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When in Cartagena, just find Sandy!

The cruise business is up in Cartagena this year, which means the shore excursion business is up, and we think it's all because of Sandy Cuadrado, who three years ago was decorated by Princess Cruises as "tour guide of the season."

Friends of ours just returned from the Colombian city on the Caribbean Sea. On Sandy Cuadrado-1xour recommendation, they tracked down Cartagena's friendliest tour guide, whom we'd met on a cruise we took through the Panama Canal (Cartagena is often one of the stops en route to or after traversing the canal). We were on a Celebrity ship, by the way, not Princess.

This was a part of last week's email from our friends:

"We had a great time with Sandy, including many jokes."

In the big picture, Colombia's most popular city for tourists (tourists tend to avoid the drug cartels in the jungle and even the capital, Bogota) is expecting 400,000 cruise passengers in 2014. That's an estimated $45 million revenue hit. That's no joke although Sandy can turn anything into one.

In the last two years, cruise-ship activity is up 13 per cent and, according to statistics compiled by the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association. This weekend alone, there were six cruise ships in Cartagena…and almost 16,000 more tourists. Estimates are that each tourist spends $98 in the port.

And Colombia is ambitious. The country's president, Juan Manuel Santos, hopes 32 cruise lines will visit the country by 2017…more than a million tourists.

And in our world, it all starts with Sandy Cuadrado.

Holland America Eurodam
7 nights
February 16, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Half Moon CayOcho RiosGrand CaymanKey West
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Cruise Tour Guide — This 'Senor' is Best


It's easy to find a good tour guide when you buy a shore excursion from a cruise line. These are professionals at what they do, and if they didn't do it well they just wouldn't last.

Sometimes you just know when you've found one who is special.

That was Sandy Cuadrado to us.

The photo op above is Sandy (second from left) and three crew members from the Island Princess. The reason for the photo op is that Sandy was chosen Tour Guide of the Year in Cartagena by Princess passengers, for going above and beyond what was expected, and he was recognized when the Island Princess was in port.

Here's how part of his citation read: "Specifically, you were cited for your positive, friendly approach; knowledgeable and informative presentation; in essence, your mastery of the Moment of Truth, the instant a princess passenger…forms a first impression."

Sounds like Sandy to us.

We met him on the docks of a city we were visiting with some trepidation, like many cruise passengers who hear only about Colombian drug lords. We'd bought a shore excursion to visit a Spanish galleon, and he was the tour guide. When it ended, this enterprising and engaging man offered to take anyone interested on a quick tour of his city.

It was a no-brainer for us. We had planned to take a cab from the port, to wander around a part of a city we'd never seen. It would have cost more than going on Sandy's bus, and we'd have missed getting a real insight into Cartagena and Colombia.

And we'd have missed Sandy.

By the way, our cruise wasn't on Princess, it was a Celebrity cruise, on the Millennium. That speaks volumes about what all cruise passengers think of Senor Cuadrado.

Celebrity Millennium
7 nights
June 29, 2012
Vancouver to Seward: Inside Passage, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway, Hubbard Glacier
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $64

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