By LARRY VAUGHT
Let me be the first to admit I was not sure what to expect on our 10-night cruise aboard Coral Princess from Ft. Lauderdale to the Panama Canal and back.
It had been over 40 years since my wife and I had been on a cruise — and I really wasn’t sure I wanted to be on this one.
However, am I ever glad that I went. I didn’t just like it. I loved it and we’ve already signed up for another Princess Cruise.
What’s not to like. Great food — I had shrimp pizza, salmon potato salad, sweet potato/shrimp chowder and mango cheesecake all for the first time … and that’s just the new foods I can remember because there were plenty more. I had more shrimp cocktails than I could count.
Entertainment? I’ve watched four movies under the stars on deck and it was a magnificent experience. We went to four musical shows — and all were superb. So was the disco dance deck party as well as the “Voice” contest with passengers showing off their talent.
We visited five countries — Aruba, Colombia, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Panama.
The most memorable excursion of the cruise for me was Dunn’s River Falls where I climbed an approximate 600-foot water falls that had natural stepping platforms that were harder to navigate than I originally expected. Our guide was magnificent keeping our group of about 20 focused on the task at hand.
Luckily, two Coral Princess staff members — singer/dancer Amy Hogan and customer service agent Mark Bosita — had time off and were on the same tour. I had met Amy a day earlier during a “meet the crew” session and introduced myself to Mark when we started the climb and they made sure I stayed on course.
The plunge pools were spectacular. I slid on my butt a short distance down a rock into a pool that was a lot deeper than I expected. There was also another time where you were encouraged to fall backwards into a plunge pool. I knew I was too old to do that, but I did any way.
The monkey and wildlife nature cruise on Gatun Lake in Panama was unique for one simple reason — monkeys actually came on board to take fruit from the guides. It’s hard to describe what it is like watching a monkey make his way through the trees to jump on the boat, snatch a banana and then head back.
The rafting trip through Class II and III rapids in Costa Rica was exhilarating. Several times water seemed to completely cover our group and a few other times the water got so shallow that we were stuck in the rocks. But after the trip, we had a Costa Rican family make us a typical meal with beans, rice and chicken – and the local drink favorites – that was out of this world.
At Cartagena, Colombia, we picked the historic old city walking tour. Cartagena is a port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast and we were warned about the street vendors who made a living selling a little bit of everything to tourists. However, I loved bartering with the vendors and got a hat, two necklaces, two magnets, chocolatey and coffee for $21. Not bad considering the original asking price of the hat was $25.
There were so many policia — the Spanish word for police — everywhere you looked that I never worried about our safety. The policia were friendly and seemed to enjoy talking as much as I liked talking to them.
In Aruba, we saw the Baby Natural Bridge — a combination rock/coral formation — and rode a semi-sub to see the submarine Antilla shipwreck as well as various types of fish — not to mention the scuba divers who were everywhere.
Getting to ride/race a custom-designed Jamaican bobsled for a twisting, turning 3,280 feet through the rain forest was pretty memorable as well.
Panama Canal? It was spectacular just watching how we were navigated through the locks and knowing something designed and built so long ago is still such a major factor in today’s society. I’m not sure anything else than going through the canal could have had everyone — including crew members — up by 7 a.m. to watch and enjoy.
As good as the excursions were – and you had a lot of choices – nothing was better than just relaxing by the pool in the sun with the wind gently blowing as you looked at the ocean. I could have sat there for hours each day and been totally content.
A different type of memory will always be having Sherry and Marvin Clary of Charleston, S.C., track me down on board because their son-in-law, Winchester native Morgan Codell, follows me on Twitter and saw my tweets from the cruise ship (Internet service was far, far better than I was led to believe).
“We bought your picture so we could find you,” explained Sherry Clary. “We have searched for you for three days.”
“Our son-in-law is a big UK fan,” Marvin Clary, a Clemson fan, said. “His parents and brother still live in Winchester and they are all big UK fans, too. Our son-in-law follows Kentucky everywhere.
Was it expensive to cruise? Yes and no.
I figured a couple that drove to the SEC Tournament in St. Louis, bought two sets of tickets and stayed four nights probably spent $2,000 to $2,300. I estimate that a couple who go to the Bahamas in August to watch UK play four exhibition games and stay six nights and buy tickets to the games will spend at least $3,700 — if not more.
For about $5,000 we had a mini suite with a balcony, 10 days of all the food we could eat, 10 days of brilliant entertainment and options to do things we could never do in Danville. And the weather — sunny, warm and not too humid. Again, what’s not to like.
“It’s a lot of hard work and we do a lot of shows,” singer/dancer Amy Hogan told me on the day we climbed the water falls “But on days like this, how can you complain.”