Central America: Riding the Waves

Central America is ripe for expedition-style cruising, and the routings and activities that cruise ships are marketing for the winter season highlight natural history, culture, a bit of the water-sporting life and light adventure.

The hallmarks of expedition cruises are their informal lifestyle, their accent on learning, and their ability to include stops and shore excursions that larger ships are unable to offer. Additionally, many ships carry snorkeling gear and kayaks, just two examples of the special dimensions of the action-oriented cruise experience.

Clients cruising in Central American waters -- the Caribbean or Pacific -- will discover that fellow expedition cruise passengers generally have a lot in common: They are active people, well-educated and well-traveled.

They will also find that, unlike cruises on larger ships, most expedition sailings put the accent on seeing and doing by including shore excursions in the cruise price.

Following is a look at companies offering expedition cruises. Prices are per person double, and do not include air fares, except when indicated.

Temptress Adventure Cruises'Temptress Voyager will be sailing in Costa Rican waters next year, with a visit also to Coiba Island National Park in Panama. Cruises will depart from and return to Puntarenas, and cruise ports of call will include the Curu Wildlife Refuge, Tortuga Island, Corcovado National Park, Coiba Island, the Corcovado conservation area at Drake Bay and Manuel Antonio National Park.

The 62-passenger Voyager, fitted with outside cabins with private bath and air conditioning, features a program of natural history and light adventure, with shore excursions led by staff guides. The line also offers children's programs with trained counselors in charge. Activities for all include snorkeling, diving, kayaking, sport fishing and water skiing.

Cruises can be booked for three-, four- and seven nights; the seven-night program in the high season (Dec. 11 to April 15) ranges from $1,995 to $2,695; the balance of the year, per person costs range from $1,695 to $2,195.

Additionally, the company will operate two New Year's voyages to Panama and Costa Rica: Dec. 26 through Jan. 4 aboard the Temptress Voyager and Dec. 27 through Jan. 5 aboard the 100-passenger Temptress Explorer. The two ships will pass each other during the historic Canal transit.

Ports of call on these cruises include Manuel Antonio and Corcovado National Parks in Costa Rica and Coiba Island, Las Perlas Islands, Portobelo, the San Blas Islands and the Hollandaise Cayes. Prices range from $3,625 to $3,925.

Lindblad Special Expeditions has chartered the 100-passenger Temptress Explorer for 10 departures, five from San Jose and five from Panama City between Feb. 19 and April 22; all cruises are accompanied by two staff expedition leaders.

The seven-night itinerary starts in Puntarenas and includes ports of call at Manuel Antonio National Park, Refugio Curu, the Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica, and the Isla Coiba National Park, Las Perlas Islands and the Panama Canal transit in Panama, before disembarking in Balboa.

The cruise costs range from $2,980 to $4,180, featuring accommodations in outside cabins with twin double or queen-size beds; an optional six-night extension is available in Costa Rica at a per person cost of $1,790.

Tauck Tours will operate La Ponant, carrying 60 passengers in private-sailing yacht style to see the Treasures of Costa Rica and the Panama Canal between Jan. 11 and through March 8.

The nine-night program features six nights aboard La Ponant, preceded by visits in Costa Rica to a butterfly farm, the Poas Volcano National Park, the Cafe Britt coffee plantation, a rain forest aerial tram ride and Sarchi, where artisans paint colorful ox carts. On the cruise itinerary, ports of call are the Braulio Carrillo National Park and Marenco Biological Reserve in Costa Rica, Coiba Island National Park, the Pearl Islands, a Panama Canal transit and the San Blas Islands.

The land/cruise cost is $4,090 per person and includes all land and cruise arrangements, shore excursions and wine with dinner.

American Canadian Caribbean Line has added five new seven-day itineraries to its Belize/Barrier Reef destination, operating between Feb. 25 and through March 24; its 12-day Belize/Barrier Reef and Guatemala routing will have five sailings, Dec. 17 and 29 (for the Millennium), Jan. 14 and 28 and Feb. 11.

The company's informal and friendly ship is the 84-passenger Niagara Prince, whose itineraries feature the wonders of Maya ruins in Belize and Guatemala and those of Belize's Barrier Reef. The latter can be explored from a glass bottom boat or by snorkeling, using the ship's equipment. The ship also features a specially designed bow ramp that lowers onto secluded beaches.

Rates for the 12-day cruises range from $1,800 to $2,645, and costs for the seven-day cruise range from $1,050 to $1,540. A pre-cruise package, available for all Belize cruises, takes passengers to the Xunantunich ruins, Guanacaste Park and Belize Zoo.

Windstar Cruises has scheduled nine cruises in Costa Rica aboard the 148-passenger Wind Song between Jan. 8 and March 4, departing from Puerto Caldera. The seven-day cruise makes a first-time visit this season to San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, with an excursion to colonial Grenada, and then sails into the small Costa Rican ports of San Josecito, Drake Bay, Quepos Playa Flamingo, Curu Reserve and Tortuga Island.

Windstar's cruise is offered at a two-for-one promotion for cruise-only cost that starts at $2,043; the cruise's price with air from Miami and transfers in Costa Rica starts at $2,595 per person.

Windstar's newest destination for 2000 is Belize, with cruises departing from Cancun, Mexico, and following the route of the Maya for seven days to Roatan, Honduras; Goff's Caye, Half Moon Caye Reserve, and San Pedro in Belize, and Cozumel in Mexico, before returning to Cancun.

From Jan. 23 through April 23, the 14 cruises scheduled aboard the 148-passenger Wind Star, are available at ASAP (Advanced Savings Advantage Program) for cruise-only starting at $2,337; inclusive of port charges and taxes, this represents a savings of up to 45% off the brochure rate and applies to all sailings between Jan. 23 and April 23.

Shore excursions for Windstar Cruises' passengers highlight the ecotourism aspects of the region and range from canopy rain forest tours, to swimming with the dolphins and snorkeling among the sharks or visiting Maya cities of Copan and Tikal. Excursion costs are additional, as is scuba diving for both certified divers and new divers interested in the Resort Certification Course.

Contact Numbers

American Canadian Caribbean Line: (800) 556-7450
Lindblad Special Expeditions: (800) 397-3348
Tauck Tours: (800) 214-5158
Temptress Cruises: (800) 336-8423
Windstar Cruises: (800) 258-7245

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