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mpcaruth

Review Carnival Freedom to Panama with kids

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This will be a detailed review with photos from our 8-day January 2011 cruise on the Carnival Freedom from Ft. Lauderdale to Cozumel, Panama, and Costa Rica. I will include lots of details on Camp Carnival and kid activities.

 

I planned for almost a year for this cruise vacation. As I am a civil engineer, the Panama Canal and Costa Rican rainforest made the ultimate field trip! We are a family of 4 and this was our 5th cruise and 4th with Carnival. My husband and I are in our upper 30’s and my kids are 8 and 10. We are big Carnival fans, which is the best cruise value for this family. We cruise in January to take advantage of the reduced fares. We drove 14 and a half hours from Virginia to Ft. Lauderdale to board this cruise. We split it up into 2 days, and it really wasn’t that bad.

 

For the day before the cruise, I booked a 4-star hotel on Hotwire and received the Westin Resort and Spa in Hollywood for an unbelievable price of $89 per night. Wow, was this place wonderful! We never ate at the facility, as I saw that the room service hamburger was a mere $18 a la carte. The swimming pools were wonderful and heated. Here are a few photos I took at the Westin:

 

 

 

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Day 1 embarkation:

 

We relaxed at the hotel and strolled the beach until 11:00 and headed to the “Luxury Airport Parking”. I had reserved a parking space there for about ½ the port parking fees. This place was SLOW, and I would never use them again. It was about 1:00 PM before we were finally dropped of at the port. This was apparently the busiest time to board. After about ½ hour we arrived at the counter to get our Sail & Sign cards. We were then informed that the computed system had just gone down, and this brought boarding to a halt and then slow crawl. At around 3:00 we boarded the ship. I soon got over any irritation of the extremely long boarding process as soon as we boarded. Woo hoo!

 

We immediately dropped off our things to our room and headed for the Lido deck for a late lunch. It was still very busy, but we headed to the rear to get our food and up to deck 10 to eat in the upper dining area (up behind the Statue of Liberty). The food was okay – some things good, some not-so-good. There was no one in line at the fish and chips and we took advantage of this.

 

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TO BE CONTINUED...

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The muster station was the same as always. My advice: never go to your muster until after about 3 calls. Those that get there early wait longer and get squashed in the back. Afterwards we explored the shipped. I always love the excitement of seeing the ship facilities and amenities for the first time.

 

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The Steelers were playing football on the big screen as we were heading out of Port Everglades. After sail-away, we headed to Camp Carnival for family play time. This is basically a chance for the kids to meet the counselors and to play with some of the toys. My daughter signed up for the 6-8 y.o. and my son signed up for the 9-11 y.o. My son was old enough to be able to check himself in and out of Camp. The younger group must have a parent check them out.

 

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TO BE CONTINUED...

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Day 2 – first sea day:

This was day of exploring and relaxing. I always get up early and enjoy some solitude time. I did my 1 mile power walk on the sports deck, but was disappointed that it was so crowded. Apparently 50 others had the same idea. After lounging around the Seaside theater watching CNN, I headed back to the cabin to get the family together for breakfast. Breakfast on the Lido is always the same: tons of food, tons of people, and the bacon police. We all gorged that morning.

 

My daughter went to Camp Carnival at 10 for Hip Dance lessons, crafts, and games. She told me to come back at 1:00 for pick-up. My son and I hung around forward pool on Deck 10. It’s next to the slide exit and 2 hot tubs. This pool area tended to be where we swam and sun bathed all week. The aft pool is for adults only, and the lido main pool was just too busy.

 

 

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My daughter and I are all about activities and doing as much as we can. The boys are much more relaxed and content at what I consider “doing nothing”. I went to the cooking demo at the Sun King Steakhouse. I absolutely LOVED it! The top 5 chefs on the ship each prepare a recipe before the audience and then everyone was serve the dish. The mushroom cappuccino was to die for.

 

 

 

 

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That evening the kids went to the Kids dance party in Club O2, while my husband and I watched a movie outdoors on the Seaside Theater.

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED...

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Oops, I almost forgot; day 2 (first sea day) was also elegant night. The boys HATE dressing up, but do it for us girls. We had Your Time Dining, which is located in the Chic dining room in the middle of the ship. We took photos prior to dinner and arrived at dinner at 6:30. This is the only night we had to wait to be seated, but it was a mere 10 minutes. Dinner was great! My husband and I had the lobster and shrimp, my DD had PB&J and my DS had pizza. Oh well, their loss! I skipped desert and opted for an ice cream cone later on the Lido deck. I am not a big fan of sweets, but love ice cream. I had a goal of eating 16 cones during the cruise, and tonight made cone 3! (thus the power walk every morning).

 

Dress attire at dinner varied from church casual to cocktail dresses and suits. I only saw a very few in a long dress or tux. We chose to dress a little less formal than usual do cut down on luggage for the 8-day cruise.

 

 

Waiting to go to dinner:

 

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One of many cones at the 24-hour ice cream station on Lido aft:

 

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Edited by mpcaruth

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keep it coming. I am from Canada and my friend is coming from Australia to take this cruise next Jan. We just made out choice last night to take this cruise. Please finish it up so I can send her the link. it will be a girls cruise...

Edited by smallworldtraveller

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Anxious to hear bout your shore excursions. We are booked on this cruise on Jan. 14, 2012. Great pictures so far!

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Day 3 – Cozumel

We arrived in Cozumel early, as we were informed there had been a medical emergency. This was to be the first of three emergencies. Please folks, make sure you are healthy before taking a cruise to a foreign country. If you have a history of heart problems, maybe you should get a stress test to confirm you are okay to travel. There is no heli-pad on the ship and it could take almost a day to get to shore to a hospital. Also, please keep in mind that you will be walking a lot in high heat conditions and will most likely not be eating healthy. I heard this morning that research has found that changes in the arteries can be seen 30 minutes after eating French fries. Okay, off my soap box…

We had been to Cozumel before and had visited Chankanaab Park. It was nice. This time we took a taxi to Paradise Beach (PB) for some beach fun and relaxation. We paid $12 for taxi each way, $12 each for full access to water activities at PB. A new pool, restroom facility, and bar had recently been built. The place was super clean, with a full time restroom attendant. We loved this place. We ate lunch there and the food was good, not amazing, but good.

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As cruisecritic only allows 6 photos per post, I will continue Cozumel in another post. Can you tell I love photos?!?

Edited by mpcaruth

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Day 3 – Cozumel - continued

When we arrived back at the port in the taxi, my family went ahead and boarded, while I stayed back and did some shopping. Apparently Cozumel requires a picture ID to get back to the ship, which I did not have on me; I only had my S&S card. My husband found me later in a store and gave it too me. He was not happy at ALL.

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The Freedom was docked beside her sister ship, Liberty. We were the only 2 ships in this port, and there were only 3 ships altogether in Cozumel - this made for a much less crowded day!

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That night my daughter again went to Camp Carnival for “Camp Rock Out: Design your own Band” and other activities. My DH, DS, and I attended our first show in the Victoria Lounge: a juggling comedy act. I always enjoy these silly shows. The singing Vegas-style show typically bore me.

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Day 4: second sea day.

The sports deck was closed due to high winds that morning. People were now walking on Deck 10 forward. Woa – it was way too crowded with lots of slow-moving walkers, and little opportunity to pass. Slow walkers tended to line up and block the entire walkway. Fed up, I ventured to the gym and used the elliptical machine.

 

We ate breakfast in the main dining room – Posh on Deck 3 aft. Yes folks, it’s true. You have to either go up or down a deck or two to cross, as you cannot cross from forward to aft on deck 3. This was a mild nuisance. This is the first time we have ever had breakfast in the dining. Boy had we been missing out. It is such a relaxed and quiet breakfast. The food is good, the service is good, and you don’t have to fend for your food on the hectic lido deck. They also have pineapple juice here, which you cannot get upstairs. The kids loved the Belgium waffles.

 

 

 

It was a typical sea day. We swam, sunbathed, and ate ice cream. I skipped the art auction this year (I only went before for the free champagne anyway). We went as a family to the “Up-close magic show” in the afternoon in one of the smaller lounges. It was entertaining. Later, they colored T-shirts at Camp Carnival, and this year it was a new design from years past. There was also a silly-band swap, but not many kids participated in this.

 

Camp Carnival typically offers activities from 10-1, 2-5, and then evening activities. Sometimes there are good evening activities, and others, like tonight, consisted of taking the kids to dinner and the show as a camp group. This allows for a date night for the parents.

 

Our kids did not attend camp on this night. Instead, we went as a family to the family (PG) comedy show in the aft International lounge (aka Punchliners Comedy Club). The show was appropriate for kids (in my opinion). There was no cussing. My DH giggled the entire time and said that was the “best show ever”. But of course, ever day she says something is the “best ever”.

 

My daughter making herself comfortable while enjoying the stand up comedy (photo not too god as it was taken without flash):

 

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The Punchliner’s Comedy Club is my favorite Carnival addition. The comedians used to only do late night shows in the main lounge after the Vegas style show. Now they have a specific lounge most evening just for comedy starting at 7:30. They had comedy 4-5 nights. Each night there were 5 shows: 2 PG and 3 R, with 2 comedians alternating each show. The first leg of the week were shows from John and Carl, then for the last leg of the cruise there were 2 new comedians: Smiley Joe and John Knight. They were all good, but John Knight was hilarious, and both his PG and R shows had me rolling. He was so full of sarcasm, and I love that.

We hit the sack early to rest up for our day in Costa Rica: my son’s 10th birthday celebrated with a private tour to the Jaguar Rescue Center…

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Keep it coming! By the way who was ACD?

 

I am going to have to plead ignorant? ACD... assistant cruise director?

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Day 5 - Costa Rica baby!

 

Happy 10th birthday to my son, Alex!

 

I had researched Limon to death on Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor. As my son is a nature/animal lover and it was his birthday, I wanted to make it super special. I pre-booked a private excursion for the 4 of us with JJ Tours. I wanted to be able to do things on our time, especially with children. JJ met us just outside of the gate holding his sign. He then directed us to our tour guide, Carlos. Carlos was a great!

 

We boarded a small van and heading south to Puerto Viejo to visit the Jaguar Rescue Center. The drive was well over an hour, but was not boring. Carlos stopped a few times to show us wildlife and to get drinks.

 

Local store:

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Beer is good:

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The road to the Jaguar Center was often very bumpy. It followed the Caribbean coast and the views from the van were beautiful. I took many photos riding down the road. I love to see how the locals live.

 

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Costa Rica to be continued...

 

 

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Day 5 - Costa Rica Continued

 

Jaguar Rescue Center in Puerto Viejo - AWESOME!

 

We arrived at the Rescue Center about 30 minutes before the next tour. We were allowed to walk around the facility and explored. Our tour guild at the Center was Drew (he visited Costa Rica 2 years ago and loved it so much he is now living there). We were the only cruise passengers on the tour. There were about 15 other foreign tourists touring the Rescue Center with us.

 

The tour started with the introduction of a baby howler monkey. This little girl was so cute and friendly and everyone got to hold her. We also got to pet a baby 2-toed sloth.

 

My DD with her favorite, the baby monkey:

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My DS and DH:

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This young sloth holds on to a stuffed animal in the absence of a mother:

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To be continued...

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Can't wait to hear more. I wanted this cruise so badly this year but the sail dates did not work for us :(

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We are going on the Freedom next year in January. I have been looking at the hotels in the Ft lauderdale area-When did you make your reservation to get that rate? I would love to stay there, but not for their prices (385 online per night at this point). How far away is the hotel from the port?

 

I may have missed it, but what type of room did you guys have? I am looking at booking the aft wrap for this one.

 

I love reading your review as I know nothing about the Freedom. Looking forward to more

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Day 5 - Costa Rica continued again (I just loved this place!)

 

More photos from Jaguar Rescue Center:

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Our tour was interrupted by two wild male sloths fighting in the treetops. They sounded like wild birds calling. Carlos said he has never heard a sloth make a noise in his entire life, so this was a rare event. The loser of the fight fell out of the tree and there was a loud thump. I ran to the sloth afraid it was dead, but apparently sloths have a shut down mechanism and survive long falls. After about 10 seconds of looking dead, it slowly raised his head and crawled back to the tree. (Sloths move about 13 feet per minute!).

 

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Aaahhh, he finally made it to the tree:



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During the excitement, my daughter stood over a fire-ant next and was bitten numerous times on her foot. I later got bit on the hand and it stung almost as bad as a bee sting, but after about 2 minutes the pain was gone.

 

After the sloth episode, we moved on the reptiles – way too many snakes for my taste! And we got to see the feeding of a live mouse to a wild hawk making his daily visit. Look closely for the poor little mouse in his claws.

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To be continued...

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We are going on the Freedom next year in January. I have been looking at the hotels in the Ft lauderdale area-When did you make your reservation to get that rate? I would love to stay there, but not for their prices (385 online per night at this point). How far away is the hotel from the port?

 

I may have missed it, but what type of room did you guys have? I am looking at booking the aft wrap for this one.

 

I love reading your review as I know nothing about the Freedom. Looking forward to more

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Day 5 - Costa Rica final

 

We left the Center and headed back towards Limon for our stop at Cahuita National Park. We passed the Sloth Sanctuary on the way, but did not stop. We ate lunch at a small open restaurant outside of the park entrance. This was not a tourist-type restaurant, but rather a place where the locals eat. I ate the local fare of fish and beans. The fish was awesome! My family however, ordered boring American food – ugghhhh.

 

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We were running short on time and decided not to hike through the walking trails of Cahuita Park. Here is a photo taken around the Park entrance. There were swimmers further down the beach but it looked like ¼ miles or more away.

 

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On the trip back, Carlos made a stop at a banana plantation alongside the road and educated us on banana farming.

 

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We also stopped at a roadside stand and got fresh pineapple and tried fresh coconut milk/water (yuk!). Our final stop was at a local supermarket where I bought 3 bags of Costa Rican coffee (yum!) It was now to board the ship. We had the best day in Costa Rica. I definitely want to come back someday. JJ Tours was great and well worth the $300 cost for a private tour for the 4 of us.

 

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Yes folks, that is James Brown singing on the big screen during sail-away. Haauuuggghh!

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To be continued...

 

Edited by mpcaruth

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Awesome pics and review!! Im going on same internary in 2 weeks on Freddom. I can't wait!!!

 

I do have a question for you. Cozumel has you there from 7-330. Did the captain stay on ship time of go to Cozumel time? Reason I ask is that we will be in at 6am.....nothing is open at that time...

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Awesome pics and review!! Im going on same internary in 2 weeks on Freddom. I can't wait!!!

 

I do have a question for you. Cozumel has you there from 7-330. Did the captain stay on ship time of go to Cozumel time? Reason I ask is that we will be in at 6am.....nothing is open at that time...

 

Thanks!

 

All times are ship time ALWAYS. In the case of the Freedom: EST. I recommend using a watch. We didn't have one and used our cell phones for time. The cell phones sometimes switch timezones automatically. I cannot tell you how many times we were confused about the time while on shore. In fact, in Cozumel, while I was shopping by myself I heard the horn blow - the signal that a ship is leaving. I about ?@>!@ my pants and threw up at the same time! I panicked that my time was off. Fortunately it wasn't.

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OMG, I am loving this review!!!!! I am on the Freedom in 8 days, first cruise, I still can't get over how huge the ship looks. Your pictures are beautiful!!!

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We are going on the Freedom next year in January. I have been looking at the hotels in the Ft lauderdale area-When did you make your reservation to get that rate? I would love to stay there, but not for their prices (385 online per night at this point). How far away is the hotel from the port?

 

I may have missed it, but what type of room did you guys have? I am looking at booking the aft wrap for this one.

 

I love reading your review as I know nothing about the Freedom. Looking forward to more

 

I booked the hotel about 5 weeks before the trip. I find that works best with Hotwire, as the hotels are getting desperate to fill up rooms. I researched the hotwire hotels on betterbidding dot com website to be confident in my pick. The Westin is about 15 minutes (traveling along Rt 1) from the port. It is located in the Hollywood area. I would definitely stay there again!

 

We had an ocean view cabin forward on Deck 1 - Riveria. In the bottom! I booked and OV Guarantee about 9 months in advance at a super low price. I was hoping to snap an upgrade to a balcony, but it never happened. Oh well, wishful thinking. Our room was great. 220 sf, larger than a balcony room and much larger than a IS quad. We had an inside last year on the Sensation and will never do that again! The bunks pulled down over the main bed - no one had their own space. In the OV on the Freedom, the couch pulls out for a twin bed, and bunk lowers down over the couch.

 

Here is a picture of the cabin with the bunk down. Please ignore the smart-alec look from DS. He gets really annoyed at all my picture taking!

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Edited by mpcaruth

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Day 6 – Colon Panama

We got up early for another day of excitement. We booked the Gatun Locks, Portobelo, and Beach excursion with My Friend Mario. Our tour was scheduled to leave at 7:40, however, 5 folks never showed up! So…we waited for them for nothing. Folks, I am going to get on my soap box again: If you pre-book a private excursion and choose to cancel, please be courteous and let the tour guide know you are canceling. You may think it is no big deal, but your no-show takes away precious time for others in Panama! Two other people decided not to take the tour as a result of the delay.

As it ended up, we were now the only 4 people on this excursion and had the 23-passenger bus to ourselves. So, we ended better off and got to choose how long to stay at each place. Elvis was our tour guide. The first place we visited was the Gatun locks. Our timing was perfect, as the observation deck was about empty and the Norwegian Star was passing through. We were informed that this was a record day for the canal; the Norwegian Star paid the higher ever toll: $402,000. OMG!!!!!

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A cargo ship was also crossing the canal at the same time in the adjacent lock. We were so lucky to have seen two ships, as I had read that some folks wait around and never get to see one.

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The cargo ship actually hit the concrete sidewall not once, but twice. Yhe anouncer said there was only 16 inches of clearance on each side. Wow- what a tight fight. See the concrete dust:

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As we were leaving the lock area, the tour guide showed us the construction site for the new canal expansion. I would love to be on the engineering design team! A lot of “what-ifs” went through my head. Today I got to see the greatest civil engineering feat of modern times.

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Love your review and your amazing pictures. Your children are so cute. Loved the pic of the monkey yawning and the sloth. You really did get some great shots.

We are going on this cruise next Feb 2012 so its great to see what is awaiting us.

Thanks for posting.

Martha

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What a wonderful review! First, what a lovely family! How fun for your sun to get to have such a memorable birthday.

 

This is the first review for this itinerary I have read, and you have totally sold me! I'm going to have to tell Dan that this is our next one for sure. My parents want to do this one too, so maybe in a year or so.

 

My heart melted when I saw the little sloth and his stuffed animal. So cute! And the baby monkey too...too much for this sentimental mother's heart!

 

Can't wait to read and see more!

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Loving your review! I did this cruise last September and loved the ship and the itin. I travelled solo this time, but love hearing about things from your perspective, younger folks than me and travelling with kids. Thanks for taking the time to post and love your photos.:)

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How cool to be able to see two huge ships going through the canal at once! Probably much more interesting from your vantage point than if you were actually on the cruise ship passing through the locks.

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Really love your review so far! Thanks for taking the time so the rest of us can enjoy it too!

 

Thinking of changing my current booking to this ship in June. We live near Atlanta and the recent snow days have already taken out our "President's week" break. Just afraid of more that would push the end of school up to June and possibly effect my son's HS graduation! :eek: Plus I work nights and had to flip my week so I'm currently scheduled to work my cruise week! :( We will also be driving from Dallas, GA to Ft. Lauderdale. We are Hilton Honors members so we will most likely stay at the Embassy Suites and leave our vehicle there.

 

Wanted to know how much time you spent at the JRC? BTW, you have a great "eye" with your camera shots! :) We want to do this and either the zipline or arial tram tour. Have been reading up on the tour operators and JJ sounds pretty good.

 

Looking forward to your 'ending'! Let us know when you post the Dailys from the trip!

 

Jacquelyn :D

Edited by Jacquelyn11

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Day 6 - Panama Continued

 

We left the canal and headed back trough town towards Portobelo. My daughter became facinated with the public transportation system: the buses were each uniquely painted in vibrant colors. She took many pictures, but I didn't mind as it kept her occupied during the 30 minute travel time.

 

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In Portobelo we visisted the Black Christ Church and the fortress. These were interesting.

 

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To Be continued...

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Day 6 - Panama Continued

 

I will add a few more photos of Portobelo reflecting the culture of the town. It is the oldest town in Panama and was discovered by Christopher Colombus. I enjoy going to foreign countries to see the culture of other people. The town did not meet American stardards of a quaint little town. The people were friendly and I didn't not feel unsafe or threatened in any way.

 

We walked around the streets for a short while.

 

 

My kids got to play with this pet monkey (yes it is legal to have monkeys as pets - or so I was told)

 

 

 

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Another bus in Portobelo:

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A picture of the outside of the Black Christ Church:

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We then headed to Playa Langosta (Lobster Beach) for a few hours of beach fun...

Edited by mpcaruth

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Day 6 - Panama Continued

 

We had the best time at Playa Langosta (Lobster Beach)! I tried my darnest before the cruise to get somone to post information on a beach by Colon, Panama on the Panama board, but never had any luck.

 

 

The beach was actually a "beach club" for the locals. All fees were included with our My Friend Mario Tour. We even had a table with a reed umbrella reserved for us when we got there. Elvis, our tour guide stayed with us nearby in case we needed Spanish intrepretations.

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The beach was not a typical awesome Caribbean beach, as the water was not Caribbean blue and the sand was not powdery white. It remineded me of a Florida waters. The beach area was in, what I call, a cove with very, very mild waves and shallow depth out to a few hundred feet. Perfect for children. In fact, school was out in Panama for the dry season, and the beach was full of local families.

 

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My kids had a blast with the local children, even though we did not speak Spanish and they did not speak English. My kids taught them "High Five" and they played volleyball in the water. Honestly, this was one of the highlights of my vacation. The children there was so friendly and happy, and so intrigued with my children. Life at its most simple form, with no worries.

 

We were the only Americans on the beach and there was also a French family from the cruise, other than that, it was all local Panamian families. We felt so welcomed.

 

 

We ate lunch at the open-air restaurant beside the beach. I had the best calamari of my life for only $6. See my DD sneaking some as I took the photo:

 

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We left the beach and headed back for the ship. On our trip back, we had to stop to save a potential Panamian road-kill. Awesome! A mother sloth crossing the road with a baby on her back:

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Ship boarding time was stated to be 3:30. DH was very nervous that we would not get back in time, but Elvis said to trust him. I had read on the boards that the Freedom never leaves Panama on time, as the tours always get back late, so I was not worried. In fact, Our ship did not leave until after 6:00 PM, waiting for tours. My husband finally said, "You CAN trust Elvis". It just stinks that we were told to be back by 3:30 and Carnival knows that is not required. I would have loved a few more hours in Panama.

 

Colon, Panama from ship:

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To be continued...

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Really love your review so far! Thanks for taking the time so the rest of us can enjoy it too!

 

Thinking of changing my current booking to this ship in June. We live near Atlanta and the recent snow days have already taken out our "President's week" break. Just afraid of more that would push the end of school up to June and possibly effect my son's HS graduation! :eek: Plus I work nights and had to flip my week so I'm currently scheduled to work my cruise week! :( We will also be driving from Dallas, GA to Ft. Lauderdale. We are Hilton Honors members so we will most likely stay at the Embassy Suites and leave our vehicle there.

 

Wanted to know how much time you spent at the JRC? BTW, you have a great "eye" with your camera shots! :) We want to do this and either the zipline or arial tram tour. Have been reading up on the tour operators and JJ sounds pretty good.

 

Looking forward to your 'ending'! Let us know when you post the Dailys from the trip!

 

Jacquelyn :D

 

 

 

Thanks! I just got my first DSLR camera in October, and I think I have a new hobby. I must get my trigger happiness from my grandmother, as show loved taking photos! I took over 1,000 photos on this vacation.

 

It may be tricky to combine the JRC and the tram or zipline. JRC is located far south in Costa Rica, but I am not sure where the others are. The JRC tour itself was only 1 hour, but they only give them certain times of the day, so timing is critical if you want to do numerous things. I suggest emailing JJ with your request for a private tour. And Yes, JJ Tours gets a big thumbs up from this family!

 

As for the Funtimes, be patient, it's coming. This review is taking me much longer that I had expected, with working full time, kids, homework makeup, ball games, etc. I do little pieces at a time, but I will eventaully get there.

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