This post is also available in: Spanish
By Ilene Little
A luxurious ferry: The Island Express III
The new Island Express III arrived this month in Panama to ferry passengers from Panama City to the Pearl Islands. “It is brand new, from Washington State,” said Claudio Caicedo, Sea Las Perlas Operations Manager.
“It’s top of the line, with nice cushioned aircraft seating and it’s faster than the other ferries in the fleet.” said Captain Randy Rickson.
Beefier, faster and smoother passage
“Powered by two 500hp Iveco diesel engines, we do 30 knots whereas the other ferries in the line do 20 and 22 knots,” said Rickson. “So we get to the nearest Pearl Island destinations in an hour and 25 minutes versus an hour and 45 minutes. Because the 92-passenger vessel is longer and wider, the ride is smoother.”
Cutting travel time down to a three-hour round-trip is especially important to tourists taking day-trips to Contadora, the hot-spot in the Pearl Islands.
“I’ll be running the Island Express III all weekends,” said Rickson, “because that’s when the big passenger loads are: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Other schedules will be added “passengers permitting,” explained Rickson. So, as the demand grows, more passage options will be posted.
Rickson said Sea Las Perlas owner Sonny Eymann is already building Island Express IV. “We are improving the Las Perlas fleet with new boats, said Rickson, “We’re constantly seeking to upgrade the passenger experience.”
The passenger experience
I booked passage last week on the Island Express III, and I can tell you the experience is totally different from riding on the slower, older ferries.
Riding on bench seats on the stern deck is a thing of the past. On the Island Express III, the stern deck is set up like a cruise ship with colorful deck chairs and plenty of walk-around space. Inside there is airplane-style theater seating, three-foot wide aisles, and spaces behind bulkheads where people can move around freely without tripping over luggage or feet. You will hear safety announcements, reminiscent of pre-flight airline announcements, with popular and Caribbean music piped in once the vessel is underway.
On older ferries, the ship’s captain station obstructed passenger views across the bow. The Island Express III’s wheelhouse is one flight up from the passenger cabin. That opens up the forward-looking seascape view to seated passengers.
Storage and leg room
The space below the windows on the bow is utilized for storage of carry-on luggage in a compartmentalized cargo hold. Front-row passengers can stretch out their legs and prop up their feet against the cargo hold without restricting their view.
The lifejackets that you used to see stored in bins on the stern, are now tucked into compartments below each seat. That change frees up a lot more aft deck space for customers who want to enjoy riding outside and feel the wind in their hair.
Same crew, same friendly service
Frequent travellers on Sea Las Perlas are greeted as friends by Caicedo who is always on-hand to greet passengers standing in line to buy tickets and the last person you see on the dock waving “bon voyage” to passengers as the ferry steams out of the Balboa Yacht Club Marina.
Caicedo’s pride in providing good customer service sets the tone for what makes a Las Perlas ferry passage unique. The new boat just makes it easier to pamper passengers. The crew offers help with luggage, organizes the luggage compartments and assists passengers with moving luggage on and off the ferry.
Getting to know the captain and the owner
Rickson has been in Panama nine years. He and his wife Carina have a six-year-old son. “I got here in 2005 as a yacht captain, opened a charter business, and also worked as a boat captain in the oil fields off Louisiana.”
Rickson is known as the former Captain of The Marina Flyer ferry in the Ferry Las Perlas fleet that departs Panama City to the Pearl Islands from the Trump Hotel.
(At this writing, the Ferry Las Perlas is not running in part because of boat repairs but also due to repairs to the dock caused by recent storms. It is slated to start up service again in coming months.) Rickson began working with Sea Las Perlas two months ago.
He and Sea Las Perlas owner, Sonny Eymann, met several years ago in Key West, FL. “Key West was my last duty station in the Coast Guard in the ‘80’s,” said Rickson, “and that’s where I met Sonny.”
Passage on the new Sea Las Perlas Island Express III, which departs from the Balboa Yacht Club Marina in Panama City, can be booked through their website Sealasperlas.com.