Debark / Tour

Finally sat down and wrote the last day from our cruise last month. Well, knowing we had an afternoon flight and didn’t want to spend most of the day sitting in the Ft. Lauderdale airport, we took advantage and booked one of the debark tours to the Everglades. However, once we knew we were going to be at least two hours late arriving back in Florida, we began thinking they would cancel our tour and we would just take the transfer to the airport. This was an incorrect assumption.

We spoke with the Excursions desk and they said the tour would continue, just two hours behind schedule, still getting us to the airport two hours prior to our flight. I emphasize our flight as it is important for each person to confirm that delays will not interfere with allowing enough time for airport check in, security etc.

Due to the later tour time, the driver rushed us to the Everglades National Park. The bus was comfortable, and had “facilities”. Another passenger learned from the guide that typically cruise debark excursions occur at the Everglades before it opens to the public. But because we were running late, it was already open to the public, hence the long lines.

I will say that the “public” were very understanding and polite. I’m not sure what they were told as they stood there waiting in lines, watching us parade right past them, but I didn’t hear a single unkind word.

Back to the tour. When we arrived, we had a few moments to (attempt) to go into the little gift shop or use the facilities while our guide got our tickets and positions set for us to skip the line to board the air boats. When they were ready for us, it was made as an announcement over the loud speaker to go down the pier towards the boat. They then filled up each boat one by one until we were all onboard. Each boat left the dock once it was full.

We did learn, once onboard the air boat, that our boat ride was going to be reduced from the typical 60 minute tour, down to a 30 minute tour. This was the only way we were going to be able to experience both pieces of the park.

When you head out on the boat, they turn down a canal, pause, then they rev it up and “go fast” down the canal. The driver will give a little history of the Everglades, talk about the wildlife that can be seen etc. The boat ride goes down one canal, turns and goes down another canal and so on. You will see other boats along the way.

If you get lucky, you’ll see a gator. Our guide (from the bus) told us about a group that came all the way from Thailand to the Everglades and they didn’t see a single gator. We saw one, so I guess we were lucky to at least see the one. It was actually very cooperative and just swam back and forth. When our driver spotted it, another boat was already stopped, looking and taking pictures. We were able to pull up and our driver turned the boat side to side so everyone could see. Unfortunately we couldn’t watch it for too long as there was another boat coming up behind us so we had to move along.

The driver continually looked for different birds, gators, or iguanas to show us. Then it was another fast drive down a canal and back to the dock.

From there, we were led over to a fenced area. There is a man, a gator catcher – which means, if you live in Florida and have a gator in your pool, he’s one of the guys you can call to come remove it – he has some that were not able to be returned to the wild so he keeps them here and he gives you a lot of information about them.

Once this demo was done, it was time to get back on the bus and head to the airport. Overall, even though it was a shorter boat ride than it should have been, and more crowded than we might have normally expected, it was an interesting experience and we were glad to not have to spend that time sitting in an airport terminal!

Falmouth, Jamaica

After Costa Rica, we had a sea day before docking in Falmouth. We awoke to another cloudy and slightly wet morning, there was definitely rain in the distance and you could feel it had been in the air recently. At the dock is a shopping area. We were notified that only shipboard excursions were being allowed due to a recent change by Jamaica. In print, we were told to have our government issued photo ID with us, but when we met to wait to exit, we were told to have our vaccine card as well. I would just say when in doubt, take it so you are prepared!

Our tour in Falmouth was river tubing. Again, just a 3.5 hour excursion, in the morning before the heat. Word to the wise if you do this one, bring mosquito repellent if you get bit!! I didn’t even think about it and I got bit like crazy (the bites are still itching days later). The bus ride took about 30 minutes each way and on the way they worked to have us all sign a waiver. Unfortunately, their waiver is now digital and many of the area had sketchy Internet, so they had to stop getting signatures until we were almost to the Good Hope Estate. At this point they stopped with a good signal and had the rest of us fill it out.

I should add the Chukka tour buses are smaller buses. Two person seats are narrow, as is the aisle.

The Good Hope Estate is also a spot that offers zip lining, horse back riding, pool etc. We saw quite a few locals and other tourists (likely land travelers) there for the other activities.

Once we arrived at Good Hope, we were given a moment to change, or remove additional clothes (shorts/tops) into our swimsuits then we were given life jackets, which needed to be worn by all. They wanted everyone in closed toe shoes like water shoes, but it was not printed anywhere as a requirement so they did let folks get away with flip flops or even barefoot. They have a shop inside that also sells water shoes. Fortunately we had planned and brought some with us. The driver gave us the opportunity to leave our bags/packs on the bus while we went down the Martha Brae River.

When we all had our life jackets on, we were walked over to a large 4-wheel drive vehicle (big step up to the seats). The truck was covered. This truck took us from the main building, across an extremely bumpy dirt road with muddy holes. Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy down to the river we went. We off loaded and got in a line.

There were several guides on site and they already had most of the tubes connected. They are tied tightly together in a line of about 8 tubes. Each line of tubes had a guide who had a small blow-up raft. The guides sat backwards in the raft, facing the line of guests, and paddled backwards. One by one, people were loaded into the tubes and when each set of 8 was full, off they went!

We were at the very tail end of the line and they ran short of tubes (the 8 were full and we made #9 and #10) so the last guide ran and got two more tubes and tied them onto the end of the 8, loaded us up (all 10 of us!), and away we went.

Our guide would sing, tell stories, talk about Jamaica, and answered questions that were being tossed his way. The river was slow moving most of the way, but did have the occasional small rapid. When we hit the first one, scrape scrape, our guide got out of his raft and said oops it’s more shallow than I thought. Then said for future rapids we would need to “buns up” when he called for it lol.

The rapids really became comical along the way. Sometimes we would get stuck on a large boulder and I would tell my husband “hang on, I’m going to push off” and when I would, it would end up freeing us up more than the front of the line and before you knew it, we had swung around and made the line of tubes basically a U shape. We had a good laugh about it.

Oh, an addition on the tubes – these are not a basic innertube with a hole in it. These are large tubes, with a handle on each side that you can actually get fairly comfortable in, even with a life jacket, and there is a bottom to it. You will get a little wet in some of the larger rapids (which still aren’t too big).

The tubing lasted close to 90 minutes and towards the end, you come past a place that has a bridge. There will be someone standing on the bridge, who will take pictures of everyone in the tubes. Once back at Good Hope, you can view/purchase the photo if you want.

At the stopping point, the guide assists you in getting out of the tube one by one. There is a ladder, similar to a pool ladder with just a couple of steps. Note that footing can be tricky as it is rocky and the ground can drop off if you step around. The guide tries to keep you close to the ladder where you can stand if you need to. Then there is a fairly short trail that you walk up to the main Good Hope building.

Once back at the building, you just return your life jacket, then we had about 30 minutes to hang out, shop, have a drink (there is a bar), or even jump in the pool if you wanted to.

Then it was back on the bus to the port. You do have to walk through the shopping center, both to get to your tour bus at the beginning and to get back to the ship. Lots of shopping available for souvenirs, alcohol, spices etc.

We left port around 3pm I believe. The next day (and last) was a sea day before arriving back in Fort Lauderdale.

Merry Christmas – Limon, Costa Rica

We were greeted Christmas morning to a very overcast sky and scattered showers. I admit I was a little bit grateful as the forecast for high temp dropped by about five degrees(f). Our excursion today was to take us on a short walk in the rain forest, followed by a canal cruise then a drive through the city back to the ship. We were again instructed to bring a government photo ID, and our vaccination card (or photo of it). This time, however, they had someone just off the ship who took photos of our vaccination records.

I came armed with a full bottle of mosquito repellent as mosquitos just love me (sadly). I had husband spray me down, then I offered the bottle to anyone else who might not have thought to bring some. I had a few takers out of the group!

The walk was uphill, steep, but not overly so, and we were moving at a slow pace in order to look for wildlife. However, I have to add that the path was covered with rocks, leaves, and protruding roots and, being a rain forest, it was all wet, which of course made it slippery. On the way back down the hill one lady from the tour slipped and landed on her back. Fortunately she wasn’t hurt, but I did hear later in the cruise that a woman on another rain forest walk fell and broke her leg. So if you consider this excursion, please wear sturdy shoes and use caution.

We were not far along the walk when our guide spotted poisonous tree frogs. Beautiful in color, green with black spots. He actually nudged it out from under a leaf so we could get some pictures. A little further on the walk, we came across a few more, and then even more. They were found in abundance under a large growth of bamboo.

The bamboo was amazing and grows in abundance here. They are quite impressive in size and shape of the stalks. I’ve included a picture with my hand in front of one of the stalks – and note I do have large hands.

As we continued to walk up the hill, someone shouted the word many of us were hoping to hear ….. S-L-O-T-H!! Excitement abound as everyone looked for the sloth that had been spotted above in the tree. I saw it! And it was moving around in the tree! Even our guide was excited about this as he says it is often hard to spot them so high up. He guessed the sloth might have been moving around to either dry off a little, or find a better position for any additional rain. It was really a neat experience to see the sloth in its natural habitat.

I wasn’t able to get a picture of it as it was partially hidden behind a large branch, but slightly above the sloth and on the far side of the tree was a vulture. Our guide mentioned, when it took flight, that it was actually a King Vulture and he added they are quite rare to see. I really wish I had been able to get a picture. When it took flight, its wing span was amazing!

After some time spent taking pictures and watching the sloth we continued on for a couple more minutes then headed back down the hill. When almost back down, we stopped at a fork in the trail and there were facilities to use before getting back on the bus and heading for the canal ride. I added mention of facilities because some folks do wonder if there are places available on tours. We couldn’t have timed it more perfectly. No sooner than we got back on the bus, it began raining. he bus ride took a few minutes and took us past their Chiquita Banana facility.

The place we parked and got off the bus had some beautiful flowers planted around. There was a trail to the boat, lined with beautiful tropical plants and flowers. Our guide also pointed out a not so pretty (in my opinion) side of nature, a couple of decent sized spiders. Ick!

Fortunately, the boats were covered as the rain continued. The seats were hard metal, but they did have life jackets placed on the seat backs to help with a little comfort. We all boarded the boat and before we could even pull away from the dock, old eagle eyes (I believe it was the same woman that spotted the sloth on the walk), spotted a sloth moving around a lot in the tree across the canal. We ended up sitting there for a couple of minutes and this guy was very active, climbing from branch to branch, front and back and at one point almost looked like it did a little swing. Again, amazing, just amazing! And then off we went!

Both our guide, and the driver of the boat were on the lookout as well for wildlife. The canal cruise was only about 40 minutes I believe, and we saw at least a half a dozen sloth along the way. Along with the sloth, we saw several birds, including a couple of types of heron.

There was a lot of talk along the way about alligators/crocodiles. It was mentioned they had Caiman there. A smaller version, with a little different color and head shape. Lo and behold we came upon …. yes, a caiman! Just sitting there on someone’s boat ramp! The home owner’s dog (fenced in on the front porch) was none too happy about this guy being there. But it sat there for a minute or so letting us take pictures, then it walked into the water and let us get some good pictures of it swimming near the boat! Pretty cool!

And last but not least, of the amazing creatures we saw along the way, were the iguanas. We even spotted what they call, a “Jesus Christ Iguana”. Sorry, not pictured, I was having problems getting a good view of him with my camera as they kept swinging the boat around so everyone could get a good view.. As our guide explained it, this is the iguana that you sometimes see in videos running across the water – hence their nick name for it (because Jesus walked on water). Such beautiful color on these green iguanas, and they were not easy to spot as they blended in with the greenery around them all too well!

When the canal cruise was over, they had a small container of fresh fruit for us. There was also a stand where you had a small selection of souvenirs to choose from. Then it was back to the bus. There were facilities available here as well if anyone needed it.

Once back on the bus it was time to head back to the ship. At the port, they drop you near a shopping area that is a short walk from the ship. It is a bunch of little vendors with t-shirts, wood carvings, paintings on wood and other little things. Fortunately this area is covered by a large tent. This excursion was about four hours long in total and, like the other ports, was a morning excursion to beat the heat of the day. Then it was back onboard for more shipboard fun! At the end of the day, we returned to our cabin to find certificates for completing the Panama Canal transit the day before.