We chose this cruise partly because of the ITINERARY, which provided alternating day in port and day at sea. From Ft. Lauderdale we stopped at Grand Cayman, Aruba, Colon (Panama), Cartagena (Columbia), and Cozumel.
We have never transited the Panama Canal, so this was the highlight of the itinerary for us. Some cruise lines pass through the locks from the Caribbean to Gatun Lake and then back to the Caribbean. Instead, the Constellation remains in port at Colon, and those passengers wishing to experience the canal locks can do so in a small ferry as part of an optional excursion. This excursion costs about $150 through the cruise line, but the canal tolls are so high that cruise ships entering Gatun Lake must charge passengers an additional $120 in taxes, so the excursion cost is almost a wash. More about that later.
GRAND CAYMAN was our first port of call. This is a relatively expensive port because of the international off-shore banking community, and the absence of a cruise pier necessitates tendering between the ship and Georgetown. In the past, long waits for tenders to shore and back have given this island a bad reputation. On our cruise large local tenders supplemented the ships own tenders, making the transfers fast and trouble free, even for those passengers without shore excursion reservations.
The most popular excursion on this island is a boat trip to Stingray City, a shallow area in the North Sound where one can stand or snorkel among surprisingly tame and friendly stingrays. This trip is available through the ship, or it can be booked from a variety of tour companies when onshore.
When on Grand Cayman, my wife and I prefer to relax and snorkel on famous Seven Mile Beach north of Georgetown. Much of the beach is now lined by a solid wall of resorts and condominiums, but there is a small relatively undeveloped area with shade trees at the public Cemetery Beach. To get there one simply walks a few blocks inland from the tender port to the main square to catch a public minibus, which costs about $2.50 US each way for the West Bay route along Seven Mile Beach. If you ask, the driver or a fellow passenger will alert you at the Cemetery Beach bus stop.
These buses also continue north to the turtle farm and the town of Hell (for those who want to visit Hell without having to stay there). Minibus service is frequent and reliable. As on most Caribbean islands, it is customary to greet fellow passengers when boarding the minibuses and to make room for other passengers as they enter and leave. A bonus is that the downtown bus stop is near the public library, where free internet access is available (but may be fully booked). In general, we have found that any internet café on the islands is much cheaper than the internet service on cruise ships and just as fast.
Our second port was ARUBA. Cruise ships dock at Oranjestad. The town is quite pleasant and there are several nice beaches north of town. The public bus terminal is in a large square behind the façade across the street from the cruise dock. Buses to beautiful Arashi beach (the northern terminus) leave several times per hour. Again, most of the route is lined by large condominiums and resorts, but Arashi Beach is undeveloped, although there are shade huts and a restroom.
An easy walk north from Arashi Beach is the California lighthouse, with a nearby restaurant and a nice view over the island and shoreline. Small dunes nearby also provide interesting walks. A short walk along the road south of Arashi Beach brings one to an area for snorkeling at Malmok. Offshore is the wreck of the Antilia, but this is too far and too deep for safe off shore snorkeling.
Along the way, the bus stops at several large resorts with their own beaches, but we met several vacationers who left their resorts to spend the day at Arashi, which they preferred. Also along the way is a windsurf rental area for those who enjoy the sport.
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