This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Costa Rica and On To Panama

Day 8: December 21st

Costa Rican beach
The coast of Costa Rica appeared off the starboard bow this morning, a bit disconcerting until I realized we were just coming about in order to approach the Puntarenas dock into the wind. The pilot came aboard and performed an amazing feat docking this 900 plus behemoth. The channel is a narrow crooked channel passage. Red right return is what we learn in seamanship class. I found the red nav aid ahead. I watched as we crept up on it slowly, slowly, until I was sure it was too late to keep from taking it out and the pilot boat that had tied itself to it. Our forward momentum seemed too much to avoid a collision. But slowly, carefully, at the very last moment, our bow came to port just enough to get right around the buoy.

The Coral Princess docked in Puntarenas, Cost Rica
Almost immediately our bow came up on the end of the pier. Again the bow was on a heading that I would ensure we would take it out and once again the pilot brought the enormous ship right around the obstacle. There was still 900 feet of ship to get wrapped around the end of that pier and somehow, using the wind, current and I am sure not a little help from the thrusters, the pilot skillfully brought the Coral Princess right along side the pier. It was a thing of beauty. I don't know that I could have done what he or she did so gracefully and flawlessly if I had to do it in my little 31'.

We headed down to our muster station for the shore excursion and soon after, we descended the gangway to the bus for our shore excursion.

Our Mangrove forest tour boat
We were driven only a few blocks to a waiting tour boat. About 40 of us were herded onto an fairly unkempt but floating eco-tour motor catamaran.  We wound up in the front row with no real view. Leslie took it upon herself to move out on the bow with the permission of the captain. She grabbed our camera and propped herself up on the bow in a perfect position to take photos of the wildlife along the Mangrove Forest we headed into. Our capable guides pointed out whimbrells, herons, pelicans, hawks, iguanas and the occasional crocodile.

The tour lasted about an hour and then we cruised back to the dock to catch the bus to our next stop--the Macaw Sanctuary upcountry.

Every color of macaw were being kept, many with the idea of releasing them back into the wild after they'd been healed from the abuse they'd suffered.

Besides the macaws we saw toucans, parrots, as well as a couple of orphan tapirs and a few species of monkey.

An orphaned tapir

We were back to the ship around one, tired, and exhausted. We headed to our cabin and washed our faces, drank plenty of ice water and collapsed on the bed. After a nap, Leslie decided she'd walk down the pier into the town to see what she could see. She returned after an hour or so declaring the town pretty run down and trashy, but she had found a new mask for our office mask collection. We headed up to the Lido Deck for dinner and to watch a James Taylor concert on the jumbotron.

Immediately after the concert they began the film The Dark Night--a Batman movie. After about 45 minutes we'd had enough and we headed back to our cabin in time to watch the dockworkers cast off the lines and our ship slowly pulled away and out to sea toward our next stop--Panama!

Day 9--December 22nd

A lovely sleep in day. Still managed to wake up early but just rolled over and did another hour. Another hour was also added to the time overnight as we sailed into the eastern time zone due to the fact that there is no need for daylight savings time here. What with the amount of daylight and night nearly equal at the equator, daylight savings time would just be silly.

The sea has been only slightly impacted by the wind. Small white caps here and there to the horizon. The ship gently rolls with hardly a bump ever. The temperature in the morning is wonderful as is the evening. From late morning through the late afternoon, the temperature and humidity combine to make you really slow down and seek a cooler spot in the shade or air conditioned space aboard.

The occasional tanker or container ship sail by in the distance. Otherwise, the sea seems so vast and empty from our vantage point on the starboard side. The port side, facing land sees more shipping and the occasional fishing boat.  Just the nearness of the land makes the sea seem so much smaller. I chose the starboard for this reason. I wanted the feeling of being far out at sea.

It is nearly 10:15 now and I'll be heading up to breakfast. I plan to keep it light this morning. Last night's German-style dinner was as heavy as you might expect what with the sauerbraten and four kinds of bratwurst and  sauerkraut and spetzel and on and on. Heavy German food all. Time for some oatmeal and juice and coffee!

I am about half way through The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough; the story about the Panama Canal. I spent the better part of the day reading it. In between we checked out the art auction preview which was nothing but glicee prints, nothing much more than a fancy poster of an original, sometimes signed but unnumbered. These prints, artistically speaking, have little value yet they are selling from $500 on up. I suppose that pays for the fancy frames that surround the print. Oh, and they are including free shipping. Right! We passed.

The Lotus Pool area on the Lido deck.
We did spend a bit of time in the Lotus Pool area. I read, Leslie paddled around the pool a bit and read. About 4:30, we headed back to the room and dressed for dinner. On the way to the dining room we stopped and listened to our favorite musicians who were playing in the atrium again.

Dinner? What a disappointment. We thought it the worst food yet from the formal dining room. I ordered an Irish Stew and Leslie the Yorkshire Pudding. She did like the fresh peas, but the Yorkshire Pudding hadn't any gravy in the pudding and the roast beef was machine sliced into 3-4 thin slices. My Irish Stew had plenty of lamb, but the broth was thin like a soup, flavorless and there was little else in it in the way of vegetables. Just sad.

We ordered dessert, Leslie the Drambuie Soufflé which had no discernible Drambuie in its sauce and I ordered the Cherries Jubilee. The waiter said it would be flambeed but later said it was done ahead of time rather than at the table. So what came to me was a bowl with a spoon of vanilla ice cream and what looked like cherry pie filling. As with the Drambuie, there was no discernible liquor in the cherry sauce.

I am not sure what is going on with the food service on this ship but we are both very disappointed. The service is too fast, the waiters walk at high speed everywhere. They often forget parts of our order or left out courses we'd ordered. The service stations which were everywhere in the dining room became places where dishes piled up and waiters scrapped plates. The waiters were also the bussers so one minute they are serving fresh plates of food, the next they are scrapping dirty plates with no hand washing in between.  Our wine would sit out among these dirty plate stations, even be decanted there before coming to us as would the food when it came from the kitchen on its way to tables. Just not very appetizing. Speaking of decanting, we had to ask for this to be done every time and the waiters acted as if they didn't know what to do. They had to ask a head waiter what it was and then go find one. They did it, but it was obviously something they seldom did. We even had to ask for red wine glasses. Again, that vacant stare as if they'd never been asked for such a thing. Our water glasses were often empty which to me is the number one no-no of any restaurant considering itself outstanding.

All of this reflects on the training these guys are obviously not receiving and their high-speed movement and the lack of any bussers, shows the lack of concern by the cruise line for its clientele who, I suppose, the cruise line figures are in a hurry to eat and get on to whatever they next have planned.

I should say that the servers are generally very friendly and want to please. They are just in high gear all the time and this seriously takes away the joy of fine dining.

We have come to the conclusion that this is not our preferred method of travel. It is not what we had hopped. It has been relaxing in that we have not had to make up our room. Our cabin attendant, Domingo, has done an admirable job of keeping the room neat and tidy. But most of the shipboard activities are not our style. We don't gamble or party. We loved the art auction we attended on our first Princess Cruise, but the art on the last two cruises we've taken has not been our taste at all. We enjoyed the idea of the Movies Under the Stars concept but most of the films were not our taste or were films we've already seen. The stage shows aren't our style--just tacky in our opinion. So, that really narrows down the attraction of cruising for us.

I still think that the cruise was probably the best way to take in these four countries, none of which I would have probably come to individually. I felt the same way about our Alaska cruise, so I suppose there might be some advantages to this type of travel and I can see how for older travelers this could be a trouble-free way to see bits of places they might otherwise feel uncomfortable traveling to or find it too difficult due to language, culture or other perceived issues. Plus the cruise line does bend over backward for those who have disabilities making these places accessible to folks who might not otherwise even attempt it.

So, for us I think it will be back to road trips and land tours such as our Thailand tour last year. Each of these has its own draw backs but our experiences with land tours has been that we have more exposure to the locals, the culture and the cuisine. Our road trips require us to do a great deal of planning and research, but we enjoy doing that so it works for us. Perhaps in another 10-20 years, god willing, we may revisit the cruise again or if there is a cruise that takes us to a group of places that might otherwise be too difficult or expensive to do on a land tour, maybe then.

I did notice a Princess Cruise that goes out of Southampton, England and has ports of call in Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Scotland, Iceland, Greenland and ends in New York City. There might have even been a couple of other stops in there I missed, but what a dream trip!

Off  Fuerte Amador and Panama City, Panama
Well, next morning we anchored near Fuerte Amador near the Panama Canal and got tendered in to shore for another shore excursion. The ride to shore was about 15-20 minutes. Tomorrow morning we head into the canal for our transit, what I hope will be the high point of the trip for me.
Me on our balcony and a balmy evening off Panama

It is only supposed to be about 82 degrees tomorrow but the humidity will probably be up around the same so it will be warm and muggy but not as bad as it surely could be.