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Our family of four just returned from 11 days in Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua. Our experience was outstanding! What a tribute to a ship that had 106 of 148 passengers returning.
The ship is beautiful and although small, has plenty of places to get away. As already noted, refurbishments are on the way. They new bedding will be appreciated, and Captain John Clark also told us the line is investing in new sails for several hundred thousand dollars.
We used ship transfers one way and private the other. I highly recommend Coach Costa Rica, who we used for our return, above the ship transfer. Our journey to the ship was lengthened from 3 1/2 to almost 6 hours due to unscheduled stops by the driver. The journey was much shorter to Puerto Caldera than to Puerto Limon.
I'll not review the Caribbean/Atlantic stops, as the ship is now in the Pacific for several months.
Isla San Telmo, Panama: A small black sand beach with good snorkeling. We enjoyed hanging out on the beach and imagining ourselves as part of the Survivor Pearl Islands series. Although uninhabited, a small boat arrived with several locals wanting to sell pearls.
Isla Coiba: Beautiful. We took a one tank dive and saw good marine life along with 4 or 5 white-tipped reef sharks. They were sleeping, but still kind of scary. The beach barbecue was outstanding. A crocodile lives in the lagoon behind the small museum, but we did not see him.
Marenco/Drake Bay: Another uninhabited place with a small tent camp and restaurant. The nature walk was a bust for those on it, very hot and humid and straight uphill. The horseback riding was cancelled due to lack of interest, but I managed to rent a horse from a man who rode up in the afternoon. The path through the jungle along the beach was very nice. Corcovado National Park was closed until Dec. 21 due to the death of many animals, including half of the monkeys. A very amusing group of white faced moneys live in the tree behind the restaurant.
Scuba diving to Cano Island was also cancelled, and many were very disappointed. Apparently the sea conditions were too rough for the trip through the ocean.
While we were at Marenco, the ship had a helicopter brought in to evacuate a passenger with appendicitis. It landed on the small beach and the man and his wife were boarded. This port is not accessible by land.
Quepos, Costa Rica: We arrived at 10 pm, and many of the ship's crew and younger passengers went off for a night on the town.. Unfortunately, the discos were closed on Monday, but somehow they managed to stay busy until 2:30 AM!
The next morning we headed off for four-wheeling with Four Trax Adventures. It was a wonderful and muddy 45 hours. We were picked up at the pier, transported to the countryside, then rode through hills, a river, and lots of puddles. We made a stop at a beautiful waterfall, then headed back for a homemade breakfast. (included in the $95) This was not a ship excursion, but was easily booked on the Internet.
Playa del Coco: We went on the Canopy Zip Line to Ocotal. Excellent, but not for those who are afraid of heights. There is a small zoo at the end of the line with snakes, iguanas, a toucan and a butterfly garden.
The divers reported seeing many fish and a large number of rays.
San Juan del Sur: Two tours; we took the one to Grenada: its a long way there and back, but an interesting city, and very old. The trip included a visit in a museum. Note: there is no shopping in Grenada.
The second tour was 8 hours, but most on it really liked it. Besides the city, the trip visited a volcano, a craft market and lunch. I think this would have been the better choice, despite the longer time.
Nicaragua is very poor, but has MUCH better roads than Costa Rica.
The staff on the ship is so accomodating. We really enjoyed not having to dress for dinner as well as the open bridge policy. We traveled with a 15 and 16 year old, and they formed a small group with a few college students and some 20 somethings. I think this is a good ship for older teenagers. Younger children would not have much to do.
Water sports platform: It was opened several days, two with very strong currents. The banana boats have been removed due to too many passengers bonking their heads. They are expecting some inflatable tubes that can be pulled behind the small boats.
Third berth: We had two cabins for the four of us, both with third berths. We were able to have the steward pull the berth down so all of us could watch a movie together.
Food and drink: It must have been really good, as none of my clothes fit! I believe there is a food presentation about every 2 hours, so no one goes hungry. We drank only the house cabernet for dinner, and it was fine with us. We also trucked on some soft drinks and wine for the cabin. There is an excellent duty free liquor store right next to the bag claim in San Jose.
We loved our Panama Canal transit. Water was available all day, and sorbets were passed regularly on deck. The on deck barbecue was served as the sun was setting behind the Bridge of the Americas. The ship has to wait for low tide so the mast can pass under the bridge. It was overwhelming!!!
Overall, the vacation of a lifetime, I know we'll be back on Windstar as soon as possible. I hope to post a few pictures in the near future.
Thanks for the review! We're seriously considering the March 4 Costa Rica cruise, so I have many questions.
My main question right now is, did you feel like you actually got to see enough of Costa Rica, or was this more of a nature-lover's deserted-island type of experience? The reason I ask is that we are torn between this cruise and doing a land-based trip to Costa Rica. We're doing a Caribbean cruise in August, where we'll get an island experience, and we really want to see Costa Rica and experience some of the culture. If this is not going to give that to us, we may go with the land trip instead...which is more of a pain in terms of planning. So I'm hoping the cruise will give us what we want.
As far as the cruise vs. land trip, I guess it depends on what you want to see. Costa Rica is a nature lover's paradise, my family was more interested in life below the water than in the trees. We spent much time on the water, and not as much in the towns along the way. Shopping is very limited in the various stops, which I think vary slightly from ours to the one-week cruise.
If you took the land vacation, you would probably have more interaction with the locals as well as interacting with the poor roads and iffy water supply. There was plenty of time in Quepos and Playa del Coco to mingle with the locals.
Volcanos are not included on the Costa Rican portion of the tour, but if you are interested in that, you could see the one in Nicaragua.
You might also consider contacting a local tour operator, (we used Coach Costa Rica-fabulous) to see what they could arrange on a land tour for you. Just remember that travel times between locations are long due to the pot holed roads. I would not recommend renting a car there.
San Jose is just another city, although it is a good jumping off point for excursions around the countryside.
I don't know if this answers your questions. I'm sure you'll have a great time no matter what you choose.
Yes, that helps, thanks. Believe me, the "iffy water supply" is a major concern, as is eating the local cuisine. We took a trip to Copper Canyon, Mexico last year which was just amazing, but sure enough we both got hit with a horrible stomach ailment that knocked us out for a couple of days. I'm pretty sure we got it from the food at a tiny restaurant, which was about the only option in the remote village we stayed in. That's one of the major reasons we're considering doing this cruise to see Costa Rica.
My husband is ALMOST sold on this -- I should know for sure by tomorrow -- wish me luck in talking him into it!