In our ongoing adventures and explorations, we are always looking for a way to work on our lifetime goal of visiting 100 countries and ways to stretch our dollars.
Before taking the relocation cruise from Miami to Panama in November 2013, we were not keen on Cruising at all (a floating hotel that goes from A to B and then returns to A) however as a method of getting from A to B it has a lot more appeal.
As our original plans where to go to South America from Panama we had been keeping an eye on the same vessels current route as a possible alternative. The seven-day trip (last one of the year is April 19th) leaves Colon Panama and visits Cartagena, Colombia then Bonaire, Aruba and Curacao before returning to Panama.
After hours of online research, it was soon evident that flying from Panama to Colombia was outrageously expensive. Shortly after this our plans changed as we landed a month long housesit in St. Lucia. South America will have to wait awhile it seems!
St. Lucia had long been on the ‘wish list’, it would take us closer to our next housesit in the Grenadines and give us a chance to visit friends who were spending the winter in Grenada.
At first glance, the task of getting from Panama to Grenada was not going to be as easy or as cheap as we had hoped. International flights from Panama to Grenada where around $600 each, with a Bonus……… a 12 hour overnight stopover in Miami. Yikes!
Thanks to thinking outside of the box and regular updates from Royal Caribbean in my inbox, we had a rare opportunity unfold. That seven-day Caribbean trip was still running, what if we left the ship in Curacao?
After a few hours on Google and a calculator, we ascertained that:
- Flying to Curacao on Copa airlines (Copa does not fly to Grenada) from Panama cost $1150 each.
- Curacao to Grenada via Liat cost $197 each.
- Panama to Curacao, via Miami cost $759 each with a 12 hour layover.
- Cruise ship from Panama to Curacao in an inside cabin, including tax and tips cost $527 each!
Surprisingly it cost less ($724 each) to get to Grenada via Curacao on the cruise ship even with a short connecting flight than flying all the way ($956 each) and we could visit a few more countries along the way.
Before going ahead and booking the cruise, we heard a number of opinions on the validity of our plan.
The main concern was a personal story from two very experienced cruise ship travelers who repeated stories of passengers charged large early disembarkation fees and were adamant that you could not get off at a port other than your embarkation point.
The latter point is probably due to this ruling, courtesy of Holland America.
CHANGING YOUR ITINERARY
With very limited exceptions (such as some Panama Canal
cruises), U.S. law prohibits persons from beginning their
cruise in one U.S. port and ending it in a different U.S. port.
For this reason, voyages originating and ending in the same
U.S. port will not allow embarkation or disembarkation in an
alternate U.S. port. Please note that this is a U.S. government
regulation over which Holland America Line has no control.
However, we were neither embarking nor disembarking in US ports and could find nothing to say that early disembarkation was not allowed. What we did find on Royal Caribbean’s website Q & A section was proof that it is possible.
|Q:||Can I take a partial cruise?|
|A:||Yes! Partial cruises allow you to enjoy part of your cruise vacation in the event that you are unable to meet the ship in the scheduled boarding port, or would like to end your cruise earlier than the scheduled departure date.Requests for security clearance concerning late boarding or early departure must be submitted in writing to the Guest Flight Operations office for consideration at least one week prior to sail date. Guests must have a confirmed reservation in order to receive clearance. If the reservation was made by a travel agency, the agency must submit the request on travel agency letterhead. Guests with reservations made directly through Royal Caribbean International or royalcaribbean.com can submit their own request. Please include a return fax number or e-mail address.|
Before booking the cruise, we double-checked with the booking agent (we booked directly through Royal Caribbean not a travel agent). Upon check in, we confirmed that we were departing early and were given instructions on how to obtain immigration clearance once we arrived in Curacao.
The whole process–at least with Royal Caribbean–was remarkably easy to do and we disembarked trouble free in Curacao as planned.
Other cruise lines either ignore this option completely or make vague references to it on their websites, guests are not encouraged to consider a cruise ship as transportation it seems. Your best option is to call their customer service departments directly and ask what would happen “if you had an emergency and had to change your plans and leave the ship early”.
Travelling by cruise ship and not merely doing a return run does indeed seem to be a viable and comfortable slow travel option. Food and accommodation are included and you get to visit a few countries along the way.
For us it was a win win, we visited four new places, got to where we wanted to go and saved money along the way.
Lesson learned Think outside of the box and consider all options no matter how whacky they sound.
Tip: Know the rules regarding airport departure fees, many countries including Curacao do not charge if you have been in the country less than 24 hours.
Do you have a cruise story to share? As always, we would love to hear from you.