Some Observations: First Tour of 2024
We just returned from the January 15, 2024 Costa Rica Panama Canal trip:
• All 3 Tauck trips this year travel west to east. This was the first tour this year. Overall the trip was quite good.
• The Ponant ship, crew and food were excellent. Costa Rica and Panama use US standards for electricity. However, this is a French ship, so bring a two prong adaptor. You may want to bring a multi USB port as I could only find one in the room. There were lectures, briefings and video programs in the theater. I believe there was also live entertainment there also, but we did not go. We never felt crowded - just happy!
• Tauck chartered the entire vessel. @144 guests, 5 TDs, a few Tauck Trainees.
• The naturalists and the speakers Tim Martin and Mr. Torres were excellent. TDs and TGs good to excellent.
• Didn’t see much wild fauna.
• Weather was excellent; hotter in Panama than Costa Rica. No bugs.
• Most excursions were easy and there were some highlights such as visitng the Embera people in the Darién region in Panama.
• Tauck changed excursion choices several times at the last minute. Substituted a tractor wagon ride for the Pure Vida Gardens at the last minute. It was a noisy, bumpy ride through a 30 year old jungle over a river bed owned by the hotel where lunch was served. We hated it as well as others. It added nothing to the other jungle excursions and the wildlife if any, would have scattered.
• We were in the Marriotts – poor locations. There were management issues at both hotels.
Panama JW Marriott was formerly a Trump Tower. It was dated, had cleanliness issues and odd rooms…the sinks and tub were in the room. The pools were nice although odors emanated from the hotel when I went in the morning. No USB ports in our room and the outlets were very slow in charging our devices. I understand some rooms had a USB port on the desk. The Italian restaurant La Vespa behind the hotel was excellent with excellent prices.
San Jose Marriott was updated during Covid. The La Isabella steak house and Bar 10 at the San Jose Marriott were very good. I was told the Italian restaurant at the strip mall next to the hotel was good. We went on the 11 am “historic” tour offered by the hotel. The hotel was built in 1996, and is decorated in a historic style. Décor included “antiques” from various places, most not Costa Rican. It was followed by a brief discussion of the coffee trade and "ritual" tasting. This tasting was not duplicative of what we experienced the next day with Tauck at a coffee plantation.
• There was little opportunity for shopping: a few generic gift shops and opportunity to purchase some native crafts from the Embera and Kuna people. Old Panama City looked like a potential place to shop, but we were whisked off to the hotel to check in after a short walking tour.
• I note there has been discussion on the Forum of the earpieces for the tour guide system and hearing aids for the headset. We had VOX headsets for the tours. There was two types of earpieces, one that is compatible with hearing aids. I had no trouble. No need for expensive gadgets.