Friday, December 6, 2013

Sailing on the Star Flyer from Panama to Costa Rica

"Ship's Log Star Flyer"

Passenger's Log, Star Flyer Date 112313 (Saturday) - Arrival in Panama City

This trip was aboard the Star Flyer, sailing from Panama City, Panama to Puerta Caldera, Costa Rica over the week of Thanksgiving. We would be traveling on Delta Air Lines to Panama City, Panama.  Delta only has one flight a day that arrives at 10PM, the same time the ship is scheduled to sail so we would have to go on Saturday before the Sunday cruise to get to the boat on time.

We got to the Atlanta airport early, even after stopping to offer aid at a traffic accident, so we had a few minutes to spend in the E-Concourse Sky Club. The flight took a 45 minute delay because of a problem with the P.A. system. There were 2 beverage services and a tiny Turkey sandwich on the plane. The movie was the same one we had seen on the way to and from Zurich earlier in the month.

When we landed in Panama City, the line for immigration looked to be about a 2 hour wait, but someone finally told us there is another immigration area and we got through right away. They took both of our pictures and an imprint of my fingerprints. They x-rayed our bags at customs and then we exited into a sea of people waiting for passengers.

We wove our way through and just as we got to the door, we saw a handsome young man holding up a taxi sign. He said it would be $33 to the Waldorf Astoria. As we were following him outside, another man asked how much we were paying and asked if we wanted a cheaper price. We decided to stick with our guy. The price seemed reasonable to us. Our young guy was apparently just pimping for other cab drivers. When we got to the car, he said we should give him $5 and give the driver $28.

It was a wild ride with a lot of bobbing and weaving and horn honking that took us through 2 toll booths.

We had a room reserved at the Waldorf Astoria, a REALLY nice hotel. Our room even had a doorbell!


We hit the bed, exhausted.

Passenger's Log, Star Flyer Date 112413 (Sunday - Embarkation Day) Isla Flamenco

I woke up early to find a parade passing by between the hotel and the ocean. A few minutes later, a bike race went by, and then a helicopter landed on a pad over the ocean. It was a busy Sunday morning in Panama City.

The hotel was just a block from the ocean and we could see the Cinta Costera (Coastal Belt) path filled with joggers, walkers and bicyclists enjoying the beautiful day. We decided to join them. The walk took us along the water and gave us a good vantage point to see some interesting architecture.

There were several gazebos along the path with activities going on. One was a pet function which we loved, since we have become pet people.

We toured the smelly fish market and made it to the edge of Old Town before we decided to turn back. By the time we made it back to the hotel, we were hot and sticky.

After a leisurely shower, we packed, checked out and left our bags with the bellman.

I found a recommendation for Athens Pizza on the internet so we set out to walk there. It was about a mile from the hotel. We had the Ladopsomo (which is a tomato, cucumber and onion salad served with a toasted pita) and the Pizza Pollo Especial. We washed it down with a local brew.

While we were finishing our beers it started to rain. Really rain! We ordered more drinks and watched a young man help the restaurant patrons to their cars. We waited and waited but the rain just got more intense. Finally, we decided to get a cab.

The taxi driver spoke no English and did not know where the Waldorf Astoria was. He stopped at the hotel nearest the restaurant and had us tell the English speaking Bellman where we wanted to go. When we got to the hotel, I (in my best Spanish) asked the driver to wait while Tony went to get the bags. Then we had another comedy of errors trying to explain that we wanted to go to the port. First he took us to the local airport, then to the Port of Balboa. We had to get our cruise documents out of the trunk to find out which terminal to go to.

We made our way to the marina on Isla Flamenco but there were no signs directing us to the ship. We wandered around for a bit until a man with a walkie-talkie directed us to another man with a walkie-talkie who directed us to another man with a walkie-talkie who showed us to the tender that would take us to the Star Flyer.

It was a bit rough getting to the ship and since we had only carry on luggage, we had to lug it up the steps by ourselves.

We were handed a rum punch and directed to the library to check in.

The staff was very abrupt at check in. Once we had our keys a steward showed us to our cabin on the Commodore deck. We were taken aback by how small it was. The bed was against the wall and we had a small porthole just barely above the water. We had to take turns, one of us sitting on the bed while the other unpacked.

The bathroom was small but clean and efficiently arranged. There was not a separate shower, just a drain in the floor in the corner with a shower curtain.

We took a few minutes to look around the ship.

We found two nice sized swimming pools and a massage room.

We had to hurry back to our cabin to get our life jackets for the lifeboat drill. The crew is very serious about the drill!

After the drill we went to the dining room for dinner. We sat with two other couples and a single guy. One of the couples was starting their 3rd week aboard the ship, having started in Barbados. They gave us an idea of what to expect. There were more than 20 people who were on their third week aboard the Flyer!

For dinner, I started with the seafood chowder and Tony, the Mac and cheese. For our second course, we had watermelon sorbet, followed by the entree (flounder for me and vegetable curry for Tony). Dessert was strawberry ice cream for Tony and chocolate mousse for me.

The ship pulled up anchor at 10pm. We went up top to watch them hoist the sails then it was off to bed for our first night onboard.

Passenger's Log, Star Flyer Date 112513 (Monday) Isla Iguana
We wondered, "Is it really only day 3?"

As usual, I awoke early. Trying to get dressed without waking Tony proved to be a bit of a challenge, but manageable.

I found the 24 hour coffee station and enjoyed a cup on the front deck while watching more sails being hosted.

At 8AM there was a 'gymnastics' class, which was really more stretching than anything else. Only 6 people participated. Tony was up in time for the class but was not one of the participants.
Breakfast was served buffet style. There was also an omelet station. We dined with a nice couple from California.

After breakfast, there was another life boat drill. After the Costa Concordia incident, cruise ship regulations changed to require one life boat drill before embarking and another one within a day. We learned more information about the ship and our voyage. There are 119 passengers this 170 passenger ship and more than half of them are repeat guests.

The cruise talk was a bit long since each sentence was repeated 3 times in 3 languages. The captain and the main crew were introduced.

After the talk, we went to the sports deck to check out snorkels and fins. 

While we were standing in line, we noticed several water spouts in the distance. The captain announced that, due to the 'tornados' the crew would take down the sails and start the engines. We kind of drove around in circles for a bit trying to avoid the storm.

We anchored around noon and had lunch before going ashore. Lunch was a buffet of mostly seafood items. There was a carving station with baked salmon. 

We changed into our swimsuits, slathered up with sunscreen, grabbed our snorkel equipment and took a tender to Isla Iguana for our first "wet landing". That means the tender pulled up "near" shore and dropped a ladder into a few feet of water. Who cares? We're going snorkeling anyway!

The beach was deserted except for our little group!

We snorkeled until our fingers shriveled up. We saw lots of big parrot fish, a pregnant puffer fish, some clown fish and some tiny purple fish.

After snorkeling, Tony took the next tender back to the boat so he could have his turn in the shower. I did some exploring on the island and found a path that led to a smaller, even more isolated beach on the other side of the island. 

I also followed the path by the sunning iguanas up to the round visitors center with posters about the area.

Back on the boat, I found Tony at the bar, let him know I made it back, and then went to shower.

We went to the top deck to watch the sails being raised and the anchor being lifted. There was always done Russian sounding music as we set sail. Tony said it sounded like the soundtrack from Hunt for Red October.

We visited with our new friends on the deck and then went downstairs for cocktail hour where we met more new friends.

Next we went to the back of the boat and sat on the stern. We felt a few drops of rain and started inside. We heard the captain say, 'lots of rain coming' and sure enough, we barely made it under cover before the bottom dropped out.

By then it was 7 and time to meet friends for cocktails.

We had dinner with two other couples. By now, Tony had discovered that the wine list had an extra page he hadn't seem the night before with the house wines - much more reasonably priced, and totally drinkable, especially the Chardonnay and the Cabernet.

We both had the chicken appetizer and the cucumber soup. I had the pork and Tony, the beef. Again, there was a long wait between the second and third courses. Dessert for us was chocolate mousse and vanilla ice cream.

After dinner, I went to the fashion show and Tony went to the cabin to model his PJs. The fashion show featured some of the young crew members who were quite entertaining.

There would be a time change when we got to Costa Rica so we set our watches back one hour before going to bed.

Passenger's Log, Star Flyer Date 112613 (Tuesday) Isla Parida

The boat rocked pretty steadily for most of the night. We awoke to the sound of the waves splashing our porthole. Because we had set our watches back an hour, it was easier to get up. Well, at least for me. I joined some other ladies on the deck for coffee. We watched some little black dolphins running alongside the boat.

Gymnastics class was pretty crowded today. Tony made an appearance just as the class was finishing. 

We had a light quick breakfast because I wanted to climb up to the crows nest. It was a bit scary, but I would do it again.

Afterward we climbed out onto the trampoline and watched the dolphins racing under the prow. 

When the dolphins tired of racing, we leaned back and enjoyed the breeze. It was very relaxing!

I took a tour of the ship. We looked at each category of cabin and finished in the owners suite. There wasn't a huge difference in the size of the cabins (except for the owner's suite). The biggest difference between the top cabin categories and the lower ones was the bathroom. The separate jacuzzi/shower combo was nice. 

Some of the cabins have fixed double beds and some can be configured as twin beds.  There are a few cabins that can accommodate 3 people.

The lowest cabin category is inside rooms with bunk beds.

One of the cabin categories has a raised bed with storage underneath. The hotel manager said that this one usually rents to honeymooners.

The tour ended in the spacious owner's suite with plentiful seating and an elaborate bathroom.

After the tour, it was time for lunch. Today we had an Italian buffet. We both tried to stick with mostly salad and some grilled veggies, saving our calories for cocktails and dinner.

We watched the crew set the anchor near Isla Parida and then went to the cabin to change into our swim suits and slather on some sunscreen.

The tender took us to the beach for another wet landing. 

We stopped at the restaurant to ask if there were nature trails. The owner, an American, directed us up a path behind the restaurant that led to a hotel that he owns. 

He warned us that it was a bit muddy because of yesterdays rain. He wasn't kidding. I had on my Tevas which were a poor choice for going downhill in the mud. The tread on the bottom was good but my feet kept sliding out of the tops.

We saw vultures, crabs and banana trees on our walk. It took us about 25 minutes to reach the small hotel. A couple of pit bulls greeted us with their barking, making us a bit nervous, but thankfully they were tied up.

In front of the hotel was a beautiful secluded beach. It was worth the walk.

We hurried back to the restaurant to have a beer before boarding the tender back to the ship.

We showered and went upstairs for cocktail hour. There was supposed to be a cocktail party on the sun deck but it had started to rain so instead we went to the covered bar. We enjoyed visiting with some new friends.

Dinner was chicken livers, mushroom soup and fish for me. Steak and fries for Tony. Each night a sample of the dinner dishes was set out next to the menu to help the passengers decide what to order.

The evening entertainment was a piano concert. We were a bit tired so we skipped it and headed to bed.

Passenger's Log, Star Flyer Date 112713 (Wednesday) Golfito
Everything on the schedule was moved up a half hour to accommodate the tours. I was just starting the 7:30AM exercise class when we learned that there was extra space on the rescue center tour.

We hurried to our room to change into our zip-off leg pants and grab some bottles of water. We didn't know there would be two boats going on the tour. We ended up being crowded onto the first boat with 16 other people. The other boat only had 12 passengers. We had to sit up front to balance out the boat. It was a nice ride.

We rode for about an hour to the rescue center Fundacion Santuario Silvestre de Osa where we were greeted by Karen the curator and Sweetie the spider monkey (and another wet landing).

Karen gave us the ground rules - don't take flash pictures of the nocturnal animals, don't take anything away from the monkeys, don't try to restrain the monkeys and don't step off of the path lest you should step on a deadly poisonous snake. She told us a little about the rescue center and Sweetie. Sweetie went from person to person showing them where she wanted to be scratched.

We saw several animals, including monkeys, badgers, pecaries, sloths, parrots, kinkajous and some others.

After the tour, Karen gave us an opportunity to have Sweetie sit on our lap for a picture.

When it was time to go, we all piled back into the boat and waited for the driver to start the boat which was being temperamental. He finally got it going and we headed for the Orchid Garden (and ANOTHER wet landing.) 

Greg, our tour guide, was passionate about plants and told us about all of the examples in the garden. 

Afterward, we met the owner and had a bit of fruit under the shelter.

We had no problem getting the boat started this time, but some of the folks had trouble getting back into the boat. Did I mention each wet landing means a wet "get back on the boat" as well? While we waited for everyone to get onboard, waves kept washing over the back of the boat.

The other boat raced us back to the ship, pausing nearby to watch a dolphin frolic next to their boat.

We made it back to the ship 20 minutes before the lunch buffet closed. Just after lunch, it rained heavily again, so we grabbed our books and went to the piano bar.

The rain drove Tony in for a nap. When it finally subsided, we went back up on deck to watch the sunset with Joy.

We had a glass of wine in the bar and then changed for dinner. Most of the passengers went to the cocktail party for repeat guests. We met a few folks for drinks at the bar. We had dinner with another couple and two of the singles. Tony had the veal and I had the salmon. I thought the crab cake appetizer was the best of the trip!

The evening entertainment was the movie, Cape Horn. It was shown on a sail on the back deck.

Passenger's Log, Star Flyer Date 112813 (Thursday - Thanksgiving) Drake Bay

Thursday started with our usual routine. Exercise with Steffi for me, and then breakfast in the dining room. We had not planned an excursion for the day so we found some lounge chairs in the shade and relaxed while all of the excursion-goers boarded tenders for their tours.

For the first time in several days, we were able to get a phone signal so we spent some time answering emails and wishing our friends back home a happy Thanksgiving.

We thought we would take a tender to Drake Bay to look around a bit, but we got caught up in conversation with some other travel agents and missed the first tender. By then, Steffi and Erik had the water sports equipment in the water so we decided to take a kayak out. We were told to stay within 150 yards of the ship so we didn't get to explore much. We circled the ship a few times looking for dolphin without any luck.

We got back on board and I was going to go swimming off of the other side of the boat, but by then Steffi who was acting as life guard for the swimmers had driven off in the Zodiac. Evidently the motor had quit so Erik had to take the other Zodiac out to tow her back in.

After we watched that bit of entertainment, it was lunchtime. In the afternoon, we found another shady spot to relax with our books. We got our usual afternoon rainstorm which delayed the photo excursion of the Star Flyer with all of her sails up by a half hour.

We had an impromptu meeting with the captain, the hotel manager and the activities director for a brief information session at 5, then we showered and got ready for the captains dinner.

We attended the disembarkation lecture. We were a bit confused by the timing of it since we still had 3 more days on the boat.

Tonight, we had dinner with a passenger who had gone on the horseback riding excursion and loved it. She said one man had fallen off of his horse and landed under the horse! He claimed not to be hurt and finished the ride. The captains dinner offered lobster tail and beef tenderloin along with the option of Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing. I decided I wanted lobster and stuffing, but the waiter said that was not possible. In the end, he brought me a little plate of stuffing (which tasted nothing like the cornbread dressing at home).

Dessert was flaming baked Alaska!

The talent show after dinner was entertaining and got everyone up dancing at the end.

Captain's Log, Star Flyer Date 112913 (Friday) Quepos

We barely woke up in time for me to get to the exercise class. Tony decided to skip breakfast so I ate with some new friends. I tried a fruit called Grenadine (no relation to the bar mixer). It was sort of slimy and pulpy and full of seeds, but sweet and delicious.

After breakfast, we watched the ship anchor off the coast of Quepos. We got on the tender which took us to a dock about a 20 minute walk from town (Our first dry landing!). There were folks on the dock handing out tourist info. We walked along the water to town.

The town is not really a tourist destination, although there is a busy bus station and lots of people coming and going.

We walked along the outskirts of town. A couple of shops were having Black Friday sales. 

We found a neat open air church. It was deserted, so I decided it was okay to explore. I went up the steps to the attic and was startled by Jesus, in the corner.

We walked around some more and found Dos Locos to be inviting so we stopped in for a beverage. Across the street was an appliance store where the appliances were selling like hot cakes!

We had seen an unusual spire over the top of the buildings so we decided to check it out. It was La Luz Del Mundo. It did not appear to be open so we didn't get to peek inside.

Along the way, we saw Quepos' fish market, the car wash, the real estate office and lots of dogs. Everyone was very friendly.

On the way back to the dock, we went through a colorful market.

A tender was waiting for us at the dock. We thought we had missed lunch, but as we passed through the dining room there was still a little food out, so I stopped for a bite. Lunch today (or what was left of it) was Asian. Tony had sworn off of eating until dinner so he headed for the room.

It was looking like rain so we checked out the movie 'Crossing Over' from the purser's office and that occupied us until cocktail hour.

We had dinner with folks from the first night, as well as three single people. Tamas played the accordion during dinner.

There was supposed to be entertainment from the village but we opted to skip it and watch another movie (SkyFall), which for me meant get some extra sleep.

Passenger's Log, Star Flyer Date 113013 (Saturday) Tortuga
Exercise class was with Erik today. He had us jogging in circles around the dance floor.

Unable to locate Tony, I had breakfast with a couple of the single folks. I later found Tony still in the cabin. He had not slept well due to the rocking of the boat.

We boarded a tender at 10AM for the beach on Tortuga (wet landing). There were lots of rental chairs set up and a tent with a lot of tables, but we quickly learned that these were not exclusively for us when we saw party boat after party boat arrive and drop off hundreds of people.

We took the kayak out and scoped the area to see if there was a good place to snorkel, but didn't see anything that looked promising. The ships crew set up a great beach BBQ and Tamas the piano player played the accordion while we ate.

After lunch, we headed back to the ship and found a shady spot for an afternoon nap.

After our shower, we took turns packing and then played a couple of games of casino in the piano bar.

We had a cocktail party on the back deck followed by dinner with a few of our new friends.

The crew paraded through the dining room with flags and sang 'We are the world'.

We exchanged contact information with some of the passengers and then retired to our cabin.

Passenger's Log, Star Flyer Date 120113 (Sunday - Disembarkation Day) Puerta Caldera 
We woke up early so we could finish packing and get breakfast before disembarking. We closed our account on the ship and were the first ones on the tender to shore (Dry landing!).

We were pleased to see our driver from Odyssey tours holding a sign with our name. We had a large van all to ourselves!

Our driver was quite informative about Costa Rica during the drive. We were off of the boat at 8:15AM and at the airport at 9:30AM. 

We paid our departure tax and got our boarding passes for the American flight to Miami.  We didn't get to Miami in time to get a connection to Atlanta so we spent the night at the Hampton Inn Airport West using some of our Hilton Honors points. It was a bit of a long ride on the shuttle to the hotel and we were hungry when we got there so we walked to the Taco Bell for a late night snack.

Passenger's Log, Star Flyer Date 120213 (Monday - Still enroute home) Miami
We had a 9AM flight but we still had to get up early though because the hotel shuttle only ran once an hour.

We got to the airport in plenty of time so we visited the Miami Delta Sky Club on our way to the gate. The flight home was uneventful.

We were happy to be home. Little Lucy, our Chihuahua, was beside herself and even Lola, our aloof cat, seemed glad to see us. Now we start the cruise diet. :(

Conclusion?  We would enthusiastically recommend a sailing trip on the Star Clipper line.
Interested?  You can book through me using the contact information below:
BJ Morris

Another fun trip! We hope if any of our new cruise-mate friends are in Atlanta, they will look us up!

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