Panama Canal tour, partial review and tips
We are on the Panama Canal Tour, beginning in Panama City, ending in San Jose, Costa Rica. The First tour on the new ship, Le Champlain. We were at an advantage from the start as we had been on the sister ship, Le Laperouse in the summer and only one of the tour directors had been on that ship. We had a mid priced state room on deck 5. We knew exactly how to use it to it’s advantage because on our previous ship we were in a nearby room. We are near an elevator, it is a silent elevator so do not be afraid choosing a room near one. We found it an advantage to use that instead of the stairs for speed of getting around the boat.
On day three, I started with the symptoms of a cold and did not feel very wonderful for maybe 48 hours and had a cough too. I hardly ever get colds, but there were others around coughing. Today I am fine.
Panama City. Was a great surprise to me, the Hilton hotel is in a central location in the new skyscraper part of the area right on the Bay of Panama. Good rooms, fabulous swimming pool, great treatments at the spa etc. The view from the room was spectacular, look out for turkey and black vultures circling outside your window plus frigate birds too.
We walked into the old city by going across the main roadway via a bridge right outside the hotel onto a bayside ‘promenade’. A brisk 45 minute walk to the old city, a public bathroom halfway there. We strolled around the city enjoying both the very old dilapidated buildings and the renovated ones, plus all the extra painting going on because the Pope is about to visit. We were glad we did this on our own because the Tauck guided tour of the town was not very good in comparison but it would really depend on which group and local guide you found you were with.
Most of the few stores here give ample opportunities to buy Panama hats. Be sure you chose one that is crushable and one that is woven and not just stamped out, check with the vendor about these things. And this will of course reflect the price. The day we were there, there were a few market craft stalls in one of the squares, hats and jewelry the main choices. Dollars are the currency in Panama.
If you have sensitivities and allergies, one thing to be aware of at the Hilton, they have a fairly strong air freshener type sent wafting through the public areas. I am not very sensitive to this but it certainly made my nose twitch before the cold kicked in. In addition the bathrooms have scented toilet paper. I came across this last in Ecuador and I am sensitive to that, be careful!
The ship also has a very strong perfume wafting in the public areas which is totally overpowering. I will be surprised if people do not complain about it. I have not made comment, but it is horrible.
Once we got onto the ship we began to relax. This is the most relaxing Tauck tour we have been on so far, lots of time to chill out, and surprisingly I am enjoying it after a busy few months at home.
The second night was the Captain’s Welcome dinner and we were invited to his table along with eight other people. We have had this privilege before, it depends on your seniority of the number of Tauck tours you have taken, so it’s a great perk for all the tours we have taken and loyalty to Tauck. If you have taken lots of tours with Tauck, you might be invited. The menu is slightly more fancy for you and the wines a little better. You have to sit where your name card is. It was unfortunate that the lady sitting to my left, the wife was having very bad Motion sickness and looked quite green, she ate nothing and hardly said a word, she left the table at dessert and never returned. Her husband, you had to just drag a few words out of him. It was hard work, as surprisingly as regular readers of my posts may find, I don’t find conversations with strangers that easy.
The first two nights on the ship, there was a lot of motion, when walking around you had to grasp the railings in the corridors. My husband and I were fine, but I understand that quite a few people suffered the affects.
Our visit to the San Blas islands was lovely, just like a desert island. There were native people selling Mola crafts and beaded things.
The passage through the Panama Canal was wonderful, far more exciting than I had imagined. You get to see a film about the Canal before the passage in the ship’s theatre and realize what an incredible engineering feat it was and is.
The day visiting the Enbera peoples.....today for us .....is magical. You will watch a video of how it goes and get a talk the night before from the tour directors. The exit from the zodiacs to the beach is wet and can be tricky bit you are in good hands. Take your phone and cameras in waterproof bags. Wear toe covered Teva or Keen sandals for protection and to navigate the walk along the beach and to make your way up the rocky path to the ceremonial enclosure where you will meet the Enbera people, very beautiful, photogenic and welcoming. Be prepared that the people wear very little clothing, the men just a loincloth and the women bare breasted. You will have the opportunity to get a semi permanent ink tattoo from them, I have one, they say it will last about seven days. They do not expect money when you take photos. One lady took pencils and stickers for the children. I asked one of the tour directors if this was appropriate, he said yes, but you must not offer money. I personally did not like the idea of giving out the pencils plus there were a lot of children and your photos looked less authentic because they were all clutching the darned pencils and stickers. The best way to pay back is to buy the crafts. I am not sure that lady bought more than a small trinket, I bought several items, which I always do because that’s a great way of giving money in a meaningful way. The baskets are beautiful and prices vary from say $10 to over $100 for the bigger but exquisite ones. There is beaded type jewelry too.
We partly chose the date for this particular tour because there was going to be a BBC wildlife film maker on board, Tim Martin. He is a great guy, he is readily available to talk to throughout the tour and we ate lunch with him one day. He has given one wonderful lecture and is due to give two more. We are glad we chose the tour for this reason. We think Tauck should offer this again.
I hope Sealord finds this useful. Time to read my book before the origami lesson!