Latin America Cruise
Island Princess
December, 2012 - January 2013

By Jack Welsch

It was hard to find a title for this trip because, as it centered around the Panama Canal, it involved Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.  The inspiration for the trip was a unique way of spending New Year's Eve.  On our 2010 cruise, we had met a LOT of people, mostly from the Pacific Northwest, who were "traveling with Alan".  We, of course, said, "Who the hell is Alan?" and learned about Seattle-based Alan Schiller and his amazing travel deals.  Linda signed up for his e-mails.  This was our first trip with Alan and we were not disappointed. 


Having mostly enjoyed small ships, we had some reservation about going back to a mid-sized one but the Island Princess was great; small enough to be comfortable yet large enough to offer many entertainment options.  The staff was excellent and most meals were quite good.

Our Cabin

We had a balcony stateroom on deck 12. The only small issue we had with it was that, since we'd booked rather late, it was too far forward. That position, combined with the rough seas we had most of the time, made for a rather uncomfortable ride. I suspect if either of us had been succeptible to seasickness, it might have been a problem but we were fine. The cabin was large but not huge by cruise ship standards and shower was typically tiny. Storage, and particularly hanging storage, however, was fantastic!

Provence & Bordeaux Dining Rooms

There are two virtually identical "main" dining rooms on the Island Princess; "Provence" for "traditional" seating and, below it, "Bordeaux" for open seating. Both are quite nice but typical of most cruise ships. Our wait staff was excellent. However, though we odered a bottle of wine every night, we never saw a sommelier and rarely saw our head waiter. 

Other Places to Eat

The buffet restaurant, were we had breakfast each morning and sometimes had lunch, is the Horizon Court, located on Deck 14 forward. The big surprize there was that there was almost never any line at the omelette station. I think at most there was one person ahead of me and that was rare. Like must cruise ships, there were two identical buffet lines, one on either side. For some reason, however, the one on the port side was almost always less crowded.

There are two specialty, extra-cost" restaurants, Bayou Café and Sabatini's. We ate a "free" pub lunch once at the former but didn't have dinner at either so I can't comment.

There is a pizzaria by the pool that provided pretty good pizza and a grill on the deck above that we never got around to trying. There was an ice cream shop somewhere but all they have is soft-serve so Lin tried it but I did not. Of coure, there is room service and we had them deliver lunch one day. There are other options as well but we didn't try them so I can't comment.


Naturally, there's a theater where the big shows are presented. There's another that's caberet style. The two large lounges are the Wheelhouse and the Explorer's. Both have dance floors and small stages. In my opinion, the Wheelhouse has a more comfortable atmoshere. Of course, there are other bars and lounges throughout the ship.

As for music, there were many choices, most of them very good. The one disappointment was the DJ at the almost-nightly ballroom dances in the Explorer's Lounge. I think he must have created one playlist and just hit "play" every night. We like ballroom dancing but this routine got old very quickly. As mentioned elsewhere, the Argo Trio were good and we enjoyed dancing to their music virtually every night. As is usually the case, the show band was outstanding. Around the Atrium there are lounges on several levels so there was music of at least one type to be heard in the Atrium almost all the time. There were events at the pool many nights but we didn't go to any of them.


Here are some comparisons to some other ships we've been on:


ArubaI confess that Aruba was a bit of a surprise for me. While many had told me that they like Aruba, some said it was a dry, barren island without much more than oil refineries. Consequently, there was much more greenery than I expected. Truely, it's no rain forest and there are many cacti but I found the landscape to be quite nice. Of course, I love the US desert Southwest as well. Our drive along the southwestern shoreline revealed what appeared to be some very nice hotels and beautiful beaches. Unfortunately, we had time to explore neither. The port city of Oranjestad is rather typical of the Cariibbean with many of the shops you can find on most islands down there. It is, though, clean and attractive.

The bottom line is that I don't think I'd mind spending a week or two on Aruba.

Cartagena, Columbia

CartagenaThis city is amazing!! It has had such a sordid past that I think most of us have simply written it off along with the entire country of Columbia. An episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" gave me some insight into how nice Cartagena now is but I was still unprepared. Naturally, qe were a little apprehensice about even getting off the ship but I think that where we went as well as the daylight greatly mitigated any risk. The skyline is breathtaking and the Old City is even more so. I would really have liked to have had more time to enjoy this fantastic city!

Panama Canal

Panama CanalAs an engineer and having passed through many, many canals in small boats, many of which I helped operate, I was eager to see this one up close. David McCullough's "The Path Between the Seas" had further hightened my interest. Some friends said they thought the canal passage was boring but I most certainly did not. I'll tell you this; the fit is tight!

Colón, Panama

ColónFrom what I could see of it and from what I heard from people who passed through it as they returned from tours, Colón is a isn't terribly attractive and offers little. We went only to some shops near the pier that were fairly attractive. It was actually a little strange; some obviously intended for the touristas and others, like a supermarket, clearly for locals. Prices, even in the "Duty Free" shop, were ridiculously high. I definitely don't see Colón as a destination city!

Limón, Costa Rica

Three-toed SlothWe saw nothing of the city of Limón except from the windows of the bus as we passed. From what we did see, we didn't miss anything at all. The countryside, on the other hand, is quite nice. Scenery is beautiful and, while we saw the shacks that are ubiquious in third-world countries, we also saw some nice middle-class homes. Our guide said the middle class is growing and that is always a good thing.

George Town, Grand Cayman

Grand CaymanI don't know whether the place has changed, my memory has faded or that I've become jaded but I didn't enjoy Grand Cayman nearly as much this time. (Or maybe it's because the last time I visited I was young enough to windsurf and sit in the hot sun all day!) In any case, Seven Mile Beach seemed a lot more crowded and a lot less quaint than the last time around.

George Town is a banking city and therefore, at least from my perspective, not particulary photogenic. I have, however, looked at enough pictures on Google Earth to wonder whether it might not be a terrible idea to go to Grand Cayman, find a nice resort in the boondocks, and just chill.

Friday, December 28, 2012 - Home to Philadelphia

The plan was to fly from Philadelphia to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday and board the ship on Sunday.  We had made arrangements for a stay and fly deal at a Comfort Inn near PHL with the "stay" part at the end of the trip.  On Friday, however, fear of a pending snow storm caused us to book a room at the front end as well.  We could not get on the road until Linda returned from a hospital run with one friend and we had to attend a viewing for another but we were on the way by about 6:00.  Driving straight through, we got to the hotel by about 8:10.

By that time, we were tired and starving so we simply ate at the "Philly Diner" next to the hotel.  It's a typical Greek diner but food and service were both good.  The hotel might have been OK several decades ago but is much the worse for wear now.  The personnel, however, were great.  We hit the rack about 10:00 but there was a lot of noise from the next room so it wasn't a great night.

Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012- Philadelphia to Fort Lauderdale

I'd been worried all along about the tight connection we had in Atlanta and knowledge that a winter storm was upon us. Thoughts of deicing time increased my anxiety.  I'd called Delta on Friday about making a change and they said if I called in the morning, they could do it for $50 per ticket.  I called again at 7:00 and, possibly because they were now concerned about the same thing, the change was made for free.

We had the free buffet breakfast at the hotel with hoards of Russian tourists and headed for the airport.  Getting there at 8:30 resulted in a long wait there but it was nicer there than at the hotel.

Though we pushed back on time, deicing and a strong headwind made us quite late into Atlanta, making us happy that we'd taken the earlier flight.  As amazing as it might seem, we had a GREAT  lunch at Café Intermezzo in terminal B.  Linda's Chicken Florentine, my lobster ravioli and 4 glasses of wine set me back $75. A bit pricy for lunch but well worth it.

A ground hold at ATL due to runway construction at FLL resulted in a late takeoff and a landing that was 1/2 hour late.  Adding to frustration was a problem with getting baggage off the plane.  Fortunately, there was a Travel with Alan rep at baggage claim and she had us load our checked luggage on a cart for transfer directly to the ship.  After a 20 minute wait, about 10 of us climbed into a van for the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Airport.  The hotel is quite nice.  We were quickly checked in, had dinner in their restaurant and were in bed shortly after 9:00.

Sunday, Dec. 30 - Boarding the ship

The full breakfast that was part of Alan's package was from 6:00 to 8:00 so, though we both slept poorly, we were up at 6:45.  Finishing breakfast at 8:00 gave us 4 hours to kill before boarding the bus to the docks so we sat by the pool, talking to some other folks on the same tour for most of it.

On the bus at 12:15 with Alan's associate Dave Adams, we were at the docks a few minutes later.  Predictably, the terminal was a zoo with a loooong line to even get into the building. We'd been in line for quite a while and still far from the door when a Princess rep came along asking whether any of us had priority boarding.  Well, based on previous cruises, we had platinum-level status but I hadn't thought that would help until after we got through security.  Fortunately, I was wrong. We, along with another couple we'd been talking with, were told to go directly to the head of the line.  Unfortunately, there was neither a sign nor anyone from Princess at the door so a lot of people were upset as we excused ourselves and went around them.  However, once in the building, we were whisked through the process and by 1:00 we were on the ship and in our room.  After quickly unpacking the carry-ons, we headed for the buffet lunch in the Horizon Court.  By the time we ate and wandered around a bit, the checked bags were in our room.  I like this Platinum-level stuff!!!  Of course, it didn't help us avoid the obligatory lifeboat drill at 3:30.

It was pretty cool on deck, the "sail-away party" was lame and the ship didn't leave on schedule so after suffering for an hour, we gave up and dressed for dinner. 

There was a Captain's Circle reception each evening at 5:00 but there was also ballroom dancing at the same time so we blew off the former in favor of the latter.  What we failed to notice was that both were in the Explorer Lounge.  We danced for a while before wondering what the private party in the corner was and eventually figured out that we could both dance AND enjoy the free hors d'oeuvres!  

Eventually we left there to check out the Wheelhouse Bar and the Argos Trio that was playing there. They were quite good but soon we had to go to dinner.

There are two virtually identical "main" dining rooms on the Island Princess, one for "traditional" seating and one for open seating.  We chose the former and late seating. We shared a table with Bob & Robin, Tord (sic) and Nancy, Larry & Pat and Marsha & Sally.  All of us, of course, were "travelling with Alan."  Alan groups all of his clients that have traditional seating so that he or an associate can stop by each evening to touch base and provide information on upcoming events.  Ours was a nice group but it broke our run of always having a table that was among the last to leave the dining room as some ran off to see the show.

Returning to the Wheelhouse, we danced to the Argo Trio before heading for bed around 11:30.

Monday, Dec. 31; New Year's Eve - At Sea

It had been windy as hell all night and the seas were quite rough.  We like to sleep with the balcony door open but I had to shut it during the night because of the noise of the wind shrieking under the door to the hall!

Having set the clocks an hour ahead to Atlantic time before retiring, we woke at 8:15 and were in the Horizon Court for breakfast an hour later. After breakfast I got onto the ship's Wi-Fi to check e-mail and wrote on the balcony until lunchtime.  We had a "pub lunch" of fish & chips at the Bayou Café, then did a little shopping, took a little nap and hung out on the balcony as it was really too windy to sit by the pool.

After dressing in our formal duds for the New Year's Eve party, we headed for the Explorer Lounge for the Captain's Circle party.  There we met Bob and Andy (Andrea) for the first time.  On every trip it seems that you meet one or two couples with whom you end up spending a fair bit of time.  In the end, Bob and Andy turned out to be that couple for this trip.

Eventually, though, we were eager for a change of venue and headed for the Wheelhouse Bar where a pianist was entertaining a small crowd.  After a nice dinner, we returned to the Wheelhouse to dance once again to the Argo Trio.  There was one family whose unruly kids who insisted on running amongst the dancers.  That put a bit of a damper on things for a while but as midnight approached, they all headed for the Atrium and the "balloon drop."  We'd planned on doing the same but it was a zoo out there so we rang in the new year while dancing. Having danced our legs off, we called it a night around 12:30 or so.

Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013; New Year's Day - At Sea

We slept until about 9:30, had breakfast in the Horizon Court and headed for the pool.  It was still so windy that even our Kindles were blowing around in our hands! At about 1:00 we gave it up and headed for the Bordeaux Dining Room for a "sit-down" lunch. We were seated near a window and, as this dining room is on deck 7, the waves looked huge. 

We left the dining room at about 2:15 and did some reading and writing before heading to a wine tasting for which we had registered earlier.  The wine tasting was excellent.  The sommelier was entertaining as well as knowledgable and the wines and hors d'oeuvres fantastic.  We tasted 6 wines including a Robert Mondavi private reserve Meritage that was on the wine list at $135.

After a nap, we didn't get to the Captain's Circle gig until 5:30.  Because we were still dragging ourselves around, we headed to bed after dinner.

Wednesday, July 2 - Aruba

We were just docking as we arose at 7:00 and, after breakfast, we headed into town. I would really have liked to go and sit on a beach for the afternoon but we had to be back onboard at noon. Consequently, we had planned on getting a taxi to give us a short private tour of the island. However, we allowed ourselves to get waylaid by a guy who was trying to fill a small van.  After about 10 minutes of his promises to get the van filled and have us on our way we got smart and walked away.  A block or so up the street I saw a taxi van pulling out from a parking spot, flagged him down and agreed to a price of US$45 for a one-hour tour.  The driver, Harold, was friendly and quite knowledgeable and in the end I gave him $60. 

Back in town we walked around a bit but already have all the tourist junk we need so were back on the ship and sitting by the pool by 11:00. There was an excellent Mexican buffet on the pool deck so that was our lunch. Afterwards, Lin went down for a nap and I read by the pool until 4:30.

At 4:30, Alan hosted a reception in the Universe Lounge for his clients.  It was quite nice and drinks flowed like water.  Afterwards, we headed to the Captain's Circle party where we again sat with Bob and Andy.  After dinner we went up to the Wheelhouse to dance but had only one drink each and ended up taking them to the room.  We were in bed by 11:00.

Thursday, July 3 - Cartagena, Columbia

CartagenaWe had set the clocks back to Eastern time before going to bed.  I was up at 7:00 and read on the balcony until Linda arose at 8:00. By that time, we were approaching Cartagena.  Had I not recently seen an Anthony Bourdain show on this city, I'd have been shocked at its beauty.  From the sea, the skyline of white skyscrapers is reminiscent if Miami.

After breakfast, we left the ship at 9:30.  The down-side of this port is that the cruise ships dock at a container port.  It's a fairly long walk to the terminal and then a fairly long ride into town.  A shuttle was provided to get from the ship to the terminal and, as we got in line, Bob and Andy were in front of us so we agreed to do something together. 

At the gate we found a guy named Doug organizing the taxis and vans and, he, of  course, hit us up.  We agreed to go in a van but 8 people were required so we had to wait until Doug could round up 4 more.  I was talking to Doug in the meantime and learned that, though he's a Columbian, he lived for a while in Bethlehem, PA a few blocks from Lehigh University, my alma mater!  Yet another for my large collection of "small world" stories.  Eventually 4 more passengers were recruited and we set off in a large van.  First stop was the fortress.  We stopped for photos but didn't enter the fortress itself.  If I'd been younger OR if it had been cooler, I'd have really wanted to go but, in any case, we didn't have sufficient time. 

Las BóvedasSecond stop was Las Bóvedas or "the arches".  These vaults were originally built for storage but later used as dungeons. Now they house an attractive series of shops.  Some are typical tourist stuff but some were selling some very nice items.  We didn't buy anything, however.

Fortunately, our longest stop was in the old city itself.  The driver parked the van outside the walls and lead us inside and on a walking tour.  This place is wonderful.  It reminded me somewhat of New Orleans except that it was clean and nice instead of dirty and run-down.  Buildings were well maintained and brightly painted and there were lots of plants and flowers.  I was really bummed out that we had to be back onboard by 2:30 as what I really wanted to do was to pay off the driver, have a nice lunch in town, and wander around town for a while.  I bought a music CD from a guy with a stack of them and two small water colors from a street artist.  Total investment: US$25. Not a  major boost to the Columbian economy.

Of course, no tour is complete without a stop at the place that gives the kickbacks (oops, I mean "commissions") to the tour operators.  Ours was at an emerald jewelry "factory", museum and - surprise, surprise - shop.  Actually, it was quite nice and we came dangerously close to a major purchase for Lin. I have to admit, however, that I was the one pushing the purchase while she resisted. 

We were back onboard by 1:00 and had pizza by the pool with Bob and Andy. Afterwards, Lin headed to the room to rest while I read by the pool. There was a "Jewelry Event" at 4:30 so I went back to the room in time to dress for that but it was a bust; the "emerald green champagne" was horrible and the shop was packed. 

We met Bob and Andy at the Captains Circle gig in the Explorers' Lounge again.  There was no ballroom music on this occasion but that canned music was getting terribly repetitive anyway so that was no great loss. 

Back to the Wheelhouse to dance after dinner, of course.

Friday, January 4 - Panama Canal and Colón

Entering Gatun LocksI woke at 5:00 to discover that we were approaching the canal but we were still some distance off so I went back to sleep until 6:00.  At about 6:15 I could see on the bridgecam that we were close to entering the locks so put on shorts and a hat and ran on deck.  The deck was absolutely mobbed and it was still too dark for photography so I swung by the Horizon Court to get coffee and tea and returned to our balcony.  Shortly thereafter, I went back up for bacon and eggs for me and croissants for Lin.

This cruise was not all the way through the canal to the Pacific but only through the Gatun Locks, the first set.  There are three chambers in this set between the Caribbean and Gatun Lake.  It's a slow but, at least to me, very interesting process.  We have personally navigated many locks during our vacations on the canals in France in 2005 and 2010 and I really enjoyed reading David McCullough's "The Path Between the Seas" so I was eager to see how this played out.  I really would have enjoyed seeing the infamous Gaillard Cut. but by about 8:00 we were anchored in Gatun Lake, a mere 2 miles from the Gatun Locks and as far as we'd be going.

Gatun LakeThe tours left by tender from this point. We had signed up for a train tour but for some reason it had been cancelled.  We were, however, quite content to just relax on the ship.  We started back through the locks at about 11:00.  Lin ordered room-service lunch that we ate on the balcony, then I ran around taking pictures from different perspectives before returning to the pool to read. 

By about 3:00 we were docked in Colón where there were some shops at the pier.  The shops were rather attractive but the city beyond that wasn't particularly inviting so, after wandering the shops for a short time and buying nothing, we went back on board.

Before dinner we again sat with Bob and Andy at the Captain's Circle party, then followed them to a production show, "On The Bayou".  We usually skip the shows and went just to be sociable but I must admit this was a good one.  After the show we went to the Wheelhouse and briefly sat with David and Karen, some other ballroom dancers, before it was time to run off to dinner.  Naturally, we returned to dance a little before hitting the rack.

Saturday, January 5 - Limón, Costa Rica

I've headed this "Limón" because that's where we docked but we saw nothing of it other than what we could see from the bus as we drove through.  We had signed up for a tour that included a gondola ride through the treetops of the rainforest and a boat ride on a canal.  It was expensive but I think worth every penny.  We were up at 6:00, ate breakfast and were on the dock at 7:00 to meet the Albero (not "Alberto"), our tour guide.

The bus ride to the rainforest nature preserve to the northwest took about 2 hours. We had to leave the bus at the main road and ride in small vans over a very narrow road to get to the preserve itself. There we were split into groups of 6, each going with its own guide. Ours, José, was excellent; both personable and knowledgeable. It was a short walk to the beginning of the gondola ride. Even before we boarded it, José started showing us plants and explaining their unique nature. The gondolas, each hanging from the suspended cable, were small, of tubular construction and totally open. Each had seats for 7 people, three double seats one behind the other and a single seat in the back for the guide. Unlike the chair lifts you see, the cable going one way was not at the same height as the one coming back. In this case, the one going out was much lower than that returning so that on the way out we were rather close to the forest floor and coming back we were in the treetops 100 feet or more above ground. I had never imagined the complexity of a rainforests with so many different species interacting in unique ways. I learned that there are many, many organisms, sometimes even other trees, growing on a single tree! José did a superb job of explaining it all. Unfortunately, the density of the forest combined with natural camouflage to block from our view most of the birds and animals we could hear. That notwithstanding, the trip was fantastic.

When we got off the ride over an hour later, we were joined by a few other people and taken by Albero on a half-hour nature walk. Linda opted out and sat at a picnic table.  We had gone only a short distance, though, when Albero spotted a large three-toed sloth very low in a tree near the path.  He ran back to get Linda and others and many, many pictures were taken before we moved on.  After the walk, we enjoyed an excellent buffet lunch, sitting with David and Karen. 

After another two-hour bus ride, we were back near the coast, just a short distance north of the ship.  Here we boarded a canal boat for a tour of the Tortuguero Canals.  This time we were able to see a lot of wildlife, thanks mostly to the sharp eyes of Albero and the captain.  Albero had just been telling us of a lizard that they call a "Jesus Lizard" because it runs across the water.  He had just said, "We may see one but probably not running on the water" when that's exactly what we saw!  The little, bright green lizard ran right at the boat and around the bow.  Albero was able to catch it in his hands.  After he walked through the boat so we could photograph and even touch it, he gently released it.  I think the lizard broke the sound barrier as it headed for shore!  Back at the dock an hour later, we were offered fresh fruit but Lin and I declined.

We were back aboard at 4:45 and had a quick bite of pizza before Lin headed for the room and I to the pool where I read until almost 6:00.  It was just short of 6:30 when we joined Bob and Andy in the Explorers' Lounge. We watched a comedy show in the theater but headed to bed immediately after dinner as Linda was not up to dancing.

Sunday, January 6 - At Sea

It had been rough all night with seas of 8 to 12 feet.  I slept until 8:00 and it was 9:00 by the time we went up for breakfast.  By the time we got to the pool, seats were hard to find but we eventually did so and stayed until about noon when a rainstorm hit. After Lin did a bit of shopping we had lunch in the Bordeaux dining room, then sat on the Promenade deck until it was 3:00 and time to go to another wine-tasting.  This one had less expensive wines but was still enjoyable. 

Out of there by 4:00, we took a short nap before donning our formal duds and once again meeting Bob & Andy for drinks.  I'm sad to say we went directly to bed after dinner; I think we're wearing down!

Monday, January 7 - George Town, Grand Cayman

We'd been here before and just wanted to hang out at the beach.  We were off the ship at 9:00 and, after a fair bit of confusion, boarded a bus for Seven-Mile Beach and ended up at "Surfside Beach", what I understand is a new facility.  We paid for two lounges and two umbrellas but had to do a lot of arguing with the staff before they were set up so we both had shade.  Ours was the first ship to anchor so when we arrived the beach it was not crowded but with three ships following us in, we knew our peace would be short-lived.  I went into the water only once and Linda not at all.  We read until about 1:00, then moved to a table for lunch.  Our meal was not bad but the prices are not for the timid.  By the time we finished eating, the beach was becoming a zoo so we took a city bus back to town.  Overall, the experience at Seven-Mile Beach was disappointing; not nearly as enjoyable as our visit many years ago.  After a very short walk, we boarded the ship at 2:30 and I, of course, headed for the pool.

Bob and Andy were AWOL from the party.  At dinner Sally and Marcia were raving about their experience swimming with dolphins and sting rays and I was sorry we had not taken that tour.  I'd learn the following day that maybe I'd dodged a bullet, however. Read on for that story.

Tuesday, January 8 - At Sea

Michael & CeasarWe were out of the room by 9:00 and, because of the problem yesterday, staked out seats by the pool before heading for breakfast. 

We spent most of the day at the pool with only a short break for lunch.  At lunch we sat with a man who made me feel much better about missing Stingray City.  He said that several years ago he went there and got stung in the hand.  His arm went numb to the point he couldn't even climb back into the boat and he ended up in the hospital, first on the island and then on the ship.  He was in excruciating pain and on morphine for 3 days.  He still has numbness in his hand.  Yikes!

At 3:45 we finally faced the inevitable and returned to the room to pack.  That process took about an hour, after which we got dressed to go to the Captain's Circle gig for the last time.  Once again we followed Bob and Andy to the production show, breaking our long tradition of virtually never going to shows. After the show, we returned to the Wheelhouse and sat with David and Karen as well as Bob and Andy.  When we returned after dinner, we'd only had one dance before the band took a break.  At that point, though it was only 10:30, we called it a wrap and headed for bed.

Wednesday, January 9 - Ft. Lauderdale to Philadelphia

Though the wake-up was set for 7:00, I was awake at 6:45 to begin the trek home.  I hate this part!  Today's departure was simple though as we quickly packed the carry-ons, grabbed breakfast, met Alan's group in the  Explorer's Lounge at headed for the gangway by 9:25.  Earlier in the week we had signed up for EZ-Check, a program by which our checked bags would be picked up outside our room as always but then transferred directly to the airline to be picked up in Philadelphia.  Consequently, we were spared the craziness of finding our bags among the zillions of others on the pier and were able to walk off the ship and immediately enter the line for immigration.  That went pretty smoothly, all things considered and we were loaded onto one of Alan's 4 buses.  I'd have preferred to go directly to the airport for an early flight home but Alan's program was to provide his own little tour and get us to the airport for flights in the late afternoon. 

The first stop was supposed to be South Beach but construction on the highway made that impractical so we went to Ft. Lauderdale Beach for a look around.  That, frankly, was a waste and many of us just sat around waiting for the time to get back on the bus.  The other stop was at Sawgrass Recreation Park for an airboat Everglades tour.  By definition, the place was touristy but still fun.  Not a bad thing to do, all things considered, but I'd have traded it in for an earlier departure and the ability to get all the way home instead of spending the night in Philly.

Our flight was at 5:35 and we were at the airport long before that.  We had hoped to have a nice lunch but terminal 2, frankly, sucks and you can't get to other terminals without going back out through security.  I won't even go into all the things that ticked me off about this place but I'm not terribly eager to use that airport again. OK, maybe I get grouchy as a trip comes to an end. 

I was also a little ticked that we had to connect in Detroit while a couple who had flown down with us were connecting in Atlanta and getting to PHL long before we would.  In any case, the connection and both flights were uneventful.  The wait for the van to the hotel wasn't too long and we were soon at the hotel.  Though we were tired, we went to the Philly Diner next door for a bite to eat and headed to bed.

Thursday, January 10 - Philadelphia to home

Breakfast was the free buffet at the hotel.  The drive home was uneventful and thus ends the saga.

Overall the cruise was a very good one, though not especially outstanding. The ship was nice as were the staff and people we spent time with. My only disappointment was that we had insufficient time in ports, especially Aruba and Cartagena. We really felt short-changed on that point.