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Best surprise on cruise is that Princess Cruises has made it even better than I imagined

Street vendors were everywhere in Cartegena but it still made for a colorful day.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Surprises are not always a good thing, but so far I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised by my first cruise experience in over 40 years.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on board the Coral Princess for our 10-night Panama Canal cruise. I knew Princess Cruise Lines had a solid reputation and AAA travel advisor Roxanne Laks of Lexington assured me we were going to love this trip.

Guess what? After five nights on board, she was right. We are loving this.

What’s not to like. Great food — I’ve had shrimp pizza, salmon potato salad and mango cheesecake all for the first time. I’ve had more shrimp cocktails than I can count.

Princess staff members have made sure I’ve had a great time.

Entertainment? I’ve watched two movies under the stars on deck and it was a magnificent experience. We’ve been to three musical shows — and all were superb. So was the disco dance deck party where I had a few sips of Limoncello to bring out my best moves.

I even managed to run a couple of miles around deck one day and three other times I’ve been to the gym where being on an elliptical overlooking the ocean makes the time go by a lot easier.

We’ve made two stops — one in Aruba and one in Cartagena, Colombia.

We opted for a bus tour in Aruba rather than beach time since we had just four hours in port. We got to see the historic California Lighthouse, named after the ship California that sunk off the Aruba coast. It was built in 1910. It was terrific, but what I liked even more was the chance to have coconut water — and watch the hole cut in the coconut and then seeing the same man take it back, cut it open and cut out pieces to eat.

The Baby Natural Bridge is a combination rock/coral formation. The original Natural Bridge fell into the sea in 2005 but the smaller bridge is still a popular spot with some unusual rock formations — and the winding road to get there was not quite what I expected in Aruba where milk and gasoline are both over $5 per gallon.

We rode a semi-sub so we could see the submarine Antilla shipwreck as well as various types of fish — not to mention the scuba divers who were everywhere. We also got a look at some of the best beaches I’ve ever seen.

At Cartagena, we picked the historic old city walking tour. Our guide, Jairo, gave us a history of the city before turning us loose for about 90 minutes. Cartagena is a port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast and we were warned about the street vendors who made a living selling a little bit of everything to tourists.

However, I loved every minute not only of the tour, but also bartering with the vendor. We ended up buying a hat, two necklaces, two magnets, chocolate candy and coffee for $21. Not bad considering the original asking price of the hat was $25.

But there were so many policia — the Spanish word for police — everywhere you looked that I never worried about our safety. The policia were friendly and seemed to enjoy talking as much as I liked talking to them.

As you are reading this, I should either be watching the Coral Princess go through the Panama Canal or be through the canal and enjoying a monkey and wildlife nature cruise on Gatun Lake where I am hoping to see capuchin monkeys, 3-toed sloths, howler monkeys, toucans, caiman, crocodiles, turtles and various butterflies.

All in all, it should just be another day in paradise thanks to Princess Cruises.

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