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Mocamps

Just booked Panama and Costa Rica on 2nd March!

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Hi everyone,

 

I'm super-excited as we've just booked (and paid for!) a last minute cabin on the Wind Star on 2nd March, going from Colon to Costa Rica.

 

This will be our first Windstar cruise though we went on a Star Clippers cruise about 5 years ago and absolutely loved that!! I think this should be fairly similar? Our plan is to stay for 1 night in Panama City before embarkation and then probably another night in San Jose before our flight back. If there are others on this cruise who might be interested in sharing transport then do get in touch. I can't seem to find a roll call for this cruise?

 

I'm really hoping that we don't need to do many excursions as we're happy snorkelling, kayaking and walking. I'm not a big fan of organised excursions but if anyone thinks we really shouldn't miss something, we'd welcome advice. We have already been through the Panama Canal but on a Celebrity ship. 

 

We have the most basic cabin on Deck 1 but from what I can see they are all much the same so I didn't think it worth paying more. Ours is near the front and is listed as 'quiet' on the sticky on this forum so I think it will be fine. I'd welcome advice about drinks packages as we have recently done a Silverseas cruise where everything was included and we've also done a few Celebrity ones with inclusive packages so we've been a bit spoiled!! Any other Windstar tips also greatly appreciated.

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There are two drink packages now.  One is beer and wine only for $49 per person per day plus 15% service charge.  The other includes cocktails, minibar, whatnot and is $59 per person per day plus the service charge.  Neither of these includes bottles of wine, but I think you get a discount when you order a bottle.  Your "break even" number of drinks is about 5 a day.  

 

Our first Windstar cruise was on the Wind Star, loved it.  We always book the lowest level cabins and have never had a problem with them.

 

I'm hoping to do this cruise next year, so I can't really answer your other questions.  Looking forward to your review when you return!

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We recently finished a Panama Canal and Costa Rica cruise on Wind Star. We booked an AX cabin. The cabins are almost all virtually identical. We wanted to be on deck 2 rather than deck 1 to have one less flight of stairs between our cabin and the restaurants/lounges/open decks. We booked an AX rather than an A because we prefer to be midship for less motion and the price difference was pretty small. 

 

Currently, it was really nice to have one less flight of stairs at the end of the day - especially on the days that I'd hiked a lot. When my knees were younger, I was fine with booking on deck 1.

 

My favorite excursion was Quepos: Manuel Antonio National Park Nature Walk.  The guides were great at spotting the animals for us. We may have had an exceptionally lucky day - we saw all 3 kinds of monkeys for that area and had good sightings of sloths. The guides would set up their spotting scopes so everyone could get a good look at the animals. 

 

Isla Parida was the beach barbecue and they had all the water toys out for use on the beach. Puerto Jimenez was the only stop where they had the marina open. We had pretty choppy water in a couple of the ports which might be why they didn't use the marina on some of the other days. 

 

They haven't changed the itinerary on the Windstar website, but we were told on board that they have cut Pearl Islands from the future cruises. The anchorage was too exposed so it was usually too rough to stop there. On our cruise, we had an extra day in Balboa/Fuerte Amador instead.

 

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Thanks for that, new cruiser. Can you possibly tell me what there was to do in Balboa? That looked to be my least appealing destination and we already have 2 nights there so I'd be slightly disappointed if Pearl Islands is swapped for another day there.

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We have just returned from this cruise on the Star Breeze and really enjoyed it. We have also cruised twice on the Windstar and it is a great ship, you will love it. We have had deck 1and deck 2 when we were upgraded, but there is really not much difference.

You need to work out if the drinks package is worth it for you, depending on how much you like to drink. We like the convenience of not worrying about a bar bill at the end of the cruise.

The beach barbecue was fun and the deck barbecue was exceptional as usual. The staff are wonderful and cannot do enough for you on any of the ships we have been on.

I would second the Manuel Antonio Nature Walk. Our guide was exceptional, and we also saw 3 species of monkeys, sloths, iguanas, raccoons, and tiny deer. We would have missed most of these without the eagle eyes of our guide.

We also did the dolphin watch cruise which was a fun sail, and we saw lots of dolphins up close.

We did the Monkey watch tour from Balboa, which was interesting as you go out onto Gatun Lake in a fairly small covered speedboat. A very different perspective from a large cruise ship! It was weird when a large ship came into sight and were were in our tiny boat! 60EDBDBE-822D-49F5-BA1D-3FC3A46D3C3F.thumb.jpeg.9d8f5eaeccc0ee64771d35512f84328c.jpegSome people took a taxi into Panama City which is very close, but complained the traffic was bad.

Our itinerary was the reverse of yours, and we had three nights pre-cruise in San Jose and three in Panama City. We stayed in Casco Viejo (the old town) in Panama which is a fascinating world heritage site, and worth a longer stay. Uber’s were easy and cheap there to get around. We pre-booked our transfer from Colon to Panama City with Amber Moon Taxis who communicated with us very well, and their driver was on time at the cruiseport and very friendly. 

Any more questions please ask and I will do my best to answer them.

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Thank you so much, Karen. Great photos! And all advice much appreciated. Were there many places you could snorkel? And was the water platform used much?

 

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13 hours ago, TakingFlight said:

On the Colon to Puerto Caldera itinerary which day was the onboard BBQ?

There is more than one Colon to Puerto Caldera itinerary. I was on the 10-day Adventures in Panama and Costa Rica itinerary and they did it out of Puerto Jimenez (Golfo Dulce). Perhaps they would use the same port for the 7-day itineraries.

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On 1/26/2019 at 3:20 AM, Mocamps said:

Thanks for that, new cruiser. Can you possibly tell me what there was to do in Balboa? That looked to be my least appealing destination and we already have 2 nights there so I'd be slightly disappointed if Pearl Islands is swapped for another day there.

There is a lot to do in Balboa. We didn't get to do everything I wanted to. We were anchored and tendered to Marina Flamenco (near the end of the Amador causeway). 

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Marina+Flamenco/@8.9229608,-79.5468257,14z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x8facaf06e12d6f73:0x3d149e4af039a38a!8m2!3d8.9115931!4d-79.5226214

 

Something I really wanted to do but couldn't work in was a day tour to an Embara village. The following one gets really good reviews. It is a long tour day so it would be good to do it either before the cruise or on the first day in Balboa.

http://www.emberavillagetours.com/ 

 

If you are really into learning as much as possible about the canal, you can visit the visitor centers at Mira Flores (old locks, has a museum about the canal) and Agua Clara (new locks).

 

We did an evening walking tour (mostly Casco Viejo). For embarkation day, we arranged for the same guide to take us on a morning tour of Portobello (the Caribbean end of the Spanish overland route for transferring gold from the Pacific to the Caribbean) including the Customs House museum and the forts. Since we had some extra time, he also took us on the ferry across the canal to visit the land side of the Gatun dam before dropping us off to board the ship.  The guide, Vincent Scott, was excellent (phone is +50766547771 email vscott03@gmail.com).

 

I went to the Biomuseo - it is on the causeway, not far from the ship. It tells about how the isthmus formed and explains the biodiversity there. Very nice - about 2 hours to view it.

 

Casco Viejo is a really nice area to spend some time. There is also a canal museum there. 

 

I did the monkey tour on the second day in port. It left at 9 AM - I think an earlier departure might have been better - we saw some monkeys, birds and a distant view of a sloth high in a tree. The guides said that the monkeys are more interested in the tour boats earlier. 

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Hi Mocamps,

 

It wasn't really a snorkelling cruise. Just a few opportunities to swim, but not the Red Sea or even the Caribbean type. 

 

I think the platform was out out at least once, maybe more. They brought the water toys into the beach for the beach bbq. There was a water trampoline that seemed to be great fun! 

 

The deck bbq was on the Thursday while we were in Balboa.

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Puerto Caldera is a cargo port, most local trans is not allowed onto the pier. Shuttle service to entrance. Shades of Civittavecchia!

 

I think Wind Star and Star Breeze ..... were doing the same route in opposite directions last week, but it wasn't mentioned aboard ship ....., and we never did the "sailaround" I was hoping for.

 

Note that Colon is a scary dump of a place, so the low cost transfer from the Bristol Panama Hotel was very handy. Because our Embarcation was delayed, we had plenty of time to use the hotel's recommended car service company to visit Casco Viejo - even though the Pope had just been there, which Windstar could have mentioned in late communications with us.

 

The Balboa stop was Flamenco Marina, on the last island of the "Causeway." You might have hesitated to snorkel because of the fishkill we saw at the marina! Alas, the Frank Gehry Bio Museum is closed on Monday. Although Panama Vieja is also, it was specially opened for our and the CMV Magellan excursions.

 

They showed us where to snorkel off the nice Isla Parida picnic, but warned not to go around the point. Did not see pile of spare swim fins (brought our prescription masks), but didn't bother to snorkel.

 

Puerto Jimenez is very attractive, and they put out the water sports setup. We wanted to see Casa Orquideas (a botanical garden), and it's such a long ride that we also got a free hour of sighting both local species of dolphins, in quantity.


The Captain warned us that Quepos always has a heavy swell (made Zodiac boarding tricky, in fact) and he correctly said that he could not promise to provide ship-side water sports. There are plenty of nice beaches ashore here. However, while we were in Manuel Antonio NP (good excursion, departing at 6:45AM), they cleared the swimmers out when a crocodile was sighted! We weren't in the water at the time. MANP can be done independently here, but guides are valuable for spotting sloths and howler monkeys.

Edited by CruiseOrLand
word omitted

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On 2 February 2019 at 9:26 PM, Karen13 said:

Hi Mocamps,

 

It wasn't really a snorkelling cruise. Just a few opportunities to swim, but not the Red Sea or even the Caribbean type. 

 

I think the platform was out out at least once, maybe more. They brought the water toys into the beach for the beach bbq. There was a water trampoline that seemed to be great fun! 

 

The deck bbq was on the Thursday while we were in Balboa.

Thanks for that. At least I now have realistic expectations though slightly disappointed as I rather hoped it would be like our Star Clippers cruise but slightly more luxurious. On that we had the water toys out most days and so I expected that on this. Also on my previous time in Costa Rica the snorkelling was pretty good so I thought this trip would also be good for that. I'll need to research more on other options for things to do in port.

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On 5 February 2019 at 2:37 PM, CruiseOrLand said:

Puerto Caldera is a cargo port, most local trans is not allowed onto the pier. Shuttle service to entrance. Shades of Civittavecchia!

 

I think Wind Star and Star Breeze ..... were doing the same route in opposite directions last week, but it wasn't mentioned aboard ship ....., and we never did the "sailaround" I was hoping for.

 

Note that Colon is a scary dump of a place, so the low cost transfer from the Bristol Panama Hotel was very handy. Because our Embarcation was delayed, we had plenty of time to use the hotel's recommended car service company to visit Casco Viejo - even though the Pope had just been there, which Windstar could have mentioned in late communications with us.

 

The Balboa stop was Flamenco Marina, on the last island of the "Causeway." You might have hesitated to snorkel because of the fishkill we saw at the marina! Alas, the Frank Gehry Bio Museum is closed on Monday. Although Panama Vieja is also, it was specially opened for our and the CMV Magellan excursions.

 

They showed us where to snorkel off the nice Isla Parida picnic, but warned not to go around the point. Did not see pile of spare swim fins (brought our prescription masks), but didn't bother to snorkel.

 

Puerto Jimenez is very attractive, and they put out the water sports setup. We wanted to see Casa Orquideas (a botanical garden), and it's such a long ride that we also got a free hour of sighting both local species of dolphins, in quantity.


The Captain warned us that Quepos always has a heavy swell (made Zodiac boarding tricky, in fact) and he correctly said that he could not promise to provide ship-side water sports. There are plenty of nice beaches ashore here. However, while we were in Manuel Antonio NP (good excursion, departing at 6:45AM), they cleared the swimmers out when a crocodile was sighted! We weren't in the water at the time. MANP can be done independently here, but guides are valuable for spotting sloths and howler monkeys.

Thanks for all that info........really useful and much appreciated. 

 

Does anyone have any info on arranging transfers between San Jose airport and the  port?

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If you call the Windstar booking phone number, they will offer you a WIndstar transfer between Puerto Jimenez and either SJO or the company hotel, which may be the Marriott downtown. I was offered something around $149 p/p. But note that it is at least a two-hour ride. This is not extortion. I suspect the Windstar bus comes onto the pier, but I don't know for sure. Interestingly, the sales agent specifically warned me that we could NOT book their shuttle to SJO UNLESS we had an air ticket!

 

I looked at TripAdvisor for private company mentions, and came across Costa Rica Shuttle. But there were at least eight different companies waiting in the (outside security) parking lot at Puerto Jimenez. In fact, our driver was 15-minutes late (which probably counts as on-time in Costa Rica!) He had a logo-painted 10-passenger van, just for the two of us. I'd have preferred a sedan for comfort, because our trip included ONLY modern, paved highways and city roads. The P.J. pier shuttle takes less than two minutes to get to the parking lot outside.

 

I mainly went with a private company because we wanted to go to a very special botanical garden, beyond San Jose, right after the cruise, and fly home the next morning. Although I asked for a booking of two trips (P.J. to Lankester Gardens 8AM-11AM, Lankester Gardens to Doubletree Cariari 4PM-6PM), they (quite reasonably) said we had to take the vehicle for the whole day (but it was as our disposal, of course.) That was $280. Note that the Doubletree does NOT operate its own shuttle to the airport, so you have to pay a contract company for that transfer.

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Thanks again - all useful info.

 

I'm gradually getting on top of the planning!!....at least I now have hotels booked in Miami and Panama and flights organised!  

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On 2/8/2019 at 7:35 AM, CruiseOrLand said:

If you call the Windstar booking phone number, they will offer you a WIndstar transfer between Puerto Jimenez and either SJO or the company hotel, which may be the Marriott downtown. I was offered something around $149 p/p. But note that it is at least a two-hour ride. This is not extortion. I suspect the Windstar bus comes onto the pier, but I don't know for sure. Interestingly, the sales agent specifically warned me that we could NOT book their shuttle to SJO UNLESS we had an air ticket!

 

The flights departing late enough on the day of arrival would either get us back to Northern California really late (after midnight) or be red-eyes. Therefore, we booked a flight leaving early the next morning. I booked a room at one of the airport hotels (Courtyard by Marriott). We used the Windstar tour transfer that included a coffee plantation and and ox cart factory with a drop off at the airport. The hotel has a free airport shuttle so my plan was to use that to get from the airport to the hotel.

 

When they asked us for our flight information on board, I just told them that we were staying in an airport hotel for a departure the next day. It wasn't any issue. I don't see why it would be any different if one was just doing the transfer without the tour. 

 

As it turned out, the rest of the people on our tour were being dropped off at the Windstar hotel in San Jose. We were the only 2 with airport drop-off so they kindly dropped us off at our hotel instead.

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