The idea of travelling by cruise ship had never occurred to me until booking an 8 week trip to America. Eight weeks is a long time to fill in when you are continually on the move. The idea of boarding a ship without concern for transport from one place to another was appealing.
Soon enough with a little searching, I had a cruise picked out. With a little more research an even better option soon presented itself. Of course, before I knew it I was booked and had half of my time all worked out.
My Very First Cruise
The cruise that I selected as my first cruise experience is a 28-day Panama Canal cruise. The cruise is on board Holland America Line MS Statendam. Starting and ending in San Diego, including a total of 14 ports and two transits of the Panama Canal. This post will give a brief overview of the past 28 days with links to a few more detailed posts.
Boarding In San Diego, USA – 15th April 2011
San Diego is a great place to board a cruise. If you are flying in on the day, the airport is quite close to the cruise terminal. Or if staying for a couple of days some reasonable hotels are quite close to the cruise terminal.
I was waiting in the hotel foyer early to get the shuttle to the cruise ship. In the end, I likely could have walked without to much trouble, as it was only about 1.5km.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – 18th April 2011
The first port of call for the cruise was Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Since I had never been to Mexico, I was not sure what to expect here. Erring on the side of caution, I opted for taking a city and country tour, offered by the cruise ship.
Taking the tour here made for a much more enjoyable first stop I believe. Prior to this cruise, I had travelled a little, almost entirely in English speaking countries. Mexico was quite a different experience. I did consider heading out for a walk after the tour but the area did not seem safe to walk alone.
Huatulco, Mexico – 20th April 2011
The second stop in Mexico was Huatulco, a small seaside village. Although I would have liked to maximise the time here by taking a tour, there is little that was offered by the cruise line here. As it turns out, this worked out very well here.
Huatulco is a small town, the town centre is quite close to where the cruise ship docks. There was quite a lot of military and police walking around with rifles with could be a little disconcerting, however, it also has that little comfort knowing at least they are aware of potential problems and not ignoring this. In the end, I took a short walk to the shops, found a nice cafe and caught up on some emails, and then got in an hour at the beach.
Puerto Chiapas, Mexico – 21st April 2011
While the first two ports in Mexico were close to towns, Puerto Chiapas is somewhat isolated from anything much, and not within walking distance to see anything of interest. As such, I was very glad to have opted for a tour here.
There was a secondary motive for taking the tour here. The first part of the tour took us to see some of the ruins and artefacts around the area, while the second portion of the tour was visiting where they harvest cacao and a demonstration and sampling of how they make chocolate. The chocolate making and sampling were of course what peaked my interest.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala – 22nd April 2011
The next port of call kind of end up a little disappointing as it turned out that this was Good Friday and the tours offered were all cancelled as a result. There was an option for a bus trip to Antigua. However, I opted against this and enjoyed a little time in a cafe very near the port and some time on the ship.
Fuerte Amador, Panama – 24th April 2011
Our stop into Fuerte Amador was kind of like a bonus based on the timing of our transit through the Panama Canal. We arrived in the evening, so this was essentially a night time visit, and while there was not a lot to do, there were a couple of restaurants and gift shops to take walk around. The image above is the sunrise the following morning before the ship raised anchor and headed for the first of the locks to transit the Panama Canal.
Panama Canal, Panama, Eastbound – 25th April 2011
The Panama Canal was one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken. However, the amount of time that it saved ships travelling from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean is significant.
The above image is as the ship is approaching the Miraflores Locks, which are two of the three locks on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal. It is quite a different and exciting experience each time you transit the canal, even just comparing this transit and the one later on this cruise in the westerly direction.
Cartagena, Colombia – 26th April 2011
This stop in Columbia was a little different to the other ports on the cruise. While it is not somewhere that I had ever thought about travelling, since it was part of the cruise itinerary it was interesting to see.
It was very much a different and somewhat busier city than any of the other ports, with a lot of traffic, and at all the tourist spots a lot of street sellers. They were trying to sell just about everything from cold drinks, t-shirts and even curtains and table cloths. Even still on the tour that I joined here, I got to see some of the old city which is still a charming place.
Fort Lauderdale, USA – 29th April 2011
Fort Lauderdale was the half way point on this cruise, which meant there was a lot of people who departed the ship, and another group who joined. I was glad to be staying on as I think 14-days would have been too short.
I was lucky to be able to join with a few others from the cruise ship who were staying on, who had rented a car for the day. As such got to visit a few more places than if I had to find my way around. There was a visit to a fascinating flea market with some great priced clothing and also a visit to the beach.
Oranjestad, Aruba – 2nd May 2011
There were a couple of options for tours in Oranjestad. However, they did not seem too exciting, and I opted for walking the town and port to explore. The only problem, there were four cruise ships in the port today which made for a rather busy day in the town. Either way, it was nice to walk around the area and see some of the town, try some local food and see a little wildlife.
Panama Canal, Panama, Westbound – 4th May 2011
Entering the Panama Canal to travel west is a little different, unlike from the other direction where the locks are in two sets, the Gatun Locks are grouped together as one set of three. Also for the transit, through the locks, there were two other cruise ships ahead, unlike the cargo ships on the previous transit.
While the location is essentially the same, I think you do tend to experience the canal a little different each time. You will see different ships transiting at the same time as yours. You may see various parts of the canal (it is 77km long and takes 8-10 hours to transit), and you don’t spend the whole time watching.
Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica – 6th May 2011
To my knowledge, there was not a lot to do in Puerto Caldera, and rather than miss an opportunity to see some of Costa Rica since I was here, I decided to take a tour. The tour I choose was a little adventurous with a focus on zip lining. While I had previously as a child played on the flying fox in parks, these zip lines were a bit different.
There is a total of 10 zip lines strung between the trees. After a brief safety talk on the ground, we headed uphill via a short gondola ride and the only way down was via the zip lines. Each was a couple of hundred metres long, and you were just hanging between trees. A fun and exciting experience.
Huatulco, Mexico – 8th May 2011
The stop in Huatulco was the only port duplicated on the entire cruise. Having walked around the town last time, today I spent most of the day on the beach, enjoying the warm water and relaxing atmosphere here.
Acapulco, Mexico – 9th May 2011
I can honestly say this is the only port I would have been happy to skip. Although I could have chosen to take a tour here, there was nothing that got my interest. So I had planned maybe just a little walk around near the cruise ship. However, that plan changed when I spoke to some other people from the ship. After they experienced some interesting experiences with locals.
I decided it best to stay within the port area and onboard the ship. Much happier to stay out of way of potential problems. Some other cruise lines that at the time altered itineraries as a result of possible security risks. Even so, there were still some good views from the cruise ship, though.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico – 11th May 2011
Cabo San Lucas is my favourite port of call in Mexico from this cruise. In some ways, it does not even feel like the other ports in Mexico. The scenery is quite beautiful, with beaches as far as the eye can see. There are also some amazing stone features to the western side of the city.
The only downside to this port is that it is a tender port. Meaning that the ship anchors away from the city and the lifeboats are used to ferry passengers to shore. We were in port for a relatively short period when you consider the tender takes about 45 minutes each way.
San Diego, USA – 13th May 2011
San Diego has a lot to offer whether you are spending time before or after your cruise here. I opted for a couple of days after the cruise (partly because I had not planned anything else). I spent this time visiting a few areas like Seaport Village, The Old Town, Coronado Island, and The San Diego Zoo.
The Ports In More Detail
Part 1 – Explores Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Huatulco, Mexico, and Puerto Chiapas, Mexico.
Part 2 – Visits Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, Fuerte Amador, Panama and Eastbound Panama Canal Transit.
Part 3 – Explores Cartagena, Columbia, Fort Lauderdale, America and Oranjestad, Aruba.
Part 4 – Explores Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and Returning to San Diego.
I hope that you enjoyed this little taste of the ports of call for my cruise. You can probably already tell that I had some fun and get to see some very different places. The most enjoyable parts were the lifetime experiences on this cruise. Things like zip lining in Costa Rica and Transiting the Panama Canal twice.
So this is just a taste of the ports and more is available in the four posts listed above. As well as some more information about the ship, food, ports and the experience with pictures. I would love to hear about your first cruise if you would like to leave a comment below. You can connect with me on social media, pick your favourite social network below.