Panama Canal - Miami to San Diego
by The McKees
Karen and Tom McKee in Hualtuco, MX
We did have a great time but came home sick. Caught colds two days before arriving in San Diego. Something was going around the ship and even though everybody was good about using the hand sanitizer, even some of the entertainers got sick. Even with that, the entertainment director managed to provide excellent shows each evening. We were really impressed. The daily offerings were plentiful, and I took advantage of some—Tom wasn't intrigued but played poker instead (and won a couple of times!!). I was a little miffed that so many of the daily activities were an additional $20, but went with the flow. We both loved having the balcony. Quiet time sitting out there and watching the ocean is something I can't explain but it is somehow inside my soul. I now wish I had spent more time out there than in other venues on board.
Going through the canal is so very cool. I think everyone on board was getting sunburned that day taking pictures. I know I did. SPF 50 didn't seem to work that far south!!! The ship provided lectures on the Panama Canal from a man who spent his youth living there. He was very good, and it sure added to the experience of going through the canal.
NCL Leaving Gatun - Lock 1. We are entering on the right hand side.
The Constellation is a beautiful ship. We thought it much better laid out than the Golden Princess we were on in '07. Also, we thought the staff was friendlier and the food much, much better. Service was terrific. The down side was the waiting to get off the ship for tours in the ports, waiting to get onto the boat the day we left and getting off on arrival in San Diego. We have talked to Customer Relations about it as I'm sure lots of people have. We were 4 hours in line on departure day (10 to 2), and 2 hours in San Diego trying to get off. I'm sure lots of folks missed their flights because there were some very upset passengers that morning. Something was amiss in Cabo and the tenders took forever, so we didn't get off the ship until 11:30 (docked at 8 am) and then had to be back before sailing at 3:00. Comedy of errors I guess, but at the time it wasn't funny. For some reason we can't put our fingers on, we felt the presence of our shipmates more than on our only other cruise. We talked to a couple from Sequim, Washington who cruise a lot (this was their 22nd cruise), and they said they were used to the crowds on board, but that the long waits were not common and that it was something with this particular ship.
The tours we booked were excellent. All the guides were very informative and professional. We did a city tour in Cartagena, a canopy/river tour (me) and zip line (Tom) in Puntarenas Costa Rica and another city tour in Acapulco. Huatulco we visited ourselves on foot (great little town to revisit) and Cabo San Lucas we just walked for an hour or so because we didn't book a tour there (have been there before) and had to wait to get on the tenders to follow those folks who had booked tours. My favorite was the canopy ride and river tour (up close and personal with the crocodiles) in Puntarenas; Tom's was the zip line there.
Going Up - Pacific Rainforest Aerial Tram, Puntarenas
The ship sent me a note on the second day stating that they were aware of my food allergy and that I should talk to the assistant maître d’. I did that, and the next night our waiter knew and was just excellent about making sure that what I ordered was gluten free, or, the cook did not put any sauce or gravy on my selection. So, that worked out well. We tipped our waiters and room steward over and above the daily rate the ship takes out automatically because they really worked at 110%. I noticed toward the end of the cruise, that gluten free bread was offered in the buffet lines for breakfast and lunch in the same baskets with white and wheat. So I obviously wasn't the only one. Again, the food on this ship and the selections were really excellent. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, so you could eat healthy anytime you wanted.
Oh, I forgot to tell you about the Wyndham Hotel. It was a horrible experience. I think the hotel was full of cruise passengers because in the morning the lobby was packed with people. The restaurant was backlogged, the hotel staff were rude, (really) and our room was like a bad Motel 6. The dresser had two drawer pulls hanging off and the room needed painting. It took 6 buses to pick us all up and take us to the port. I think next time maybe a real Motel 6 near the port where nobody else wants to stay might be better.
We talked to Celebrity about the Wyndham, and I bet many others did too. The hotel management must have let it go since Celebrity first started using it. Or, maybe because it gets so much use, they can't keep up with the maintenance. However, they do need to know that their staff was rude. Again, in hindsight, I wonder if the staff are so tired of dealing with so many people when a ship sails, maybe the turnover rate is high. I just know I would never stay there again, and we're pretty easy to please.
So all in all we had a great time but tempered with some experiences we don't want to repeat. I do think we had great value for the cruise though, so thank you for all your help.