Cruising the Panama Canal is a travel bucket wish list item for many adults, but what about bringing the kids? Small-ship cruising leader UnCruise Adventures has the perfect solution for families. Their seven-night Unveiled Wonders — Costa Rica and Panama Canal highlights the Panama Canal plus remote tropical islands and wildlife exploration in the jungle. For families who have already explored Costa Rica or want a vacation with a mix of beach and jungle, this is a convenient trip with minimal logistics.
The trip length also allows for a few extra days at either end, and in our case, we had time to explore Panama City and see another visitor center at the Panama Canal. Time-pressed families will appreciate the varied destinations they can experience in a short time yet at a relaxing pace.
This was my second family trip with UnCruise Adventures, the first being an Alaska family cruise, and our experience validated again that they offer the kind of quality family time that’s increasingly challenging to find with busy schedules and electronics in the mix. There is no WIFI on the ships, and the small-group atmosphere encourages kids and adults to come together and play cards and board games or collaborate on the 1000-plus-piece puzzles that never seem to get finished at home. Off the ship the camaraderie continues with ad hoc soccer and pickup beach volleyball games.
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One of the first comments I hear when families start thinking about a cruise is “I don’t want to dress up.” That segues into the entire vibe of UnCruise Adventures. The cruises are about exploration, with options to relax or push personal boundaries. Guests choose whether they want to sit on the beach or snorkel or go for a kayak tour. There are always several options for each excursion time, and it’s the same with dress, though most guests go casual.
For families, this flexibility is what make the cruise work so well. There’s no complaining when one child wants to do one thing and another something different, because they can do both.
The Safari Voyager has 32 cabins and holds up to 62 guests in queen or twin staterooms. It’s an intimate ship that’s easy to navigate. A need-to-know on expedition ships like the Safari Voyager is that while cabins are comfortable, they are smaller than on a large cruise ship and passengers generally spend more time outside the rooms relaxing and socializing.
The bar and lounge are the primary gathering spots where guests come to read, play games and have a drink. Alcoholic beverages are included in the price of the trip. The bartender on an UnCruise voyage is always one of the best-known staff members for both adults and kids. Drinks, including nonalcoholic options, and wine selections are interesting and tailored to the destination. The nightly social hour is a highlight for everyone.
The upper deck is the hangout spot with a view; it also serves as an alfresco dining area and a front-row seat when transiting the Panama Canal. And for early risers, this is the yoga deck as well.
Food is a focus on the ship. The compact kitchen turns out fresh and fabulous meals that are served buffet-style, and the kitchen tour reveals how the pastry chef creates such delicious treats and desserts. The chef sources most of the food supplies locally, so expect to taste new tropical combinations along with American favorites like BBQ sandwiches with three homemade BBQ sauces.
The UnCruise Adventures staff are the heart of the ship. Comprised of Americans and local Panamanian and Costa Rican guides, they offer a local’s perspective and expertise on the region and tourism. Some of our port stops were the hometowns of the guides, and we loved seeing one guide’s mom come to visit and bring him his favorite food to eat!
The staff clearly communicate through their actions that their goal is to make each guest’s trip as memorable as possible. This ranges from remembering favorite drinks at dinner to the captain allowing extra time in the schedule one evening for everyone to watch, mesmerized, as yellow sea snakes came up from the depths to swim around on the surface (a sight that no crew member had ever seen).
The staff establish the cadence and routine so well that everyone figures out by day 2 where to meet for excursions and how things work.
Beyond morning yoga and nightly destination talks, activities are held off the ship. When the ship is not cruising between locations, there is a morning and afternoon excursion. All equipment is provided for snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding. Inflatable skiffs transport guests to and from the ship and on excursions, which often involve searching for wildlife on land or in the water.
While signup is required for excursions, guests never feel the need to rush in fear of missing out — the staff always make it work. On this cruise, lounging on the beach is also considered an activity and it’s accompanied by snacks, tropical drinks and juices.
The Panama Canal and Costa Rica cruise does cross open waters, and while weather is unpredictable, seas are generally calmer in the dry season from January to April/May.
The cruise is recommended for ages 8 and up due to the physical activities on the trip. Pricing begins at $4,395 per person for a week-long, all inclusive trip.
Editor’s Note: UnCruise Adventures provided a media package in order for us to experience and review the cruise for families. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Kristi Marcelle except where noted.
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