Following is our review of our cruise on the OceanBreeze on the August 30, 1992 sailing from Aruba into the Panama Canal. For a point of reference, this was our 10th cruise, 2nd on Dolphin. The other ships which we have sailed are: NCL Seaward and Sunward II, Carnival Celebration and Fantasy, Regent Sun and Regent Star, Dolphin SeaBreeze, Costa Classica and Crown Princess.
For those of you who don't know, the OceanBreeze is a relatively recent acquisition by Dolphin, having previously sailed as the Azure Seas with Admiral Cruise Line until this spring. The ship went into drydock at the end of April and sailed for the first time as the OceanBreeze the last week in May. The ship currently does a Southern Caribbean itinerary for the first three weeks of the month and a Panama Canal itinerary for the last Sunday of each month. From the comments of crew members, the Panama Canal itinerary generally sails more full than the other itinerary, but the crowd is older.
General observations about the ship--The condition of the ship, with public rooms in particular, is very good to excellent. The ship was refurbished by Royal Caribbean when it bought Admiral, then refurbished again when it was purchased by Dolphin. The Rendezvous Lounge, the casino, the Mayfair Lounge, the card room, and the dining room all appeared to have new carpets and new furnishings. All were in excellent condition. The dining room has no windows, but is a uniquely attractive room, with soft rose-colored lights. The Mayfair Lounge is a wonderful room, with a wonderful art-deco light in the ceiling, cane chairs, ceiling fans, lots of windows and wonderful silk plants. The Casino is two stories high, beautiful, with new carpeting, lots of brass on the stairways, and another wonderful art deco light in the center. The card room was beautiful, with mahogany bookcases and tables, plus couches and a few tables and large windows.
The only exception seemed to be the disco, which is in sad need of refurbishment, but did not get much action on our trip. General traffic flow, etc., was good, except for the Miramar Lounge, which was the indoor/outdoor restaurant. Because of being kind of shoe-horned around the stack, the buffet lines were split up. There were two lines for the majority of items, off to one side. Then you had to go out a set of doors (which were permanently open during the hours the buffet was open) to pick up hamburgers, hotdogs, etc. Then you had to go around the corner to where the coffee, tea and ice water were and then back around the corner back inside to where the desserts (and in the morning, croissants and sweet rolls) were placed. This arrangement seemed kind of confused and disjointed to me, but, without a major overhaul of the room, I'm not sure how it could be corrected. The Miramar was also the only room (other than the disco) that I didn't like the general decor. It seemed very dark and very bland--kind of a light grey carpet with a sun pattern and light orange chairs. There was a nice stained glass panel above the buffet where the desserts were and the bar was attractive enough, but otherwise, the room was uninspired. Also, the outdoor dining area is way too small. There is not enough room for tables there and no outside tables there in the shade. There are a few tables up on the boat deck at the Cafe St. Tropez, which often were in the shade. These were nice for drinks or listening to the island band, but too far to carry any food.
One of the things that we will remember most about our trip on the SeaBreeze was the wonderful attitude of the crew. Everyone seemed happy to do their job and they did it well. Our experience on the OceanBreeze was no different. Our waiter (Murillo) and busboy (Zoran) may not have been the best we have ever had at those positions (although they were DARN good) but they were always laughing and affable, willing to talk to us and willing to do anything that they could to make our trip better, and NOT just on the last night, when they expected their tips. There were only a couple of occasions at our table for six that someone ordered something they absolutely did not like. If we told Murillo we did not like it, it was no problem--it was whisked away and whatever else we wanted was substituted with a smile. That is the way that it should be, but it is surprising how often (on other ships) the waiter has acted personally affronted if we did not like what we had ordered. We did get the standard speech from the waiter on the last night, requesting an excellent rating all the way down for the food and food service, but it was delivered with the same smile and affability that had permeated his demeanor for the week. Again, the busboy may not have remembered EVERY night that we liked iced tea with dinner and coffee afterward, but he was smiling and personable from the first night. Similarly, on the SeaBreeze, one of our favorite memories is of an older lady sitting on deck at the outdoor restaurant, slapping the hands of a deck steward who was attempting to remove her plate of food before she was finished with it. The on-deck service removal of dirty plates on the OceanBreeze was so good that we would generally have one of us stay at the table to protect our silverware when we went to the dessert line! There were some times when we could not find a table to eat at the buffet restaurant because the tables were all full. There were NO times that we could find only dirty tables.
This review will mention almost nothing about entertainment or about the midnight buffets. We watched no entertainment at all except for the steel drum band (which was absolutely excellent) and the (15 minute) movie on the Panama Canal, which was also quite good. We do not choose to spend time these days, watching production shows or jugglers or magicians. Those that did seemed pleased with the shows. We spent most of our evenings either in the casino (came home with quite a bit of the ship's money--from roulette and Caribbean stud, not the slots, they're horrible!) or in the disco or on deck. We made quite a few friends with members of the crew, mostly in the casino. It was a much quieter cruise for gambling than normal, according to the crew, so we sat in the casino more often than normal, just talking. We made a particularly good friend of the bartender who was in the casino for the week (they switch stations every week). His name is Winston. If anyone sees Winston, tell him HI for us. We went to only one midnight buffet to eat--the NY deli buffet. They had regular AND chocolate cheesecake. Out of this world! Otherwise, we just never were hungry, although selection appeared good.
Air transportation to Aruba and staying at the Golden Tulip are still somewhat problematical. Because booking on American carriers all the way is much more expensive for them, Dolphin does not book on American carriers outside the US. For the most part, they use Jet Fleet, BWIA, ALM and Aeropostal from Miami or Atlanta. These carriers are not as dependable as American carriers. You cannot be assured that any one of them will leave on time. We went down one day early and stayed one day after. If you decide to use Dolphin's air, as opposed to booking your own, going down early is good insurance against shaky airlines. Many people did not arrive at the ship until after our second seating dinner started and the ship sailing was delayed by a half hour because one plane was late. I would not count on their holding the ship for me.
The Golden Tulip is trying to clean up its act, but there remain problems with maintenance, staff, etc. Dolphin passengers are apparently all placed in the "Caribbean" wing. We stayed on the 4th floor on the Saturday before and on the 5th floor on the Sunday after the cruise. Both rooms appeared to have new or fairly new bedclothes and curtains and the rooms and balcony for both rooms appeared to be newly painted. The carpets appeared to be new in the hallways and in the rooms on both occasions. Numerous small maintenance problems remain, which could be cured with proper management. Scuttlebutt on the Caribbean BB was that the hotel had been purchased by new management, so hopefully there will continue to be improvements there.
We left National Airport on American at 9:30 on 8/29. Flight left on time, but only food offered was pretzels and coke. Flight arrived in Miami on time. Unfortunately, from Miami we were booked on BWIA. WELCOME TO EC TIME!! (Read--Eastern Caribbean time, read, when we get there!!) Because of "mechanical problems" which were not explained further, it was 45 minutes after we should have left before they started boarding the plane. Unfortunately, during that 45 minutes a huge thunderstorm came through Miami and the airport was closed for around 20 minutes altogether. What that meant was that every plane trying to land and take off was backed up. We sat on the plane for another hour and a half before taking off. Ultimately we were three hours late taking off. The airline could not be held responsible for the additional delay because of the storm. However, when we were sitting in the terminal in Miami, we noted the following--there were five gates in the area where we left from. There were two BWIA planes, one Air Jamaica plane, one Cayman Airways plane, and one plane going to Columbia (can't remember the airline). BEFORE the storm came through, all the planes were delayed for at least 45 minutes (and the Cayman Airways plane was cancelled altogether), except for the plane going to Columbia (Medellin, of all places!). Nuff said! Food on BWIA was mystery-meat chicken with rice and a salad. There was no apology for the late departure and no free drinks or anything else for the inconvenience. Only two stewardesses for all of "tourist"(?) class.
Arrived in Aruba around 7 P.M., right at sunset, even though we were scheduled to arrive at 4 P.M. There are no real "gates" in Aruba--you deplane onto the tarmac and troop into the terminal. Arrival terminal, unfortunately, is not air-conditioned, although departure lounge is. Kind of strange. Immediately inside the door of the terminal a representative of DePalm Tours met us and told us which bus we should board. She directed us to the immigration line, where a "smiling" (NOT!!) gentleman stamped our passports. We were the second people in line and there were no problems with any lines at the airport in Aruba for us in either direction, although we did travel on Saturday and on Monday. Immigration agent directed us to the baggage claim, where we had a porter take our bags about 20 feet from the bag claim to the door where the busses awaited. Busses were large, well air conditioned busses. There were only Golden Tulip passengers on our bus. It was around a 15 minute drive to the hotel.
Check in at the hotel was again no problem, with only one person in line ahead of us. If you have booked through Dolphin, rooms are pre-assigned and basically you only need to give them your room voucher and a credit card or deposit for additional charges. As on board ship, you could charge meals, drinks, etc., to your room, and they gave you a paper card which was your "guest card". At check-in, you show one of the porters your luggage and they mark it with your room number. Then they use large luggage carts to deliver all the luggage inside the room about a half hour later.
At check-in, they did NOT tell you anything about the safes in the room or the mini-bar. There was an additional deposit for the safe key (which was returned if you returned the key), but otherwise no charge. You must ask for the key for the mini-bar at the desk, although there was no deposit for this. Prices for items in the mini-bar were about the same as the bar prices--$2.25 for a (small) bottle of Coke, beer for $2.75 to $4.00 and wines $4.25.
Rooms are large sized, with most having a king-sized bed, although some had two double beds. Our room the first day was the standard "garden" view--read, a view of the side of some buildings and a couple of bushes and palm trees. Balcony is around 7 feet by 5 feet, irregular shaped, with a wall waist high, with two chairs and a table. There was a radio with several channels, and a TV with around 10 cable channels. There was an additional TV channel at $8.00 per day which showed your choice of a large selection of movies. Rooms had two chairs and a table in the room, vanity bench, 1 dresser, 2 long hang-up closets, with two shelves above the safe. There were small bottles of shampoo, lotion and conditioner in the room. Ice machines on each floor. There was a clothes line in the shower in the bathroom. The drain for the tub had a pop-up affair which was very easily closed by stepping on it. Therefore, if you didn't watch carefully, the tub didn't drain because you had closed the drain up.
The beach area is very nice at the GT. There were several "huts", for want of a better word, to shade you from the sun. There were ample chairs and towels for guests. You just needed to show your guestpass to have one of the beach helpers get you towels and chairs. The sun shades were probably better at the GT than anywhere else in the immediate area. The water was very calm, except when the occasional speedboat came past. There was no trash or weeds, rocks, etc in the water. Topless and/or thong bathing suits were no problem, particularly while lying down. Topless was not particularly encouraged while strolling down the beach and apparently not allowed in the pool area.
There were three restaurants, plus a more informal restaurant down at the beach, at the hotel, plus room service, 24 hours. Room service breakfast was 7-12 A.M., continental breakfast $6.25, full breakfast $10.00. A fairly full menu was available around the clock. We did not order anything from room service, so can't speak to the quality of food or service. We did eat at the hotel on the Sunday after the cruise at the informal restaurant on the beach. Sandwiches with lots of fries and cole slaw were around $8-$8.50. Lots of food and the view was very nice. There were several small shops at the hotel--Little Switzerland, clothing shop, liquor shop and a sundry shop --open from about 10-2 on Sunday.
There was one nice feature for Dolphin passengers not actually booked at the GT--the hotel had set up a couple of "day rooms" for changing, if you wanted to change into swimming suits for the beach, etc. The room numbers were posted in the lobby of the GT. A Dolphin rep was in the hotel lobby for most of Sunday. On our initial trip there, I found not that much to complain about with the GT (however, not so on the return trip the next Sunday). However, the hotel was merely OK, not what one would call a deluxe accommodation. There were many small maintenance items which needed to be addressed which were not. Outdoors, around the pool area, there were several of the umbrellas around the pool area which were either torn or missing altogether. The awning on the one side of the pool area, again, had some rips and tears in it. The grounds, while not messy at all, did not exhibit the polish or the beauty that you expect from a first class hotel. The grounds did not have the flowers which were visible around the Hyatt, for instance. The beach area had some grasses and weeds growing up in scattered spots--not a lot, but there should be none in a first class hotel. Also, there was maid service, including replacing towels, only once per day. I am sure that we are spoiled from so many cruises, in which the cabin steward visits your cabin at least two or three times per day. However, at a beach resort, you should have access to more than two bath towels to last you for 24 hours. And, as has been previously reported on *P* and elsewhere, the casino is closed.
Since I had had a run-in with the Dolphin sales department prior to leaving home about the hotel, I picked up a flyer from the hotel which listed their room prices. The price for the "standard" room, which is the one you get if you book through Dolphin, is $90.00 per night from April through December. January through March the price is $180.00 per night. As most of you know, Dolphin is charging $65.00 per person per night for the GT, which during 75% of the year, translates to $130.00 per night. Therefore you pay $40.00 more per night to book the hotel through Dolphin than you can call the hotel and book it directly with them. Of course, you get transfers from the ship to hotel for that price. Unfortunately, we only paid $7.00 total when we took a cab from the ship to the hotel, so that math does not quite work out. If you want an ocean view room, you can pay an extra $25.00 and get ocean view.
There was a concrete and brick walkway on the beach side of the hotels which stretched from the Aruba Palm Beach to a resort or two on the other side of the Hyatt. This was a great place to take a walk down by the beach without getting sand in your shoes. However, if you want to be satisfied with staying at the GT, don't walk down to the Hyatt. The grounds of the Hyatt were unbelievable. Two large swimming pools with several waterfalls between the pools, huge goldfish, black swans, beautiful flowering bushes. The Hyatt itself has a huge open air lobby with a huge oriental rug and a line of beautiful chairs. The casino was smaller than the Holiday but busier and more classy looking. There were lots of nickel slots. There is a 24 hour indoor/outdoor restaurant at the Hyatt called The Palms down at the beach. Sandwiches with fries there were around $8.00-$8.50. Don't get their iced tea, though, as it's awful.
There was a breakfast buffet available at the hotel for about $12.95. We instead went to the Steamboat Buffet for breakfast for $6.95, served 6-11 AM. The Steamboat is located within very easy walking distance of the Golden Tulip. Head out the front door and make a left and you should see it immediately on the opposite side of the street. Amount of different choices of food was not as good as at an American buffet but was adequate--omelettes or eggs cooked to order, french toast, sausage, fruit, juices, cereals, danish, coffee and milk. They also have lunch and dinner buffets there, for $12.95. Sunday nights the menu was BBQ. On Saturday, roast turkey, among other things.
On Sunday morning, we had been told to have our luggage outside the room to go to the ship no later than 8 A.M. The busses to take us to the ship arrived promptly at 12:45 P.M. We arrived at the ship around 1 P.M. There were around 4 people in line. We were given a large envelope to deposit our cruise tickets, air tickets, passports and Aruba arrival documents in. A few minutes later we boarded the ship. A line of crew members greeted us and carried our carry-on items to our cabin for us. When we arrived at the cabin, our bags were sitting outside the cabin door. We then headed for the buffet. Welcome aboard buffet was carved ham and roast beef, potato salad, macaroni salad, and an absolutely sinful cheesecake (the first of many memorable cheesecakes--can you guess I like cheesecake?). We then headed for the Rendezvous Lounge for the dinner seating arrangements. No line for this either. We requested a table for 8. Since there were only around 700 passengers, all tables for 8 ended up being tables for 6. This was fine, as we had affable tablemates.
Dinner Sunday evening was served in the regular two seatings, although many people did not arrive until after their dinner seating. The dinner menu on Sunday was fairly representative of the week--5 appetizers, 3 soups (1 cold), 2 salads, 4 salad dressings, fish, chicken, steak, pork and veal entrees, plus a light entree. The casino opened (slots only) at 12 P.M.
Monday morning (as was the case all week) breakfast was open seating from 7:30 to 9:30, plus buffet up on deck. We usually eat breakfast on deck and try to make at least one breakfast in the dining room, but ate breakfast on deck every day. Breakfast on deck varied from day to day. There were pancakes a couple of days, french toast at least once, a variation of ham, sausage or bacon each day, cheese omelettes and western omelettes, fried potatoes, oatmeal, fruits, cereal, croissants, sweet rolls, and eggs cooked to order. Lifeboat drill was right after breakfast at 10 A.M. on Monday. Fairly thorough lifeboat drill, with calling of roll to determine how many persons were there from each cabin.
We ate at the luncheon buffet every day except one. Luncheon buffets varied from day to day. There was almost always a carved meat available--either ham, roast beef, turkey or veal, and usually a meat salad (shrimp or tuna, etc.) There was always a hot meat inside also, as well as hamburgers, hotdogs, and french fries (which were GOOD, not soggy, like a lot of other lines), plus either BBQ chicken or shishkebob or fish. There was always cheese and some fruit available also. The BEST thing about lunch on deck was the desserts. The desserts at lunch and at the 4 P.M. "tea and cookies" were usually better than at the evening meals. Usually there was a cheesecake or a cream puff or pecan pie, etc., etc., etc.!
Our cabin was number 539 on Atlantis deck. This was a Cat. 1 cabin and was fine in all respects except one. It has an obstructed view. It is not shown on either the deck plan or any of the pictures in the brochure, but cabin 539, as well as cabin 540 on the opposite side of the ship, have the view obstructed by the platform used at the bottom of the ladder when tendering. Also, cabins numbered 517-532 are technically inside a hallway. There are windows on through to the outside, but there is a hallway between you and the outside of the ship. We checked about getting our cabin switched and were offered cabin number 513. However, that cabin, although on the same deck, was not on the promenade portion of the deck and we stayed with the original cabin. There was apparently a $50.00 fee to change cabins. We had never requested a cabin change before, so don't know whether this is standard or not.
The cabin was small, but functional. Bedcoverings, carpets and curtains appeared new, or at least, not worn. The width of the room was basically the same as the double bed, plus a cabinet about 1 foot wide above the headboard. There was one square window, around 3 feet by 2 feet. Along the inside wall was a vanity desk with two open slots and 4 adequate sized drawers. Beside that was a closet with two full length bars around 18 inches each, with one shelf above. There was a small bedside table with a small open compartment. The bathroom is small, but OK. The shower has no lip on the stall, therefore water goes everywhere on floor. There is a nice marble top on the sink, but no storage except on the sink top. There are 4 hooks on the back of the bathroom door and 4 hooks beside the sink, but no clothesline in the shower. There's plenty of hot water, since this is a steamship, and old-fashioned "regular" plumbing. A/C works OK, but not overly cold. We did not complain about it to make it colder. One item that we used a lot and don't remember from other ships, was a water pitcher, along with the ice bucket. Our cabin steward kept the water pitcher full of water and the ice bucket filled and we often took a moment for a drink of ice water. There was one small chair in the room, and a full length mirror on the wall facing the bed. The plug in the bathroom is for shavers only, but a plug suitable for a hairdryer is above the vanity. Lights seemed a little dim, other than in the bathroom, for applying make-up and arranging hair. LOTS of shampoo, conditioner and lotion provided in little bottles in the room.
Monday afternoon the cruise director gives an excellent shore talk. The cruise director gives the appearance, at least, of not pushing the ship's shore excursions so much, as the assistant cruise director is the one who describes the excursions in detail. Also, time is allotted here for the diving program to tell what they have available. Lunch was on deck, with apple salad, stuffed zucchini, carved beef, BBQ chicken, peas, and chocolate cream pie some of the goodies we sampled. There are no safes in the rooms, (except possibly the suites, I don't remember) so on Monday afternoon we also signed up for a safe deposit box. Charge is $100.00 security deposit for the key if not returned, otherwise, no charge. Safe deposit boxes are available 8 A.M. to 8 P.M.
Monday evening was the Captain's Welcome Aboard cocktail party and dinner. I didn't like any of the standard (read, "cheap") drinks that they brought, so I requested, and got, champagne. Dinner selections included a different (although not bad) Pasta Jumbulaya and duck, which was roasted crisp, according to our tablemates, cold apple soup and cherries jubilee. After dinner we won $150.00 at roulette and retired happy, after a visit to our friend Robert in the disco. Robert is the DJ in the disco and sadly, for those of you to sail on the ship in the future, he's leaving the ship to pursue other endeavors in about two weeks from now.
Tuesday is Cartagena. We opted to forgo the ship's tour in favor of our own taxi tour. Our guide was named Martin. He spoke somewhat broken English. He acted as our guide, while another man acted as the driver. In marked contrast with other taxi drivers in the past, the driver did not try to pass busses on blind curves and in fact, drove quite carefully. In the morning, Martin took us to the standard tourist traps, including the monastery, the cathedral, and the new and old parts of the city. We often saw others from the cruise in the same places, being herded (and hurried) by their bus drivers. We were able to go down many of the very narrow streets which would have been impossible for the busses and were able to ask the driver to pull over for a picture when a particularly interesting sight appeared. Around noon we came back to the ship for something to eat, drink and a SHOWER! Cartagena is very hot and humid. After lunch Martin took us back to the fort in the old part of the city and dropped us off. Don't miss going to the fort, as it is much larger than it appears from the road, and very interesting. There was an hour walking tour available right there at the fort, which would have been interesting to take, but we did not have the time. There were Cokes and souveniers available at the very top of the fort, as well as a wonderful view of the city. There were also many "entrepreneurs" selling items on the way up to the top of the fort. Unless you cannot take the heat or the climb, the trip there to the fort is very interesting and worth the time. Admission to the fort when going on your own was around $3 PP. We paid $60.00 total cab fare for the day, which was a little more than the bus tour, but the bus tour lasted for the morning only and we were happier being able to make our own pace.
There are lots of people trying to sell you things in Cartagena, from wicker baskets to maracas, to t-shirts, to clay statues, to flutes that imitate a portion of the male anatomy. (I thought about buying one for Dan Quayle, but heard he already had one.) We had previously been to Jamaica and Mexico several times and to the Dominican Republic, so people trying to sell us things did not bother us. Unlike in the Dominican Republic, we did not see any people just begging for money, however. There were some policemen visible on the streets in the tourist areas, but we saw no policemen armed with rifles except those around their national guard headquarters. We never felt in any danger, although we were always with our guide. We bought souveniers and t-shirts and I bought a briefcase, but no emeralds. If you are going to buy anything with a credit card, make sure that you have a picture ID with you. When I bought the briefcase, they wanted to see my passport for ID. I explained that the ship had taken it and they accepted my driver's license as ID, since there was a picture. We also left my camera bag (but not the camera) and our purchases with the driver when we left the car to take pictures and we found this was convenient.
When we returned to the ship, the captain was in our cabin, doing an apparent unannounced inspection. I don't know whether the captain ever personally inspects cabins on other ships, as we have not previously observed this. However, our poor cabin steward apparently didn't quite pass muster with the captain, as he had to work many extra hours, cleaning under the bed and the ventilation grills. We had not observed any problems with cleanliness of the cabin before and had no problems whatsoever with the cabin steward for the whole trip.
Wednesday was the Panama Canal!!! It was HOT, HOT, HOT!!! According to the announcement made by the cruise director, the temperature was 106 degrees. It certainly felt it. We reached the outer channel markers for the canal around 10:30 A.M. and the first set of locks around 11:30. We finished going through the third set of locks around 1:15. It was a fascinating experience and tiring for us, as we kept running back and forth between the front and the back and the sides of the ship, watching (and photographing) all aspects of the trip. The premium places on deck appeared to be the deck chairs on Promenade Deck, which were jammed all day long, and forward of the ship. Atlantic deck on the sides has no deck chairs, but offered a great view, especially while actually in the locks, as it was not crowded at all. There was also one place in front of the bridge which was open to passengers only during the Canal portion of the trip, which offered a great forward view also. Make sure that you bring or buy a hat and lots of sunscreen, as the sun is very hot and does not take long to burn. There is a narrator from the Panama Canal Commission who comes on board to give narration, basically from the time when the ship enters the channel until entering the actual locks and sporadically after that. The narration is piped into the ship's PA system and can be heard in the cabins and hallways, as well as on deck. On deck, especially at the very front of the ship, hearing is a little difficult. Audio quality is much better at the sides and rear of the ship. A word here about the suites might be in order. We took a quick inspection tour of one of the suites early on the Sunday of embarkation. Suites were large, nicely decorated, with safes, TV's, small refrigerator. The two suites which face directly forward would be wonderful places to observe the Canal transit. The inhabitants of those suites spent most of the morning in air-conditioned comfort watching the rest of us sweat and having just as good or better view of the proceedings.
After the long, hot morning, we took in our only lunch in the dining room, which was a needed respite with A/C and iced tea. Thereafter, at 3:30 there was a Panamanian folklore dance show which was interesting. At 4 P.M. was one of the highlights of the week for us. John Mann, who is the foremost authority on the Cuna Indians (of San Blas Islands fame) gave a talk from 4 to 5 P.M. His talk was fascinating. If you have a video camera or an audio tape player, you may well want to bring it with you to his talk. He speaks so well and the subject is so interesting that when he had spoken for the hour, we felt we had barely sat down and wanted to ask him to speak longer. Apparently Mr. Mann speaks often on cruise ships, as I noted a mention of him in Cruise Travel magazine this month.
Dinner this evening was cut short for us (without dessert) in that they announced over the loud speaker that we were again approaching the locks around 9:15 P.M. The return trip at night seemed much different, from the effects of the lights. It was extremely humid on deck and many had problems with video cameras not working because of the humidity. We used a hair dryer on ours to dry it out, whereupon it worked fine. Coming back from Gatun Lake, the locks lower you down. Therefore, you can see more than one lock at a time, which makes it more interesting. Also, on the way out, we were almost beside a freighter. Since the freighter was beside us, we could see the operation of the locks for the freighter better actually than the locks for our ship. That evening the midnight buffet was served up on deck, with ice carvings and fruit displays. We spent the evening after the Canal crossing, again in the casino, taking home more of the cruiseline's money.
Thursday was the San Blas Islands, and one of the major highlights of the trip. We arrived around 8 A.M. and awoke to the sounds of the boats being lowered past our window. Looking out the window, we saw an ever increasing number of canoes surrounding the ship, filled with men and children, plus a few women. The Indians yelled for the passengers to throw money, which many did. The young men and boys jumped out of the canoes for the money, often catching it in mid-air. Early in the morning, the ship distributed tender tickets for transportation to the island. Tickets were no longer necessary after around 11:30, whereupon you could just walk down to the tenders.
The tenders deposited you at an uninhabited island called Pourvenier (sp?). The ship's crew set up a picnic lunch there at the island, consisting of hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken, corn, dessert and fruit. Iced tea and coffee were available free, plus cokes and beer for sale. Be advised though, that the iced tea and even the cokes and beer were packed up and sent back to the ship by 2 P.M., even though we did not leave until 4:30, so there was nothing to drink there on the island from the ship after 2. Some of the other passengers said that there was a country store where you could buy cokes somewhere on the island, but we did not see it. There were many molas for sale at Pourvenier, but not that much to see otherwise. The children, especially, would pose for pictures, but if you ask them to pose for the picture, expect to pay 50 cents or a dollar for each picture that you take.
If you want to see the way the Indians live, you have to pay the $15.00 for the ship tour to the other islands. You are taken by motorized canoes past a couple of smaller islands, then deposited on one of the inhabited islands. There are many more molas here to buy and the prices were sometimes better. You tour at your own pace at this island. The average time for the tour of the other islands was around 2 hours. Considering how much one paid for the cruise, not to spend an additional $15.00 to tour the other islands would be a foolish way to save money. Particularly if you are on the island later on in the afternoon, the Indians will often go down on the prices. Some items we had looked at in the morning were $5-$10 cheaper in the afternoon. The weather was warm at San Blas, particularly in the afternoon, but not nearly as hot as in the Panama Canal or Cartagena.
Friday was a day at sea and some fairly rough water. According to some crew members were talked to, rough water from San Blas back toward Curacao is rather the norm, but our week was particularly rough. We were not sick and never really saw anyone get sick, but there were the wonderful little sick bags all over. If you are prone to sea sickness, taking some medication BEFORE leaving San Blas would probably be a good idea. Once you are feeling sick, it does little good. At 12:00 there was the debarkation talk for 2nd seating, as well as the Curacao talk. Since there are several things different about the trip from Aruba, attendance at the debarkation talk is a good idea, even for the experienced cruiser.
Saturday was Curacao. There was champagne breakfast available in the dining room, but we did not get up early enough for this. The ship entered the narrow channel for the harbor around 6:30 A.M. Sailing into the harbor is a wonderful sight. There is a very narrow channel with very picturesque buildings on both sides. We took the snorkeling tour, which we highly recommend. The trip was around a 45 minute boat ride to the site, over some kind of rough waters. However, the snorkeling was some of the best we had ever done. There were just hundred of fish, many different colors and kinds. There was also a sunken boat in about 20 feet of water. There was also a section of the water which dropped straight off, which provided a beautiful contrast in the color of the water. For this trip we had not brought one of the underwater cameras and wish that we had. Incidentally, if you missed sailing into the channel in the morning, you could still get the same view on the snorkeling trip. Bring the video camera and the 35 mm. You could leave them on the ship, as the ship was anchored to a buoy in the water, so there was no worry of anyone taking it somewhere.
We got back to the ship around 11:30 A.M. Time to get a shower and some lunch before heading back into town. There was no rush to get back into town, as all the stores were closed from 12 to 2. The downtown area in Curacao is very pretty, including the floating bridge--which they move aside for ships to pass through. This was really interesting and provided some great picture opportunities. Shopping, except for t-shirts (4 for $10), was kind of disappointing. The cruise director had billed Curacao as a "little St. Thomas", but it wasn't. The Bacardi rum I usually buy in St. Thomas for $5.50 was $13.50 in Curacao. Obviously, I didn't buy any. Leaving Curacao in the evening was interesting, although a time consuming manoeuver. We left the dock around 10, but was almost 11 by the time we cleared the channel. The channel where the ship is docked is very narrow and basically the ship is pulled by tugboat out into the current and the current moves the ship through the channel.
Sunday morning, (sadly) we arrived back in Aruba. Luggage was required to be out by 3 A.M. We arrived probably by 6 A.M., although I wasn't up at that time. Second seating breakfast was at 7:00, but we missed that also. We were supposed to clear Aruba immigration in the card room. Guess what--we missed that too! All those who were staying in Aruba an extra night after were supposed to do a kind of pre-checkout on the ship. I got there at 7:45 and the Aruba immigration person was already gone. This did not really provide any problems for us. We did take a few seconds longer clearing Aruba immigration when leaving than the other cruise passengers, but nobody said we had to stay in Aruba. DARN!
As well as breakfast in the dining room, there was coffee, danish and orange juice available up on deck until at least 8. I don't know how much longer it was available after that, as we went back down to the room to pick up our things. Bags are transported totally separate from passengers and no one checks what color baggage tags you have, so we got off the ship with the first group of passengers, around 8:15 A.M. and took a taxi directly to the GT. There was only one taxi there, but that was all we needed. Taxi fare was $7 total. We were at the GT and checked in and in the room by 8:30. Friends from the ship said that they did not reach the hotel until around 10 A.M., so we felt rather superior. We asked for an oceanview room. I was prepared to pay the extra $25, but the clerk offered this partial ocean view room, without an extra charge. I suppose this may have been because we were so early getting there. Odd numbered rooms on the 5th and 6th floor of the Caribbean wing have partial ocean views. The room we were given had a fairly nice view. It had two double beds, instead of the king in the other room, which I did not like, but was otherwise set up the same.
Luggage was transported totally separate from the passengers, both those going to the hotel and those going to the airport. Luggage going to the hotel was deposited in the lobby of the Caribbean wing of the GT. If you found a convenient porter (which we did) they took your luggage to the room. However, most people ended up carrying their luggage to their rooms themselves.
We spent the day on the beach, relaxing and getting a sunburn. Banana boats and parasailing and jetskis were available right beside the hotel, but those took too much energy. We ate lunch at the restaurant right at the beach. At one end of the bar there was ice water available for guests free, which was a nice touch.
The room appeared clean BUT in the evening we left a light on in the bathroom when we left the room. Came back a couple of hours later to a parade of ants all over the sink. Since it was late, Eric just cleaned up the mess and we went to bed. I complained the next morning about the ants, as well as the fact that the TV didn't work. The person at the desk indicated that she would tell the manager, but since she was in the process of checking out a line of people and she wrote nothing down, I am sure that she told no one. She appeared totally unconcerned regarding my complaint and not at all surprised that there should be a convention of ants in the room.
Monday morning we had to haul a__ out of bed at 6:30 to make our bus for the stupid early (8:45) flight that Dolphin had booked us on. There was no time to get breakfast. SUGGESTION--it would take no effort at all for the Dolphin rep to have a large pot of coffee going in the lobby of the hotel for the early busses. Eric went downstairs to get some coffee and had to wait in line almost 10 minutes just to get two cups of coffee. The busses were supposed to be at the hotel at 7:15. When no busses had shown up by 7:30, the Dolphin rep (who had finally appeared around 7:20) called DePalm tours and two busses arrived around 7:35. Many others on the bus were afraid they were going to miss the 8:45 flight. We overheard the Dolphin rep call the airport to report that the busses were on their way. Unfortunately she did not report that fact to everyone on the bus, which would have served to alleviate some of the people's concerns. We arrived at the airport around 8:10. You claimed your luggage outside the terminal and checked it there, if you were on Jet Fleet. Since we were on ALM, we took ours inside the terminal to ALM. We checked in quickly, being 2nd in line. We paid our $10 PP departure tax and proceeded through Aruba immigration. Around 4th in line there, and again no real problem. We were at the gate by 8:35--quite a feat, considering the bus did not arrive at the airport till 8:10. Flight on ALM left around 30 minutes late, but arrived in Miami just about on time. Food and service on ALM was MUCH better than on BWIA, plus free drinks. It made for a much happier trip home than the trip down.
Some miscellaneous observations and tidbits--The week we sailed there were around 715 passengers on board. The next week was scheduled to be the Southern Caribbean itinerary and there were only around 500 passengers booked for the week. The cruise line was quietly offering an additional week, if anyone wanted to stay on, for $300 PP. Anyone who is considering, especially, the Panama Canal trip, should have your TA check about staying on the next week, if you have the vacation, and see what kind of price they quote you for the additional week. If they don't give you a good price, you might want to wait till on board and see about booking the next week on board. Room service was available only for continental breakfast. There was no room service at all, even for drinks or champagne (except possibly for the suites) other than breakfast. There was only one elevator on board. We used it about twice, from the disco around 2-3 A.M. Otherwise, it was never convenient.
SO--overall opinion--crew was one of the best things about
the cruise. They were very willing to please and accommodating
to passengers. Food was good to excellent. The itinerary,
particularly the Panama Canal one, is such a departure from the
normal eastern and western Caribbean that it is a pure joy. The
ship, particularly the common areas, is classically elegant. The
cruise is highly recommended. The Golden Tulip still has a ways
to go before I would recommend it as an excellent hotel.
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