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.


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    bucketlist - Sorry about not seeing much fauna. When we were in the area this is some of what we saw:

    Capuchin monkey

    Howler monkey

    Loads of lizards

    Loads of pelicans

    Lots of other birds as well

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    Having been to Costa Rica at least four times, we love it there but to be honest you don’t see as much fauna as most people expect. Our highlight was having as many as three hummingbirds at a time perch on our fingers while feeding. I can’t recall which of our tours that was.

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    Tauck ought to include a Jungle Cruise on Lake Gatun with Capt Carl if it is still operating (I can't find info but our daughter said Capt Carl (Black), a Panama Canal institution, died a few years ago.) Part of the cruise included a trip and swim in one of the freshwater tributaries. We had a chance to meet one of his 'friends' on his floating restaurant/lodge.

    On Capt Carl's float with granddaughter and 'friend' in 2016.

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    What gadget does Tauck provide. Is it something that just fits on your ear so that the sound is directed to the microphone on the hearing aid?

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    Mike: Did you get the photo of the earpiece and hearing aid?

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    We took this tour starting In Panama several years ago when it was a new version. We had several issues, one of which was no Vox, no anything like that on the tour. I like to wander a bit while the TD is talking and look at the sites rather than having to look at his/her face to hear them sufficiently. so I found it really annoying. This and a few other issues was I think the only time I have called Tauck to make comment. SeaLord went on the following trip and also had issues. Tauck appreciate d the comments.Things were changed going forward.

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    edited February 2

    An off topic response, but we just returned from two weeks on Tauck’s partner the Wind Surf. Delightful as always. The ship is well maintained, but ‘dated’ and will be completely renovated in November. Can’t wait to get back aboard in January. Breakfast is breakfast (we seldom go), and lunch is lunch, but the evening meals on the Surf are really good. They have received many awards for their food. It is a ‘small’ six hundred foot long sail boat that carries only a bit more than three hundred guests, but is quite spacious. We know the ship and the people as this was our sixteenth trip on the Wind Surf. It is our home away from home. So we have a hundred and fifty days on the ship. Is that a-lot? The most frequent guests had three hundred days on the ship. It is not for everyone, but some of us like it a lot.

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    Hi bucketlist,

    We were on the same tour, but in the other hotels. I was going to do a review of the tour, but since you beat me to it, I'll just add some comments of my own.

    Currency and tipping: The currency in Costa Rica is the Colon, but dollars are widely accepted. In Panama, the currency is the US dollar, but coins are in Balboas ($1 US = $1 Balboa). In short, there is no need to exchange currency, dollars will do. On board ship, purchases (if you make any) are in Euros and charged to your card. Tipping guidelines are 10-20%. In Costa Rica tips are given in cash to the waiter, so it's a good idea to bring some small bills. In Panama, you can add the tip the credit card charge.

    Weather: Weather was pleasant in Costa Rica during the hotel stay. 70s and 80s. Dropping to sea level to board the ship, it got hot and sticky. Panama was even hotter. In Panama City it was a humid 93 (feels like 112 with the humidity).

    **Must haves: ** Sun block and a hat - the sun near the equator can be brutal. Bug repellent - though there were surprisingly few mosquitos, I would still recommend bug repellent. Despite using it, I did get a couple of small bites. Water shoes or sandals - all of the shore excursions except one involve wet beach landings in Zodiacs. You can expect to get wet up to your knees.

    **Hotels: ** We stayed at the Intercontinental in Costa Rica and the Hilton in Panama. Based on bucketlist's comment and other reports, they are the preferred choice. The Intercontinental was very nice. All of the Tauck guests were in the Club Tower, which gets you access to the Club Suite on the second floor - free snacks and a free happy hour in the early evening. The Marketplace restaurant (also the breakfast restaurant) is good for a casual meal. There are also fancier restaurants in the hotel. Choices outside the hotel involve calling a Uber. The Hilton in Panama City is in the upper part of a high rise along the waterfront. The service was generally good, but they seem to still be recovering from the pandemic. A few repair issues in our room. The breakfast buffet was adequate, but not as good as most Tauck hotels. Espresso drinks and sparkling water were an extra charge at breakfast. The farewell dinner entree was really bad, rubber chicken and dried out salmon. Fortunately, the dessert was good. The entertainment was excellent, with dancers from the dinner theater also located in the hotel. For a casual meal, the Saquella Espresso Club, located on the pool level of the Hilton has good sandwiches, salads, pastas and risottos. Other restaurants are nearby in the Yoo Building (two buildings to the west of the Hilton) and in the strip mall a block to the east.

    Ponant Ship: - Ponant is a luxury cruise line. The luxury is mostly in the small size of the ship. The food was generally good, although the menu descriptions were sometimes vague. One person was delivered a burger that was raw inside - twice in a row. Hopefully, this was an isolated incident that will be corrected. The seas were rough in the Caribbean, after passing through the canal. The puke bags were brought out and some (including me) skipped dinner that night. You may wish to come prepared, if you have a history of motion sickness. Other than the one night, seas were very calm. Internet is very slow and some apps may not function well. Email and internet messaging work pretty well.

    **Tour Directors ** - Upon arriving, the group was divided into 5 groups, each with an assigned tour director (three groups at our hotels, two at the Marriotts. Except for the ship excursions, you stay with your assigned director. The TDs were very good, better the usual cruise TDs (which I think are generally a step down from the TDs that do land tours). Since they were training several new TDs, this may vary in the future.

    Excursion Options: - Given that our options changed after booking, I won't try to describe them. They will probably change again. The options were poorly described, so you may wish to call Tauck to try and get some better information. They really should offer videos to help you choose. Be sure you have made choices for all the options. Somehow, we missed booking for one of the days and had to straighten it out when we arrived. So check your choices against the itinerary to make sure you've got all the days covered. Lots of nice handicrafts visiting the indiginous people. Have some dollars in cash, if that interests you.

    Wildlife: - Sounds like we saw more wildlife than bucketlist did. We saw sloths (including a mother with a baby), capuchin monkeys, iguanas and crocodiles. Many species of birds including macaws and a toucan. We heard howler monkeys but didn't see one. It's hit or miss. One walk, the only thing we saw of interest were leaf cutter ants. Lots of captive wildlife at the Waterfall Gardens preserve (including the best butterfly enclosure I've ever seen).

    Overall: - A nice wintertime tropical getaway. Very relaxing. The Panama Canal crossing is a bucket list item for many. There is one sea day going from Costa Rica to Panama, so plan something to keep yourself entertained. There will be presentations on that day and there is a limited selection of on-demand movies on the TV.

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    Just returned from last Costa Rica Panama Canal cruise yesterday. Feb 15-26th. 2024.
    Lodging in CR was OK. We had a leak from above in our room. The staff 'Fixed it" but wouldn't allow us to change rooms. I don't like feces and urine running into our bathroom, but we somehow survived and were glad to leave the Intercontinental Hotel.

    Cruise ship Le Dumont d'Urville was excellent. Food was excellent. Tauck Staff and guides were very attentive and good. No problems at all. Highly recommended. 150 people, half a dozen Canadians, the rest USA.

    Weather was during dry season. Spit rain for 10 min one day. Otherwise weather dry and hot. No bugs. Humidity oppressive except at sea. Saw most of the Rain Forest Critters (Monkeys above) Croc's Birds rodents etc. You get your moneys worth in Nature.
    Ubura natives were very friendly. Snorkled the reef at San Blas. Very nice

    Canal Cruise was very interesting. Captain of ship (Capt. Regis) was engaged and very good.

    Nice trip and up to Tauck standards. We were entertained and treated very well. Recommend.

    The season is now over for this tour.

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