by Annette Bignami Cruise & Spa Editor

A right, tight little trip on a nifty little ship.

Costa Rica's the kind of country that most can only aspire to. To start, there's no army, just a national guard. Locals are literate, friendly and decently fed. The scenery runs from Caribbean beaches up and over the best high altitude rain forest and back down to Pacific palms. Add a superb colonial city, an easy one hour and change ride from either coast, more birds than any other country in North America and you've a perfect setting. So it's no wonder so many Americans settle in here. It should also be no surprise that the best cruise in Central America runs along Costa Rica's Pacific Coast.

Of course, you have to trade in any thoughts of ice carvings, long waits at elevators or ports and thousands of other passengers for a tidy little ship, the M/V Temptress Explorer. It's new and its 185-feet offer comfortable cabins, individually air-conditioned and BIG windows just right for folks like my claustrophobic husband. There's no pool either; you have to "make do" with some of the cleanest, clearest, warmest water on the Pacific Coast.

One of the many activities on board

Photo by Annette Lucido

Food runs to local specialties like our favorite gallo pinto and the usual European dishes. However, we find the wonderful local fish, dishes with Salsa Limon more than enough to gain weight. Breads and pastry come fresh. Eggs just left the chicken. Seafood could have been swimming the previous day. National brand liquors are included. There's twice a day maid and even free laundry service -- a fine touch where you can be out and about as much as you like. TIP: bring lots of shorts, light clothing, several bathing suits and other tropical duds.

Overall Temptress offers a closer look at tropical attractions than you get on bigger ships. Her shallow draft accesses smaller ports, and fewer passengers eliminates overload on sometimes fragile attractions. Best of all, the ship moves mostly at night so you have daylight hours to spend on shore or in the water. Fans of the old ship the M/V Temptress Voyager will find her over in Belize.

Every evening you'll find lounge briefings on the next day's activities. There's an on-board biologist and experienced guides to handle your days. As a rule there's a morning natural history walk, lunch on the beach and complimentary recreation options like snorkeling, scuba diving, sea kayaking, water skiing, swimming or just lazing in the sun. Sport fishing's an extra cost option worth the investment as Golfito and other areas are world-class spots to catch dorado, pacific sailfish and other trophy fish.

Do realize that this is the kind of cruise that's ideal for the reasonably fit and frisky, or those at least willing to walk a bit. As a result there's a younger, or at least younger at heart, crowd than you find on ships that cruise Alaska's Inside Passage. It's pretty much a year round operation. Do check off-season summer discounts as there's not that much difference in climate this close to the equator.

Kids do well as they have the variety of shore excursions they need and, of course, on a small ship, they might even get to "steer" a bit. Best of all, there's an activities organizer so parents get some free time too.

After a day's activities, and sun (bring sunscreen, dark glasses and a brimmed hat) most are ready for the dining room or the al fresco deck buffet. Then it's time for tomorrow's briefing, snacks and movies in the Toucan lounge or sharing adventures in the bar. This isn't the usual big ship cruise. It's not for those who want a floor show nightly. But it's ideal for those who want a more intimate picture of the wonders of the Costa Rica coast.

Temptress divides its trip into three parts: The six-night Pacific Voyage; a round trip to Puntarenas; the three-night Curu Voyage; from Puntarenas to Golfito, and the three-night Cano Voyage from Golfito to Puntarenas. Choice depends on the available time and your schedule and the longer voyage basically combines the two shorter trips.

Skilled crew uses inflatables to ferry you to snorkel or Scuba sites.


                                        Curu Voyage

This Saturday to Tuesday trip starts with a short bus ride down the hill from San Jose to Puentarenas to cocktails and your briefing. The next day you wake up off Curu, a wildlife refuge before you explore Curu's woods, lagoons and rainforest. Then it's lunch on deck on the way to Tortuga -- not the famous one, but turtled none the less --that's the blueprint of a tropical desert island with palms, white beaches and fun in the sun. There's a "Tico-style" barbecue on the beach and a bonfire.

The second day you awake off Corcovado National Park, a remote, scarcely visited park full of exotic birds and animals. There's San Josecito Beach and a chance to stroll or sea kayak over to Drake Bay, a small, fishing village.

The last day takes you into Gulfo Dulce -- Sweet Gulf" with wonderful hikes and shore activities before it's lunch on the deck as you go down to Gulfito to fly back to San Jose. Golfito, it should be noted, is a world class venue for fishing.

Cano Voyage

This trip starts in Golfito after your air transfer. There's lunch in town and a bit of exploration while the ship's readied for the 3 p.m. departure. Cocktails and orientation get you ready for the next day's trip. Corcovado National Park puts you ankle deep in the Rio Pargo as you trek up to a jungle waterfall, and you get a freshwater soak in its pool. Then it's time for al fresco lunch and the move to Cano Island snorkel and dive treasures.

Then it's back on board to awake on Manuel Antonio National Park's forest trails as odd animals like White-Faced Monkeys and Tree Sloths make strange noises in the dim tropical forest. As usual, afternoon's a beach before a farewell party and breakfast in Puntaarenas for the return to San Jose.

Pacific Voyage

The Pacific Voyage compounds both of the above and adds its own special pleasures. It's a good choice if you've an additional week to give to relax and enjoy the attractions of Central and Caribbean Costa Rica. Otherwise, you might schedule in some extra fishing or lazing in Golfito, time in San Jose to visit the Rain Forest, or the short flight down to Rio Colorado on the Caribbean and a jungle launch trip. Add tropical whitewater, high rainforest visits and the other attractions of Central America's friendliest country and you've reason enough for a cruise this winter or a summer cruise with the whole family.

For information write:
     Temptress Voyages
     1600 N.W. LeJeune Road, Suite 301FT
     Miami, FL 33126
     Telephone:1-800-336-8423 -- Ask about Lou's gallo pinto
     Fax:      305-871-2657