Here is the last part of my report with some information, comments and advice, giving you the gist of the trip.

The Caribbean

The ocean and the sun, a wonderful climate, warm water from above and below, an exotic world – all these things have been a dream of mine, especially in December – and that was the most important reason for making the trip.

Travelling by ship

Going by ship is ideal for the Caribbean.  MeinSchiff 4 is a hotel that covers distances at night and mostly lies in the harbour in the day. This is how we were able to leisurely visit eight countries and ten harbour cities. We did not need a single visa. The only passport controls were when we entered and exited Germany and when we departed from the R.D. (Dominican Republic). All you need for mainland visits is the ship identification. Our passports remained in the strongbox of our suite.

The ship

Mein Schiff 4 is a German speaking ship. It is modern and well organized. The crew emanates a positive atmosphere. However, it also seems to be a product of convenience, following strict processes that are probably the same on all cruisers. You probably cannot do it any other way with 2,000 guests. The safety drill is good, but the question arises if it would actually work in case of an emergency.
The suites are spacy and functional and make a good impression. Most of the suites have a balcony. In former times, cruise ships were built in a more horizontal style. The lower decks were, for instance, reserved for the huge communal areas, such as restaurants, theatres and shops, along with the crew cabins and utility rooms like kitchen, laundry and much more. The upper decks used to belong to the passengers. Since the ships were rather broad, there were several corridors with outside and inside cabins for the passengers.

With ships now becoming broader and broader, this concept is changing. On the vertical level of modern ships, there are now the crew and service areas in the inner part of the ship at almost all central levels. That is a separate area with its own staircases and lifts. This makes it possible to have even larger community halls in the lower decks. Now the passenger area is exclusively at the outside, quasi built around the crew tower.

Consequently, almost all the suites now have balconies. We very much enjoyed ours. Whenever we stayed in our room, fresh air from the ocean drifted through the open balcony door. That was especially appreciated at night, when we were able to taste the air of and listen to the sound of the ocean without having switched on the air conditioning.

MeinSchiff 4 has two swimming pools. They are both on deck number 14 (there is no deck number 13). One of them is external and surprisingly large with 25 metres. Unfortunately, they are both operated with sweet water, rather than with ocean water. Naturally, the water used on board is won through osmose and/or distillation from ocean water. Consequently, it is not very good for the mucous membrane and the rest of the skin. That is why I hardly ever used it.

The gigantic reclining chair deposits on the diverse sundecks and inner decks are quite impressive. They almost reminded me of refugee camps. Having to service more than 2,000 passengers, you probably cannot do it any other way. Regardless of the multitude of reclining chairs, however, the German towel syndrome was ever-present. Even early in the morning, most of the reclining chairs held towels and other small supplements such as books, sun-blockers, caps or similar things to signal that they were taken. Apparently, nobody was bothered at all by the fact that the on-board instructions clearly said you should not do this kind of thing.

“Welcome back in Germany“

After a long day on the mainland, it feels good to be back on board. The crew will then say: “welcome back in Germany”. On the ship, it is also very much the same as in Germany: at least at first sight, everything seems to be well-ordered and clean – and that is probably true for normal circumstances. All the advertisements clearly follow the “German mainstream”.

But even more than in Germany, the service is provided by people from all over the world. For instance, I meet many service persons from Eastern and Southern Europe, but also from Asia. But you can look wherever you want: room service, restaurant or bar – you will never meet a German employee.

The persons working on the ship mostly do not have a German employer, either. Mostly, they are employed by agencies, for instance in Switzerland (officers), in in Cyprus (service) or in Manila (nautical). As on Meinschiff, they will then be body-leased by the holders. Naturally, this procedure is not TUI specific. The entire sector is doing it in the same way.

The work schedule, too, can only be considered in accordance with German work law if you interpret it very lavishly. They work ten hours a day and seven days a week. If necessary, extra hours are a matter of course. They only have a few days off. If someone’s work was exceptional, they get a special day off – which then, as a rule, is used for mainland visits.

The employees are happy with their jobs and their salaries. There are no deductions for social security. The countries where they are employed have very tax-friendly conditions for seafaring men. Additionally, they offer a surprisingly cheap health insurance for the mostly young persons, even if it only covers the absolutely necessary medical costs. Incidentally, this is the reason why there is no other European country that employs more seafaring men than Switzerland.

Basically, everyone who is employed on the ship is a seafaring person, regardless of where exactly they work: in the nautical, hotel or tourist sector. Consequently, they enjoy a fair net income, even though the pre-tax income is not really high. The cost of living is low, they also get tips, and they see the world. What more could you want?

All inclusive

For cruises, the TUI has an all-inclusive business model. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this concept. You often consume more than you wanted to (or should?). To make up for it, the procedure is rather simple and you really save money if you consume much. On the MeinSchiff 4 , the “all-inclusive” is actually honest. (Almost) Everything is included in the price. Even at the bar. Be it the excellent quality cocktails, the long drink, lots of beer and wine, there is a huge selection of market products, all of which is included in the price.

Only few things cost extra, for instance the specialties in three restaurants. At the bar, only very few and particularly famous spirits and wines are not included. It is true for freshly pressed orange juice and champagne.

Of the food, caviar and spiny lobsters are not included. But then, you can get caviar every week as part of your normal breakfast. Freshly pressed orange juice and the water on bottles labelled “Mein Schiff” cost extra. In the restaurants, however, both sparkling and non-sparkling water are included. There are water fountains on all decks where you can fill the carafes that will be found in your suite.

Food

The food was good quality. It is the same level as in good German cafeterias. More like Münchner Rück (MR) or Allianz than like Siemens AG.
In the (also included) “fine restaurants”, such as the big main restaurant, a several course meal is served on “posh” dishes. The food is the same (good) quality but made up to look good, too.

Self-service and service are well balanced. In several restaurants you can have both in neighbouring or secluded areas. The service does not cost extra, which means it is included in the total price, which is also true for GOSCH at the rear of deck 12. We liked staying there, especially because they had a huge open-air section. The grill bar, one deck up on deck 14, exclusively open-air, was our second favourite place. Along with the two bars nearer to the bow on the swimming pool and one deck up with their really exquisite cocktails, also all open-air.

Exercise

If you want to have enough exercise on the ship, there is a simple trick: only use the stairs and never use the lift. If you stick to that rule, you will, due to the 14 decks, the reception area on level 3 and the exit at water level on deck 2, remain in shape.…

Entertainment

The on-board entertainment is like everything else. Well organized, of acceptable quality, German mainstream like Helene Fischer. To be sure, this is not necessary my favourite, but most of the people on board seemed to like it. The same is true for the band – all of whom were certainly good musicians, but they did not seem to enjoy their own music very much – at least that was my impression. Local music – and also local food –, however, is not something you will get on such a German ship. I am sure it would not have been too hard to, for instance, take a reggae band on board between the two Jamaican harbours.

I must not forget the German Soccer League. They have public viewing on a huge screen with English comments in the open-air arena as well us under deck. Consequently, we had between one and two German Soccer League matches on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, which actually makes sense on days at sea. Of course, you get beer along with it – in huge bowls, the iced three-stripes beers from Jamaica is sitting there for you to take. The rule is: get one and drink it. If you do not like the three-stripes beer, you can also get Korona (from Mexico – my personal favourite) or one of the InBev brands (Becks, Franziskaner …). All free thanks to “all inclusive”.

For me, however, the most cherished entertainment on the ship was the great view from the top. Especially when we lay in the harbour or driove into or out of it, I was able to really collect my “great views” and spend hours just looking.

This is not what you saw from the big ship, but from the ferry after crossing the Panama Channel from the Pacific Ocean to Panama City.

Hier der Blick nicht vom großen Schiff sondern nur von der Fähre nach Durchfahrt des Panama-Kanals vom Pazifik auf Panama City.

Internet

From past experience, I know that, on board a ship, the internet access is usually via satellite and consequently not acceptable for an intense user like me. I never tried it on MeinSchiff, which means I have no idea if it was good or bad. But it was definitely rather expensive.
Consequently, I recharged my mobile phone whenever I was on the mainland. One possible way of using it are hotspots near the harbour that take a few USD for hour passes. However, I would recommend you go into the towns and either use public free hotspots or look for a coffee house where you get WLAN as part of the deal.
Digital

MeinSchiff 4 is a rather digital ship. You will find huge touch screens all over the ship. They inform you about the ship, the restaurants and the current program. The pictures showing the crew are displayed digitally and only printed after you order them. It is easy to use the ship App. Using it, I can also book trips and see how much money is on my on-board account.

Bicycle

There are no bicycles you can rent for mainland trips on MeinSchiff 4 . That was a special MS Europa service I very much appreciated. On MeinSchiff 4, you only get bicycles for specially organized tours. But you can have those both as normal trekking bikes and e-bikes. They even had e-rollers on board. But then you have a huge number of persons riding in single file on those trips, which is not an idea I am in favour of.

Renting a bicycle was possible only once at the harbours we arrived at. It seems like in Central America this is not a very popular thing to do.

Mainland trips

Everything is on offer – hiking tours, bicycle tours, bus tours, tours with boats of different sizes. You can book a jeep tour and a monster truck tour, even plane tours. In Cartageno I noticed that there was a city tour on MeinSchiff  with simple electronic scooters on three tyres.

The focus is on getting to know the country and the people, as well as cultural, historic, geographic and geological sightseeing. Many trips include the visit of an adventure or amusement park.

The trips are well organized – which, of course, always depends on local agencies. They also explicitly state this in the terms of business. The tour guides speak German or English. More often than not, the linguistic competence of the local guides is less than satisfactory. The tours are not cheap, but then the countries you visit are not cheap, either.

During our private tours, we often had nice and very positive contacts with the local population.

Day and night

Due to the time of year, the sun is in the south in December. Since the Caribbean is north of the equator, we had eleven hours of sunshine and thirteen hours of darkness. However, that is not a problem, because ten hours of sun every day are absolutely sufficient.

The guests

We probably had a good average make-up of passengers, which means we saw a representation of our society. Basically, we are talking those persons who can afford to go on a long-distance vacation. In that category, MeinSchiff  is actually quite an economical option. Regardless, I got the impression that some of the vacationers must have been saving money for quite some time in order to treat themselves to this trip, or perhaps some of them even had to borrow money for it.

Barbara said she saw a lot more tattoos than in the Unterhaching swimming pool. For me, that is not a problem, even though, personally, my attitude towards tattoos is a little on the sceptical side. Consequently, there is no tattoo displayed on my body, not even the beautiful IF logo.

Most of the persons we came in contact with were very agreeable. It only happened once that I had to suffer through a few AfD slogans during a meal …

Miscellaneous

  • Sun blocker:
    Always a good idea, although the many cloudy hours made it easier to avoid sunburn.
  • Protection against mosquitoes:
    Not necessary.
  • Diamonds:
    Can be bought all over the place, even in blue, with money returned. But they also cost a fair penny. I do not have the know-how to judge if buying jewellery would be profitable.
  • Cigars:
    Smell nice, but are also quite expensive – but I no longer smoke (except once in a while, unfortunately).
  • Coffee:
    Can be bought all over the place – but it is always rather strongly roasted and consequently not necessarily the right thing for the German mainstream taste.
  • Rum
    Can be bought all over the place – plenty of it. And it tastes rather nice.

This is it as far as IF blog.de in the Caribbean by ship is concerned until my next trip comes up.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

3 Kommentare zu “Travelling through Central America in December – Summary & Notes”

  1. Chris Wood (Saturday January 7th, 2017)

    The West Indies dominated the cricket world for a couple of decades. Did your German boat avoid this aspect of the culture?

  2. rd (Sunday January 8th, 2017)

    The “German Boat” is a business machine. It’s not interested in culture neither in cricket. But the local guide Susanne (living since 1981 in Costa Rica) mentioned the big history of cricket …

  3. Chris Wood (Friday January 13th, 2017)

    I daily find the normal Siemens canteen quality acceptable . Meat and 2 vegetables plus gravy and soup for 3 or 4 €. I rarely bother with the alternatives such as pizza, paste, Thai curry or something more expensive.
    Non-Siemens people pay double. I expect Roland has more experience of the directors’ canteens at the 3 firms mentioned.

Kommentar verfassen

*