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.

Panama Canal

The day after Cartagena, on Christmas Eve, we went through three gates of the new locks of the Panama Canal. It was a beautiful, but hot/humid partly sunny morning. The bridge is called the Bridge of Atlantic. I took a bunch of pictures of it, looking for just the right angle. I liked this one best!

We were already headed towards the locks when we woke so we stayed in our cabin for a bit, watching/listening to the commentary on the TV while watching from the balcony as well. This first image (below) shows the entrance to both sets of locks, the left, our path to the new locks and the right, the path to the old locks. One of the things that was kind of sad, was the commentator pointed out that there is already damage, from ships running into things. Two of the pictures show this – along a dock area, and concrete damage along the stairs. I’ve added labels to those two pics.

As with many cruises of this type, Princess has experts come aboard and they broadcast a lot of information about the old locks and the new throughout the ship. We learned that each door of the new locks were made in Italy and shipped over, and weigh 4200 tons each. Mind you, a lot more information was given, but I didn’t jot it down. The gates stuck in my head though! The gates on the new locks slide in/out unlike the old which I believe are two gate doors that swing open/closed.

Once we passed through the third gate, we entered Gatun Lake. It was at this point, that they began calling for excursion groups to meet for debarking. They were taken off by the lifeboats (used for tendering), to shore for their excursion. We would not see these folks again until early evening.

While most folks went ashore on excursions, we opted to stay onboard. I knew it was going to be particularly hot/humid and we agreed after the warm day in Cartagena that a day out of the sun would be a good break before Costa Rica the next day. Interestingly enough, it seemed as though every other person who stayed onboard were at the pools lol. We took the day and enjoyed time chatting with crew, enjoying a beverage or two, lovely lunch in the dining room, a nice nap/movie and just relaxed.

Around 4:30 PM we headed out of Gatun Lake and back through the three gates and made our way towards Cristobal, Panama. This is where we docked and waited for the folks on excursions to rejoin the ship. I will add that Cristobal is a working dock and there are very limited facilities. When we docked, two tour buses were waiting for us, and more arrived over the next couple of hours. We noticed that, because it is a working dock, passengers had to stay onboard the bus to wait for our arrival.

Although part of me wished we had done an excursion anyway, ultimately I was glad we stayed onboard as the temp tipped to about 91f with humidity in the 80 something %. We both realized we had a slight sunburn from Cartagena so it was good to not overexpose. And you can’t fault a nice relaxing day onboard a cruise ship!

Our next stop, Christmas Day, was Costa Rica…..