Cruise lines and ships generally do a good job contracting with tour companies to provide shore excursions for their passengers and that can, at times, be a monumental undertaking. When ships visit ports on a regular basis the job of booking tours is mostly routine – same port, different day. Sometimes the port is not on a regular itinerary list or is a brand new destination for the cruise line. In those cases there is a lot of new ground work to do and a fair amount of reliance on local tour companies. Sometimes things don’t go just as they were planned.
A Sunset Cruise Without A Sunset
On a Panama Canal cruise that was to finish in San Francisco there was a scheduled port of call in Cabo San Lucas. Having been to Cabo a couple of times we decided we’d book a sunset party cruise for something different. Cabo is an upscale resort city that sits at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula. Off to the west of town are some incredible beaches with names like Playa del Divorcio (Divorce Beach) and Lovers Beach Playa de los Amantes (Lovers Beach) surrounded by steep cliffs and a few rocky islands and the famous arch of Cabo.
Two days out of Cabo we were sitting on deck watching the Sun drop into the Pacific and realized it was almost eight o’clock. Checking the reservation time for our two hour sunset cruise in Cabo we realized it was for five o’clock? The next day we checked with the ships tour desk and at first the attendant just couldn’t understand our problem with a sunset cruise that ended at seven when the Sun set at eight. That was a situation that required calm patients.
Long story short, that evening we got new reservation confirmations with the cruise leaving at seven instead of five. It was a light breeze, calm seas, good snacks and drinks and a really spectacular sunset.
Sightseeing In The Dark
A long time ago in the Navy we called it “chopping the rock” meaning passing through the Straights of Gibraltar. The ships log would record the time of each transit and I served on a ship that routinely passed through the straights dozens of times. It’s one of the world’s great ocean passages with the Atlas Mountains of North Africa off to the south and the Rock of Gibraltar to the north standing in majestic solitude. I’ve seen the Sun set behind Gibraltar in the evening and I’ve watched the the Sun rise as we sailed east into the straight. Over those years we went into the port of Gibraltar only once.
A couple of years ago we were on a trans-Atlantic sailing out of Italy with a scheduled port day in Gibraltar. I wanted to show my wife the upper Rock and the apes that lived that stole my hat a long time ago. We booked a general tour that included the caverns, the gun batteries dug into the Rock and a visit with the Gibraltar apes. The ship was supposed to dock before four a.m. And it seemed odd that the tour time was for 4:30 but assumed that the ship and tour operator knew what they were doing.
As the tour bus drove out of the port facility in total darkness I wasn’t so confident anymore. First stop was the lighthouse for a look at North Africa. Still dark there were lights bobbing around in the straight and if the beam of the light was maybe stronger we would have seen a bit of Africa. We climbed the Rock still in total darkness and we couldn’t get into the battery because the facility wasn’t open yet. The bad news was I lost a few hours of sleep for nothing but the good news was the ship refunded the tour price. Still not so sure who set that up and why nobody checked the time of sunrise.
The First Ship To Dock At The New Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
On a southbound cruise from San Diego our ship was the first cruise to make a call at the newly developed port of Quetzal, Guatemala. The countries government was ready to show off their new cruise port and it was obvious that a lot of effort had been put into impressing the cruise companies. The cruise facility had a really nice crafters village next to the pier and there were several dozen stalls selling mostly hand crafts. We picked up some local jade carvings and a few beaded Christmas ornaments before heading out.
For the excursions a local company had been set up as the tour provider and a number of excursions were offered through the ship’s excursion desk. One tour was a trip to Lake Atitlán and the Volcáno San Pedro about seventy-five miles from the port. The countryside, rainforests and landscapes were fantastic and rising above the mountain lake on a near shore were two impressive volcano cones jutting into the sky with halos of smoke curling around their peaks.
The roads were narrow and the trip to the lake took a surprising amount of time. After a couple of hours sightseeing around the lake it became obvious that there was no way the tour would make it back in time for the scheduled ships departure. It’s common knowledge that ships don’t sail away and leave a tour booked through the ship but it seemed nobody told the Guatemala government. The tour operator panicked and called his government contact and because of the importance of making a good first impression, the government official panicked too. Shortly after the bus began rushing down the mountain it was joined by military jeeps with flashing lights and sirens out ahead and the pace picked up considerably. Fifteen minutes later a military helicopter joined the group flying low and a several hundred feet ahead of the jeeps. It was a wild and exciting ride that almost made it back on schedule and gave a group of passengers something to remember.