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Panama canal: all women said “yes” to Mr. Again (Faina’s report)

Panama canal: all women said “yes” to Mr. Again (Faina’s report)

Jan 24th, 2009, 06:17 AM
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Posts: 19,419
Panama canal: all women said “yes” to Mr. Again (Faina’s report)

January 4-18, 2009, Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas, 14 nights repositioning cruise. Ports: Los Angeles (start), Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco, Huatulco, Puntarenas, Cristobal Pier, Puerto Limon, Montego Bay, Santo Domingo (finish).

We did ocean to ocean, and to go west to east was the best decision. Do get up early enough to see the grand sailing into the canal! I mean start watching when it's still dark - you'll get the sunrise time from the TV channel with the map of where the ship is. And all the way to Gatun Lake it's just spectacular. Once in the lake, you've seen it all, no need to stay on the ship longer, you can take tours. Binoculars advised for bird watching.

One thing I didn’t understand. We had a man on the ship, looked like a passenger, he was waving the flag of Panama, and tossing decks of cards to people below. Why cards?

I made my own reservations with the RCCL directly, picked a window cabin on deck 3 mid-ship, very close to the Centrum elevators that go through decks 1-11. Senior rates start from 55. The price went down twice before the cruise, keep an eye on that! We also got fuel refunded to our ship account. For tipping we chose the standard to the credit card, didn’t feel the need for anything additional. They gave vouchers with “pre-paid gratuities” printed, and 4 envelopes to give to the staff personally.

It’s good to have a bunch of $1 bills to pay for small things like tipping tour guides and local entertainers. Around the piers the US currency is accepted, and in several shops I got change back in the US currency. Same in the airport, but I always asked first.

It was a nice surprise to find a preliminary statement on the bed a few nights before the end of the cruise to check for accuracy. The next day, the line was long to settle discrepancies. We didn’t have any problems or questions, only saw the line of passengers.

In the restaurant, the breakfast menu was the same, I think. Ate there only once, we thought it takes too long and not much conversation as everybody seemed sleepy. Lunch menu changed occasionally, but the waiters didn’t know how often. There was a buffet-type salad bar in the restaurant in addition to the menu, I didn’t get it, like another buffet. Dinners had a different menu each night, and the headwaiter was always there, asking how was the food, any special requests, if he can help with anything. All meals were hit or miss, and I saw people sending their dish back and requesting something different.

Buffet had a limited variety at breakfast, for example pancakes were with bananas one day, strawberries another, almonds the next… Lunch and dinner were offering more, and there was a snack station at solarium till 1 or 2 am with pizza and burgers, but only water to drink. Unlimited ice cream outside the buffet. The food was edible, sometimes delicious, lots of fruits and salads.

We didn’t see any hand sanitizer dispensers. In some ports, they gave hand wipes upon return to the ship, and that was it! Everything on the ship was clean.

If you use room service, read the daily planner. I don’t remember now, but on some port days it had limited hours. Puerto Limon had it till 10 am, and maybe others. It’s free at daytime, but there was a note: late charge applies.
FainaAgain is offline  
Jan 24th, 2009, 06:17 AM
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On the ship – the usual: jewelry and watches are pushed hard, some local souvenirs at inflated prices. After Huatulco they were selling Mexican souvenirs practically as give-away. $5 t-shirts had attracted such crowds, we had to come back an hour later to make our way to the tables. What I find the most amusing, people started to wear them the same day! C’mon, show me something you brought from home!

Speaking of t-shirts… We walked in an elevator, a woman looked at my husband, and said: yes, yes!! We didn’t get it at first. His t-shirt said: if a man walking alone in a forest where no woman can hear, is he still wrong? Women were stopping him everywhere to read and to say yes All men who bothered to read, said no.

Children asked us to bring D’Elida sauces from Panama, at Cristobal Pier we paid half of the price on the ship. They also wanted Blue Mountain coffee, it was $20 at the pier shop, none on the ship. At the dinner table I told about this coffee, one couple went on their own looking for lower prices, they said only in one shop it was $19. The further we went on the cruise, the less haggling was accepted in the port areas.

Jamaica is famous for its jerky, I was looking everywhere for anything packaged, but saw only the spices.

The peddlers were pushy, not aggressive. The most annoying were the photographers. Each port, every dinner… this was really too much!

During the cruise we couldn’t get rid of the feeling they got anybody they could. If we had not attended the evening shows, we wouldn’t miss much. The best was unscheduled performance, don’t remember in Acapulco or Huatulco, a local folklore group got on-board, they were not on the daily planner, only announced on the loudspeaker, an Aztec dance, a man with a lasso, a couple of so-so dances in between, but don’t leave as the last dance will pay off for your patience.

I was surprised, everything was on time. If an event was scheduled to start at 10 am, you arrive at 10.01 and feel like in the middle of it. Do attend as many events as you can! They give away souvenirs, not the value, but the stories you can tell at home about winning them!

One of the bands at night was popular in the 50s – I asked at dinner table. Their name is… The napkins? The glasses? Something you put on the table… The coasters!! Maybe 50 years ago they could sing.

I was glad we didn’t make any tour reservations from home, as I need the easiest. I had a list of tours, but on the ship they’ve changed the difficulty of the tours they have on the website. The tour desk does not have any additional information about the tours except what they offer on the Internet. Use your own judgment, not their grading. One tour in Puerto Limon was marked as “medium” so I was afraid will be too difficult for me, a woman at our table took this tour, she said, there were 2 steps down to the boat.

On the last sea day the spa was 2 for 1 treatment with special packages for 1 person.

If this is first time in the area, pack a bit more then you think you’ll need. From 80F to mid-90s, and outside in the humid weather it felt like 100F, you may need to change more often.

Shorts, lightweight tops, sandals and beachwear were the most useful during the day, both on the ship and outside. Even light sweaters were not needed!

3 formal dinners when women were really dressed up, men mostly in suits or any jackets and long pants. And we figured out what “smart casual” means: if you are smart, you wear casual!
FainaAgain is offline  
Jan 24th, 2009, 06:18 AM
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Our passports were sitting in the safe all the time. Just in case, we took copies along. In some ports, a picture ID was needed to get off the ship. Driver’s license is easier to carry around.

This was my 2nd cruise with RCCL, so I registered on-line to get the Gold membership. Benefits: coupon book (2 for 1 drinks, 10% off logo merchandise, spa coupon, Internet access coupon, and too bad I didn’t get to figuring out wine tasting, as I had a coupon to do it for free!) Welcome back party had champagne and even black caviar! Don’t miss that! The invitation envelope will be in your cabin. My husband is not a member, but the invitation was for both. “Commemorative gift” was a baseball hat with the RCCL logo.

I thought OAK airport is more dependable then SFO as it gets less fog. Super shuttle sent us a robo-call the day before to confirm. If you don’t answer your cell phone, they will keep calling till you pick up. The driver was 10’ early with the passenger whose reservation was in the earlier window, and we picked up another one whose reservation was in the later window. I hope the first passenger made his flight. He probably did as there was an airport-wide delay.

The planes were kept overnight in Oakland for morning flights. They got ice!! I kid you not – in California the planes got ice, and OAK had only one de-icing machine. All planes were in line for de-icing. So after 2 hours delay, we got on-board, ready for take-off, when the pilot spotted an electrical problem. Back to the gates, 3 hours late we finally were in the air. It was a scary flight knowing there was a problem

We had the shuttle transfers bought from RCCL in Los Angeles, they had a list of passengers, picked us up from different airlines, took us to the ship, the large bus was Greyhound size, all full, we made it to the ship with only an hour or so to spare. Good I had insurance, I would worry sick about making it.

It was small but well planned. Shelf and draw room for everything at first, but rather tight at the end with souvenirs added. Good lights on both sides of the mirror. Hairdryer, soda/water and snacks with the list of “ouch!” prices. No fridge, only an ice bucket. Charge your cell phone more often then at home, mine went dead a couple of times The bathroom was tiny, but lots of shelves to put things away, and yes, you can open the mirror to use the shelves behind it. The shower area was so small, on day one I knocked the shampoo dispenser down. Was more careful later.

We picked deck 3 port side (left) window cabin in the middle of the ship. Do turn the lights off at night to see the waves and the stars! You can see them only if the cabin is absolutely dark. Passengers from deck 2 said they could hear and feel the engine working. On rough seas we felt very little motion on our deck.
FainaAgain is offline  
Jan 24th, 2009, 06:18 AM
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What can I say, how often you get off the ship to see armed soldiers on the pier? Probably the diamond shop, we walked around without feeling threatened, only annoyed by peddlers. “One dollar bracelets” they were calling. A woman at our dinner table thought of a good bargain. She said, they were offering “one dollar off” LOL

This was the only port where they actually checked if any food, especially bananas, is taken off the ship. As we knew from reports, the disembarkation is chaotic, we didn’t hurry, were in group 16 to get off, no line. Short tender ride, not more then 10’.

We went to Cabo Dolphins. You can swim with the dolphins, and we saw some. If you don’t swim, just walk through the gift shop into the courtyard, it’s free (I asked the employee, yes, the beautiful courtyard is free), relax on soft sofa under the trees.

And take a walk further along water, pelicans are everywhere – in the air, on boats, on the promenade. Don’t forget your camera.

We saw the fort from the ship, and didn’t know that our ship was on the side of it. Climbed maybe 100 sets of steps made of uneven rocks up to the museum. $4 per person, rooms are air-conditioned, interesting place to see. To go back, we went where all normal people were coming from, there is a bridge over the road, take it! But the climb was worth it too

Listen to ship announcements, you can’t hear the events in your cabin, open the door. We heard about unscheduled Mexican folklore group getting on board. This was the best performance on the ship for us! Aztec dance – barefoot men without bunions, they probably never wear shoes. And shaved underarms look much more pleasant.

We got off the ship and just walked around, checking souvenirs and enjoying the views. All ports in the West (Pacific side) were much hotter then in the East (Atlantic side).

We did the coastal tour, great guide did her best on this rather dull ride. Don’t remember any really interesting scenery except a handful of painted houses here and there, but she told a lot about local laws, politics, education, flora and fauna. Fruit sampling and a small bottle of water included in the tour price, and one stop was to see children dancing in the square.

There is a trolley to take you from the ship to the town, it was not there, so can’t tell if free or not, we didn’t feel like using it after the tour, felt too hot for us.
FainaAgain is offline  
Jan 24th, 2009, 06:19 AM
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We got off the ship at the scheduled 6 pm, or should I say, tried to stay alive in that crowd? It was absolutely mishandled by the ship. They put a sign to get off from decks 2 and 3. We were lined up on 2. Turned out, deck 3 didn’t open, and people came to deck 2 arguing they were already lined up there. In addition, passengers from upper decks would take the elevators to deck 2 and go to the exit ignoring the line. There was nobody from the ship to direct or control the crowd except the 2 guys clicking our key-cards at the entrance.

People who went on tours said they were treated no better, had to stand on the pier staring at the docked ship for 1.5 hours. I think they ship was getting clearance from the port authorities during this time, but why wasn’t it explained to them?

Even with all the above, get off the ship. You’ll see the folklore dances, and the souvenirs at each stop are different, and fun to see. And upon return, a certificate of Panama Canal transition signed by the captain will be waiting for you in the cabin.

We walked down to the shops only, if you like macadamia nuts, this is the place to buy them cheaper then in other places.

The ride from Costa Rica to Jamaica was bumpy! The waves were up to 20 feet, conditions “rough” and both indoor and outdoor pools were drained. The night show was cancelled, movies shown instead. For me ginger is usually enough to fight off motion sickness. In Atlantic, I needed 2 Bonines to get through the day not to get sick. Do you think I lost my appetite? Ha! And my husband didn’t feel a thing!

This was my favorite stop! We took the tour “Jamaica Wonders,” and while our tour guide was having a bad day, the guide from another bus had to take care of us at stops, we had a blast!

Strange to be on the left side of the road with the driver on the right side in the bus. At the bird sanctuary we got tiny bottles with the liquid to attract humming birds, and twice they landed on my finger! After that, tasted the rums and rode a jitney through a banana plantation with local guides. The jitney was old and rusty, but after a couple of rums who cares Learned a lot, saw a lot.

Still puzzled about the water-wheel: what is the purpose of its turning? This was the only stop where we put the bags through x-ray twice: once to enter the pier, 2nd time to get on the ship.
FainaAgain is offline  
Jan 24th, 2009, 06:21 AM
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Before the cruise I called their 800 number, and they told me, if we don’t want to take a taxi to the airport, the only way is to buy a city tour of Santo Domingo with the airport drop-off as there are no shuttles. What a load of baloney!

They were selling shuttles on the ship, so I cancelled the tour. Cancellation was easy, there was a waitlist for this tour. We just didn’t want to worry about being stuck in traffic, pressured to buy things we don’t need, and what we couldn’t foresee – the day was rainy!

The refund was posted immediately on our ship account. The shuttle info was in the paperwork delivered to the stateroom, read everything you get! For our cruise, it was $19 per person.

The day before, confirm you luggage tag’s color. I’ve learned it the hard way. We got “light blue,” the last group for the late flight. In the morning I stopped at the customer desk just to make sure we don’t need tickets for shuttle transfers, as they were not delivered to the cabin.

Turned out, the shuttle passengers were given orange and red to leave early. How the hell could I’ve known that? The luggage was gone. They seated us by the gangway, and the man who was in charge for disembarkation made sure we got off as soon as our suitcase was out. And they didn’t take away our key-cards. Strange.

I was surprised, nobody checked if we paid for the airport transfer. Nobody asked our names, we just walked on the bus, and that was it. Easily people could go without paying.

Also I had a question about the tourist card or visa before the cruise, this was not needed for transit passengers. Or may be it was included in the price of the shuttle? We will never know They do stamp the passports.

The transfer to the airport was great, Greyhound type buses with soft seats, narration on the way, trucks transporting luggage, lots of personnel to help. The hall before check-in is air conditioned, but nowhere to sit, very few chairs.

Delta airlines counter opened at noon, people lined up 2-3 hours before that under the large Delta commercial in the left part of the terminal. Do send your suitcases through x-ray machine outside to get an orange agriculture sticker, and fill out all custom forms. The boarding area is not air-conditioned.

Remember to bring a good sweater along, and maybe warm socks. Both our Delta flights were freezing. There was food after security in Santo Domingo, priced the same as in US airports (read: shockingly high) and US currency is accepted, change given in USD. Eat and bring aboard, on both flights they only offered drinks and peanuts! In Atlanta the passport control line was a mile long, the longest line I’ve seen ever in my entire life, even food lines in USSR were shorter, but don’t worry, it moves all the time, and we were done in maybe 20 minutes.

We are slow moving people, so for us it took about 2 hours door-to-door to go through all mandatory things in Atlanta. Also seated in the back of the coach slowed us down a bit.

Overall we enjoyed the cruise, but compare to Princess it was definitely a step down. Will we travel again with RCCL? Maybe, depends on the itinerary. We will certainly take more cruises in the future.
FainaAgain is offline  
Jan 24th, 2009, 07:07 AM
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Excellent report Faina! Glad you had a good time! No mention of Mr. Again and the sluts?
Thanks for sharing
matnikstym is offline  
Jan 24th, 2009, 07:27 AM
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That is so funny Faina (yes)! What a wonderfully detailed report. Pictures yet?
Ronda is offline  
Jan 24th, 2009, 09:07 AM
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The price sure was right Faina. I'm wondering, do you think because it was a repositioning cruise and so inexpensive that they perhaps don't have all the ammenities they do on a regular cruise? Thinking in terms of food, entertainment and such.

I wonder how a Princess repositioning cruise would compare? I've only taken one cruise...Alaska on Princess. It was fine. I'm not big into cruising ......yet. I think the time might come however where it would make sense if I want to keep traveling.

I so glad you enjoyed it. I know you were home sick....what NERVE..gone two weeks and then home sick? Just just joking with you. Hope you are feeling better. Thanks for posting. Hope to see some pictures fairly soon.
crefloors is online now  
Jan 24th, 2009, 09:17 AM
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Hello Faina, I so enjoyed your cruise report! It is very informative too. Hope you two are now feeling well. Wishing you many more cruises!
LoveItaly is offline  
Jan 24th, 2009, 11:07 AM
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I enjoyed it too and look forward to photos?
cigalechanta is offline  
Jan 24th, 2009, 12:40 PM
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Forgot to add one more thing - we were cruising with a celebrity!

What's-his-name, that guy who was showing Samantha Brown the presidential suite on another ship? He was on our cruise. I asked him, he said yes, it's him.

So now I can say, I cannot tell his name not because I don't remember, but because of the confidentiality issues

Mr Again (and I) sure checked out the casino, but he didn't like the machines they have there. I think he's getting over the casinos, and into real travels.

Thank you all, and no photos yet - my camera is manual, need to take the films to develop, some time next week. Sorry, got sick.
FainaAgain is offline  
Jan 24th, 2009, 01:14 PM
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Maybe that's why he's called "Mr. Again": all the ladies can have a chance?

Thanks for Informative TR. How did the ship and trip compare with reviews on cruise sites lke Cruisecritic?

There are fantastic deals on cruises now, including Princess. That's the one bright side of the economy now--luring more thrifty travelers.
CaliNurse is offline  
Jan 25th, 2009, 07:37 AM
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Nice report, Faina. Waiting for those pics!
Holly_uncasdewar is offline  
Jan 25th, 2009, 11:02 PM
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It sounds as though you didn't really enjoy it...all sounds rather grim to me. Perhaps overall it was better than the parts

Just a quick question - what were you looking for in Jamaica? Packets of Jerky? As in dried meat?

It's 'jerk' not jerky, and it is just the name of the spice mix used on fresh meat. The spice packets you saw are it, unless you want to buy some jerk chicken etc (hot cooked stuff) to eat there and then.
nona1 is offline  
Jan 26th, 2009, 03:30 PM
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Nona, it must be the way I describe things - we did enjoy ourselves, and now enjoy the memories.

Did I get it wrong? Jerk not jerky? Why is it English language so complicated Yes, confused spices with dried meat. Will know next time, thank you, Nona.

And I'm taking the films to develop after work.
FainaAgain is offline  
Jan 28th, 2009, 02:35 PM
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The photos are here, don't miss Jamaica on page 2

FainaAgain is offline  
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