Cruising to Chile: Live Blog #3 (Costa Rica)

Neither of us can remember exactly how many years ago we spent a wonderful two-week holiday touring Costa Rica, but today, courtesy of our cruise ship, we spent the day in the Puerto Limon area on the Caribbean coast.

That original trip saw us spend most of our time on the Pacific coast, central valley including San Jose the capital and the area around the Arenal volcano. The two sides seem very different to us.

We spent this morning on a ship-organized excursion called the “Eco-river cruise.” We took a bus through the truly unprepossessing port town of Limon to a canal/river through a mangrove stand to see if we could spot some flora and fauna. We saw a few birds, the rear end of a sloth and some monkeys high up in the trees, but there were no crocodiles in sight. We saw so many the last time we were here. Evidently they are indeed much more common on the west coast.

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Overall, it was a bit dull, but it’s always nice to visit a port. We were struck by the fact that if this experience were to be the only introduction that many of these passengers would get to an otherwise wonderful country, they might pass on the chance to return.

The weather is as usual very hot and humid. According to the report this morning, the humidity currently stands at 97% and we have a feel-like temperature of 38 C. Then it rained.

Our recommendations: fly into San Jose and head directly to the Pacific coast to Manuel Antonio Park. The Costa Rica you’ll find there is the Costa Rica you’ll long to return to! Panama Canal transit tomorrow. Cannot wait! (PS having a lot of trouble uploading photos on the satellite feed…more with stories when we get home!)

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Cruising to Chile: Live Blog #2 (Days at Sea)

There’s something about the ocean. Of course to even consider taking a cruise, you have to have at least a grudging love of the sea.

Even if it is transportation to wonderful new experiences in interesting places, there will be days at sea between destinations when you have a chance to unwind, sit back and enjoy your conveyance. In this instance, we’re getting to know Silversea Cruises’ newest addition to their fleet: the Silver Muse.

With some 580 or so guests, it’s really considered a small ship, although we’ve sailed on smaller ones. Being new, everything shines. With a low-key sophisticated decor, the Muse is a mellow space that suits the Discerning Travelers’ taste!

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So, what, you may ask, does one do with two sea days in a row? In addition to dining and relaxing, there are plenty of other activities on offer for the gym to the casino to the bars. Gyms are generally out of the question for us on vacation, with the exception of the odd yoga class for Patty.

We’ve been boning up on the history of the Panama Canal which we will reach the day after to,orrow. The on-board lecturer is really knowledgeable as well as entertaining…and we learned that we’ll have to get up before sunrise to really get the full value of one the modern wonders of the world.

We’ll do that, but tomorrow we’ll be in Costa Rica for an Eco-river cruise.

Cruising to Chile: Live Blog #1 (Key West)

Ernest Hemingway loved the place… the conch republic as they call it. Of course today we’re in Key West. And it’s only month post hurricane Irma. The local residents have done a heroic job of clean-up. There’s some evidence of damage, but the hurricane has clearly not dampened the laid-back ambiance that is so characteristic of Key West.

We took ourselves on a walking tour to the southernmost point in the US then down Duval Street for a bit of hat shopping.

Buying a new sun hat at “Hot Hats” on Duval Street with proprietor, Terry Lipsky.

The rain started in earnest, pounding down to the point of mini flooding. It’s not hard to imagine what it must have been like in a hurricane.

We’re truly enjoying the Silver Muse…she’s a beautiful ship and our suite is lovely. Tomorrow we’ll be at sea and on our way to Costa Rica.

Discovering new places: Cruise ships as transportation

Sometimes you get in the car and hit the open road to discover new and exciting places and experiences. Other times you hop a train. There are also times when you can only see the places you want to see by flying (try driving between Tahiti and Fiji in the South Pacific!). In recent years, however, we’ve discovered that a cruise ship might just be one of our favourite ways to move between specific destinations.

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We prefer the one on the right! The Silver Cloud was our first Silversea ship.

Unlike others who love cruises, we are probably not what is truly meant by the term “cruisers.” Or at least that is only a small part of how you could describe us. When we embarked on our first cruise so many years ago, we were traveling with a young child, and we didn’t really know what to expect beyond our plan to have a great vacation. And we did. But we have learned over the years – and 15 cruises later – that we are not those people who believe that the ship is the destination. For us it has become a very comfortable conveyance for getting us from one interesting destination to another.

The truth is that we avoid like the plague those mega-cruise ships that offer everything from wave surfing to rock-wall climbing with wall-to-wall food in between. These days we confine ourselves to a small number of cruise lines and choose our trips by itinerary. And as for loyalty to one line? Like airline loyalty programs, they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.  So we decide where we want to go and search among the cruises on offer from the lines we love: Cunard, Oceania, Seabourn, Regent and Silversea mainly. And now we’ll return to Silversea which captured our attention for our upcoming cruise to check a few things off our bucket list: The Panama Canal, Peru and Chile. In fact, we leave on Tuesday.

The first time we realized that a cruise ship was a wonderful way to discover new places to which we might like to return for a longer visit was our first Mediterranean cruise some ten years ago. The cruise left from Barcelona, so we planned a few days there in advance of the cruise. This is a key feature of a destination-rich cruise; the embarkation and disembarkation points. If all of your cruise experiences leave from the same port (e.g. Port Everglades or Miami), you’ll never be able to have that land-based adventure of a new city. This was the first lesson we learned: even if it’s a Caribbean cruise, if it leaves from, say Saint Martin (so sorry for their recent hurricane issues) or even Barbados, that provides a great opportunity for an add-on.

And the disembarkation point is also important: leaving and arriving at two different places is the best since you have two chances to spend time in new cities. On one cruise we left from Monte Carlo and ended in Venice. On another we sailed from Rome and ended in Istanbul.

That first Med cruise introduced us to cities to which we have returned – sometimes again and again. For example, while we were anchored off Monaco, we visited Eze, a place we thought we might never have a chance to visit again. It turns out we’ve been back several times! On that same cruise, we visited Rome for the first time and have since returned twice to get to know it better.

A few years ago we had another of those “bucket list” places that we had wanted to visit for some time: The South Pacific. But as we began considering how to arrange a tour of the islands, it became clear that flying in and out of those tiny islands would only eat up valuable time with at least a half a day each time devoted to airports and flying – and that’s if there are no delays. A small boat didn’t seem like a good idea at all since the distances are too great. So, what about a cruise ship?cruise map South Pacific

We discovered an Oceania cruise that left from Papeete, Tahiti (a chance to spend a week in Tahiti? Yes, please), visited a range of islands between which it cruised during the night giving each day over to an island, and ending in Sydney, Australia. Perfect!

Next week we begin our cruise with a few days in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It’s not exciting, but it will be fun. After three days of unwinding, we embark the Silver Muse, Silversea’s newest ship which launched earlier this year. We’ll cruise to Key West then onto Costa Rica. Only one day here is fine with us since we spent a wonderful two weeks touring the country some years ago. Then we’ll transit the Panama Canal before making our way down the west coast of South America stopping into Ecuador, Peru, northern Chile ending in the port city of Valparaiso. Once there, we’ll pick up our Tours-by-Locals private guide who has four days of cultural and wine country touring for us while we get to know Santiago. And all because we will use a cruise ship for transportation.

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We love to tell stories about our travels – that’s what this blog has always been about. This time, however, we’re going to also do some live blogging and post short pieces and photos along the way. I hope you’ll come along with us. We’ll save the longer stories until we get back home in Toronto.

See you on the high seas!