THE PANAMA CANAL AND THE CARIBBEAN - THE CORAL PRINCESS
My world needed a break, a rebuild, a vacation, a battery recharge, a cranial resurrection, and I had a few days to spare and a great companion to share it with who had the same goals.
We tossed some ideas around and decided to head south of where we live which is Tampa Bay. We also tossed plans of flying elsewhere like Mexico, or renting a car and solo sightseeing out the window. I wanted to be catered to, not the caterer as I have been and done for years.
Too much work packing and unloading, driving blind, unplanned events, finding lodging and so forth. We were looking for structure with little effort on our part. The gong went off and the word CRUISE surfaced in our conversation, while looking at maps and places to visit.
This began quest and answers came when we asked about Cruise Travel while we were at our AAA office in Seminole, our agent Rebecca told us they were hosting a cruise show featuring all of the major players in the cruise industry, the following week.
A week later we attended the trade show in Tampa, looked it all over and more or less made a decision for the Coral Princess and the Panama trip. Finding a cruise suitable for your needs depends on some common sense questions you have to ask and some common sense rules. Selecting the right trip takes a fair amount of input, carefully sorted, prioritized and researched. Or you might wind up being trapped for several days in an environment you might not care for.
Using the journalists five ‘W’ questions: Who, What, Where, When and Why usually clears the air and WHY is explained in the first sentence and the last of this part of the story.… We needed a getaway, and thats a good why.
WHY: ADVANTAGES OF CRUISING:
No stress travel, the other guy is doing the driving, and you get the opportunity to see other places, cultures, people, animals, cities, like being an explorer, it opens your mind to the diversity of this planet.
Always something going on as far as entertainment goes on board and on shore excursions. Don’t care to go ashore, there are movies, theme parties, game shows, and discussion groups, gambling, libraries, three pools with treats and drinks, a casino, sunbathing, or just do nothing, find a good book and there are many places to hide.
You also get to meet a huge group of people with very diversified backgrounds and interests. Choice: Random dinner seating each evening or the same folks every night if you choose a fixed dinner plan. Your call, both options are available and changeable. Great Food! If you get the right ship and crew. Fresh food is literally available 18 hours a day. No cooking, great variety, new potential friends.
The painful aspects of travel are diminished like packing and unpacking, lugging suitcases, basically the one time your luggage is delivered to your room you hang things up on nice hangers you are done. At the end you pack and they handle it to the dock and customs.
Your room is your base of operations and don’t have to worry about a place to sleep or a different bed. The new beds on the Princess were incredible and we put our name on the list with their mattress company for a possible purchase when available to the public. Our cabin steward made the beds while we went to breakfast and turned down the sheets at night with two chocolates on my pillow. Incredibly good service.
You have NO food worries, cooking or food shopping for the next ten days. The food and food service hospitality went beyond expectations on the Coral Princess. We lucked out by booking on a great ship and I am one who writes a food blog and fairly critical about food, this trip was exceptional. We have had bummers and as one who worked in the industry, I usually let them know it if it is bad.
Just say all the stress of travel is relinquished and if you added all these benefits up, it easily exceeds the cost of the cruise. And with a comfortable cabin, and a different view each day, food ready when you are, you can’t beat it.
After the withdrawal by leaving my tablets and cellphones behind, not willing to pay exorbitant charges for wi-fi or phone charges, and really trying to get away from that constant communication, wanting complete isolation, resulting in the most relaxing eleven days in my life. I was communicating with interesting people from allover the world face to face.
Good accommodations, and service, great diversity of quality foods, a modern ship to explore, land excursions, lots of input and learning with plenty to do. And my mind was away from business, and contacts.
The payoff, after we returned home, my six month checkup was normal in every category, I had lowered my BP and since I was on a new med started a month before we left, it helped and dropped my trip-glycerides to dead center normal.
WHAT: ITINERARY ARE WE MOST INTERESTED IN?
The itinerary, on the Coral Princess included Aruba, Cartagena, Columbia, a trip through the Panama Canal, Colon, Limon, Costa Rica and Montego Bay, Jamaica. A taste of five countries was most appealing, ten days long, ample time at sea and a recently upgraded ship. And I also had a special preference for stopping, even briefly in Montego Bay Jamaica as I had lived there for two years almost 40 years ago and promised to come back one day and see if I could find the locals I had befriended. I did find them in good health buts that another story.
WHERE: ARE WE ORIGINATING FROM?
Where does the cruise originate and return to? Is additional travel needed? Who makes the connections, etc? We live in Tampa within a couple miles of interstate 75 and it’s a four hour run all interstate literally to the front door of Pier Two in Ft. Lauderdale. The home berth for this trip for the Coral Princess which also goes west coast to Alaska later in the year. Easy trip.
What are the demographics of the ports they travel to? What onshore accommodations and sightseeing, transportation, travel services were offered. Each port of call had various excursions which are optional and there is something for everyone, for the adventurer to the sightseer.
Details later, there are choices to be made. Do you use the ship services or go commando on your own? Best deals and offers available? Research the AAA, the ship and trip advisor, the internet and various blogs.
WHEN: WILL THIS TAKE PLACE?
Is the schedule suitable for all parties concerned and the length duration, medical concerns, disabilities and physical abilities accommodated? My companion had a break in her chemo medication schedule as she is on a stem cell transplant protocol and it fit perfectly with the schedule with allowances on both before and after.
Our time of year indicated warm weather, and high humidity, it was hotter than that. We ordered three cases of 16 oz water for our room and drank all 36 bottles of it in addition to lots, and I mean lots of water, tea, juice, coffee, beer etc. at meals. Hydration is critical and you sweat, but with the movement of the ship at an average of twenty knots or 23.4 miles an hour sweat evaporates quickly, the temperature and the AC also dehydrates you. On land or at port its just hot and humid, it was their summer in the equatorial belt. Panama and Limon, Costa Rica were brutal. I took advanced Jungle training courtesy of the military back in the 90’s in Panama and it was just as brutal less a fifty pound pack and a rifle.
There were many, many warnings about ZIKA before and during boarding, before disembarkation at ports, and prevention is simple and the only way is to strictly avoid the mosquitos that carry it. We had two kinds of DEET enhanced mosquito repellant.
Commercially available OFF and other companies all make some kind of repellant. I had some Grade- A US ARMY DEET G.I. Juice from my mil-field pack and it kept the little devils away from me. I think it also kept most people away from me. If going ashore, may I suggest the ladies don’t use anything with perfume, aromatic hairspray, deodorants and so forth unless you want to be a magnet.
THE AGONY OF DE-FEET
The Princess is 965 feet long (900 walkable) and has 16 decks. I will guesstimate going to three meals a day plus additional onboard journeys meant at least 7-8 trips a day which is 7200 feet and many times we took the stairs for exercise. Thats a mile and a third per day plus off board excursions per day.
Flip flops and other poor insecure choices in shoes are not smart. For the bare footers slides with a back-strap since on a roll you can pitch backwards. I took one pair of dress shoes, two pairs of mens sandals, one pair of sneakers and shower clogs. My gal sensibly took slides with straps, one pair of dressy slides and sneakers. Ladies, the ship pitches and rolls so deceptively slight even though high heels look great on yours, moving ships sprain or twist ankles. Sneakers and good fitting broken in shoes with traction are your best bet for the guys and gals.
WHO: ARE WE TRAVELING WITH?
OUR DECISION PROCESS
Our age group (I call us Active Seniors) and interests eliminated the super ships with themes, families and children. Obviously we were not into rock climbing, playing with Disney Characters and bumper cars, or all night soirees with young adults of alcoholics anonymous so several ships and itineraries were excluded.
Nothing wrong with those ships, some are magnificent hotels of the sea but too many people, too many distractions when you want solitude. I want escape from all that, not the mall. I’m re-building not destroying. I like quiet, ENT doctors tell us parents don’t hear the screaming and screeching, they just block it out so thats not a factor to them, but older folks tend to react to the sounds, has to do with hearing hardening with age.
Families love those bigger ships, there are other kids to play with and many ship-based activities frankly I’m not interested in. I live in Florida we have enough Mouse Land. Kids will love when Mickey or Goofy sits down with them…
OUR PERFECT MATCH
Perfect Match - The answer was the medium-large ship, just big enough and suited to a mature crowd. And the itinerary really gave us some very interesting people more so than thrill seekers, the land excursions handled that. One trip, one ship, one line met the expectations. We chose the Coral Princess out of Ft. Lauderdale, April 5th through the 15th, 2016.
Note: What are the demographics of the average passenger profile for your cruise.
Young Families with Children, (CARNIVAL AND DISNEY)
Young Couples with Party Plans and Good Times, (CARNIVAL, NORWEGIAN)
Mature Travelers 40-80 with active inclusive interests (PRINCESS)
Older Travelers (HOLLAND) who seem to prefer a slower pace
Luxury cruises like on the Danube in Europe by Viking (They’re pricing is not for the faint hearted plus airfare)
Steamboat Cruises on the Mississippi
The various cruise lines have reputations for accommodating these various groups. But check to see if their cruise and demographics meet your qualifications. Check with blog groups and ask around. Experienced Travel agents have some unique deals. The AAA people know a lot about the different itineraries offered and many of them have made the trip themselves. One of the perks of the industry. They will explain and make suggestions.