This is the second and final segment of a story about Cruise West's summer family cruises in Costa Rica. I recently sailed on one aboard the line's Pacific Explorer with my 11-year-old daughter Alex and her godmother, Kathy.
The Small Ship Experience
Our last cruise prior to the 100-passenger Pacific Explorer was on a huge ship that carried 3,000 passengers, so we needed an adjustment period to get used to the smaller vessel. However, we ended up really liking the intimacy of getting to know other passengers and the friendly staff aboard the Pacific Explorer.
Public rooms consist of one dining room, a forward lounge, another lounge on the lower deck near the dining room, a small gift shop area, and an outdoor deck area that includes the ship's only bar. The deck area has tables, chairs and a few reclining lounge chairs for sunning. The rather plain décor is accentuated by interesting, enlarged photographs from various Cruise West destinations ranging from Alaska to Baja California. Overall, the ship was comfortable enough except for a musty smell in the lower lounge, which may result from the rugs being walked on by dozens of wet feet daily. This is the room wet passengers walk through after disembarking from zodiacs.
The largest staterooms fit only three people, so a family of four needs to book two cabins. However, on the family cruises, a child (12 or younger) sharing a cabin with an adult pays 50% of the adult fare. Teens (13 to 21 years) receive 25% off the adult fare. This is an excellent offer for single parents especially, since there are a few triples in which a single parent could cruise with two children, who would pay 50% off the parent's fare. On the large ships, single parents have to pay 100% for the first child cruising with them.
None of the cabins have keys -- which took some getting used to for those of us who live near or in cities! However, after a day on board, I felt very safe and didn't worry that anything would be taken from our cabin.
When traveling with kids, it's best to be prepared so you'll hear less whining along the way. Following is a list of things you should consider taking with you.
- Hiking boots or sturdy, old sneakers: Summer is rainy season and footwear can get very muddy in the rainforest.
- Water shoes: These are very handy for all the wet landings on the beach.
- Water bottle insulators: Passengers are each given a water bottle at the beginning of the cruise and are asked, for environmental reasons, to refill it from large purified water coolers. We found that the bottle insulators we brought from home kept the water cooler longer in the tropical climate.
- Bathing suits: Bring at least two per person, since you will often be at one beach in the morning, change into shorts for lunch, and then land at another beach in the afternoon. Two cover-ups for ladies are helpful too.
- Snorkel equipment: While snorkel equipment is provided on board, there was a bit of a shortage in kid-sized equipment. You may want to consider bringing your own if you have room.
- Videos for little ones: While there are plenty of family-oriented videos to choose from on board, you may want to bring animated classics for younger children.
- Chewable Dramamine: My daughter usually has her sea legs, but she got rather seasick the last two days of our cruise. Small ships don't have the stability that large ships do and thus little tummies may get queasy easily. Additionally, even when we weren't cruising, we were still rocking since we were anchored but not tied to a dock. I'm glad I brought chewable Dramamine, sea bands, and also some ginger which were used by Alex more than Kathy or me. Also, the two hour bus ride between San Jose and the small port of Los Suenos at the beginning and end of the cruise includes an hour of twisting mountain roads that made Alex feel queasy too. So keep that Dramamine handy!
- Pre or post-cruise hotel: We and a few other families from our cruise spent a night on either end at the Costa Rica Marriott, only 10 minutes from the airport. Cruise West's transfer company, CRT, picks up passengers from the hotel and/or airport and transports them to the port. We absolutely loved the Marriott, which is beautifully situated on a coffee plantation and a golf course. From great views to fabulous Costa Rican cuisine and atmospheric Spanish-styled architecture, the Marriott is a winner -- and reasonably priced at $139 a night. (Note: There is also a Courtyard by Marriott in San Jose which is lower-priced but not as amenity filled as the Costa Rica Marriott.)
A Summing Up
Then there's the intrinsic value that money can't buy -- giving your children or grandchildren the opportunity to learn about the natural world through hands-on experience. As Exploration leader Rudy Zamora said on our last night aboard ship, "What a wonderful, memorable gift to give your kids and our future world. Travel is about building bridges. What would it be like if all kids got to travel like this so that they learn to understand each other and our planet?" I don't know about you, but that's one of the main reasons I travel around the world with my children in tow – to teach them more about different cultures and the natural world, perhaps making it a better place in the future.