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kelster42

Mario Must Read!!!!!!!

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We just returned home from our christmas cruise. In Panama we used Mario from myfriendmario for our excursion. He and his assistant Ivan were AWESOME. Mario was very prompt in returning my emails and gave me all the information I needed for our group.

 

At first I was told by Celebrity that we couldn't get off the boat in Gatun Lake unless we had an excursion planned Mario got us clearance and our group of 14 met him and his assistant right at the dock. He was wearing a hat that said I am Mario. He escorted us to a nice mini bus with AC and plenty of space. we proceeded to the locks where we got out and toured the locks at ground level. We got to see a huge cargo ship go through. It is amazing how fast the water can fill up and drain. Mario and Ivan were very knowledgable and added lots of interesting facts. We then took a scenic ride to the Embera Indian village. we baorded hollowed out logs (canoes) and took a short ride to the village. The village met us and gave us a wonderful lunch and dance performance. We then did some shopping (very nice wood carvings and baskets) at a reasonable price. We then got back in the canoes and went to a hidden waterfall where after a short hike we swam. It was so beautiful!!!! We thengot back in the bus and had panamanian ice cream that mario had gotten for our ride home. He also gave out a nice surprise souviner. The entire time Mario and his partner Ivan were explaining the panamanian culture and history. They both speak very good english and seem to be very honest and sincere people. I must add that they also provided water, soda, snacks and beer (they stopped 3 times for beer our guys can drink). They both went out of their way to make our excursion a memerable expeierence. We arrived back at Cristobal pier with 1 hour for shopping and such.

 

I can't say how pleases we were with this tour. I HIGHLY recommend Mario for anyone interested in touring Panama at half the price of the cruiseline excursions. Since being back I did receive a email from Mario thanking us and making sure we all made it home safly. He really is a wonderful tour guide. Don't listen to the cruise line get in touch with Mario and make your next Panama excursion one to remember.

 

Kelli

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Kelli, I am so Happy to hear how wonderful Mario was.

My group of 67 people send him a deposit for our Liberty cruise next month

Thank you so much for you great review. I feel a little better now.

What time did you meet him? Will 6 hour be enough time

Thanks again

Lynn

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We met him around 10:30. Plenty of time for evrything, You'll have a great time I'm sure. Tell Mario Hi for us.

 

Kelli

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I booked a tour with Mario for my Carnival Legend cruise. Hope it all works out, I am looking forward to it.

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There are different tours and the price goes down with the number of people. myfriendmario.com

 

We had 14 and paid $65 pp.

 

Kelli

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I will let you know how we make out

Lynn

Thanks Lynn, I would very much like to find out how you enjoyed your tour!

Dave

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We just got back from MyFriendMario from Colon, Panama and were very, very disappointed with the tour he set up. We were supposed to go to the Gatun Locks, a boat ride and an Indian Village and we did get all three. We also expected to get about an hour of shopping in. However, we went all the way to Panama mostly to see the Locks and of the 7 hour day at Panama we spent 15 minutes at the locks. The rest of the time was spent in a van traveling to and from the Indian Village- approx. time 2.5 hours in van- then we spent 1 hour to an hour and a half at a waterfall so the kids and Ivan- our tour guide- could swim and play, which they did, we spent 30-45 minutes in the boat and probably 2 and a half hours at the Indian Village. My wife was devastated by not being able to do any shopping after being assured by Ivan that we would be back by 3:00- Ship leaving at 3:30. We arrived back at the Ship at 3:40 sweating bullets in fear of being late. The driver drove like a madman and still we got at the locks at 3:00 and after 10 minutes of waiting for the water to rise and absolutely no relaxation with the time ticking down, the doors of the locks opened - hurrah- now we gotta go!- we hurried back to the van and raced back to the ship. Also- there were no rest facilities for the ladies- ALL DAY until we made it to the locks at 3 PM- the men and boys had the option of going in the woods or behind a bank of LOCKED Port-o-lets, (What's to steal?) Terrible Day.

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Transitm, I am sorry to hear about your bad day in Panama.

I will have to talk to Mario about getting us back on time.

Maybe we will skip the village. Everyone in my group wants to spend time at the canal. I guess your ship waited for you. How scary is that! I would of been scared sick not getting back in time for the ship. How many people

from your ship were with Mario?

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When booking independent tours in a place like Panama I can't stress how many variables there are that can make you late on return.. This is one place I would always do a ship tour and consider myself a very very seasoned traveler... IF you do miss a ship here it will cost you a fortune to meet the ship in the next port or, worse yet, to fly back to your port of embarkation and wait for your belongings to catch up with you.. it' not an easy country to get out of inexpensively. I know many of you are avid "independents" when it comes to shore tours but here, Jamaica and Colombia (does anyone go here any more) and maybe even Costa Rica have lots of variables going on that really nail you..

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Transit4595

 

I'm sorry that your day with Mario was so disappointing. I think we may have been travelling the same day.

 

If you are going to use an independent tour operator it is really important to do your homework, so you know exactly what you are getting. I've been planning cruise groups for several years and have always used independent tours - they offer greater flexibility and can be considerably cheaper than what is offered by the ship.

 

Agreed that comes with a risk, but no tour operator wants bad press - they are committed to trying to give you a good day out. Our group thought the trip with Mario the highlight of the cruise - and to take the tour and miss out the Village detracts from the experience. The Embera Indian people are so hospitable, and we provide their living. I would much sooner buy my souvenirs from them than portside shops. But that's a personal preference.

 

Paul

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One last thought on bathrooms - The Embera Indian Experience is real life. There are bathrooms at the Village, but they are basic, certainly not what one expects in the US - but this is how the people live no plumbing or electricity.

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We just returned from Panama and did the tour with Mario; Ivan was our guide. We did the waterfall swimming, the Indian village and the locks. In our own little group we had one senior, kids - 20, 17, 15, 12, 11, 10, 7 and almost six. There were four or six others in the bus with us. We found toilets (johnny on the spot) at the waterfront where the canoes met us, in the Indian Village and again at the Gatun Locks. We swam first, did the Indian Village (with lunch) and then to the locks. We were probably at the locks for about half an hour - the shortest part of the trip, but that suited our family just fine. We got to see three boats go through the locks at various stages. We did not shop until we got back to the pier at 3.35. The ship lines were long and we had a few minutes to buy a few little items. However, like PaulnKarl, to by our souvenirs at the Indian Village. We had a fabulous tour, never worried about getting back on time, and loved everything about it. It was by far the best money we spent. We would highly, highly recommend this tour operator.

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We were probably on the same bus- didn't you think it heartbreaking when the little girl that had to go potty real bad- and we stopped at the side of the road - returned with her wet shorts in her hand and said- "Mommy- here's my shorts- they got in the way." And did you not notice that the "johnny on the spots" were locked?

And weren't you worried when at 3:20 and we boarded the bus, Ivan got on and said- 'Let's Go- we got everybody?" and I noticed that the older woman that had been sitting next to me wasn't there, and the kids cried out- "Grammy's Gone!!! and so is Mom!!" and Ivan bolted out the bus to find them and time kept on ticking, you weren't worried? Or are you Grammy's daughter who also wasn't on the bus.

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I haven't even mentioned the ants in the paper bag snacks Ivan supplied.

I'm sure many of the travelers enjoyed their day with Ivan and until the last hour or so, even I was having a good time. I think Ivan has friends at the Indian Village and spent too much time there and at the waterfalls. Especially after he reassured us that morning, that we would be back by 3 pm.

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I was Mom and I was with Grammy. We were on the bottom of the deck watching the ship go through the lock and did not see anyone leave! Good to know that our kids missed us! - and my daughter did have shorts that got in the way - it was heartbreaking - but I don't even think she remembers it, she loved the swimming and the village and that highlights her memory of the day.

 

I wasn't worried about the timing. I really trusted that we would be back in time. We had so much time, in fact, that we did a bit of shopping at the pier before boarding the ship.

 

Yeah, the ants sucked - but they didn't do any damage and it's a hot, humid country. He did stop at the store and buy us all drinks though!

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Glass half full - glass half empty!!! It's really interesting to hear about the same trip from both sides. Luckily, I'm alot like MOM and I refuse to worry on vacation and my glass is usually full to the rim (I wipe off the ants before drinking tough!!!).

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A few in our group are asking about the canoe travel - are the canoes safe, are they actual canoes ( they seem to be worried about tipping over), do they issue life jackets??

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The canoes seemed safe to us. We had 4 kids under the age of 8. They did issue life jackets to all of us although we had a few who were plus plus size and the jackets were snug.

Kelli

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I agree! We are still talking about this as the highlight of our cruise - and all in all, it had to do with Mario's professionalism and Ivan's wonderful tour.

 

Canoes were canoes - I can send photos if you like!

 

... and yeah.. I'm a glass half full kind of person, but you know what? It was a fantastic tour and all eleven in my party thoroughly enjoyed it.

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We just got back from our March 25th sailing on the Legend and I wanted to post about the great tour we had with My Friend Mario. There was originally 12 of us in our group when we first booked it before the cruise and we added 7 more people that we met on the ship and there was no problems. I was worried about booking the tour because of some of the comments that I read on the board, so I wanted to post to let people know about our positive experience.

 

We booked the tour by email and did not have to put down a deposit. This might be because we didn't book until just a few days before we left for the cruise. Mario emailed us the information for the tour and a picture of their logo to look for when we got off the ship. We had no problems finding him.

 

Our driver was Enrique and his assistant was Melissa. We took the San Lorenzo Fort and Gatun Locks excursion. It was fabulous. It was about an hour ride into the rain forest to the fort. We stopped several times to view sloths, howler monkeys, and various birds. It must have rained the day before we docked in Panama, because there was a spot in the road where a tree had fallen and blocked the dirt road which was very muddy at that spot. There were a couple of workers getting the tree out of the way and packing the road down with sand to make it drivable. We had to wait a few minutes while Enrique got out to help the workers finish up. We tried to drive across but the bus got stuck so we had to get off while the workers helped the bus get through. This only took a couple of minutes. As we went on to the fort, the workers stayed behind to finish working on the road. They did a great job, as we had no problem on our way back. They stayed there even when they were done to make sure we wouldn't have a problem. Enrique gave them cold water and our group decided to give them tips since they didn't have to stay to wait for us. We saw them again further down the road at their home base, where we were able to stop to use the restrooms.

 

San Lorenzo Fort was amazing. It is located on a hill top where the Chagres river meets the Caribbean. I can't even begin to describe the view. Many of the walls of the fort itself were still standing and there were several cannons. You could see why it was such important place for the Spanish in their attempt to protect their gold from the pirates as it was located right at the mouth of the Chagres river.

 

After the fort, Enrique had snacks and drinks for us on the bus on the way to the Gatun Locks. We had to wait about 15 minutes to cross the bridge to the locks, but he kept us entertained by giving us information and answering our questions about Panama. We were able to see a Chinese freighter go through the locks and then we stayed to see the Coral Princess enter the lock from Gatun Lake.

 

I am so glad we took the chance and booked this tour. We were able to experience the rain forest, see some of the history of Panama at the fort, and see the Canal. On the way back to the ship we did a little drive around Colon. We could see that it is a very poor city, but he also gave us some of the history of Colon.

 

Enrique was a wonderful tour guide. He answered our questions and had little guides on the various wildlife in the rainforest for us to look at. He was also very kind. Not only did he get out to help the workers on the road and to give them water, he also gave water and snacks to a family of hikers that were hiking in the forest and flagged the bus down for directions.

 

All in all, it was one of the best experiences of our trip.

 

Jena

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We just got back from our March 25th sailing on the Legend and I wanted to post about the great tour we had with My Friend Mario. There was originally 12 of us in our group when we first booked it before the cruise and we added 7 more people that we met on the ship and there was no problems. I was worried about booking the tour because of some of the comments that I read on the board, so I wanted to post to let people know about our positive experience.

 

We booked the tour by email and did not have to put down a deposit. This might be because we didn't book until just a few days before we left for the cruise. Mario emailed us the information for the tour and a picture of their logo to look for when we got off the ship. We had no problems finding him.

 

Our driver was Enrique and his assistant was Melissa. We took the San Lorenzo Fort and Gatun Locks excursion. It was fabulous. It was about an hour ride into the rain forest to the fort. We stopped several times to view sloths, howler monkeys, and various birds. It must have rained the day before we docked in Panama, because there was a spot in the road where a tree had fallen and blocked the dirt road which was very muddy at that spot. There were a couple of workers getting the tree out of the way and packing the road down with sand to make it drivable. We had to wait a few minutes while Enrique got out to help the workers finish up. We tried to drive across but the bus got stuck so we had to get off while the workers helped the bus get through. This only took a couple of minutes. As we went on to the fort, the workers stayed behind to finish working on the road. They did a great job, as we had no problem on our way back. They stayed there even when they were done to make sure we wouldn't have a problem. Enrique gave them cold water and our group decided to give them tips since they didn't have to stay to wait for us. We saw them again further down the road at their home base, where we were able to stop to use the restrooms.

 

San Lorenzo Fort was amazing. It is located on a hill top where the Chagres river meets the Caribbean. I can't even begin to describe the view. Many of the walls of the fort itself were still standing and there were several cannons. You could see why it was such important place for the Spanish in their attempt to protect their gold from the pirates as it was located right at the mouth of the Chagres river.

 

After the fort, Enrique had snacks and drinks for us on the bus on the way to the Gatun Locks. We had to wait about 15 minutes to cross the bridge to the locks, but he kept us entertained by giving us information and answering our questions about Panama. We were able to see a Chinese freighter go through the locks and then we stayed to see the Coral Princess enter the lock from Gatun Lake.

 

I am so glad we took the chance and booked this tour. We were able to experience the rain forest, see some of the history of Panama at the fort, and see the Canal. On the way back to the ship we did a little drive around Colon. We could see that it is a very poor city, but he also gave us some of the history of Colon.

 

Enrique was a wonderful tour guide. He answered our questions and had little guides on the various wildlife in the rainforest for us to look at. He was also very kind. Not only did he get out to help the workers on the road and to give them water, he also gave water and snacks to a family of hikers that were hiking in the forest and flagged the bus down for directions.

 

All in all, it was one of the best experiences of our trip.

 

Jena

 

How much was this tour?

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We're just back from Panama, and took the tour with MyFriendMario on April 10. Mario arranged for our clearance to exit the ship at the Gatun Yaght Club, and was waiting for us at the pier when we arrived.

 

First We went to the Panama Canal visitor's center and got an up-close look at the canal.

 

Then it was then on to the Chagres river, where we went approx. 6 miles upstream in a dugout canoe to a beautiful isolated waterfall/swimming hole. The waterfall is about a 1/4 mile walk into the jungle.

 

And then back into the canoe, on to the Embera Indian village. After the village welcoming committee came out to greet us, we were excorted to the chief's hut. Mario translated for the chief as he told us of the tribe's history and way of life. The Chief's wife cooked us a meal of fried plantains and talapia. The Talapia was caught fresh from the river just hours before.

 

The tribe then performed some native dances for us, and before long we were asked to participate(which we happily did!). There was then an opportunity to buy crafts produced by the tribe.

 

 

Mario then took us to a local store where we were able to buy Coffee, Real Vanilla Extract, and Liquor at prices much cheaper then what was being charged near the cruise dock.

 

Mario then dropped us of at the ship with plenty of time to share.

 

We found Mario to be professional, informative and reliable. We were transported in a late model air-conditioned SUV. Mario supplied the cold water, soda, local beer, and a small snack.

 

It should also be noted that the Embera Village that Mario takes you to is the REAL DEAL. This is where these people live. When you take the cruise ship's tour you are going to a simulated indian village, that has been built close to the cruise ship dock, where the indians are shipped in for your benefit.

 

MyFriendMario gets my highest recommendation!

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What most need to realize about this excursion is that the indian village is in the interior of the country and therefore a rather long (almost 2 hours) bus ride. Several on our bus did not know this and were a bit unhappy to be spending all that time on the road. We also tried to get to the locks that day and while we did manage to make the stop it was very rushed. All in all, it was a good day and we enjoyed the village and the tour. For the price, you couldn't beat it.

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I went to the website and did not see the San Lorenzo tour listed. Was this something you arranged with Mario independently? How much was it? I also noticed that this tour is not listed on the cruise ship's shore excursion, either. Anyone know why? I imagine you could arrange this tour at the dock. Has anyone done that? Thanks.

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Just got off the Zuiderdam from our Panama Canal transit and wanted to comment on My Friend Mario. Loved the tour by the way!!

 

Our group of 4 were met at the dock by Mario, and we headed off to a beautiful viewpoint overlooking Panama. (Not available to tour buses due to their size) Headed off to the Miraflores Locks and were impressed a second time, seeing them from ground rather than from the ship.

 

Headed off to the Indian Village. Climbed into dugout canoes and started up river to the waterfall. Water level was low so we had about a 25 minute hike into the falls but they were BEAUTIFUL!! Swam, took a few photos and then back to the canoes. Cruised downriver to the village. The Embera tribe met us on shore and escorted us to their village. Gave us a first hand history lesson, fed us fish and plantain, described the process behind their crafts and generally answered any questions we had. (Again...there is only the four of us here) Performed their dances and yes...the group joined in. Very impressed with the authenticity of this village. I have heard also that the village the ship's shore excursions do is not nearly as "authentic".

If you go, pre-purchase a bag of candies for the kids in the village. Mario had the bag out and the kids and many adults were excited for the treat. I would take something along if I have the chance to go again.

 

Bugs were not an issue at anytime on the tour.

 

Arrived back at the ship 30 minutes before "all aboard".

 

Yes it's about an hour drive to the canoe dock.

Life jackets are provided...seats have no backs.

The walk to the waterfall was hot but even my wife who was concerned about this hike, had no problems and the Indian guides from the canoe were happy to assist if required. The swim was great.

Bathrooms at the canoe dock are the last "bathrooms" you will see until returning. We used them to change into swimsuits before the canoe ride.

Don't expect North American standards...this is Panama.

Paid the asked prices for souvenirs at the village. Feel pretty bad haggling a basket down from $20 to $15, when I don't seem to have an issue with a $5 beer aboard ship. I generally pay the asking price in situations like this. Yes I know I overpay but better they get a little extra out of me.

No time for shopping except when we were in the Indian Village.

Met us at about 8:30 or 9 at the dock and had us back at 4:00, so that gives you an idea of the tour length.

 

All things considered...we had a GREAT time and would heartily endorse Mario.

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We were on Mario's tour in April from the Carnival Legend. We rode the bus to the canoes and rode up the river to have a National Geographic experience ride to the rainforest where we hiked to a beautiful waterfall and swam for about 45 minutes. we then hiked back to the canoes and rode downstream to the Embera Indian village where we bought their handicrafts, ate their fish and fruit, and watched their dancing and music. We then returned to the canoes for a short ride to the buses and rode to Colon where we continued to the Gatun locks. We were able to see 2 ships go through the locks. Even though we were at the locks only about 20 minutes, it was adequate to see the canal and have "the canal experience". We did NOT want to be late for the ship. We would not have wanted to miss a minute of the rest ot the tour. It was the highlight of the cruise. We highly recommend it. In fact we are booked with Mario 2 more times, in October and again in March if anyone wants to join us!

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