A Small-Ship Cruise Visit to Panama and Costa Rica

One of the most popular destinations for Ciao Bambino’s travel planning services in the past few years has been Central America. It might seem like a simple place to visit — what’s complicated about warm weather, tropical resorts and gorgeous beaches? But once families start deciding which regions to visit or selecting from the range of activities available, like zipline tours and guided nature hikes, the options become overwhelming. Some clients have been there, done that, and long to return for a deeper dive into places like Costa Rica or Panama. Other families don’t want to travel all that way just to see one location, but hate the thought of changing accommodations multiple times.

The casual vibe and small ship size make an UnCruise Adventure tour through Costa Rica and Panama a unique travel experience. Photo by Jocelyn Pride, courtesy of UnCruise Adventures

For all of these challenges, a small ship cruise experience like UnCruise Adventures’ Unveiled Wonders — Costa Rica and Panama Canal tour could be the answer. It allows families to cover a lot of ground, offers seamless logistics and surrounds guests with attentive service and knowledgeable staff.

Kid-Friendly Itinerary: UnCruise Adventures’ Unveiled Wonders — Costa Rica and Panama Canal

You can leave the cocktail dresses and high heels at home in favor of hiking boots and waterproof clothes for this trip. An UnCruise Adventures tour through Central America is a more rugged, outdoorsy experience. For the cruise-averse, know that UnCruise Adventures is aptly named: Their ships offer all the convenience of a cruise without the stuffy formalities or rigid schedule. It’s why families who give them a try often return to experience other destinations via this brand. Indeed, my own family cruised on the Unveiled Wonders tour after having a great experience with the company in Alaska.

Unplanned stops in places other travelers might not get to are a hallmark of an UnCruise Adventures trip through Costa Rica and Panama

Day-by-Day Schedule and Flexibility

The Unveiled Wonders cruise is an eight-night/nine-day adventure. Families can choose to begin their trip in San Jose, Costa Rica, or Panama City, Panama. Either way, you’ll cover a similar route up or down the Pacific coast between the two. If you were to try and drive that distance, from the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica to the Panama Canal, you’d be in the car for well over 12 hours, often on very difficult roads. In other words, it’s not realistic in a weeklong trip. The beauty of this cruise is that families see more than 500 miles of coastline without doing any driving themselves and with very little unpacking and repacking of suitcases.

Families spend their first night in their arrival city (San Jose or Panama City). The next day, they are transferred to the ship, and for the next seven days, they enjoy waking up to new scenery each morning.

Flexibility on an UnCruise Adventure is a real benefit. While guests are guaranteed to see regions like the Nicoya Peninsula, Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica, as well as Isla Coiba and the Panama Canal in Panama, the ship’s crew has permission to make choices on the fly as far as exciting and beautiful places to stop along the way. On my family’s cruise,for example, one night we watched yellow sea snakes coming to the surface, attracted by the lights of the boat. Our crew had never seen this happen before. It was great to have the flexibility not to worry about an exact timetable in order to be able to experience something exceptional like this.

Feeding hermit crabs fresh coconut while on Isla Granito de Oro was a highlight of a recent UnCruise Adventures cruise through Costa Rica and Panama

Activities On Land and Water

Families can expect lots of choice in terms of activities offered off the ship. If weather and conditions permit, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, skiff boat rides and hiking are almost always available at every stop. Relaxing on the beach is totally acceptable (and encouraged), too.

These experiences are enhanced by the attentive staff. Many crew members are native to the locations where the boat stops along the cruise route, and some are trained naturalists. In fact, my family got to witness some of the crew being greeted by their own families as we arrived at various locations along the route. It was fun to see them embrace and be given their favorite homemade food. Their commentary and insight as to what it’s like growing up in these areas, alongside native wildlife, is impactful to kids and adults alike. Not only can they spot exotic species more easily than the untrained eye, but they also can offer interesting stories and answer questions from curious children.

My family enjoyed kayak rides off deserted beaches that we never could have visited on our own. We also loved interacting with the wildlife. For example, the staff gave us fresh coconut to feed hermit crabs during a stop at Isla Granito De Oro. My kids will always remember the feisty crabs swarming all over this natural treat!

Ready to book a small-ship Panama and Costa Rica cruise with kids?

That's what we do! Our Family Vacation Advisors can help you choose the right ship and itinerary, arrange family-friendly shore excursions, and more. Click to send us a request >

Traveling along the Costa Rica and Panama coast by cruise doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on more widely known sightseeing opportunities. Time at national parks, conservation areas and wildlife refuges is incorporated into the various stops along the way.

A real thrill for families, either at the beginning or end of the cruise, is traversing the Panama Canal. It’s fun to watch the massive container ships passing through the newer, larger canal while your UnCruise Adventures ship sails the small original canal. Everyone is fascinated by the engineering marvel of navigating each set of locks. It’s a stark contrast from the other stops along the way, which are mostly protected natural environments with little development.

Amenities on the ship are basic but functional, and the size allows families to be immersed in incredible locations, like the Panama Canal itself. Photo courtesy of UnCruise Adventures

Onboard Activities and Ship Amenities

An UnCruise Adventure is more about the experiences off the ship than on it. That said, my family enjoyed amazing food and very attentive service on board. Rooms are basic but nice. Families can enjoy leisurely games of cards or jigsaw puzzles in the afternoons and evenings, while adults gravitate toward yoga sessions on the top deck in the mornings. There’s usually a nightly discussion about the next day’s destination, led by staff. Kids love making friends with the other children onboard, while adults look forward to happy hour and conversations around the bar with fellow guests.

This isn’t a ship loaded with pools and waterslides and kids’ clubs. But I have found that families enjoy the simpler amenities and the quality time spent together without the distractions of regular life. As Costa Ricans say, “Pura vida!”

Passing through the legendary Panama Canal is a fascinating start or end to an UnCruise Adventure trip. Some families add on more time in Panama City after the cruise, or arrive a few days early

Additional Time in Costa Rica or Panama

If you have more time, like a full two weeks, the Unveiled Wonders cruise still works well with additional time in Costa Rica or Panama. Our Family Travel Advisors can make these arrangements, either independently or through UnCruise Adventures. Perhaps most importantly, we can help you decide which location makes more sense for additional time to explore, based on your family’s interests and the ages of your children.

Don’t let the complicated logistics of a trip to Panama or Costa Rica stop you from venturing to these incredible destinations with children. Let UnCruise Adventure’s small ship experience prevent you from falling into these potential pitfalls, and instead immerse your family into the culture and beautiful scenery of Central America in a relaxing, hassle-free way.

Relevant Links

Browse all kid-friendly accommodations and activities in Costa Rica on Ciao Bambino

See the best of Panama with kids on Ciao Bambino

UnCruise Adventures: Explore Panama and Costa Rica in casual small-ship comfort

Costa Rica with kids: Our favorite family-friendly adventures

An immersive boutique hotel experience in the historic heart of Panama City

8 days of discovery in Alaska with UnCruise Adventures 

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let Ciao Bambino! Plan Your Dream Trip with Kids

Get the latest family travel news, exclusive deals & more!

Sign up for our newsletter and you’ll be the first to know about special promotions, perks, tips and hot destinations.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sign In

Want to save all the great intel and tips you are finding on Ciao Bambino? My Trip Planner allows you to bookmark articles, family-friendly hotel reviews, and family vacation packages. Simply click the heart icon on anything you want to save. Site registration is required to get started. Happy planning!

Create an Account

Please fillout the form below to create your free My Trip Planner account.