This is a reverse tourism article, visitors from Panama come to Miami and then leaving on a cruise.
My friend Mayra, her daughter Yanara and I took a mini vacation to Miami with a return on the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas. The ship is doing a seasonal repositioning from Miami to Colon Panama. For Mayra this was a mini vacation, for Yanara a buying trip and for me a cerebral repositioning.
We were not unique, there were many people from Boquete Panama on the ship and according the the crew most of them went shopping in Miami. Cruise ships are not set up for handling cargo, but people brought a lot. A partial list from the cruise director included, tires car parts, appliances, microwaves, construction supplies, doors and televisions etc. From us bags and boxes of electronics, clothing, shoes, perfume, gifts for teachers, gifts for family and a pile of things for Yanara to resell in David. The cruise director was a bit surprised, he said on their normal cruise Columbians buy in Colon because prices are lower in Panama than Columbia, now he knows Panamanians buy in Miami because many things are less expensive there.
Getting there was part of the adventure. It took us less than an hour to drive from Boquete to David. It took close to seven hours in a bus from David to the bus terminal in Panama City, another thirty minutes to the Airport and far less time to fly to Miami.
One of the benefits of living in Boquete Panama is that Boquete is remote. It is rumored that if the world does indeed end in December when the Mayan Calendar cycles, we will be the last to know about it. One of the disadvantages of Boquete is that it is remote and going anyplace beyond David is at best time consuming. In the balance, for my chosen lifestyle the remote out weighs the difficulty of travel. All trips become an adventure.
Dealing with airport security was, as always and entertainment. In Panama the immigration guy spent some time trying to find an entry stamp in my new passport, failing in that he finally asked if I was a resident. A quick look at my shiny new cedula resolved that problem. Then off to a TSA styled, strip it off and put it on the belt. Finally off to the gate for a pat down, hand wanding and carry on search.
Upon arrival in Miami entry was fast and polite, a pleasant change from my last trip to the US. The immigration officer asked if I liked living in Panama, I said yes, she smiled, her name was Gonzales. For Mayra, Yanara and others without US residency, the line was long and slow. It was an hour before they made it to the luggage pickup area.
Miami was interesting. It had been more than twenty years since my last visit, so Miami was a new experience. We stayed overlooking Biscayne Bay with a view of the Grandeur of the Seas, our ride home. I was impressed by the free public transportation available in the city and we used it.
My observations in thirty six hours in Miami included, a few wows and a few sighs. I am glad I speak some Spanish because it is the first language in Miami. We only discovered one person, a cashier in Burger King who required me as a translator from Spanish to English to accept an order. I was shocked at the prices, although our large room at the Doubletree was a reasonable $119 a night, other things were outrageous. This included the trash food at Burger King. Maybe I have been gone from the US too long, but $10 for breakfast seems insane to me. We had one good meal in our time in Miami, a Cuban place called Latin Cafe, great Ropa Vieja, excellent Camerones Asado and a reasonable Cuban sandwich all at close to Panamanian prices, alas no jubilado discount.
By the time we arrived at the cruise ship for our return trip I was ready. I personally like cruises, no texting, no internet, no cell phone calls, time to read, write and relax. I thought the drink prices on cruise ships were outrageous, until this trip when I realized they were no higher than the bars in Miami Hotels. Food is included on cruises, but things have changed. I have been on the Grandeur of the Seas before, on their annual cycle from Colon into the Caribbean. Royal Caribbean has invested fifty million dollars enhancing the ship, they added more restaurants, Japanese, Italian, Steaks etc, but these are all at additional cost.
I love the food and constant entertainment of a cruise, a chance to chill out.
It is clear Royal Caribbean wants to increase shipboard revenue, hence the new for pay products, but they are voluntary not mandatory. There is no way the sixteen hundred passengers on this cruise to Colon, each of whom paid as little as one hundred dollars made the trip profitable. They have close to nine hundred employees and large fuel bill to pay. It cost us far more to get from Boquete to Miami than the return trip of three nights from Miami to Colon. If you are not in a rush travel by sea is much more fun than travel by air.