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Travel review: Pride of Panama Cruise

By Lisa Bailey | Weekend | Published:

Zip-lining through the Costa Rican rainforest, a journey through the Panama Canal, our 11 year old son singing along with buskers in the city of Cartegena, Colombia and chilling in Jamaica – all ticked off the bucket list within one fortnight.

Vibrant and full of colour – Cartagena in Colombia

We were able to fit this all in because we were on the Tui Pride of Panama cruise aboard Marella Discovery 2 followed by a seven-night stay in Jamaica.

The itinerary was superb, making its way through the Caribbean and central and south America. We flew to Montego Bay in Jamaica and then over the next week we visited Puerto Limon in Costa Rica, Colon in Panama, and Cartagena and Santa Marta in Colombia.

Marella Discovery 2 can take more than 1,800 passengers. We stepped aboard the spacious Dreamliner plane at Birmingham and didn’t see our luggage again until we arrived in our outside cabin with balcony.

Drinks, including Prosecco and cocktails, and all gratuities are included in the cruise. This makes it so much easier to keep a track of your spending. The dress code for Marella Discovery 2 appears quite casual with only one night when it was dress to impress.

Depending on what you fancy, you can pop along to a variety of restaurants, including the Snack Shack and The Islands restaurant – a buffet.

In the swim – whether you are sunbathing and sipping a cocktail or enjoying activities, the pool is one of the main focal points

But, if you prefer waiter service, which we did, there was 47 (degrees) or Gallery 47 (degrees), which had an Italian menu. At 47 degrees you could sit close to the floor-to-ceiling windows and look out at the latest port. Salads and sandwiches were also served during the day at The Glasshouse, which houses the indoor pool, and in the evening you could tuck into pizzas and tapas-style food.

We ate at two of the three a la carte restaurants – Surf & Turf and Kora La. They were both very different, but Kora La stood heads and shoulders above any of the restaurants aboard Marella Discovery 2.The staff were fantastic and talked us through the Pan-Asian menu. We could mix and match with our choice of meat and spiciness of the curry. All our meals were cooked to perfection. A la carte meals were at an extra cost.

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There was also plenty of entertainment depending on your mood with the Broadway Show Lounge, Live Room, Venue, Atrium Bar, Movies by Moonlight and there was the dapper Bar Eleven at the highest part of the ship. Shows dazzled in the Broadway Show Lounge with Steel City (a version of Full Monty) and Festival Live! (music festivals throughout the years.)

Our son was never short of things to do with minigolf and the gamer zone, where he could play on an Xbox, as well as the main pool. Unfortunately the windy weather meant he never had the chance to try the rock climbing wall. The beauty of a cruise is that you wake up in a different place most days. The judder of the ship’s engines coming into port and then opening your curtains to find yourself in another location is thrilling.

Vibrant and full of colour – Cartagena in Colombia

First port of call was Puerto Limon in Costa Rica. We planned a day of adventure with a zipline adventure and Tortuguero Canal tour. After an impromptu walk because our bus got stuck on a steep incline, we were all kitted up and whizzed from the 13 suspended platforms through the rainforest on the zipline.

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The afternoon was a little more sedate with a riverboat tour of the Tortuguero Canals. Our guide Alberto led us through the maze of lakes and channels of Toruguero National Park. We got up close to a sloth and could see monkeys in the distance.

There was a crocodile about 1.5 metres long. The cynic in me thought it had been planted as it was so still until it moved – I also shifted very quickly.

Fine food – one of the onboard restaurants

Next day, we arrived at Colon in Panama. It has been our dream to go through the Eighth Wonder of the World Panama Canal – a major feat in engineering that saw the loss of 25,000 lives during its construction. This enormous waterway bridges the 48-mile gap between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. It is the only place in the world where you can go from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean or vice versa in the same day. It was an early start and was a full eight hours, but well worth it.

In front of us there was a cruise ship and we were told that companies would pay thousands of dollars to travel through the canal. The charges seemed extortionate.

The next part of our cruise took us to Cartagena – Colombia’s second oldest city. We went to the old town, which is the only walled town in the Americas. Bustling and vibrant, the old town had a real buzz about it. Dipping in and out of shops and wandering through the colourful streets you could capture the Spanish element. A quiet five minutes was spent having a drink in a library.

After walking around part of the walls, singing Despicito with buskers, watching breakdancers in the street and a service in the Cathedral we had a drink in a cafe. Our son Daniel had the most incredible milkshake.

Lisa, Neil and Daniel at Sunset Cove, Jamaica

By contrast, our last stop was Santa Marta – Colombia’s oldest town which was founded by the Spanish all the way back in 1525. This town didn’t have the atmosphere of Cartagena and we felt afterwards that perhaps we should have done an excursion to get the best out of this port.

After a busy week on Marella Discovery 2, we had opted for a stay at the four-star Grand Palladium Hotel in Lucea, Jamaica.

Our room for the week was a junior suite with whirlpool bath and overlooking the turquoise blue sea. It was great to wake up to the sound of waves.

The luxurious Grand Palladium boasts the largest pool in Jamaica with Roman columns, recliners in the water and a swim-to bar. Not only is there the pool, but there are also white sandy beaches.

While I soaked up the sun with cocktail in hand, our son was playing beach volleyball, table tennis and water basketball. My husband was joining him or trying out one of the fitness classes or the gym.

When they paused for breath we could grab lunch. It also gave us chance to sample one of the Jamaican dishes – tingling and tasty Jerk chicken with bammies and salad.

The pool is surrounded by the many restaurants and bars. Mo’Bay, Blue Lagoon and Negril were the buffet restaurants and the array of food was amazing. Our son couldn’t believe his luck when he was having iced donuts for breakfast .

Fine food – one of the onboard restaurants

You could eat every evening in one of the seven a la carte restaurants, which ranged from Italian to Creole cuisine. All were excellent. It was a little frustrating when we found that you couldn’t make reservations, but we soon got used to booking in and then having a leisurely drink at the Infinity Bar.

Sunset Cove was our favourite spot and you had the chance to try watersports – paddleboarding, kayaking and pedaloes ­– for free.

Getting used to the laid back Jamaican way of life was a little difficult at first, but when you realise that they just don’t rush you start to chill.

The cruise and stay was a wonderful mix – the hustle and bustle of the first week with sightseeing and visiting different countries topped off with relaxation and trying the many activities at the Grand Palladium.

Lisa Bailey

By Lisa Bailey
Assistant Editor - @lisabailey_star

Express & Star assistant editor at head office, Wolverhampton

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