I'm on the road. So I compromised - I booked the T.T.'s for me, the Panama Canal for him and invited another couple along. Knowing he had someone to talk to in the "awkward" moments made him much more amenable to coming along.
So here goes from the beginning.
If you need to fly to your point of embarkation, try getting a U.S. flight. Being Canadians from southwestern Ontario, we usually fly from Toronto. Our Travel Agent (TA) found us flights via Champion Air from Detroit at about $400 Cdn less per person. Flight and transfer to ship at FLL was uneventful.
Cruise was at and over capacity so no chance for stateroom upgrades. From all I'd heard, I expected our inside cabin to be dark and small. What a wonderful surprise when we found it to be well laid out with more than enough room for the two of us and all our belongings. And to combat the darkness at night, we took along a little night-light. Perfect!
Stopped at five ports of call:
Cozumel, Mexico - snorkeling was great. Don't miss Carlos and Charlie's! Grand Cayman, BWI - home of over 500 banks. Beautiful, neat and clean. Experienced Seven Mile Beach, saw the Turtle Farm and went to Hell. A great submarine tour as well.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica - Hubby's favourite port. It rained a little that morning but certainly didn't dampen the spirits at all. Was dry and hot by mid-morning. There isn't much to see at the dock, but don't miss the Flea Market. Took both a bus and boat tour and learned about Ylang Ylang, Banana plantations, sloths, monkeys and anhingas. Ate my first fresh coconut in 15 years - delicious!! Watched a gentleman create grasshoppers out of the local reeds and enjoyed some local music. Terrific!
Panama Canal - there's absolutely no way that ship got through those locks! There wasn't much more than a whisper between the ship and the walls. Incredible. One trip we wanted to do but missed was the train ride from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It's a new feature this year and was already fully booked by the time we got to the Excursions desk. If you get a chance, book it right away. From all accounts, it was great.
Cartagena, Columbia - this was my favourite. A tour of the City, as well as the fortress and the Popa Monastery. Even met "Juan Valdez". Bought emeralds, topaz, coffee, etc. at the reputable stores. Bought tee-shirts, hats, etc. from street vendors. They can be VERY aggressive but just be firm if you're not interested. And don't buy stuff at the beginning of your tour. Wait till you're almost back. The prices drop considerably as the day goes on and you can do some real impressive bargaining just before you go back to the ship. Guards with dogs (drugs) met us on our return to the ship and were a visible presence as we reboarded. A young crew member was detained.
Sit back and enjoy yourself! Soaked up the sun on our "at sea" days. I don't usually burn or tan much so never worry about sunscreen. However, the farther south we got, the hotter the sun got so I broke down and bought a "25 SPF" spray from the little store on the ship. Wow! I've got my best tan ever. We only had one day when the waves were about 12 feet. But there wasn't any problem. They put out the stabilizers and we carried on. It was fun watching the water in the pools slosh over the edges.
We elected to have Personal Choice Dining and would do it again. We met some wonderful people and hope to keep in touch with them. Even though we weren't in the "traditional" dining room with first and second seating arrangements, the smart casual and formal evenings were honoured throughout the ship. In fact, no shorts were allowed in the dining rooms on any evening. Only very few passengers wore shorts in the evening if they were in the Horizon Court buffet area and they were conspicuous. Of course, those who ate at the outdoor grill near the pool(s) were very casual. We found the air conditioning in the dining rooms to be a bit on the aggressive side. Wouldn't hurt to bring a light sweater if you feel the cold. The Sterling Steak House was superb. One of our crew was a butcher by trade and he'd never cut a 14 oz. Filet Mignon. But it was so good, we ended up there twice, even with the $8.00 per person extra charge. Cooked to perfection and delicious. All meals were exceptional. The Crème Brulee was to die for! My only complaint was the coffee. I know it was brown and the pot said it was "Coffee" but my tastebuds didn't agree. I drank tea instead.
The Entertainment was really good! The comedians were funny, the singers stayed in tune, the magician amazed us and the juggler kept his balls in the air. I even got a chance to watch "Shrek" - a most enjoyable film!
The beer was cold and the 'ritas were delish. They also had a chocolate banana thingy that was good, too.
Search out Anna and UB (pronounced you-bee) at the Sundowners bar, Marion from Romania (a "he", not a "she") in the Horizon Court and if you're really lucky, you'll get Evelyn as your Stateroom Stewardess. Exceptional people. Service provided by all staff was outstanding.
The ship itself was beautiful. Save your money in the casino or play the nickel machines if you're into slots.
So, how did Hubby like his first cruise experience? The day before we were to disembark, he wanted to hide under the bed and stay on the ship. We hadn't been to Topsiders Bar, the Library, the Trumps card room, we hadn't bought any ice cream yet, we hadn't seen all the shows. Ten days wasn't long enough. I think he's hooked. We give this cruise two thumbs up. In fact, we already know what our next two cruises are going to be - we just have to figure out the dates.
If I haven't answered a specific question, or you want more information about the Sun Princess, don't hesitate to get in touch. We'd be happy to help if we can.