0 Comments | Jan 25, 2011

It’s the little things.

Isla Contadora Airport, where you await your delayed flight by going to the beach, and where your suitcase full of dirty laundry accidentally gets loaded into a private plane, never to be seen again.

It’s Candace again, and I’m back from my vacation to Panama, Columbia, Aruba, and Bonaire.  I had a wonderful time, along with a misadventure or two, and am happy to be home and back at work.  One of the nice things about flight delays is the opportunity to catch up on my reading.  I finished reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, A Touch of Dead by Charlene Harris (her books are akin to crack in their addictiveness), The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Steig Larson, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (an utterly fantastic read) and started The Women by T.C. Boyle.  Most of these were on my eReader, so I didn’t have to lug around a bunch of books, (thanks, Mom & Dad!).

But this post isn’t really about reading, after all, I did go to some really interesting places. My vacation was divided between exploring Panama and one of it’s little islands called Contadora and a non-Silversea cruise from Colon to the above mentioned countries.  I loved Cartagena and Bonaire, and would love to return and explore them.  Cartagena’s old town is charmingly restored and aside from the upscale boutiques, houses some wonderful restaurants, try Enoteca. Although  Bonaire is one of the top dive spots in the world, we didn’t get to dive here, but I got to try windsurfing!

That's me in the corner, windsurfing. Really.

This was the first non-Silversea cruise I’ve been on in a couple of years and the differences were noticeable and annoying.  I was in a balcony suite, so the cabin itself was about the size of a Silversea veranda on the Wind or Cloud, but the sheets were a polyester blend, and the only supplied toiletries were a single bar of soap and a wall dispenser of shampoo in the shower stall.  (They did have other shampoos, conditioners and body washes available for purchase in the onboard shop).  The closet was tiny and the bathroom induced claustrophobia.  There were 2,500 guests on the ship, so there was always a line to get on and off  and it was difficult to find seating near the pool (the only place that wasn’t crowded was the library).  I can’t fault the staff, they did their jobs, and some went out of their way to be helpful, but for the most part people didn’t make eye contact.  But three things truly annoyed me.

Assigned dining.  Nothing feels more uncomfortable to me than the cattle call that is assigned dining. You and approximately half the people on the ship all need to be in one place at one time.  Since everyone is seated at approximately the same time, the wait times for entrees and to place your order are long, and unfortunately you are seated next to the same people every night.  It would have been nice to have the opportunity to dine with the different friends we’d met aboard.  On a positive, our waiters were great, and respectful of our special requests, and every night the dining room offered a fruit soup on the menu.  Sounds crazy, but utterly fantastic.

Not all inclusive.  Thirsty?  A bottle of water was $6.00, a can of coca-cola was $2.50… let’s not talk about the inflated wine costs and service charges. Want to work off some of those calories you consumed through yoga or a spin class?  Pay the fee, want a cappuccino with breakfast or an espresso with that rich chocolate souffle? $4.  And each and every time you have to hand over your room card.  It was just a bit too much business before pleasure for a vacation.

Finally, and this is truly a personal preference: Staff photographers everywhere, trying to take my picture to sell me 5×7 photos of my vacation for $14.95 each.  Every time you embarked or disembarked there they were, dressed as pirates or sailors, not letting you pass until they could snap a shot.  In the middle of an interesting conversation at dinner or have a  mouth full of food?  No matter,  it’s time to take a picture.  Nobody likes a vacation invaded by paparazzi.  Seriously, I have a digital camera and friends, and I know how to use them.

I liked the fact that the ship had a very spacious gym, and I loved the climbing wall, and I truly appreciated that there was a quiet second pool for guests over 18.  Boarding and disembarking ran quite smoothly, and for not leaving me behind in Santa Marta when my tour got trapped behind a peaceful political protest that blocked all the roads, I shall be forever grateful.

At the end of March I head out on Silversea v3105 from Hong Kong to Singapore and it’s nice to know I won’t need to carry a purse for my room key in case  I decide I want a cappuccino with dessert.  If you wish to join me, fares start at $6,648 per person and include a $1,000 onboard spending credit.