Explora Cruise & the Panama Canal Cruise March 2024

by Dena Krenzien


Our trip started out with massive bumps from Miami to Barbados on American. – In a nutshell here is the outcome:

  1. Delay by 45 minutes.
  2. Second Delay by 1 hour
  3. Gate change because plane from ATL needed refueling so we needed a new plane.
  4. At new gate and had to wait for a new pilot
  5. Delay number 3
  6. Board, Taxi to runway sit for one hour.
  7. Pilot Announcement we didn’t have enough fuel and had to return to gate.
  8. The plane is now steaming hot, remember we are connecting in MIA.
  9. Medical emergency for overheated passengers and now we are stuck at the gate while this was addressed in a very hot plane.
  10. Pilot announcement, we must deplane because pilots have timed out.
  11. Wait 2.3 hours then two new pilots arrive – everyone is clapping and hooraying the pilots, they took a bow.
  12. 50 minutes later, announcement – flight crew has timed out, so they are looking for new crew members, it is now 11pm –
  13. 45 minutes later the entire crew including pilots walked off and said sorry, we tried.
  14. Overnight in MIA – took us 5 hotels to find a room – took a 4-hour nap.
  15. Departed at 8am for Barbados – arrived in Barbados at noon.
  16. Check into Coral Reef Club, which had booked for two nights, and we were charged per their agreement – and they said – your room is not ready, please have a nice lunch while we prepare your room. – Tim said, so we are being charged for our room for last night and now we have to wait for our room to be prepared……. Manager appears,,,,,, remarkably our room was ready, and we were escorted to our room.  WHEW!!!! – yes, a very long day of travel.   AA MIA/BGI has issues.  I had several cancellations this past season and we ran into several people that did not travel on our flight but were also cancelled with a forced overnight.

Coral Reef Club, Barbados:

Old School Colonial design with a lovely, but small beach, and lush gardens.  It is in need of a face lift, but not horrible, just old school charm.  Mainly Brits were staying there as a destination.  The staff and food were very good.  We stayed in a Superior Jr Suite.  The suite is large and nicely furnished, large bathroom, and fabulous front porch with two loungers, dining table and two comfy chairs for morning coffee.  Coral Reef Club is a good price sensitive alternative to Sandy Lane.  Sandy Lane is superb and the top option, and accordingly priced.

Explora I:

Lobby Bar onboard Explora I

One of the Aft Pools on Explora I

Check -in – Since we were upgraded to the Cove Residence Suite – we were able to check in early, the process was a little chaotic at first, but not bad, Explora should have separate lines for Ocean Terrace Suites – Residence Suites – Penthouse Suites, but they may not be able to do that at every port since they have to us each countries port authority.  Once we said Cove Residence then we were handed off to others who streamlined the check in and whisked us away in a van to the VIP check in area where our Butler – aka the Residence Host was waiting for us and delivered us to our suite 9030 – great location on the ship.

The Great News:  The ship is incredibly beautiful and extremely spacious.  No lines and no waiting anywhere on the ship.  The reported number of passengers was 600 out of a maximum 920.  The staff is mainly Indonesian, Indian, and Kenyan.  All smiles, genuinely friendly and accommodating and are very well trained for their positions.   Most of the Staff knew or names and our likes within a day and we were greeted by name throughout the Ship.  The ship has a large shopping area off the Main Lobby with Cartier, Rolex, Etc.  Three pools (all great), several Port and Starboard Side Hot Tubs.  6 Restaurants 12 Bars and Lounges, 24 Hour Room Service, and a Chef’s Kitchen with cooking demonstrations/classes.  Emporium Marketplace is Buffet Style open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a tremendous variety of food items.  Indoor and outdoor Fitness centers were large and well equipped.  The Wellness Spa is very large with a Hydrotherapy pool, steam, sauna, salt cave and excellent spa and beauty services.  Definitely one of the nicest at Sea.

The attention to detail in the design is very noticeable, well executed, and feels more like a resort than a cruise ship.  Classic luxurious accommodations at sea hence the tag line #oceanstateofmind.

Food venues are many and your Butler will make all your reservations for you, including spa and bridge tours.  The food has been very good to so-so, and the service is perfect.  In the Residence category, which we would highly recommend to your clients,

  1. They will stock your bar with your choice of spirits and mixers – also any special coffee or teas.
  2. Early access for check-in and Destination Experiences (excursions)
  3. Demba, our Butler (Residence Host) makes all your reservations and is very fast in delivering all services.
  4. Unlimited Laundry and pressing (crazy great amenity)
  5. Room product is outstanding –
  6. Private hot tub on your terrace (not in all residences categories some have outdoor showers), personally I find this a bit overkill – but Tim used it twice.
  7. Coffee/Espresso Machine

Areas of work needed:

  1. Destination Experiences – We received all the destinations experiences 4 weeks before sail and you must send an email to the Destination Experiences staff with everything you want to do and then they get back to you and confirm your spaces for your selected excursions and a payment link – since all must be prepaid. They don’t have a system yet to do this digitally, but our rep said they understand it is a problem and they are addressing it.
  2. The APP – not much good for anything besides checking in and giving you all the information about your cabin and sail dates and ports, nothing more. No dining reservations are included or excursions.  So pretty useless once you are on board. They are aware of this too and working on it. Tim was able to use the app for daily information, but it wouldn’t allow me to sign in because it said I was already checked in.
  3. TV on screen menu has a section called My Journey – Yep, you guessed it – nothing added to this either. Our dinner reservations are handwritten by our Butler – that is all we have.  Again, they are aware of this and are working on it.
  4. Every cabin has a sit-down vanity which houses a Dyson blow dryer, and the drawer is nothing but the massive, fitted tray for the Dyson. I removed the Dyson so I could make use of the drawer for cosmetics.  Also, the chair at the vanity is very low, and many others noted that as well.  I had to add a pillow so that my chin would not hit the vanity.  Since I’m average height for a woman and I found this to be the only design flaw on the ship was the vanity. The plug for the Dyson is too close to the vanity switch, so when you use the blow dryer, your vanity light clicks off.
  5. Emporium and Marketplace: Buffet but not a buffet – super awesome concept – where you roam around to different stations, and they fill your plate exactly the way you want it and again

    Lunch made on the River in Dominica

    no lines.  Many areas are cooked to order which is great, but you must stand and wait for it. – so, if you want a pizza, burger, pasta, fruit smoothie…. You just stand there and wait.  Many other guests said,  ‘why don’t we just tell them our table number and then it gets delivered’ (This is a norm on most other Lux Ships).  I know Explora wants to be different, but they may want to tweak this especially the food to order areas.

Islands Destinations:

Dominica:  Lovely island and very lush – we spent our day traveling up the mountain on an open military style Jeep, to Titou Gorge – which is special and busy.  We swam through the gorge to

the waterfall.  We then had an authentic lunch made on the river by fire, it was lovely day.

Curacao:  Willemstad town is very Netherland style and of course very colorful.  Lots of shops to browse and restaurants to have a few nibbles.  One day was just the right amount of time.

Aruba:  Beautiful water and white beaches.  We did a catamaran cruise and went snorkeling on an old shipwreck and then to a nice shallow reef.  Lots of coral and fish to see.  The excursion or destination experience said BBQ & Snorkeling – BBQ is a bit of a stretch as it was just some nibbles and no BBQ.

Cartagena:  Best port ever! – Loaded with tropical birds, monkeys, sloths, all open in a small jungle to wander through as you enter Colombia.  It was a lovely surprise.  We spent two nights at port in Colombia and signed up for the Salsa lessons and bar hopping on the first night.  The instructors were very good and nice, but our Group Leader was not very good.  He took us to each place then ordered a drink and stared at his phone most of the time.  Even when we were having difficulty in ordering with the bartenders because they don’t speak english – our group leader just sat there.  We also were only able to order mojitos and Cuba Libres which are all sweet drinks, and no one in our group wanted sweet drinks all night.  Many of us left early because it was poorly managed.

The following day we did tool around town shopping and eating at the famous La Cevicheria which is a must do if you’re in Cartagena. Superb ceviche.  We also checked out a few hotels and we suggest the following for any stays in Cartagena:  Casa Pestaqua, Sofitel Legend Santa Clara and Casa San Augustin.   Great shopping at local boutiques is always fun and the prices are very good. It was very hot and humid, and all the stores and restaurants are air conditioned, but they all leave their doors wide open, even the bars at night – It just seemed strange to have such a luxury and let it all flow out the doors.  When booking FIT customers, be sure to check the cruise ship schedule and adjust the dates if possible.  The first day NCL had a large ship in port and the extra 4000 people was quite noticeable.

Port Limon, Costa Rica – Honestly there is nothing good to say about this port and massive number of hawkers

Panama Canal – one of the locks we went through.

everywhere – so the Pura Vida slogan was not in full bloom at this port.

Panama Canal Crossing and Panama City:  The crossing was by far the most interesting thing we ever experienced on a ship.  Just knowing it is over 100 years old and dug out by man and

donkey power only is incredible history.  Over 25,000 people died in the building of the canal mostly from yellow fever and malaria.  Did you know the captain of every ship gives up the piloting to trained Panama Canal pilots and a large team of specialized crew? – They pull up to the ship and board quickly and once through the locks they disembark.  It was a cool marine dance to watch.  The land along the canal is lush and clean and we sail very close to everything, so that was a first for us as well.

Panama City:  We had no idea how fun and wonderful Panama City was.  Old and the new, the slums and the wealth all live in harmony together, and I mean like a block away from each other.  No hawkers, just beautiful shops, outside tents with locals selling to the tourist.  Clean, organized, heavily patrolled by police and much larger than you would imagine.

We also must note the port entry at Panama City was remarkable and brand new.  Very well organized and clean and most importantly it had AC.

On our first day we had a taste and feel of Panama City tour with Ancon Expeditions of Panama and it was fabulous.  We started at the fish market with our chef, then off to the fresh market to buy everything we would need in our cooking class.  Food Tours Panama owner Ana was amazing, and our menu was:

Panamanian Limes

Sea Bass Ceviche – so fresh and delicious

Limonada con raspadura // Lemonade with cane sugar

Patacones // fried smashed green plantain

Ceviche de corvina // seabass ceviche

Arroz con pollo // traditional chicken and rice dish

Cocada // Coconut and cane sugar syrup dessert.


It was so extremely delicious, and we learned so much about the combos of flavors that make up the unique flavor of Panama. After all that, we did a walking tour with Louis and he quickly noticed that we were melting in the heat and sweetly delivered us to our hotel the Sofitel Legend Caso Viejo.


The hotel is lovely, with a great location and they had immediate presence of great service, but it falls short soon after.  Our Virtuoso status allowed us to have VIP arrival and a Butler who was in

Spring blooms ironically landing on a yellow taxi.

the end useless.  We ordered ice from him three times and no ice, they also gave us a queen room and not the King we reserved, but it was for one night and we just let it go.  The rooms mostly face the courtyard, where the pool and restaurant are located, and it is very loud even with our TV on, the doors and curtains closed we could hear all the chattering, laughing, and dining.  On the day of our departure, the door man gave our reserved car to someone else the next morning and we had to take a cab – which all worked out, but the staff needs to step up their game since many mistakes were made and most of the travel agents were staying there from the cruise.  Tim would recommend the Hotel-la-Compania, Unbound Collection for better service and the location is only 2 blocks from the Sofitel.

Flight home was on UA, and we had absolutely no problems.  All went well at our connection in Houston, and we were finally in our own bed by bedtime.