Cruise Central America
One of the advantages of travelling on a small ship is the up-close-and-personal experience of adventure cruising that is intimate yet thrilling. Small-ship cruising in Central America is especially exciting for seafarers who are interested in docking in remote ports inaccessible by larger ships and experiencing a naturalist’s dream of skimming along rugged coastlines and spotting an unusual fish leaping or a rare bird soaring down the wind.
There are several interesting itineraries aboard Cruise West’s 100-passenger Pacific Explorer. For those who want to experience as much as possible in 10 days, the “Between Two Seas” program, generally available from November to April, includes a transit of the Panama Canal – awe-inspiring from a small ship; Costa Rica’s famed Manuel Antonio National Park; the lovely Orchid House on Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce; deserted islands off Panama’s Pacific coastline; Panama’s historic town of Portobelo; and the opportunity to interact with Kunu Indians in Panama’s San Blas Islands and with the Embera people in Panama’s Darien Jungle.
For those with a little less time, the eight-day “Gems of Costa Rica” (nerally November and December) concentrates on the natural wonders of Costa Rica: the Curu Wildlife Refuge; the Corcovado Conservation Area; Manuel Antonio Park; and other nature-oriented stops along the Costa Rican coastline.
Don’t miss the wildlife
Shore excursions are definitely a highlight of the Pacific Explorer experience (most are included in the price of the cruise): guided naturalist hikes; world-class birdwatching; guided tours by inflatable raft; kayaking; and snorkelling.
The few shore excursions that do have an extra charge include scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, a tour of the rainforest tour and selected city tours.
With only 50 cabins and varied public spaces, there’s never a feeling of crowds aboard the 185-foot Pacific Explorer. The itineraries and experience are emphasized over onboard amenities, so first-timers should not expect a casino or spa but they should expect to become big fans of small-ship cruising with its remote ports of call and personalized service; enrichment lectures by expert local naturalists; snorkel and kayak gear with instructions and guides; inflatable launches to provide access to remote locations without docks (where larger cruise ships don’t dare venture); and creative American cuisine with Latin American specialties served in a casual restaurant with open seating, out on the Sun Deck or perhaps on a remote beach.
The Pacific Explorer’s cabins feature carpeting, artwork and basic amenities, which include private bathrooms with showers, in-room TV monitor and VCR (there is a small video lending library) and a large view window that opens.
The Pacific Explorer has three main public areas: the Tucan Lounge is the staging area for excursions on the inflatable rafts from the rear of the ship, as well as the location for many talks about past and upcoming experiences; the Cacatua Lounge is a favourite for watching the ship’s progress and quiet reading or research time; and the lively Tortuga Bar Sun Deck offers both covered and open areas, with lots of barstools and tables for conversation between passengers and ever-present staff. This is the most popular social area on the ship.
The typical Pacific Explorer guest is around 55, but passengers range from very young to their 90s. Most are well-travelled and in search of the soft-adventure experiences the ship offers. Dress is casual throughout the ship and trip.
The number of repeat passengers on any Cruise West sailing is always amazing, but the Pacific Explorer typically has many Cruise West veterans exploring the line’s most recent offering. After just a day aboard this ship in Central America, it’s easy to see why.