It was a gamble on two fronts. First, we had never taken a cruise of more than 12 days and that seemed a bit long. Second, we were somewhat wary of how we’d like six days at sea.
We were on Oceania’s 684-passenger Regatta. It worked out well on both questions. We cruised through two oceans and a canal. In addition to the six days at sea, we had eight excursion days and an exciting transit through the awesome Panama Canal. All in all, we were quite pleased.
Our first stop out of Miami was Georgetown on Grand Cayman Island. The attractions included the Cayman Islands Historical Museum; 65-acre Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park; 23-acre Turtle Farm; Pedro St. James Historic site located in an 18th century mansion; Dolphin Discovery, where you can swim and play with the dolphins; snorkeling tours of Stingray Beach and the fine-grained white sand; and Seven Mile Beach that offers shallow waters-well suited for parasailing, jet ski rentals, tubing and helicopter rides.
The next excursion stop was at Cartagena, Columbia, only about one-half mile from our dock at the cruise terminal. A really nice, colorful (UNESCO World Heritage Caribbean) city where I guess the local drug lords keep it upgraded. In addition to the old town walled to protect the city against frequent pirate attacks, there are mostly colonial-style buildings and several major attractions. They included Palace of the Inquisition, Museum del Oro, Fort of St. Felipe (built in 1634), and the stunning view from the top of the Covenant of the Pope. There’s also the 16th century Cathedral of Cartagena, the Caribbean Naval Museum and the Islands of Rosario featuring coral reefs, crystalline waters and beautiful beaches.
Then came the awesome Panama Canal and a fascinating day-long trip through three sets of locks and two staging areas waiting for your turn.
Built by the United States from 1904 to 1914, the canal posed major engineering challenges, such as damming a major river and digging a channel through the continent. It was the largest and most complex project ever undertaken at the time, employing tens of thousands of workers at a cost of $350 million. The canal cuts through the central and most populated region of Panama, covering 50 miles.
The building of a ship canal across Panama involved digging through the mountains of the Continental Divide, constructing the largest earthen dam ever built up to that time; building the most massive locks ever envisioned; constructing the largest lock gates ever swung and solving sanitation and environmental problems of gigantic proportions. The best way to understand the operation of the Canal is to think of it as a giant water elevator that lifts ships out of one ocean, moves them through the jungles of Panama, over the mountains of the Continental Divide and sets them down in the other ocean. Ships enter the locks on one side of the Isthmus where they are raised in several steps 85-feet above sea level. Then, they are lowered down to sea level by the locks at the other end of the Canal and proceed on their voyage into the other ocean. It is one of the world’s greatest engineering feats.
The expansion of the Canal is well underway; however, the new technology-improved gates leak. The 100-plus-year-old gates still work perfectly.
By the way, our passage through the Canal cost our cruise line a little under $300,000. That amounts to over $1,000 per passenger. It’s a sight to see and experience!
Then after another relaxing sea day, it was on to Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
Puntarenas is the largest city in the Central Pacific region. Located on a narrow peninsula in the Gulf of Nicoya, it is Costa Rica’s main port. It is a traditional fishing village developing for the future. The walk along the waterfront is pleasant but expect a variety of vendors selling local crafts. Away from the port, the region’s unspoiled beauty emerges. Rain forests start at the coastline and continue into the mountain ranges with rivers, waterfalls, parks and wildlife preserves. About 20 miles south of Puntarenas is Carara Biological Reserve, covering over 11,750 acres of virgin-like tropical forest. Despite the lushness of the vegetation, the undergrowth is relatively clear, making it easy to observe wildlife. With beaches on the Pacific Ocean, it also attracts many tourists, especially surfers.
They’re very proud of their coffee, about the 13th largest producers in the world. It’s mostly gourmet, single-origin coffee.
We took a five-hour Eco Mangrove River Tour that included a 1-1/2 hour bus ride through the countryside to get to the Tarcoles River and Guacalillo Estuary. We saw four different types of the wordy mangroves in this home for 250 species of birds, crocodiles, monkeys and insets. It was an interesting small adventure into an eco-diversified world.
The next day we were in Cozurto, Nicaragua, an impoverished country trying to come out of the third world after many years of civil strife and conflicts between the Sandinistas, the Contras and various rebel groups. The people of Nicaragua now have a somewhat stable democracy, but it’s a struggle.
We enjoyed a great trip to the old colonial capital of Leon, with several active volcanoes in the background. The 1747-built Cathedral of Leon is now a UNESCO Heritage Site, and quite a site to see. There is also the esteemed Center of Arts, housed in two restored colonial buildings; one building displays pre-Columbian works of art while the other is home to many Latin-American masters, such as Diego Rivera, as well as the likes of Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso.
Next we sailed into Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, an industrial port adjacent to the city of San Jose. An extensive craft market welcomes you at the foot of the pier, featuring native crafts such as textiles, clay, wood carvings and leather goods.
We enjoyed a tour of Colonial Antique, although the 1-1/2 miles of cobblestone streets were a little hard to handle. We had lunch at a delightful restaurant/resort that also featured many ruins of the old city and galleries of glass, silver and art.
After another sea day, we made it to Acapulco, located on a deep, semi-circular bay and one of Mexico’s most well-known beach resorts. The cliff divers are still there giving an awesome performance diving 140 feet off the rocky cliffs into the shallow waters below. The traffic is horrific and you see all you can of the hotels, resorts and beaches on the way to the Chapel of Peace overlooking the whole city and the bay.
This was followed by another day at sea and a visit to Cabo San Lucas, where we docked in the bay and tendered into the pier, about a mile from the town. Today, sportsmen flock to Cabo for world-famous fishing, outstanding diving and game bird hunting, as well as golfing and a rich resort life.
Gabriele went kayaking in the Sea of Cortez out to the El Arco rock formation and sea colony. It was a great ride. The beach and snorkeling option was waived as it was a bit too windy.
A last day at sea and into San Diego, where the dock is ½ mile into downtown. You know, San Diego is a delightful city with Seaport Village, the Maritime Museum, USS Carrier Midway, Gaslamp Quarter, Balboa Park with great museums and Old Town State Historic Park. There is also Coronado Island and the toney La Jolla Cove and Village. A great port to visit anytime.
Then overnight we were back in Los Angeles at San Pedro and home in less than an hour.
This was our third cruise on Oceania, and a great way to spend the holidays. We like Oceania. The food is very good and the cabins and physical layout on each of the ships is pretty much the same. It’s kind of a little upscale without the attitude.