Globetrotting: UnCruise Adventures in Panama

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The Embera community shares its customs through music and dance. (Carla Hunt)
The Embera community shares its customs through music and dance. (Carla Hunt)

The UnCruise Adventures & Journese invitation read: You’re Invited…

THE EVENT: The Curators Celebration 2017, honoring the top-producing travel advisors of Journese, the luxury brand of Pleasant Holidays

•THE VENUE: Cruising aboard Safari Voyager with UnCruise Adventures in Panama

•THE DESTINATION: Panama City, Pearl Islands, Darien Jungle, Mogue River

•REQUIRED DRESS: Rainforest Casual

And so I joined Journese’s top-producing travel advisors on what proved to be a pure adventure in Panama.

It’s Day 3 aboard UnCruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager, time to explore the vast Punta Patino Nature Reserve, part of Darien Province. We, and the 25 top-producers for Journese, and many of their partners, are getting our daily briefing from cruise director Christian Matta on several choice excursions for our first day out in the Darien rainforest. The options range from mild—take a skiff to the beach for birding by boat among the mangroves, refuge for dolphins and marine birds, plus beach time and swimming—to challenging—a 3-hour hike over often steep and muddy terrain through dense rainforest, home to the endangered harpy eagle. To my amazement, 27 out of our 40 passengers reported for “lo ultimo,” laced up their boots, picked up their walking sticks, donned bug repellent and life vests, dropped into the skiffs for the ride to the beach and the trek into Panama’s first and largest reserve.

I remember thinking: No wonder they are Journese’s top-producers, a thought underlined later by a storm dumping down out of nowhere, topped off by the sighting of not one but two double rainbows. It was “Pure Panama.”

The refreshed Safari Voyager.
The refreshed Safari Voyager.

With this rather “Survivor”-style event in mind, I asked Amy Comparato, brand director for Journese, why Panama?  She responded: “Our annual Curators Celebration honors our top travel advisors by handcrafting unique journeys they can experience firsthand, then bring back and share with their clients a passion and genuine knowledge of the destination visited.”

Staying at Dreams Delight Playa Bonita Panama, coupled with the immersive cultural and adventure options offered by UnCruise Adventures, provides an exciting opportunity for new bucket-list experiences. Our trip didn’t disappoint.

Another day on Pacific waters is spent in the Pearl Islands Archipelago, made up of 90 islands and some 130 rocky islets, historically famous for its pearls and more recently as a film site for the “Survivor” series. Almost entirely uninhabited, but boasting golden beaches backed by forest canopy, the islands host a bounty of tropical flora and fauna—sample viewing: blue- and brown-footed boobies, white orchids and cacti. And mid-summer through early-fall, the archipelago is frequented by dolphins and humpback whales. Yes, we spotted both, and while snorkeling, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, special marine sightings included manta rays and green sea turtles.

Day 4 was river day, traveling by motorized dugout canoes along the Mogue River, whose astonishing wildlife includes roseate spoonbills, ibises, ospreys and raccoons, fishing for breakfast from the waters’ edge. Our destination is a village of the Embera, one of seven indigenous groups in Panama; their welcome is truly warm, and the community shares its customs and stories through music (played on instruments made of leather and tortoise shell) and dance (whose themes focus on animals and healing). And the Embera are fine artisans, producing colorful tagua nut jewelry and gorgeous, intricately woven baskets, not only highly prized but for the finest, highly priced.

Our abbreviated, but finely curated, celebration cruise followed half of the itinerary of UnCruise Adventures’ newest program, Pure Panama: Cultures, Coasts & Canal. Our host, UnCruise president and COO Tim Jacox, explained to Recommend that his company’s commitment to Panama and Costa Rica—its two cruising destinations in Central America—is demonstrated by having the right cruise vessel. “Last year we basically stripped our 32-cabin Safari Voyager down to the steel for a total renewal and redecoration.” It included staterooms and suites to an inviting dining room, as well as a comfy lounge with an active bar and good library, and broad observation decks for wildlife viewing as well as yoga, sunning, special barbecues and stargazing. And
he added, “Small ships deliver big experiences, and she’s just the right size
for adventurous exploration.”

For this passenger, Safari Voyager is just a feel-good boat: no cabin keys, open seating, imaginative cocktails, top service. While I found some of the guides more informative than others, the crew is staffed with friendly, savvy, energetic, enthusiastic, and experienced people—from both North and Central America—who are totally attentive to safety. And in this classy, well-run operation, extra special kudos go to the chef and his team for a nonstop experience in creative and delicious dining. On our cruise (and every sailing), all beverages—like all expeditions ashore—are complimentary, from local beers and custom cocktails to wines and spirits. So, too, are transfers to and from the airport, all watersports equipment and a complimentary massage.

Perhaps Journese passenger Renee Sanders, owner of The Travel Connection, captured best the Curators Celebration experience in her e-mail to Jacox: “I loved everything about the UnCruise style of cruising—just perfect! Your staff went above and beyond to make our stay the absolute best: educational, enriching, and just plain fun.”

Contact Information
UnCruise Adventures:

The Pure Panama: Cultures, Coasts & Canal, an all-Panama cruise, launches May 4, 2018. The 8-night program starts in Panama City, with an overnight at the luxury Bristol Panama, before boarding Safari Voyager the next day in Colon to see the newly expanded locks of the Panama Canal, then sail on to: two days in the picture-perfect  Guna Yala (formerly San Blas Islands); the UNESCO Heritage town of Portobello; full transit of the Panama Canal; two days in the Pearl Islands Archipelago; Darien Jungle and Embera village visit on the Mogue River; explore Punta Patino Nature Reserve and watch for whales in the Bay of Panama.

UnCruise combines Panama and Costa Rica in its 2018 cruise schedule on the 8-night Unrivaled Wonders of Costa Rica & Panama. Both cruises are priced from $4,395. For an in-depth exploration of the two countries, the spotlight is on the 15-night Ultimate Costa Rica & Panama, priced from $8,345.