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Karen13

Costa Rica and Panama Canal - advice please

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we have just booked our fourth Windstar cruise on the Star Breeze from Puerto Caldera to Colon, with a few days in San Jose and Panama either side.

Can anyone help with the following:

Hotel recommendations for either city?

Things to do while there?

Should we book hotels through Windstar or independently?

Ditto transfers?

What excursions do people recommend at each port?

I think the beach barbecue is on Isla Parida. Which night is the deck barbecue?

Many thanks for any advice!

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San Jose Marriott is lovely. Hilton Panama City excellent with beautiful view of the Pacific. Walkable area and good restaurants. Has a casino but we really didn't bother with it. Lots of cabs in Panama. We had better rates doing the hotels on our own. Hotel in San Jose to cruise port can be arranged by hotel. About a 1 1/2 hour ride but everyone goes from the city to the coast on weekends so take that into account. We had a private guide pick us up at hotel, did a coffee plantation tour and other stops on way to ship. Nice day. Also had guide pick us up in Colon which is an hour or so from the city. Went to some pretty interesting spots. Great cruise. The Canal is amazing.

 

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Ditto to sb44. The Mariott near San Jose airport is very close to the airport on an old coffee plantation. It is a beautiful hotel with very friendly staff. Great pool, walking pat, quiet. They can arrange tours for you and a ride to the ship. Ditto for the Panama city Hilton, lovely hotel, make sure you have views of the Pacific from your room. Going through the canal is wonderful. WS had a great guide on the ship as we went through the canal. You will be thrilled that you are On a small ship. Make sure you read The Path Between Two Seas by Dan McCullough, great book and by reading it I appreciated everything about the canal more. Fascinating read. Fascinating cruise. Happy Sailing

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Several years ago we arrived early into Panama City and stayed in the old part of Panama City at Las Clemetinas, a boutique hotel. It was a fantastic location for walking the old city and they were very kind there. They helped us with a driver to pick us up at the airport (we arrived very late in the evening) and they also arranged for a car and driver to take us to Colon prior to the start of our Wind Star cruise. I wanted to be right in the center of the old town and this location satisfied that. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this hotel!

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San Jose Marriott is a good property. You can get a better rate on your own and if you’re a Marriott member get all your normal bennies and an upgraded room. WS will be in basic rooms and you’ll likely pay more.

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Thanks everyone for such useful advice!

On Sunday morning in Panama the main boulevard that runs along the water is closed to traffic one way and temporary bicycle rental stands appear. Hundreds of people out riding so if you're into that it's a great morning. We originally had reservations at American Trade in old town but read it was noisy. Spent good part of a day there and imagine that what we read was true. Strenz suggested Hilton and we loved roof top pool and incredible morning buffet which was included. If you're not Hilton member sign up. Free wifi and they have a really nice club with excellent wine and food at cocktail time. We didn't do any of the locks tours with WS as they are easy to do from Panama. We did the Gatun Lake excursion which got us out on the water and a different perspective. The monkey part was hokey and feeding them against the rules of keeping them wild but the cool breeze in the boat worth the day. Costa Rica is amazingly clean and environmentally years ahead of US. Panama not there yet. Parts beautiful and across the street abject poverty. They are catching up from years of corruption. One of our very favorite cruises and would go again as there's lots to see and do.

 

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we have just booked our fourth Windstar cruise on the Star Breeze from Puerto Caldera to Colon, with a few days in San Jose and Panama either side.

Can anyone help with the following:

Hotel recommendations for either city?

Things to do while there?

Should we book hotels through Windstar or independently?

Ditto transfers?

What excursions do people recommend at each port?

I think the beach barbecue is on Isla Parida. Which night is the deck barbecue?

Many thanks for any advice!

 

We were on the Star Breeze in January 2018 with the opposite itinerary. We arrived in order to have one full day in Panama City before boarding our cruise in Colon. We made arrangements to go on the Ocean to Ocean Panama Canal and Jungle Tour. We agreed that we were thrilled that we chose that tour-incredible experience. It is 9 hours but you are picked up and dropped off at your hotel and lunch, water and snacks were provided. I found it on Tripadvisor but it linked to a Viator tour. I read many reviews and this tour gave us a comprehensive overview of many aspects of the diverse area. It was overall a fabulous trip!

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We have also booked a Panama Canal & Costa Rica cruise - the 10 day one on Wind Star.

 

I'd like to get recommendations on what to do in the "ports" - excursions or on your own.

 

I read that some (most?) of the stops are wet landings so I bought water shoes. Did you use just those on wet landing days or bring hiking/walking shoes to change into?

 

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We have also booked a Panama Canal & Costa Rica cruise - the 10 day one on Wind Star.

 

I'd like to get recommendations on what to do in the "ports" - excursions or on your own.

 

I read that some (most?) of the stops are wet landings so I bought water shoes. Did you use just those on wet landing days or bring hiking/walking shoes to change into?

 

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On the wet landings we used water shoes and brought bags with dry shoes. They had towels on the beach but the sand is black and kind of sticks. We used some of our bottled water for foot washing. Reverse for going back to ship. We were on Breeze and used the hoses in the tender area to wash our feet.

 

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If you have a few days in Panama City at the end you could look into a day trip to the Smithsonian's research island in the canal-- basically when they flooded the canal they decided to study some of the islands that were created (where land was higher). With prebooking they will put you on a boat out in the morning, do some easy hikes, give you some lunch, etc. It's a good way to see some nature and the canal up close. https://stri.si.edu/visit/barro-colorado/plan-your-visit

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Make 200% sure that your canal part is in the daytime. We were unknowingly stuck with a nighttime trip and the entire ship was pissed. I think this has been solved, but do check. I would not book this again had we known. The highlight was ruined.

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Thanks for all the extra advice! Yes our transit is definitely daylight. We have booked Las Clementinas in Panama, as we would like to experience local life, and it looks lovely. Thanks for the recommendation. We will look at some of the excursions recommended.

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Thanks for all the extra advice! Yes our transit is definitely daylight. We have booked Las Clementinas in Panama, as we would like to experience local life, and it looks lovely. Thanks for the recommendation. We will look at some of the excursions recommended.

You will love Las Clementines. They were so nice, our room was large and we had more than one terrace. You can walk everywhere and the area is fascinating seeing the progress they are making in the revitalization of the area. We found several great places to eat and some lovely shops. The police station is right outside which makes you feel very safe. Enjoy!

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On 5/13/2018 at 11:57 AM, sb44 said:

San Jose Marriott is lovely. Hilton Panama City excellent with beautiful view of the Pacific. Walkable area and good restaurants. Has a casino but we really didn't bother with it. Lots of cabs in Panama. We had better rates doing the hotels on our own. Hotel in San Jose to cruise port can be arranged by hotel. About a 1 1/2 hour ride but everyone goes from the city to the coast on weekends so take that into account. We had a private guide pick us up at hotel, did a coffee plantation tour and other stops on way to ship. Nice day. Also had guide pick us up in Colon which is an hour or so from the city. Went to some pretty interesting spots. Great cruise. The Canal is amazing.

 

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Sb44, who was the private guide that you used for the transfer from Panama City to Colon? I'm trying to figure that one out now.

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Vincent Scott was the guide that we used and he is a super lovely man.  His phone is +50766547771 email vscott03@gmail.com .  He picked us up in Colon, we toured Panama City and spent a lovely day with him before he dropped us at the hotel.  It appears you're doing the reverse itinerary but it should work for you.  If you only want transportation and not a tour he can probably arrange that for you but his forte' is as a tour guide.  If you want to do the canal visitor centers he can do that too with great information and without boarding the dreaded tour busses!  On another cruise that ended in Colon we used a transport service, My Friend Mario, to just get from port to airport and their service was excellent. The hotel can also arrange transportation to Colon. The road is a busy one so leave yourself time. If you use Vincent say hello for us.  Tell him we're the ones who left a Windstar cap in his car.  He was so sweet, called and was willing to bring it all the way back to our hotel but we have many others.  Happy Sailing.

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We're doing our first Windstar on 1/19 from Puerto Caldera to Panama City.  Really looking forward to it, and I'm on my third read of "The Path Between the Seas" since it came out in '77.   Can anyone tell me how 'dressy' dinner is?  

Edited by linda_22003

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Great trip and The Path Between Two Seas us a must read to get the most out of the transit through the Canal, I think. When we did the transit with WS, WS hired a great guide/lecturer that gave a talk as we did the transit, she was fabulous. I do not know if WS continues to have that service. Dinner dress has been discussed a lot on these  forums. Dining room evenings women: dress, or  pants and a pretty top, sandals that is it, men: kakis and polo shirt type that is it, no jeans, shorts, etc. Candles,  outside venu, same, ship deck barbecue more informal, shorts etc.  Very, simple, informal policy. Never tie and jacket for men but they can in 22 cruises I think I have seen a jacket and tie three times, I have seen more cocktail dresses on women but it is not the norm.Enjoy it is a great trip. You will so happy you are on a small ship, it really gives such a great perspective of the canal. Happy Sailing.

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On 12/26/2018 at 5:23 AM, sb44 said:

Vincent Scott was the guide that we used and he is a super lovely man.  His phone is +50766547771 email vscott03@gmail.com .  He picked us up in Colon, we toured Panama City and spent a lovely day with him before he dropped us at the hotel.  It appears you're doing the reverse itinerary but it should work for you.  If you only want transportation and not a tour he can probably arrange that for you but his forte' is as a tour guide.  If you want to do the canal visitor centers he can do that too with great information and without boarding the dreaded tour busses!  On another cruise that ended in Colon we used a transport service, My Friend Mario, to just get from port to airport and their service was excellent. The hotel can also arrange transportation to Colon. The road is a busy one so leave yourself time. If you use Vincent say hello for us.  Tell him we're the ones who left a Windstar cap in his car.  He was so sweet, called and was willing to bring it all the way back to our hotel but we have many others.  Happy Sailing.

Thanks for the recommendation. Vincent was great.

 

We did an evening walking tour with him in Panama City. He met us at the hotel and took us on the bus to the start of the pedestrian street Avenida Central where we walked to Casco Viejo. 

 

The next day he picked us up from our hotel and drove us to Portobello to see the customs house (the Caribbean end of the route that the Spanish used for moving gold from the Pacific to the Caribbean through Panama), fortifications and church. There was some time left before we needed to be on the ship we took the car ferry to see the land side of the Gatun dam than back on the car ferry to Colon 2000 to board the ship. 

 

There was a lot of road work going on in Colon near the dock so it was a bit difficult finding the way to the ship but he handled that fine.

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Thanks so much Ski Mom 2 for the recommendation for Las Clementinas! We really loved the lovely huge apartment and the location, right in the heart of the Old Town. We felt really safe walking around, even at night, and enjoyed seeing how the area is still being rejuvenated.

 

There is such a contrast between the quite clinical new part of town and the vibrant old town. Many lovely restaurants and rooftop bars. Panama City was a very interesting place to visit. Easy access by Uber to Miraflores locks. Uber was easy and cheap to travel around and to the airport.

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On 1/17/2019 at 4:37 PM, Karen13 said:

Thanks so much Ski Mom 2 for the recommendation for Las Clementinas! We really loved the lovely huge apartment and the location, right in the heart of the Old Town. We felt really safe walking around, even at night, and enjoyed seeing how the area is still being rejuvenated.

 

There is such a contrast between the quite clinical new part of town and the vibrant old town. Many lovely restaurants and rooftop bars. Panama City was a very interesting place to visit. Easy access by Uber to Miraflores locks. Uber was easy and cheap to travel around and to the airport.

So happy you enjoyed Las Clementinas!

 

One day we heard a tap tap tap on the balcony door and had not one but two parrots trying to get in!

 

It truly made our time in Panama City memorable! 

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We are doing the Panama Canal cruise next January and are trying to decide how long to stay in Panama City post cruise?  Any thoughts?  We have never visited Panama. 

Thanks for your thoughts!

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