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Panama Canal cruise, port review, Acapulco and Antigua, Guatemala

Panama Canal cruise, port review, Acapulco and Antigua, Guatemala

Mar 15th, 2009, 09:34 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2003
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Panama Canal cruise, port review, Acapulco and Antigua, Guatemala

We did a full transit Panama canal cruise last month and now I'd like to give a review of the ports. The ship review is already here and can be found by searching under my id. Lets begin with the embarkation port.
Acapulco: We arrived in ACA two days prior to embarkation just to unwind a bit and I'm glad we did. About one week B4 leaving Chicago AA cancelled our flight and put us on a much earlier flight and added an extra stop. Thus we had to arise and 0230, leave ORD to DFW, then on to Mexico city and then go to ACA. We thought about getting pesos in DFW and we told that there would be an 8% fee unless we bought $450.00 worth, then the fee would be waived and we'd get a rate of around12.50 to 1 USD. The sweet talker there told us the rates in Mexico would be lower. Well we declined and I'm glad we did. . Our rates in ACA were around 13.60 and no commission. Shame on that little stinker.
We nearly missed our connection in Mexico city but all went well and we arrived in ACA on time. After collecting our bags we were subjected to polite but very persistent guys trying to sell us, what else, a timeshare. They followed us to the cab and didn't quit until we closed the taxi door. This is, IMHO, a very poor way to be introduced to Mexico.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency which became the Grand ACA hotel and convention center after we booked it as the Hyatt. We had stayed there in 1986 and then it was very nice. Well its still in a great location, right on the bay but sadly she's in disrepair. Our A/C barely worked, even after we called maintainence and overall she needs some paint, new tiles and a makeover really. Oh well for two days precruise it was fine.
I've heard alot these days about how unsafe Mexico is due to the drug violence. All I can say is that we never felt threatened in anyway. Maybe it helps there is a naval base there. In fact its next to our hotel and you can herar the sailors yell every morning as they go thru their exercises.
ACA has some fine restaurants to enjoy. We tried two of them. El Ovido and Zuntra. Both overlook the sea and the former has table outside which we used. We were pleased with both, esp. El Ovido. We ended up going to Zuntra because of a glitch in our reservation at Baikal which may be the best reviewed restaurant in ACA. I do regret missing it but Zuntra was very nice, a very good 2nd choice. We did ahve a cabbie who took us to Zuntra who tried to stiff us on the bill however. ACA uses a zone system and B4 we left the hotel I knew what the fare should be. He wanted 120 pesos for an 80 peso ride but got the correct fare. Incidentally the guy taking us back charged 80 so I know the first guy was trying to take us for another sort of ride. . .
We did not do any of the touristy things there such as seeing the cliff divers. For us relaxation on the beach and pool side was enough.
Embarkation I've covered in my cruise TR but suffice it to say it was a breeze. Princess tells you to be there 1300 but actually they can begin at 1145. We arrived at 1100 and after some wrangling got to stay in a nice A/C shopping/restaurant area until boarding began 45 min. later. My advice is to go early and beat the crowds.
Our first port was Guatemala. We chose to go to Antigua, a colonial city and walk a bit, have lunch and relax. I must say I am puzzled about one thing. That is why it costs double for a R/T there vs. the ships shuttle service. It takes about 1.5 hrs. to get there and the roads are smooth and easy. A taxi will cost you $50.00 one way. The ship charges $49.00 R/T. Usually private excursions are less but not here. Oh well. Antigua itself is an old Spanish colonial town. The roads are cobblestone and who knows how old really. The streets are narrow and clean and lined with shops and restaurants. In town is the gathering place, Parque Central or central park where you will see a neat fountain, push carts selling ice cream and shaved ice treats and stores. The bus drops you off near a shop that specializes in processing jade which is mined here. The owner has been featured in Natl. Geo mag and was there giving a lecture about her speciality. Pretty neat really. When you get off the bus you'll be "greeted" by young girls, around maybe 10 yrs. old who are selling souvenirs. Its sort of sad really and one has to keep in mind that Guatemala is a poor country with a 40% literacy rate and 10% internet rate. Interestingly Guatemalans themselves rate there own sense of well being much higher so evidently they are very happy with the means they have. If you look at my pics you will see some shots of an old building off the main street with a collapsed roof. I took some pics of this ruin from the inside and then saw something that surprised me. A laundry line, then a woman looking at me. Evidently I was intruding in someones home so I gave an apologetic nod and left. Right next to this ruin is a beautiful building with a gorgeuos courtyard. We were informed that Guatemala has a very uneven distribution of wealth. The vast majority of people are quite poor and a few are very wealthy.
We had lunch at a nice restaurant on the main street called Factura. I was quite surprised at the quality of our meal. I would not call it gourmet but it was very, very good. Their coffee was quite good too and I bought one pound from the owner, a man originally from France who married a local and who now runs this restaurant. The coffee itself is called cafe real and in fact I had some this morning. Its simply excellent, with a rich aroma, very smooth and no bitterness at all. The service was excellent and I had the fortune to try the local cerveza, Gallo. Well its the best beer I have ever had! I tried to find it back home but came up empty. The one day I was browsing in Binnys, the local liquor store and saw a six pack of it. Its the same beer with the same logo and label except here its called Famosa. Go figure.
Overall we liked Antigua. Its very clean, has Parque central, nice restaurants, some very nice "dulceterias" or sweet shops which has scrumptous looking desserts and very friendly people.
There was one obvious curiosity as well. The day we were there was Sat. and I saw long lines of people at every bank, seemingly waiting for hrs. Well as I learned Sat. is payday and as only one or two customers are allowed in the banks at a time it just takes this long. Can you see any of us doing this?? Well here its a way of life and no one seems to complain. They take it as normal. Which it is of course. Also every bank has a private, armed guard or two and interestingly in Guatemala when there are natl. elections the military aren't allowed to vote nor are they allowed to leave their barracks. Apparently this practice goes back to times when the military tried to imtimidate voters to sway the election results.
On the way back to the ship the bus had TV's and showed a concert featuring the national music, Marimba. The musicians seemd to me to reflect in the way they performed a sort of national character which seemed to be evident in the people we met. They are quiet, work very hard and seemd to have an understated, below the surface, pride and sense of dignity in what they do. I got a very easy feeling being around these people and hope I can visit this country again one day.
Coming up; Puerto Corinto, Nicaragua..
jacketwatch is offline  
Mar 15th, 2009, 11:09 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 13,459
Good Report ,enjoyed reading it. Have not been to Guatemala ( yet)

That Hyatt Regency in Acapulco ..is that the one with that famous tree in front .!?
Percy is online now  
Mar 15th, 2009, 11:47 AM
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Actually yes Percy, it is. I forgot how old it is but I think its maybe two or three hundred yrs. old. I'm glad you liked the report. I thought I could do all the ports in one session but realized there was too much in my memory bank when I began so it'll come in pieces.
jacketwatch is offline  
Mar 15th, 2009, 04:17 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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That's okay,you can make the report in pieces.

I know when I do a trip report , I want to make it short ,but then feel there is so much extra to say

Waiting for the next episode !
Percy is online now  
Mar 16th, 2009, 07:36 PM
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Well, Larry... I am impatiently tapping my foot! And no "episodes" please
Dayenu is offline  
Mar 18th, 2009, 11:31 AM
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OK. It'll be done today Stop tapping
jacketwatch is offline  
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