I was still in awe as we checked in for our cruise with Uncruise Adventures. After months of waiting, it was finally time for me to enjoy my Major Award.
Just to re-cap for those who might be reading this site for the first time, I entered a travel essay contest through Uncruise Adventures, a company that specializing in small ship, adventure cruises. Saying that I was ecstatic to find out that I was a winner, is an understatement. My prize was a trip for two on the newly renovated Safari Voyager ship to explore Panama and Costa Rica.
This was our very first cruise. We had no idea what to expect.
Due to the strict Panama Canal schedule, guests for this particular cruise are required to spend the night prior to the cruise departure in Panama City. Most passengers stayed at The Bristol Hotel where the check-in took place. Since we spent a few days in Panama City prior to cruise day, we arrived via taxi from our accommodation at the Casa Sucre Hotel. Thus, we arrived at check-in extra early to be sure we were on time.
Although we had breakfast at the Casa Sucre Coffee House before arriving, I couldn’t help tasting at least one complementary pastry while we waited. I definitely recommend the banana bread.
The luggage pile expanded as each new passenger arrived.
We eyed them warily. We are both introverts, and we weren’t sure what it would be like being captive on a ship with sixty-some strangers. It’s still interesting to look at the pictures and imagine those faces as strangers. Now when I see the faces, I know names, places lived, and places traveled and yet to be traveled. When I look at the pictures now, I see friends. And not just one or two friends, many friends. It was an incredible group. Our fellow passengers and the crew members were amazing.
After having our picture taken, and filling out paperwork, it was time to be on our way. The passengers were split into two groups to be loaded onto nice, comfortable buses.
A tour guide shared facts and information as we wound our way through Panama City.
We received a surprise before departing. We would be the first Uncruise group to stop at the new Panama Canal Expansion. Since this was something we hadn’t planned on doing during our stay in Panama City, and since it was completely unexpected, I was quite excited.
The Panama Canal Expansion was a massive undertaking. It is essentially a second, larger canal, that provides canal access to the ever growing, massively sized cargo and cruise ships, that are too large to pass through the original Panama Canal.
The visitors’ center at the Canal Expansion was well designed.
Even with a crowd, there were plenty of places to stand to get a good view.
We were fortunate enough to arrive as a huge container ship was passing through the canal.
Out in the water, there was a scattering of ships, some even larger than one we watched going through the canal, waiting their turn.
The process is lengthy, so if you are planning to visit, and want to see a ship go through the canal expansion, be sure to give yourself plenty of time.
There was also a brief movie about the creation of the Canal Expansion. I am always up for a good, informative, tourist attraction movie.
Back on the bus, I was already impressed by this trip, and it had barely started. Like a kid the night before Christmas, I spent the rest of the bus ride bouncing in my seat with anticipation.
I’m going on a boat!
The process for boarding the ship was quick and well organized.
As soon as we stepped on board, we were escorted to our room.
We briefly settled in, then headed to the lounge for the Captain’s welcome.
If Uncruise wanted to make an excellent first on board impression, they had me at cheese.
While enjoying our cheese and a glass of wine, we were introduced to the crew and given all sorts of important ship and trip information (it took me a week after getting home before I stopped singing Happy Birthday twice before leaving the bathroom after a shower).
Finally, it was time for our muster drill. Being a listener of many travel podcasts, including podcasters that talk about cruises and the muster drills, I may have donned my life vest with more enthusiasm than was required.
I was so happy to do something that most find a nuisance, because it meant I was actually on a ship.
The crew did a great job disseminating the necessary information in a swift, entertaining manner. With the requirements out of the way, it was time to begin the activity that is on a substantial number of travel bucket lists, cruising through the (original) Panama Canal.
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