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queenL

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  1. queenL

    Totuma Volcano question

    We are back and I hoped to share our Cartagena experience. We were able to get a taxi to take us to the volcano from the pier. Cartagena Columbia - This was our first trip to Columbia and to South America. We loved it. I couldsee a land/ future visits to this port. We didn’t have any safety concerns. We were docked in any area that seemed just for cargo. We had to walk a ways just to get “outside” the port. I did notice that the HOHO was waiting right at the cruise ship to pick up passengers. How convenient! Once you get past the cargo zone there is almost the equivalent of a “petting zoo”. Many species of birds, anteaters, turtles, deer, monkeys, peacocks, flamingos. We spent time going through here on the way back to the ship. We wanted to go to Totumo Volcano. I had read about the mud baths and wanted to visit. Our cruise line didn’t offer this as a tour option so we had no choice but to find an alternative plan. We hired a taxi cab driver (Leo Perez 321 5312217) for the day to take us there. It was about a 50 minute drive to the volcano. The roads were in good condition. We arrived about 11am. There were about 15-20 people in line ahead of us. I would suggest that you exchange currency if you plan to do this. They took our US currency but they did not want to give me back the correct change. At first he tried not to give us any change,but when I translated in Spanish he realized that we weren’t going to fall for that. I didn’t understand everything he said, but they didn’t want to give the going rate for conversion there. Hindsight it would have been easier to have their currency. By the time we finished haggling for our change we were shown to a changing area. A guide was provided to usher us through the process. We ended up giving him our stuff to hold while we were in the volcano. I was uncomfortable leaving our things in the cab and there really is no secured storage locker there. The attendant stood right next to us the entire time and even took some photos. I’m glad I had my swimsuit on underneath,because I didn’t really want to go into the changing area. FYI- wear an old swimsuit. This mud does NOT clean out of swimsuits well. We read about that prior and brought old swimsuits that we disposed of once we were back on the ship. Onto the volcano…..this was AWESOME! Talk about a unique experience that you don’t usually have. This was it. Our kids were reluctant to go in at first and then once they got in, we had to force them out. There is no “bottom”, but you really do float right up. In fact you have to work to get to a vertical position. It’s gushy and thick, kind of like pudding. They tried to massage me. I declined,but the rest of the family got the mud “massage”. There was also a designated picture taker,holding a slew of cell phones and cameras taking pictures of everyone in the mud pit. Did we experience any perceived health benefits from its healing properties? No, but we had so much fun we didn’tcare. After we got our kids out we were shown to a river to rinse off in. After looking atthe water, I told my husband we just might be cleaner now than after washing inthe river. It did really look polluted. There were ladies in the water who demanded that they clean you themselves. I tried to decline. Apparently not forcefully enough. I saw one couple who successfully got away from them. They kept walking past,about 20-30 additional feet and were able to bathe themselves. Keep in mind thatthere really isn’t any part of you they are uncomfortable rinsing, so if the thought of that bothers you. Turn down their bath. Once we got out we were surrounded, literally, by the attendant, the picture taking guy, the bathers, anyone who remotely did anything for us while we were there. It was tip time. They are non-threatening but they are persistent. Think about the hairbraiders in Nassau and the people selling their wares at Dunn’sRiverfalls. If you’ve been to either of these places you know exactly what aggression to expect. I read the reviews, so I expected this but if you didn’t I could see why this could be pretty intimidating. My husband and I still think there was one guy who was in the tip line who didn’t service us at all. A dollar or two per person to each is all that is expected. A tip is expected if you use the restroom there too. We left about 12:30 ish to make the drive back to Cartagena. Our cab driver showed us a bit of the island, stopping in a few places for photo ops. Then, we asked him to take us to the Old City/fort area. We walked around for a bit, very nice area. We shopped for souvenirs and did part of the walking tour on our own. Our cab driver was right where he said he’d be once we were finished. We returned to the ship about 3:30 to CHAOS. This is where I think the embarkation horror stories emerge. There was a huge parking lot of cruisers waiting to embark….outside in the heat, with luggage. I didn’t see any organization to the process. It just seemed like a tailgate party. Note to self…don’t embark here with Pullmantur. We literally passed through the crowd of cruisers waiting to get on board so that we could show our sea pass.
  2. I honestly don't think it would be bad. Granted, I'm a parent and to some degree, I can tune out a lot of kid behavior. :) We cruised over summer break and they weren't a lot of kids on board. Besides, longer itineraries with the more exotic ports typically don't attract as many families. Are you thinking of Thanksgiving or Spring Break week? Otherwise, I think you'd be fine.
  3. Pullmantur Monarch Review Background- We are cruise enthusiasts. This was my 29th cruise. I’ve sailed all the major lines, Carnival, NCL, MSC, Royal, Princess, Celebrity, Disney, HAL and now Pullmantur. It was very difficult to find good, current information on these boards regarding Pullmantur. So, I plan to leave a very detailed review to give future cruisers the answers I was seeking. I was sailing with my husband and 2 daughters (11 and 6). We loved our vacation but, the itinerary made the cruise. Overall, the Pullmantur experience was good but not great. This was our first cruise on Pullmantur. I like to experiment with different cruise lines. Plus, since we cruise so often we have grown tired of visiting the same ports of calls. The desire to cruise to new ports pushes us outside our cruising comfort zone. I was baited by the itinerary (it’s rare to get a 7 day cruise to the Panama area) and kids sailed free. I booked direct withthe cruise line. In hindsight, I wish I would have gone the other route. I had more questions this time than usual,experienced a lot of hassle with the Pullmantur website. Contacting them overseas, particularly with the time difference became an additional headache. I tried to book online through their website had issues with that. Once we were able to book. I experienced a lot of issues with the website freezing as I tried to do online check-in. It took several tries to complete that process. Ironically only final payment went through without a hitch. Pre-Cruise Oh, how I hate flying Sprit Airlines. Every time I fly Spirit, I say it will be the last time and then….. Through no fault of theirs, weather delays leaving Atlanta resulted in 4 delays in our departure time. As a result, we missed our connecting flight to Panama and we were stranded overnight in FortLauderdale. Since it was “weather related” no attempt was made to secure lodging, meals, transportation etc. The experience was yet another reminder of why you need to fly in at least a day before you cruise. Since Spirit only had 1 flight a day to Panama we had to wait until 11pm the next day to try and fly out again. Of course that flight was delayed too (they couldn’t blame the weather this time). We finally arrived in Panama City about 2:30 am a day later than we initially planned. Fortunately for us we still had another 3 days pre-cruise to explore Panama. We booked the Bristol Panama. It was roughly a 20 minuteride from the airport. It was a $40 cab fare for 4 to the hotel. This hotel received rave reviews. We did think it was nice but overrated. We did experience good service. We had issues with linens, the toilet backing up, hot water to our shower, (yes, hot water) and our safe didn’t work initially. One evening there was some event taking place there. The music was REALLY loud we could hear it in our room. Fortunately it only lasted about an hour but still. None of these things do we typically experience at 5 star hotels. They responded quickly though. No need to pack a power converter. 110V here. We were able to charge our devices without any problems. We found ALL of their excursions to be overpriced. Even cabs, arranged transportation was higher if the hotel arranged it for you v/s walking a block up the street and hailing your own taxi. I think the hotel location was great,about a 10 min walk from the train, a few blocks from the Stop 1 (Balboa Shopping Center) on the HOHO. Walking distance of restaurants, shopping plazas, groceries everything you need for a short stay. This was our first visit to Panama and we really enjoyed it. Our Panama highlights: HOHO- I love Hop on Hop off buses. We did not pre order this online. $33 adults, $20 for kids for a 2 day pass. ($2 discount if you were staying in a local hotel) I think it is a great way to get an overview of the city and to get to and from the main attractions of interest to tourists. Since I’m a shutterbug, it is also a great way for me to be able to take pictures until my heart is content. Perhaps my only criticism is that the route ends pretty early in the day. I believe it was around 3:30pm. There was still a lot of touring left to be done. We ended up just walking or taking cabs back once the HOHO’s stopped running. Casca Viejo- We really enjoyed walking around here. Don’t pay for the walking tour excursions. The HOHO gives you a recommended walking tour with your ticket and it included the same stops the tours took you to. This is very easy to do own your own. This is great area to find souvenirs, restaurants, shops and gelato. I haven’t had gelato this good since we were last in Italy. The last HOHO left about 3:30. We weren’t ready to leave then so we took a taxi back to the hotel. $15 Metropolitan Natural Park- This was one example of taxi gouging. The hotel quoted us $30 for ataxi to the Park < 10 minute ride. It seemed so close on the map that I was reluctant. We walked about a block to the main street and hailed a cab. They quoted us $5 forthe same cab ride. We got the phone number for our cab driver and called him when we were ready to leave. He came back and picked us up. The park was nice. It is very cool to have a rainforest experience in the middle of the city. We hiked for about an hour. I didn’t think my 6 yr old could handle much more. We saw several species of birds, Jesus lizards, turtles, tons of insects but that was the extent of the wildlife. They had a butterfly observatory inside, there was an additional fee for this. It was really great for younger children. Miraflores Locks - $15 admission for adults $10 kids. We watched a 10 minute movie on the making/history of the canal, had some very tasty empanadas at the snack shop. We also took some photos at their photo booth studio. They give you props and photo magnets that make great souvenirs. Keep in mind that ships aren’t constantly waiting to enter the canal. When we arrived they told us it would be 2 hours until the next ship was scheduled to enter. Since that is what we came for, we chose to wait. I don’t think it would be worth it to visit if there were no ships scheduled. It was very cool to watch the canal fill, and the locks open allow the passage of the ships. Embarkation Day Panama Canal railway. We took a taxi to the train station. $30 Then we purchased our tickets $25 adults, $15 for kids (cash only so plan accordingly). There is no food sold at the station or onboard. Make sure you eat or bring breakfast with you. The train ride offered another chance to view the canal as it runs parallel to it for a good portion of the trip. There is only one train to Colon per day departing at 7:15am. We arrived at the train about 6:30am. The ticket offices were not even open yet. We stood outside for about a half an hour before they even opened the door to buy tickets. I do not think it is necessary to book this in advance as they say the train seldom fills. The train ride to Colon Panama was about an hour. Once onboard we got a snack box, (raisins,pringles, teething biscuits :) just kidding, they were cookies they just had no flavor like teething biscuits. We sat in the open dome area,this provided nice views as we rolled through the countryside/rainforest. I don’t know how anyone could spot any wildlife though, the train was going too fast. Photographers be warned there was so much haze/scratches on the window it was really difficult to get good shots. I found myself getting up and walking to the open window area between cars so that I could take unobstructed photos. Was the train ride worth it? Yes, but only because we didn’t pay double to book it through a cruise line/tour. The $80 we spent for our family to get to Colon was cheaper and more scenic than taking a cab (Cab fare $120). So, we had no regrets. We also met a family travelling fromTexas. We bonded early on and they became our cruise buddies. Colon Panama- I had read many critical things about Colon Panama. Most reviews described it as adump. One person said it looked like a bomb went off and they never rebuilt the city. I thought these things might be exaggerations. They weren’t! I’ve seen a lot of poverty through my travels, particularly in Central America and some parts of Africa. This was among the worst ports of embarkation I’ve seen. I was so glad we stayed in Panama City. I can’t see any reason to make a pre-cruise stay out of this port, particularly since the Panama Canal tours can be arranged from the city. There was a lot of construction going on near the port. Perhaps in a few years this may change. It was about a $3pp cab fare to the pier from the train station. The taxi driver made a point of taking us through the “Free Zone”. It’s a tourist only shopping area in Colon. That was the only section of Colon we saw that looked like a typical tourist city. Embarkation- There were a lot of negative reviews about embarkation on Pullmantur. I was prepared for the worst. I’m happy to say that was not our experience. We arrived at the pier about 9am. Our embarkation time was between 9:30 and 11. Compared to other cruise lines, I would definitely say their embarkation process was worse. It is just not clear what you should do when you arrive, particularly if you aren’t fluent in Spanish. You’d have to know a little about cruise protocol to breeze through this process. Do your check in online. It’s true that their website crashed on me 3 times after I inputted all my information, but it was still worth it. This really cut down our hassle and wait time. At 9:30, we walked straight up (no line) to establish our onboard account and get our sail cards. Our friends from Texas, had to wait on line. Also, there was inconsistency. When we went up, they tagged our bags and took them. Our friends from Texas, had to walk their bags over to the next building. After we got our cards we sat back down and waited to becalled for boarding. If you hadn’t done online check in, you got a number and were called back up by group to complete check in. About 10:30ish they begin boarding. After the priority guests,online check in guests were called next to board. Our friends from Texas, were still on line completing their check- in. The embarkation photo process was a little different here. They photos they took at embarkation were photoshopped onto backgrounds for the ports of call. I walked on with bottles of water and juice with no problem. We started on time, we boarded on time. So overall, I’d say not the best, but it wasn’t the worst either. It was less crowded than other embarkations. Perhaps, having several ports to choose for embarkation was a real advantage. Ship- This ship used to be RCL’s Monarch of the Seas. It is almost 40 years old. I knew that it hadn’t been drydocked recently. I knew it was smaller and older than ships we prefer to travel on. I got what I expected. It is a ship that yearns for a drydocking. If you are a person who goes through taking photos of stained carpet, walls etc.there is no shortage of it on this ship. It does lack the amenities of the newer mega ships but it has everything you need. I only saw 2 hot tubs and 2 pools on this ship. Needless to say they were super crowded particularly on sea days. The public areas showed signs of wear and tear too. The casino was probably the smallest I’ve ever seen a on a cruise ship. There were a few black jack tables and a handful of slot machines. The gym had all the basic equipment. My biggest concern was the lack of cleaning. Full disclosure....I work in public health. I used to be a health inspector. There were staff standing outside the dining areas, but they weren't encouraging people to wash hands or use hand sanitizer. I can't say I saw anyone wiping down a handrail the entire cruise. Use of swim diapers in the pools was not enforced and one day a young child vomited in one of the main pools. My husband told one of the bar attendants and he shrugged his shoulders. I left to find an officer who might have a different response. They did eventually close the pool, but they hesitated and it took them maybe 20 minutes to clear everyone out. I really wondered if I hadn't told them where I worked, if they would have closed the pool at all. :confused: Scary! Cabin- Unlike most cruises our cabins were ready when we boarded. We went straight there and dropped off our carry-on items. We booked an OV guarantee. We ended up with a superior ocean view category FC- cabin 6514. Bring your power strips. There is only 1- 110V outlet in this cabin. Between all of our cell phones, tablets, mp3 and rechargeable camera batteries we battled over who would use the outlet. We had several small holes in the wall that were covered with band aids. I’m not exaggerating. There was no nightly turn down. I never really appreciated this until Pullmantur. After beach/port days, our bathroom would be a mess. Our towels would be dirty and we would end up waiting until the next day. Service- We had really great service. I was worried about this. Since pre-paying gratuity is required, I thought there would be no incentive for staff to maintain service. That was not my experience. I found service to be on par with our cruiselines. We loved our room steward and our main dining attendants. Non Spanish speaking guests were even assigned a crew member to be our liaison. In case we had any issues, communicating with or figuring out things onboard. We didn’t need him during the cruise, but I thought it was a nice gesture. Food – DH and I consider ourselves to be foodies. Not that we eat gourmet all the time but weare appreciative of a well prepared dish. As a result, we found food to be very disappointing. Typically, cruises have a few exceptional dishes, most fall in the middle of good/fair and few things that were not very good. This cruise was kind of the opposite. Most dishes were not very good. Many fell in the edible but not great. I only had a few dishes that I can say were good. Other than fish,seafood was pretty hard to come by on this ship. Lobster and steak was only available on the upcharge menu. Even shrimp cocktail was an upcharge dish. I could see that the cruise line really chose to cut costs in this area. I really missed specialty dining on this ship. Usually if we were unhappy with the dinner menu we would just dine in a specialty restaurant. We didn’t have that option this cruise. Each menu was composed of a few main dishes that stayed the same every night and few items that changed. Of more concern to us were the down periods when food wasn’t readily available. A stretch in the afternoon, and late at night. Dinners on Pullmantur are late, that is the culture. First seating is 7:15 pm, second is 9:15pm. If you return for your day in port hoping to eat lunch, you’d better plan to be back early. Or else be prepared to wait awhile until dinner. I do think they offered sandwiches and pizza though during the down times but……more on the pizza later.The casual “Windjammer” dining closed around 11pm, then you couldn’t really get any food (without paying extra for room service/tapas). Even continental breakfasts in your room were an extra fee. Ok, now for the pizza. I think Pullmantur is in the running for worst pizza at sea! It is the winner in my opinion. A cross between school lunch cafeteria andthe worst frozen pizza you’ve ever tasted and there you have it. We had a slice on embarkation day and didn’ttouch it the rest of the cruise. Evenour kids wouldn’t eat it. Soft serve ice cream non-existent. My 6 yr old, who I’m convinced could eat herweight in ice cream, :) was so disappointed. Don’t think you are going to grab a cone bythe pool or anywhere else. Ice cream wasavailable for dessert in the main dining area and Haagen Daaz pints (for anupcharge) by the pool. Food allergies beware. The ingredients for most buffet foods weren’t clearly labeled. I have nut allergies. Many dishes thatcontained nuts, I only knew because I saw them and avoided eating them. Theyweren’t labeled as such. That is a risky way to handle a buffet. I did appreciate sodas and virgin pina coladas were includedin the cruise fare. I had quite a few ofthose. Alcoholic beverages were includedin the cruise fare. My husband lovedthis, as he could order his drinks without any extra cost. The water had an after taste. The first day I tried to mask it with lots oflemon. I couldn’t. At each port, I would bring aboard water andjuice. I don’t want to panic anyone with my critique of the food,you aren’t going to starve on this ship, but tamp down your expectations. Entertainment- I think the type of activities werecomparable to most cruise ships. I dofeel that the quantity and variety were missing. There might 1 or 2 offerings per hour. So, ifyou are like me and like to fill your days with activities, prepare for a muchslower experience. We brought a deck ofPhase 10 cards and we used it LOT on this cruise. We didn’t have a “sail away” party when weleft Colon. I thought maybe Pullmanturjust didn’t do that. However, when thecruise ship departed Cartagena and Curacao the guests embarking in those portsgot more traditional “sail away” activities. Nearly all of the activities were completely in Spanish. Each day there were 1-2 craft classes. I enjoyed these. They translated the directions for me, so Iwas able to keep up with no problems. Iwas prepared for this so it came as no surprise. If they knew they had English speakers, Bingonumbers were called in English and Spanish. Most of the shows we walked out on. Not because of the language barrier but because they weren’t veryentertaining. The ABBA show the songs were English. It was ok. There was one show that was good….MOVIDA ENLOS 80’s. The piano singers were mostly in English, the groups/bands were amix. The DJ club music was all in Spanish, however,whenever we went there was NO one dancing. There were all the traditional pool games, none were translated though. Same with the comedy show and their versionof “Love and Marriage game show”. There were Zumba, stretching classes etc, butI did not attend any of those. Kid’s Club- I had no complaints about the kids club. They were open for 2-3 hours increments 3times a day. The last session ended at11:30. (Wooohooooooo!) You could assignyour kids green status (meaning they could come and go as they pleased). Those kids would be given a green lanyard towear around their necks. Or you couldassign them red status- a parent has to be present to check them in and out. Most of the children only spoke Spanish. The staff were fluent in multiplelanguages. They made it clear thateverything would not be translated here either. I was fine with that. They were activity lite in the kids club also. It was more unstructured play like Disney,rather than scheduled activities. Whenever I dropped by they seemed to be watching movies. My kids were happy though so I was fine withthat. Fortunately for us they bondedwith the kids of our new friends from Texas. So, the language barrier wasn’t a problem for them either. They made a few other friends as well. I do think that the safety protocol is betteron other lines. I signed my kids andout, but no one ever asked for my sea pass card to verify who I was. No photo identification system that matchesyou with your child. They seem to bebehind the other lines in these areas. Cruising en Espanol The elephant in the room- Concerns about language barrier- Ido speak some Spanish, enough to communicate basic needs, however, I am nowherenear fluent. My other family membersdon’t speak any Spanish at all. Wedidn’t find it difficult to communicate with staff. I didn’t encounter any staff who couldn’tspeak at least some English and most were pretty fluent. That was not the same with the other guests. A majority that I encountered spoke little tono English. The majority of the cruisewas made up of Panamanians and Columbians. There were some islanders from Curacao and quite a few from other SouthAmerican countries –Brazil, Argentina etc. There were only 4 other familiesthat I encountered from the US. Most announcements were given in English right after theywere given in Spanish. But there were afew that weren’t. We were left wondering if we missed translation. I guess it wasn’t too important. Look on the brightside, it was easy to ignore the solicitations for spa services, bingo, etc etc. : Ports of Call Cartagena Columbia - This was our first trip to Columbia and to South America. We loved it. I could see a land/ future visits to this port. We didn’t have any safety concerns. We were docked in any area that seemed justfor cargo. We had to walk a ways just toget “outside” the port. I did noticethat the HOHO was waiting right at the cruise ship to pick up passengers. How convenient! Once you get past the cargo zone there isalmost the equivalent of a “petting zoo”. Many species of birds, anteaters, turtles, deer, monkeys, peacocks,flamingos. We spent time going throughhere on the way back to the ship. Wewanted to go to Totumo Volcano. I hadread about the mud baths and wanted to visit. Our cruise line didn’t offer this as a tour option so we had no choicebut to find an alternative plan. We hired a taxi cab driver (Leo Perez 321 5312217) for theday to take us there. It was about a 50minute drive to the volcano. The roadswere in good condition. We arrived about11am. There were about 15-20 people inline ahead of us. I would suggest thatyou exchange currency if you plan to do this. They took our US currency butthey did not want to give me back the correct change. At first he tried not to give us any change,but when I translated in Spanish he realized that we weren’t going to fall forthat. I didn’t understand everything hesaid, but they didn’t want to give the going rate for conversion there. Hindsight it would have been easier to havetheir currency. By the time we finished hagglingfor our change we were shown to a changing area. A guide was provided to usher us through the process. We ended up giving him our stuff to holdwhile we were in the volcano. I wasuncomfortable leaving our things in the cab and there really is no securedstorage locker there. The attendantstood right next to us the entire time and even took some photos. I’m glad I had my swimsuit on underneath,because I didn’t really want to go into the changing area. FYI- wear an old swimsuit. This mud does NOT clean out of swimsuitswell. We read about that prior andbrought old swimsuits that we disposed of once we were back on the ship. On to the volcano…..this was AWESOME! Talk about a unique experience that you don’tusually have. This was it. Our kids were reluctant to go in at first andthen once they got in, we had to force them out. There is no “bottom”, but you really dofloat right up. In fact you have to workto get to a vertical position. It’sgushy and thick, kind of like pudding. They tried to massage me. I declined,but the rest of the family got the mud “massage”. There was also a designated picture taker,holding a slew of cell phones and cameras taking pictures of everyone in themud pit. Did we experience any perceivedhealth benefits from its healing properties? No, but we had so much fun we didn’tcare. :) After we got our kids out we were shown to a river to rinseoff in. After looking at the water, Itold my husband we just might be cleaner now than after washing in theriver. ;) It did really look polluted. There wereladies in the water who demanded that they clean you themselves. I tried to decline. Apparently not forcefully enough. I saw one couple who successfully got awayfrom them. They kept walking past, about20-30 additional feet and were able to bathe themselves. Keep in mind that there really isn’t any partof you they are uncomfortable rinsing, so if the thought of that bothersyou. Turn down their bath. Once we got out we were surrounded, literally, by theattendant, the picture taking guy, the bathers, anyone who remotely did anythingfor us while we were there. It was tiptime. They are non-threatening but theyare persistent. Think about the hairbraiders in Nassau and the people selling their wares at Dunn’s Riverfalls. If you’ve been to either of theseplaces you know exactly what aggression to expect. I read the reviews, so I expected this but ifyou didn’t I could see why this could be pretty intimidating. My husband and Istill think there was one guy who was in the tip line who didn’t service us at all. A dollar or two per person to each is allthat is expected. A tip is expected ifyou use the restroom there too. We left about 12:30 ish to make the drive back toCartagena. Our cab driver showed us abit of the island, stopping in a few places for photo ops. Then, we asked him to take us to the Old City/fortarea. We walked around for a bit, verynice area. We shopped for souvenirs anddid part of the walking tour on our own. Our cab driver was right where he said he’d be once we werefinished. We returned to the ship about3:30 to CHAOS. This is where I think theembarkation horror stories emerge. Therewas a huge parking lot of cruisers waiting to embark….outside in the heat, withluggage. I didn’t see any organizationto the process. It just seemed like a tailgate party. Note to self…don’t embarkhere with Pullmantur. We literallypassed through the crowd of cruisers waiting to get on board so that we couldshow our sea pass. Curacao- We’ve been to this portseveral times before. Hato Caves was theplan for the day because we had never been. We joined in with a taxi tour here $25pp. I want to say the kids wereabout $10 each but I don’t remember for sure. It was a short 15-20 minute drive to the caves. Admission was $9 for adults and $7 for kids. They enforce the no photo policy. Several cruisers were threatened to leave ifthey didn’t stop taking pictures. At onelocation inside the cave you were permitted to take photos. The caves were nice but Harrison’s inBarbados was better. Afterwards we wentto a Liquor distillery and passed by a few scenic overlooks for photos.Finally, we went by Mambo Beach. If youare looking for a good beach spot in Curacao, this should be it. There were plenty of restaurants, bars, livemusic and stores. Of course, the beachappeared nice too, but there was plenty to do in addition. Most of the tour group decided to stay here(the driver went back for them). We weren’t prepared for the beach, so we choseto return to the downtown area. It wasFlag Day here, so there was a lot of festival type activity in the downtownarea. There were lots of vendors,performances and food. We walked aroundfor a while and then returned to the ship. Bonaire- This was our second visit to Bonaire. It was also the first time we realized thatour Muster Boat number was the number used to tell us when we could goashore. Ooops! :)Clearly this is not enforcedbecause we are 3 ports in to the cruise and have not debarked with our mustergroup yet. We did the Salt Mines and SlaveHuts the last time. So, this time wedecided to head to the beach. We choseSorobon Beach because we were told it wasn’t very rocky at the bottom. There were taxi shuttles to this beach for$5pp. It ended up being a greatchoice. The beach was beautiful. The water was shallow for a very long waysfrom the shore. It was also verycalm. No waves/ undertow to worry aboutfor the kiddos. There were facilitiesthere too, a restaurant, bathrooms etc. We spent a few hours here and caught a return shuttle back. Aruba- We’ve been to this port several times. This time we wanted to go Arikok NationalPark. I asked about taxi tour goingthere when we debarked but there weren’t any. The tour vendors at the pier told us we would have to take a taxi. They said that once we got there that wecould get a guide and they would take us around the park. We found out later that this was not entirelyaccurate. It was $29 cab fare for 4 tothe park (Javier a1taxiservices.aruba@hotmail.com). The drive was about 20 minutes. Admission $11pp adults, kids were free. We took the cab drivers information so thathe could return to pick us up. As soon as our driver pulled off we realized wemade a mistake. The park is huge! The caves were about a 15-20 min drive fromthe entrance. It would take us about anhour (one way) to walk to the caves. Fortunately for us the park staff felt sorry for us and went out oftheir way. There was a school field tripthat day and they allowed us to tag along with them to hike one of the closesttrails. Afterwards, the park ranger personallydrove us out to the caves, took us through and drove us back, so that we wouldbe able to see them. It was like havingour own personal tour guide and we tipped him graciously. They really did not have to do that for us atall. About 1pm we called our cab driverto come get us. Lesson learned. Next time we know, rent a car in order to seethis park. The roads are rough so, ajeep/SUV would be better than a car. Disembarkation- This was painless. We had to be out of our stateroom by7am. We left the room about 7 and headedup to breakfast. It was the usualsystem, each deck was assigned a color. They said they would begin calling colors about 8. I would say that was accurate, because beforewe even got to our “assigned” waiting area our color was called. We walked straight off, no real line to speakof and punched our sea pass cards for the last time. Before we were allowed to get our luggage we had to set our carry on items our for the drug dogs to sniff. Then we retrieved our bags and were on ourway. No real inspections/security checksto speak of. We had a LOT of time until our plane departed. So, we decided to rent a van with our newfriends from Texas, visit the other Locks and then drive back to Panama City. Our spur of the moment plan crashed andburned. Once, we docked we walked over to Hertz (directly across the street from the pier). It seemed everyone elsehad this idea too, because we waited an hour on line only to find out the all the vehicles large enough to accommodate us were rented already. We triedanother car rental place only to be told the same thing. We ended up negotiating (party of 9) a shuttleand driver $25 per adult ($20 for each kid). The plan was to drive to two locks (Pedro Miguel and Miraflores) and areturn to the airport. This is probably the most critical cruise review I’ve everwritten. (Links to the others are in my signature) Despite that, we really did love our vacation. We loved it because of the itinerary. We are not the cruisers who allow little things to ruin our cruise. So, despite there being a LOT of “little things” on this cruise. None were so offensive that they ruined our cruise. So,would I sail Pullmantur again? Maybe. I could see the right itinerary luring me aboard again someday. However, it would never be my first, heck, even my second, third orfourth choice.
  4. queenL

    Totuma Volcano question

    Hi! Does anyone know whether a Totuma Volcano tour can be purchased at the pier? We are trying to put one together on our own.
  5. Boy, the Pullmantur boards are inactive. I'm trying to find someone onboard this sailing with us. Anyone? We are looking forward to visiting Panama.
  6. Empress of the Seas Review 11/26 Background- We aredevout cruisers. This was my 27thcruise? I’ve sailed all the major lines, Carnival, NCL, MSC, Royal, Princess,Celebrity and HAL. Pre-cruise- We stayed at Springhill Suites MIA airport east.There was no airport shuttle. It was a $25cab ride from MIA to the hotel. It wasyour typical Springhill, nice not spectacular, more spacious than your averagehotel room. They did have free breakfastin the morning. They also offered ashuttle for $8pp to the cruise ship terminal. You did need to sign up. Itappeared there was a shuttle leaving every hour. Since the early departure times were alreadytaken, we took uber for $3.5 per car. Itwas a nice stay. We arrived so late, Ididn’t get a chance to really explore what was nearby but it didn’t appearthere was much to do surrounding the hotel. They did offer a shuttle to bayside marketplace. Overall we had a nice stay and would returnagain. Embarkation- Easy! Wearrived at the pier about 10 am. Originallywe were given a boarding time of 11:30, however, the day before departure wereceived an email about a coast guard inspection that would delay boardingtime. They encouraged us to arrive about12:30. Needless to say we didn’t listen. There were maybe 2-3 people ahead of us onthe Security line. About the same for Emerald check in. The line was a little longer for gold andplatinum. No line for Diamond check in. We handed over our tourism declaration forms, received our visa, tookthe photo and went to wait for boarding to begin. I think about 10:45 or so we began toboard. Rooms weren’t ready until 1:30,sowe began our cruise in the windjammer. Cabin- Once cabins were ready we headed to our home for thenext few days. Cabin 8174 (OV). We started off in an inside and were upgradedseveral times due to price drops. J Not too much to say,it was decent but definitely showing its age. If you are a person bothered bystains on the carpet or a few random stains on the walls be forewarned. You could certainly find those things. There was not as much storage in this cabin. However, since this was a short cruise we wereable to make it work. I had instant flashbacksto the plastic curtain liners that stick to you. J Ship- In a word dated. I will admit my bias. I’m partialto the newer ships. It has to be theitinerary to get me onboard the older vessels. She was showing her age, despite the recent refurbishment. The public spaces were still nice. Theamenities of the newer ships were absent. It was small, didn’t take very long to learn your way around. The kidsfacilities and gym paled in comparison to the mega ships. When I saw the kidssplash area, I was grateful my kids weren’t sailing with me. They would have been disappointed. On the positive side,it was a different experience being on such a small ship. We ran into the same people frequently. I think it made it easier to bond with fellowcruisers. We met sooo many great cruisers on this sailing. I can’t remember a cruise were we have met somany people. Likewise, we got to knowsome of the crew members better too. Definitely a much more personal cruise on the Empress. There weren’t really any crowds to speakof. We often walked into activitiesright as they were starting and we were able to find a seat. I was worried about the motion on such asmall ship, but we sailed so slowly, motion was not a problem. As with most of the cruisers, we chose thiscruise to go to Cuba not for the ship so it was easy to make the best of it. Chef’s Table- I always love my Chef’s Table. There were only 8 of us. Again a personal experience. They offered us a galley tour before ourmeal. While were back we got to see afew entrees on the main dining menu. Wementioned how delicious they looked and the wait staff served our table thoseentrees along with the Chef’s Table Menu. The food was outstanding, the tablemates and service was even better. Service- I didn’t have any complaints about service. Ourroom steward was great. Loved our diningstaff. Loved the energy and personality of the cruise director Hugo Arenas. Food- The food was so much better on this cruise. Again, I wondered if the smaller ship hadsomething to do with that. I had some really good memorable dishes in the MDR.Windjammer food was standard fare. I hadquite a few delicious deserts, including sugar free ones. Usually I think the desserts leave much to bedesired. However, this time was not thecase. Entertainment- Pretty good. The comedian was very funny opening night. That night was the PG, family performance. Thesecond night he was borderline offensive. Sensitive people be warned. Hewas equal opportunity with poking fun at different ethnic groups, gay peopleetc. I heard there were people complaining to the comedian right after theshow. I think we did a little bit of everything this cruise, fromdance lessons, to making a rose out of ribbon, to adult coloring classes. Then there was the traditional, love andmarriage game show and my favorite: Quest. The shows were ok. After you’ve experiencedrobotic shows of 270 and the aqua and ice shows. The others kind of run together. Port- I really enjoyed Cuba. I definitely wouldn’t mind returning. We took a ships tour. I hateships tours. With all the back and forthregarding the changes in the people to people designation, we were afraid wemight not be able to debark if we didn’t have a ships tour. We booked the Old Havana Heritage Walkingtour. Our tour departed at 8am. It beganat the square (right across from the cruise ship terminal) We walked by thesculpture conversation, over to several squares, and to one of the oldestcathedrals. Afterwards, we got on a tourbus. Many of us were surprised by this,as we thought the walking tour would be all walking. It wasn’t. We were bused to a Cuban cigarstore and then to a bar where we listened to Cuban music, got samples of Cubancigars, rum and Cuban coffee. Then wereturned to the pier about 4 hours after we started. We reboarded the cruise ship to have lunch and then debarkedagain. This time we walked to another Cathedralon our way to the artists market. If you enjoy local art, this is the place tobe. There were rows and rows of art,handicrafts and some of the standard souvenir type stuff. There were T-shirts,magnets, shot glasses etc. There was a smaller market across the street toothat had cheaper prices, but less of a selection. We shopped for about 2 hrs and then got onthe hop on hop off bus tour of Havana. 10CUCpp. I love HO HO’s because they are a great way toget an overall view of a city. This wasno exception. Other than a stop atRevolution square and most of the Havana area we didn’t really need to get off. We drove up the Malecon, and past severalsquares. Again it was a nice way to getan overview of the city. It took about 2hours to complete the entire route. Whenwe got off at the pier we still had time remaining to get more souvenirs anduse the remainder of our CUCs. Just like other Caribbean ports there were tour vendorshanging around trying to get you to tour Cuba independently. One guy offered 15CUC’s to pedal us aroundfor about an hour in the Old Havana area. I saw many vendors trying to sell the tours riding in an oldconvertible. They were lined up waitingfor you when you exited the cruise ship terminal. It’s a shame the government makes it so hardto visit because this would be one of the easiest ports to see without a shipstour. Old Havana is directly across the street from the terminal, the marketsare a few blocks to the left. Plenty ofshops, restaurants within walking distance. The HOHO stop isn’t far away either making it easy to take in the restof Havana easy and cheap. Nobody askedwhere we’d gone when we re-boarded or proof of where we bought our itemsfrom. For all the time we spent worryingabout it, it was very painless. Despitethe Department of state warnings due to the embassy incidents. We felt very welcomed by the Cubanpeople. I didn’t feel unsafe walkingaround and even in the markets when we said no, we could walk away withoutbeing harassed as we have been in some ports. There were plenty of cruisers finishing up their tours with the cruise lineand taking local ones. Overall- loved my trip to Cuba. I have no regrets. I feel that US citizens might not be able togo much longer, before more restrictions are put in place. I’m glad I got a chance to see it. I’m stilla new, megaship girl at heart, but Empress produced a great cruise experience. Usually my cruise withdrawal would havealready begun, fortunately for me I set sail on the Escape next week. Cuba Q&A I usually skip the port of call talks when I cruise, butbecause Cuba has so many restrictions I wanted to make sure I understood therules. RCL Director led the talks andanswered all the questions posed by cruisers. Here are some of the highlights of the questions and responses. Q: Are you allowed to book your own tour? A: Yes, you are responsible for verifying that your independenttour meets the requirements, that it isn’t one of the vendors banned by thestate department. You may be subject to fines if the tour doesn’t meet thatcriteria. If you weren’t a part of theships tour you could debark between 7:15-8. Otherwise you’d have to wait until after 10am once all the shipexcursions had debarked. Q: Do all of your toursmeet the guidelines? Some of your toursare part day the regulations require full day touring. A: They guarantee that all the ships tours meet theguidelines Q: Can we stay off the ship following a ships tour A: Yes! you can board and re-board as many times as you like.Just bring your stamped passport for proof that you have submitted your visa(visas are kept by customs the first time you debark) Q: Will you be allowed to disembark without a ships tour Yes, we do not police our guests. Again, you are responsible for being able toverify that you meet the requirements and leaving without participating in atour doesn’t meet those guidelines. Q: Do we have to exchange money? A: Most vendorsaccepted US dollars. He encouraged us to exchange very little because you wouldlose money in the conversion and if you returned unspent dollars, you would loseagain when the money was converted back. We exchanged $50 dollars and were buying t-shirts etc. tryingto spend the rest of it before we boarded. We found most vendors were willing to take US dollars, particularly ifyou said that that was all you had. Q: If I am not a US citizen am I held to these new Cubarestrictions. A: Yes, Royal is a USbased company, departing from the US and you are held to these standardsregardless of your country of origin. He did say that the enforcement would becomplicated if you were not a US citizen but that it would be possible torestrict future VISA authorizations to the US if you were found not incompliance
  7. queenL

    Norwegian Escape

    This happened on our sailing. Right after final payment was made there was a price drop. They do not give refunds after final payment. They were willing to give us onboard credit or an upgrade. Onboard credit was a only a percentage of the price drop, it wasn't dollar for dollar. Call and ask.
  8. First, my sympathies to all the states and islands devastated by the hurricanes. I have a cruise to Cuba in Nov and one on the Escape in Dec. I am also curious as to what will become of our scheduled itinerary for both. Our final payment was Monday. We can dispute "until", "through" November all we like. Realistically, I don't see the damage to these islands being repaired enough to visit the rest of 2017. It wouldn't surprise me if the lines didn't sail to some of these ports again until middle of next year. I don't have any inside information, just my best guess. If your cruise has any of these ports scheduled I'd expect an itinerary change. In all honesty, I think I would rather be rerouted (except my Cuba trip). I don't want to vacation to any island that has been decimated.
  9. Hi, Did they have the 'Escape Room" on this sailing? If so, what day was it offered? Also was there a parade/marching band on the Boardwalk? Years ago when I sailed Oasis they had carnival games and a band etc at certain times on the Boardwalk.
  10. I vote for Harmony too. I just returned from the Vista and I have sailed the Oasis. RCL is definitely the better cruise experience of the two.
  11. We're sailing this itinerary in a little over three weeks. We are so excited. What did you do in the ports? Do you remember any taxi tour prices/stops in Bonaire?
  12. queenL

    Other sources for gift cards?

    I bought one from Kroger 2 days ago.
  13. Typically we arrive and check in when we want, regardless of what our scheduled boarding time is. Will Carnival allow us to check-in before our scheduled time?
  14. queenL

    Past guest and kids

    Gotta love the anti kid sentiments. Should you get tired of the flaming these questions are completely accepted on the Family Cruises board. I have 2 kids 4 and 9. They have both been cruising since 5 mos and 6 mos respectively. We have taken them to past guest parties on every line they've sailed. (I think my oldest is on her 15th cruise) I've never had a problem. On our last cruise (spring break?) we took them to the past guest party. They gave them non-alcoholic punch the same as I had because I don't drink alcohol. I do think as parents we have the responsibility to respect adults only venues and to remove our kids quickly if they become unruly. However, cruises are FAMILY vacations and EGADS you shouldn't be surprised if you see FAMILIES at events onboard.
  15. queenL

    Oasis of the Seas vs Carnival

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion but I strongly disagree. I've sailed both the Oasis and Quantum classes and no Carnival ship I've ever sailed on could compete with RCL's ships. I have enjoyed all my Carnival cruises to date and plan to sail Carnival again in a few weeks. So, I'm not anti Carnival at all. However, I must give credit where credit is due. Sailing the Oasis class should be a "must" for every serious cruiser.
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