Day 7 January 11th, Panama City, Panama
The Cruise Director explained how tenders would work last night before the show. He went on to say, “If you have to ask if you have priority tendering – you don’t”
Since our group of 6 didn’t have priority tendering and we planned to meet our private tour at 7:30 ashore, we decided to meet at 6:45 to get in front of the rush. Ship tours started at 7:15.
We were the only people on the tender as it pulled away at 6:55. The next tender arrived 15 minutes later with about 10 people. Boy did we beat the “rush.” We learned that they went to open tenders by 9AM and there was never much of a rush.
We started the day with a hot breakfast delivered to our room at 5 AM. HAL’s hang tag room service breakfast is the best I have seen. Always prompt and you can get waffles! Room service waffles are usually a bridge to far for most cruise lines. Most lines only offer a limited continental breakfast for breakfast room service.
I also learned that this expanded room service breakfast hang tag is limited to Grand Voyages.
The assistant Dining room manager was on the pier to greet us as we arrived on the tender. These guys really work all over the place.
One thing we always do it take a picture of the “All Aboard” sign by the gangway or tender landing. Sometimes they change the time at the last second, and more than once in the past, people in our group would disagree on the mandatory return time.
Our driver met us with his 6 passenger van for our private tour to Ancon Hill, Miraflores Locks Museum and then Old Town Panama. Morning traffic was heavy as we headed over to Ancon Hill, passing thru the old USA military base and canal zone along the way. After arriving at Ancon Hill we discovered that the road was closed to vehicles and the only way up would be a 45-minute walk uphill. We declined and started a city tour until the MiraFlores museum opened at 9am.
Arriving at the museum, our driver dropped us off at the bottom of an escalator than took us up a small hill to the museum level. Admission to the museum is $15.00 USD. We immediately went to the viewing platform on the 4th level and observed several ships moving thru the locks. The view is very good and gives you a different perspective then when you are on a ship passing thru the canal.
After about 30 minutes we returned to the first floor to watch a 10-minute introductory video – if pressed for time, you could skip this video and not miss much.
The museum is spread over 4 floors and we quickly walked thru every floor in about 15 minutes, not enough time if you wanted to read all the signs on exhibits, but long enough to see the major displays. We enjoyed seeing the ship simulator and mock control room and always enjoy posing for pictures in these settings.
After a quick spin thru the gift shop we were back on the street to meet our driver.
NOTE: Every souvenir we saw here and later in old town was available (for the most part) in the shops near the Tender landing, for a little more money. So if you don’t want to carry stuff out in town, you will be able to find most all of your tourist stuff right before you get back on a tender.
Old town was our next and last stop. This used to be a pretty unsavory area, but recent upgrades in security and an emphasis on tourist safety make Old Town feel very safe. Once you venture past the edge of Old Town, you are in some tougher neighborhoods. We spent about 2 hours walking around, seeing a few churches and doing a little shopping. The weather was very nice, a little on the hot side, but the humidity was low so it wasn’t uncomfortable.
We drove back to the Tender Landing, caught the 2pm tender and 20 minutes later we were back on the ship.
Exhausted from the tour and the early start, we took a nap and missed the sail away party.
I took a few minutes and confirmed Debby Bacon is the Piano Bar Entertainer in the Piano Bar on deck 5. I watched a few minutes of her country music show at 7pm. As many have noted, she is outstanding and plays a variety of instruments, more than just the piano.
This cruise as set the bar for future HAL cruises. Haven’t had an average meal yet and the service remains outstanding. Late, seating appears to be about ½ full and that certainly helps keep service prompt.
Our table has jelled nicely and tonight we switched everyone around and separated all traveling companions from one another. Even though our table is oval and small enough to easily talk across the table, this seating switch helps keep conversations lively. The wait staff had to shuffle wine bottles a bit as they are always anticipating where we will sit and this caused a 15 second delay as they quickly shuffled everything around.
We finished dinner about 9:30 PM EST, Just in time for the final few minutes of the second quarter of the College Football Championship. This was held in the Wajang theater which was transformed into a luxury box, complete with a nice spread of game day food and snack accompanied by cold beer and soda. Wine was available, but largely ignored – this is football after all.
When halftime started, it was time to head to the Queens Lounge to catch the Huber Marionettes. One of the many things we enjoy about cruising is the chance to sample different types of live acts. I would never seek out a marionette show ashore, but here at sea, it is easy to take a look. The marionettes are large and were used one at a time – almost like a ventriloquist dummy. Amazing performance that received a standing ovation. I was a little surprised to see that far more people chose the marionette show over the football playoffs.
We rejoined the Alabama/Clemson Game midway thru the 3rd quarter and stayed to the end. It was a very exciting finish, but we did tire of the World Cricket Cup promotions they played instead of standard commercials. I guess we were receiving our signal from a satellite hovering over a continent more used to broadcasting Soccer (aka football) and Cricket.
We have 8 sea days till our next port of call, so this will be a good chance to relax and finally get organized.
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