Panama Canal Cruise on the Celebrity Infinity
11/4/14 to 11/19/14
Due to the length of the review, it is in three parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of each page.
Page 1 - Embarkation, Ship, Dining, Entertainment and Activities
Page 2 - Ports of Call: Cartagena, Colombia; Colon, Panama; Panama Canal; Puntarenas, Costa Rica
Page 3 - Ports of Call: Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Ports of Call
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
The port was very industrial with what looked like a power plant adjoining it.
We had to cross over a bridge to get to the terminal from the ship. We passed through a small shopping area next to the terminal that might be of use on our return.
We were glad we had booked a private tour, since there didn’t appear to be much to do near the port terminal. I had booked Carlos Mijangos with Guatemalan Guide (www.guatemalanguide.com). He had an excellent reputation and he proved to us why he did. He had a great personality and put together a great itinerary for us.
Our major destination for the day was the UNESCO World Heritage site city of Antigua. The 500 year old city is in the middle of the earthquake region and surrounded by three large volcanos. It was the original colonial capital before being destroyed by a major earthquake in 1773; which resulted in the capital being moved to the current Guatemala City. It is the place to visit when in Puerto Quetzal. Carlos had a nice van; but it only held 10 passengers, which was exactly how many of us were taking the tour. With it being a 1.5 hour drive to Antigua, we wanted a larger van, so we would have some extra room. He apologized and said that he would have the larger van after we arrived in Antigua for the rest of the tour.
As we were driving to Antigua, Carlos pointed out what is called a “Chicken Bus”. They are privately owned, brightly colored busses that are a major source of transportation in the area. Over the day we would see many more in all different colors.
When we arrived in Antigua, we were surprised at how cool it was. Carlos told us that with an elevation of 5,029 feet, it is mild all year round; which is part of the appeal for tourists. Carlos turned us over to a guide named Sergio to show us around the city. Sergio was a real expert on Antigua and did an excellent job.
He walked us over to the main square, Central Park. Notice the cobblestone streets. Skateboards were not popular in Antigua.
On one side of Central Park is the Palace of the Captains-General, which is used as the city hall.
Across from the city hall was a nice view of the Volcano of Water. It destroyed the original Antigua in 1543 with a lahar, which is a debris flow composed of mud and water. That is how the volcano got its name. After the destruction, the city was moved five miles away to its current location. On our drive into town we also saw the Volcano of Fire which is 20 miles away. It is an active volcano and we could see the smoke coming from it. We were glad that was all we saw coming from it, since it did spew lava and ash as recently as 2012. I couldn’t get any photos of it.
On another side of Central Park is the Cathedral of San Jose.
Sitting outside was a young lady in the brightly colored clothing of the area knitting some goods to sell.
Sergio took us inside to tell us about the church. It appeared rather small for a cathedral; but the designation is honorary due to its past history. The current church occupies a space that was just an entrance hall for the original cathedral.
There were some interesting artifacts including a version of the Last Supper.
Sergio took us out back to where there was another entryway.
We could also see a church dome with a volcano in the distance.
The highlight of the visit to the cathedral was actually the ruins of the original main cathedral that was accessed through the entryway. What an amazing cathedral it must have been! It had been huge, as this diagram of the original cathedral shows. The shaded area is all that is used today.
I was enthralled by the numerous open domes. I couldn’t take enough photos to help preserve memories of the amazing structure.
The intricate plaster figures and moldings amongst all the ruins was a small glimpse into the glory that it once was.
After leaving the cathedral, we walked through Central Park past the Fountain of the Sirens built in 1743.
We continued down the ancient streets until we came to a small boutique hotel named La Posada de Don Pedro. Sergio said that it is one of the best hotels in the city.
He brought us there to show us the lovely flowered courtyard.
We continued on passing through the Arch of Santa Catalina; which is the symbol of the city. Looking through the arch we could see the dome of our destination the La Merced Church in the background.
Looking back to see the other side of the arch, the Volcano of Water dominated the skyline.
We were intrigued with the tile work under a roof of one of the old homes.
As we approached the side of La Merced Church, we could see that it was quite lovely with the white decorations on the yellow background.
When we came around the corner and saw the front, we knew why Sergio had taken us there. It was just a gorgeous facade with such intricate decorations. I was impressed.
During the day we would see many Antiguans in there brightly colored clothes.
Looking up in the mountain above the city, we could see the Hill of the Cross. I had seen it high in the mountains earlier in our walk. Since it was pretty far away, I switched to my telephoto lens to get a closer photo of it.
While I had the telephoto lens on, I also took a shot of the peak of the Volcano of Water. With an elevation of 12,340 feet, it was a prime location for communication towers. I also had to take another photo of it from a different angle. I took so many volcano photos that day.
We continued toward our next destination. While walking down the pretty street, we got a kick out of the ceramic owls sitting in a window.
We then got to a market where we could shop for local handicrafts; as well as take a restroom break. There were so many individual shops competing for the tourist’s business. Most of the shops appeared to have the same type of items for sale. Sergio told us that this market was authentic and all of the items were locally made. Carol purchased a pink jade pendant and earrings, and a small painting to remind us of the lovely city of Antigua.
Carol was captured by the appearance of the local women. The young girls were so beautiful that she took a picture of a lovely young girl caring for her younger sister as the momma works in the background.
I got tired of shopping, plus it was warm inside the market, so I walked out a side entrance of the market. To my amazement there was a gorgeous church facade right beside the market. It was the ruins of Iglesia de El Carmen church.
I walked to the front of the church and saw that a gate prevented entrance to the ruins; but I could still look inside. It was amazing how many gorgeous churches were in Antigua. Sergio told us that there had been 32 at one time. It must have been quite a site to have all the churches in their new condition before the numerous earthquakes destroyed so many of them.
Since everyone was getting very tired of walking, Sergio called Carlos to ask him to pick us up at the market rather than the originally designated spot near Central Park. It was nice to see that Carlos had the larger van. It felt good to finally be able to sit down for a while too. Sergio left us at that point. He had been a great guide and we were all glad to have had a chance to meet him.
Carlos was going to drive us to the town of San Antonio Aguas Calientes. On the way we passed many Chicken Busses. Here are a couple of them.
When Carlos sent me the itinerary prior to booking the tour, it showed that we would be visiting a Mayan village where we would have a Guatemalan meal prepared by Mayan women. We would also get to learn about the Guatemalan culture first hand, since it also included a project he supports that helps the local children, www.ninosconbendicion.com. We didn’t know what to expect; but trusted our guide. Coming into the town, we could see that it was quite poor, like many of the towns we had passed through. We saw a couple women coming back from a market.
Carlos took us into a home and sat us down in an area where a group of brightly clothed children were waiting for us. They were just precious.
They then formed around a sign they held up to show the new school that they were going to start construction on in 2015. This organization helps the poor children of the area both in educating and feeding them.
Each child came out from the group and introduced themselves telling us their name and age. They were so cute.
They then did some dances that showed about how the Mayans planted and harvested the crops.
The children then went up to us to ask us to dance with them. Some of us joined them in the circle.
The whole experience was actually quite special. We really enjoyed it.
We were then moved to a different area where we were shown how Mayans made tortillas. A woman showed us how to roll out the dough and then take some of the dough to mold it in her hands to form the tortilla. She made it look quite easy. She asked if anyone wanted to try rolling out the dough. Gail and Carole accepted the offer. They also did a good job of forming a tortilla after many attempts to get it right. It wasn’t as easy as it looked. My Carol wasn’t quite as successful as Gail and Carole, but she said she had fun trying. Fortunately, I didn’t have to eat her efforts!
We then moved to a table for the Guatemalan lunch. It was a soup with chicken and vegetables. I really liked the spices used in the soup. We also had a bunch of the handmade tortillas. It was obvious which one of them Carol had made. We also had a choice of drinks. I chose the local Guatemalan beer, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
After lunch we looked through the various handmade items for sale in the main room where the kids had danced. They were quite lovely, so we picked up a few souvenirs. Everyone wanted to have photos with the kids, so I took one of Carol.
Carol snapped this one of two of the precious little girls. I couldn't resist taking a photo of this lovely, beautifully dressed girl.
Carlos told us that he had already made contributions for lunch and entertainment; but we gave additional money before we left. It had been a most enjoyable visit and a great way to have lunch while experiencing the Mayan culture. It was also quite a generous act of Carlos to bring us there and support the school; rather than just giving us extra time in Antigua to have lunch on our own. It just showed us what a good man he was and made me so glad we had chosen him to be our guide for the day.
On our way to the last destination for the day, Carlos pointed out the brightly colored cemetery. It was still decorated from the recent All Saints Day celebration on Nov. 1.
We then stopped at a macadamia nut farm. We had no idea that they grew them in Guatemala. This one was started many years ago and grows everything organically. We first passed by large drying tables, where the nuts would sit for several weeks before they would be sent to the processing plant nearby.
The guide showed us the part of the plant where the nuts would grow. It looked quite different from the fully grown nuts.
He then showed us the method to sort the nuts by size so that they can go through a cracking machine at a different location. It was interesting to see the nuts just roll down until they fell into the right bag below the racks.
The guide pointed out a large group of poinsettias and told us that Guatemala is the major producer in the world for them. Carol and I had our photo taken in front of a large poinsettia plant.
We also got to see some coffee plants with their beans in different stages of ripening.
After we left the farm, we passed by some workers carrying bags of coffee beans on their backs. We also saw a person riding a cart made from a bicycle that was used for carrying wood.
After Carlos dropped us off, we checked out the local shops set up in the port area; but after seeing so many local crafts, there wasn’t much that we were interested in. It had been quite a day. Carlos had provided us with a most memorable eight hour visit to Guatemala.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
The sky showed off with some pretty colors for our arrival into Puerto Vallarta. As we docked, I could see the local bull fighting ring.
Unlike many of our friends on the cruise, we had never been to Puerto Vallarta. A couple from our roll call had set up a tour that we were going to share with them and another couple, Harold and Patricia. Due to some family medical issues, the couple that booked it had to cancel their cruise; but the four us still wanted to do it. I was so glad that we did, since Puerto Vallarta turned out to be a wonderful port stop.
Our guide for the day was Cervando Ocegueda (email@example.com). He was such a nice guy and so excited to show us his beautiful city. Since Carol was still using her walking cane, Cervando went out of his way to make the tour as easy for her and accommodate her in every way possible.
Our first destination after a brief tour of the area was to the Malecon, a pedestrian promenade that runs alongside the beach. The walkway itself has decorative tile designs that keep you looking down as you walk.
But at the same time there are numerous statues that encourage you to look up and all around. It is very good neck exercise.
Harold and Patricia took our photo in front of a statue of a couple, so we returned the favor.
There were so many different statues, some of them rather strange.
Cervando told us that the Boy on the Seahorse statue has become the symbol of Puerto Vallarta. Cervando told us to meet him at the statue, and he would go to get the van.
The beach along the Malecon was most inviting, although there weren’t many people on it. I saw that there was a statue at the very end of the Malecon, so I had to walk down there quickly to get a photo before the van arrived back to pick us up. It was a lovely statue with three dolphins.
We then headed for the old town area. Some of the roads certainly felt like they were from the original old town.
Cervando took us to a place where there was a small tower that we could climb to get a nice panoramic photo.
He was right. It was a great view.
We could see one of the symbols of the city, the crown on the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
A pivotal point in Puerto Vallarta’s popularity occurred when director John Huston filmed his movie The Night of the Iguana near there in 1963. The media flocked to the area to get stories about the stars of the movie. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were having an extramarital affair while in Puerto Vallarta. After Burton and Taylor later married they bought a house named Casa Kimberly that was in two buildings across the street from one another. Burton stayed in one and Taylor the other, so Burton built what they called the Love Bridge to connect them. It is a popular tourist destination to take photos of.
We continued our drive through the old town and were surprised to see a tree in the middle of one of the streets.
We stopped at a scenic overlook to look at the beach and a new marina. It was an unusual design.
We stopped several more times to take photos of the breathtaking views.
At one stop a young man was holding a large iguana. He wanted to know if I wanted to hold the large lizard for a photo. I petted him; but decided that I could live without holding him.
We then stopped to get photos of a couple of the Marietta Islands, which are very popular snorkeling and diving spots.
Cervando asked us if we wanted to visit a place called Chico’s Paradise. It would take us about 10 minutes out of the way; but he thought we would enjoy it. The enrichment speaker on the ship, when discussing what we would see in Puerto Vallarta, had mentioned that Chico’s Paradise was a spot we should visit if possible; but hadn’t told us why. It sounded like a good idea; and oh was it ever. Chico’s Paradise is a restaurant and the entrance to the property didn’t look like much. When we entered, it was a huge building and very tropical.
Cervando was anxious to show us the view from the back of the restaurant. Oh my goodness, it was not what I was expecting. The restaurant was on a hill and it backed up to a gorgeous waterfall. You can tell the size of it by comparing the falls to the people in the upper left corner of the photo.
I had to go outside to get a better view. This was so beautiful and totally different from anything we had seen before on the cruise. It was special indeed. The restaurant was built to take advantage of the beautiful scenery.
There was a viewing platform across the stream that was accessible further up the road; or I could walk across a narrow wooden board to get to it. Cervando kept telling me that I could do it and the board was very safe. I guess I didn’t want the photo that badly. I was happy with what I had and didn’t want to risk an accident.
We wished that we had time to eat at the restaurant because the menu looked very good; but we were only in port from 7:00 AM until 2:30 PM. Much too short a visit for this attraction filled tourist destination. We had a couple more stops to make and had to leave. We were going to visit Mama Lucia’s tequila distillery (www.tequilamamalucia.com). Cervando thought we would enjoy it, so we trusted his judgment. Once again he was right.
He showed us the agave plants that are used to make tequila. The leaves are cut off to just leave the heart. The displayed heart was a small one. Mature hearts can weigh between 80 and 300 pounds.
Cervando then introduced us to our guide for the tour, who was a son of the owners, the Leyva family. He was a real character.
He showed us how the hearts are cut up and then the juice squeezed out of the plant. The juice is then cooked. The results looked like a big pot of dirty water. Not real appetizing.
That all changes when it is distilled.
After he explained the distilling process, he took us over to the tasting counter. He would tell us about the different types of tequila they made and pour us a sample. Before we could taste it he would make a toast with very cute sayings and an ear blasting yell. After several samples, the yell didn’t sound that bad; and I was actually looking forward to it. On the Mama Lucia website (www.tequilamamalucia.com) is a video that shows him doing the toasts. The video shows exactly what we experienced, but since there were only 4 of us on the tour, he poured full sample cups and yelled much louder. We were having a good time. I was glad that Cervando passed on the sampling because he was driving.
Because this was a distillery rather than a factory, the product is handmade using age old methods. It is therefore a higher quality and so much smoother than other tequila. Because they distill off the methane, there is no headache in the morning. We can attest to that fact since we did have our share of the product! Carol even liked it and bought a bottle. Very unusual indeed.
Our last stop would be at the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe we had seen earlier. Since it was on the way back to the ship, he asked if we wanted to see the interior. With it being Sunday, church had just finished and everyone was leaving. The traffic was totally stopped on the street anyway, so we got out of the van to take some quick photos since he wouldn’t be able to park. It was a nice church; but it didn’t take long to take a few photos and leave.
The traffic hadn’t moved much, so we were able to get back on the van not far from where we had gotten out of it. Then it cleared up and we were able to go back to the ship. We were so glad we had taken this tour. Cervando was a super nice guy and an excellent guide. It had been another great touring day.
As we were leaving port, I was able to get some photos of the beautiful resorts along the beaches. The combination of beaches, mountains and lots of attractions make Puerto Vallarta a great destination. It is certainly the nicest beach town that we have been to in Mexico.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
The reason we had to leave Puerto Vallarta so early was so that we could get to Cabo by 7:00 AM. We would only be there until 3:00 PM, so they needed to arrive early to allow enough time there. We arrived just after sunrise and the light made the area look quite pretty. It looked like rush hour on the seas with all the fishing boats leaving at the same time. They just kept coming and coming.
Cabo was our only port where we would need to tender in. Since we had previously been to Cabo on a land vacation, we hadn’t booked a tour this time. Carol was going to stay on the ship; but I wanted to get off to see what kind of shape Cabo was in, since it had been hit by a category 3 hurricane just 33 days earlier. There had been reports of major damage and ships weren’t even allowed to stop there for several weeks, so we didn’t know what to expect. From the ship, everything looked to be in great shape.
My friend Bob went with me to explore town. The tender ride was quick and we were greeted by dancers in fancy Mexican attire.
Two businesses just off the dock still had some pretty serious damage; but that was the worst we saw. Everything else around the main area was in very good shape.
While checking everything out, Bob spotted some people on the top of a pole. There were four men in traditional Mexican dance attire that were getting ready to perform. We didn’t wait around to see it.
Bob wanted to go into the Giggling Marlin Bar & Grill. He had been here before and had been talking about how they hang people upside down and pour liquor into them. It didn’t sound that appealing. Bob offered to pay if I wanted to try. He knew he had nothing to lose with that offer. Since it was still early, the place was empty.
We walked all over trying to find a place that would make a t-shirt for one member of our group; but no one could do it immediately. After an hour and a half walk, we were getting thirsty. We stopped into this bar for Bob to get a cold drink and me to get a beer.
We were on our way back to the ship, when I thought it might be nice to take a water taxi out to take photos of the arch. Bob had no interest in it at all, so he returned to the Infinity. All during the morning, we had been constantly approached by vendors selling water taxi and other tours. I had heard all kinds of prices, with $10 being the lowest. When I found someone that had a boat ready to leave that would take $10 for the 45 minute tour, I took the deal. Well, they weren’t quite ready to go; but they found another couple within five minutes after I boarded. As we left we could see the Infinity anchored close into shore.
The appeal of the water taxi ride is to get to the most southern tip of Baja California, El Arco, or The Arch. I had scuba dived there several years ago; and was looking forward to taking some photos. The rock formations and beaches were just beautiful.
There was one formation where a couple of girls were getting up the nerve to jump into the water. They finally did. The beach is named Lover’s Beach.
When we got to the arch, the boat driver took a photo of me. It is a pretty formation.
It is also a favorite resting spot for seals. We had seen some swimming in the harbor earlier, including one large seal that was hitching a ride on a boat.
Pelicans are also all over Cabo.
We went to the other side of the arch and were able to see it and the formations from a different angle.
On this side we were able to see Divorce Beach, which connects to Lover’s Beach. A woman had it all to herself. We could also see some resorts not far away.
As we returned to the dock, a pelican welcomed us back. It had been a most enjoyable ride. I was glad I did it.
While waiting for us to leave port, I went to the Promenade Deck to watch the procedure to pull up the tenders and pack up the tender docking assembly. It was quite interesting to see how everything was folded up and put back into the ship.
As we left port, we got a nice view of the side of the rock formation that wasn’t facing the Infinity, including Divorce Beach.
We could also see some of the large homes up in the mountains, perched on the cliffs, along with more condos.
An hour later I looked out to see the deserted mountainous terrain of Baja California. It was a stark contrast from Cabo.
The next day was a sea day. We were rewarded with a lovely sunset to close out the cruise.
We had disembarked in San Diego in 2012 when returning from a Hawaii cruise. It had been a bad experience because immigration, who had boarded the ship at 6:00 AM didn’t finish until just before 9:00 AM. With people having an assigned 8:30 AM disembarkation time and early flights, there had been a lot of stress.
This time we had booked flights for 2:00 PM, so we had no worry at all and were scheduled for a 10:20 AM disembarkation. We were able to wait in the United States Restaurant with the other Elite level guests in a relaxed environment waiting for our number to be called. An announcement said that there would be about a 30 minute delay, probably due to the high number of non-US passengers going through the immigration process. We were finally called to leave at 10:40 AM. That is when the fun began.
Everything was going fine, but there was a pretty long line to leave the ship. It went relatively fast. A serious flaw of the San Diego terminal is that there is only one elevator for passengers to get down to the main floor where the luggage and exit is. This is a problem for people with mobility problems and those with a lot of luggage. So there was a line at the elevator. Carol did need to wait in that line; but I was able to go down the escalator and look for our luggage. It was pretty easy to find and by the time Carol got down, we were ready to leave.
Rather than an organized line to get into to hand in the customs form, there was a large mass of people trying to funnel into the two lines. There was no organization and it just wasn’t a pretty sight. It was most frustrating seeing people breaking into line and others just standing around not knowing what to do. It was extremely aggravating that the porters would use their carts to break through for their customers. The uniformed guards would just say “get in one line”. When there are five lines of people going the same way, that just isn’t going to happen.
It wasn’t logical why it was taking so long for the customs forms to be taken. Normally it is a very fast process. When we finally got to the front of the line, we could see that the problem wasn’t inside the terminal, it was just outside where people were just standing waiting to get transportation. Because there was a wall of people waiting outside, the people who had turned in their customs forms couldn’t leave the building.
After handing our forms to the agent, we were able to push around the line and cross the street where vans were waiting to take people to the airport. I wasn’t sure why people were just standing in front of the terminal. It had taken us 30 minutes from when our number was called until we got on the van, which wasn’t that bad considering the mess. The van cost $8 per person and we were at our terminal in about 10 minutes.
One possible explanation was that the buses for the ship transfers and tours were close to the doors, and those wanting taxis had to go around them to realize that taxis and vans were across the street. That may have nothing to do with it, but a better and more informative solution needs to be found.
We had plenty of time to get lunch and relax before flying home. It had been a great cruise; but cruising for 26 of the last 31 days had made us ready to get home and stay for a while.
It was so nice to be able to spend a lot of quality time with our friends and meet quite a few new ones that we look forward to cruising with again. The ports were much more enjoyable than I had expected, probably due to the outstanding guides we had, who were able to show us the best sites. We also had sunny days the whole time except for a few hours in Panama; and the weather was much milder than any of us expected. It turned out to be a cruise with once in a lifetime experiences that we were able to share with our fellow Martini Mates. It doesn’t get much better than that.
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