From the 13TH through the 21ST of February of 2010 I sailed for 8 days and 8 nights aboard the luxurious Carnival Freedom. It was my 2ND cruise in 28 months on the 110,000 gross ton / 952 foot long ship. I had previously sailed from Rome Italy to Miami Florida on a 14-day Mediterranean / Transatlantic voyage during her maiden journey to the U.S. from Europe in October and November of 2007. The combined 22 days and 22 nights on the Carnival Freedom is the most for me on any single cruise ship in my 19-year sailing history. I’ve also visited more new countries for the first time ever via the Carnival Freedom than via any other cruise ship. In addition to Italy, Spain, and Madeira (Portugal) I can now add Costa Rica and Panama to the list of new countries visited.
I. Cozumel México – This is my all-time favourite port-of-call for no other reason than the fact that I’ve been there more often (by far) than any other place in the world during my cruising history. It’s like my one-day home away from home once or twice a year. I know what to expect there, and I know where to go there for shopping opportunities galore if I wish. I’ve been there so often that sometimes I don’t even get off of the ship – but this time I did. I actually went on a rare shore excursion this time around to take advantage of some unusually chilly winter weather for the island (cloudy with scattered rain showers and stuck in the 70s). During the 4½-hour sightseeing and shopping tour one of the highlights was a tequila farm and factory. I didn’t partake in the extended taste test of a wide variety of random tequilas inside; however, it was fun to watch the others who did as well as listen to some of their outrageous feedback such as “This tastes like Windex … I LOVE IT !” Classic stuff – and a fun excursion all around ‘my’ island home of Cozumel.
II. Limón Costa Rica – Last Wednesday morning I set foot on Costa Rica for the first time ever – just below the 10°N latitude line (about 690 miles north of the equator). It was a rainy and coolish morning (by Costa Rica standards) with temperatures stuck in the 70s. Eventually the sun came out late in the afternoon and it got hot outside. But back in the cool light rain I took a combination bus, boat, and train tour of the eastern lowland countryside. The boat ride on a river was cool, as we eavesdropped on crocodiles napping, sloths just hangin’ around, and abundant monkeys high atop a tree. We actually saw one young monkey fall from the top of a tree and land much further down on some branches and leaves. He was OK, but now he may be alone for the rest of his life. Allegedly (according to our tour guide) once you’ve fallen from a tree you’ve cast disrespect and dishonour amongst your neighbourhood and nobody wants to be seen with you ever again. Harsh dude !
III. Panama – Early last Thursday morning shortly after sunrise the Carnival Freedom pulled in to the port in downtown Colón along the northern (Caribbean) coast of Panama. 13 busloads of my fellow cruise ship passengers (over 525 of us) were then loaded up and transported southeastward across the country to the Pacific coast. The drive took about 1 hour and 20 minutes along modern highways and tollways guarded by fully-armed Panamanian militia. Once on the Pacific side our 13 busloads got in to 2 ferries (comfortably), as we began our partial transit through the Panama Canal starting with a beautiful view of the downtown skyline of the bustling capital city of Panama. I never really understood how the Panama Canal actually worked until I got to experience it firsthand. It is definitely one of the greatest modern marvels ever made in the history of the world. Incidentally the Pacific side of Panama is nearing the end of a rather severe dry season. It hasn’t rained much on the south side of the country so far in 2010, and that was quite evident as all of the grass was brown and crunchy. It was very hot there – well into the 90s. The north (Caribbean) side of the country was milder, greener, and lusher. The three highlights of this mighty educational day in Panama were no doubt the one-third transit of the Panama Canal, seeing the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans within 90 minutes of each other, and driving by land and sailing by sea right through the great Continental Divide of the Americas.
This was a wonderful vacation at sea and on land way down south that truly exceeded my expectations, and I can’t wait to do it all over again in about 6½-months when I embark on my next great Carnival cruise vacation !