Panama Canal Cruise
Sunday- February 22, 2009- Ft. Myers, Florida.
We were up early, finished packing and shut up the castle before leaving at 9 A.M. The Bagel Place supplied us with breakfast as we set off South on Rte, # 75. It was sunny and warm out, even at this early hour. The ride across state, through Alligator Alley, was uneventful. Great waves of sea grass rippled in the morning breezes. Colorful bird life was everywhere about us.
As we approached the east Coast, we followed Rte. # 595 East and then South on Rte. # 95
to exit 22 and the Springhill Suites, where we would leave our car for the duration. We checked into the busy hotel and signed up for a shuttle to the Port Everglades Terminal several miles away.($16 rt) A crowd of cruisers, bound for many ships, was already milling about the lobby.
We rode to the port in a small shuttle that was crammed to the rafters with a wedding party from Indianapolis. They were headed for a weeks cruise on a Carnival ship. They were already swilling brewskis. I bet that that was going to be one week-long party.We were dropped off at the Princess Terminal where we checked in for our ten day cruise aboard the Island Princess.
Built in 2003 and registered in Hamilton Bermuda, this sixteen deck floating hotel is
a beauty. With a gross tonnage of 91,627, she could still reach a 22 knot cruising speed. She is 964 feet long and 105 feet wide, She can carry 2368 passengers and a crew of 810 souls.
We boarded on the deck #5 gangway. The ship was busy with activity. She had just disgorged her previous passengers a few hours earlier and was making ready to house her new compliment. Everyone was polite and helpful. We walked the stairs to the Baja Deck and found our stateroom ( B-415). It was clean and ready for us with a nice balcony facing out to sea. We unpacked our carry on bag and set off to explore the ship. We had been on the Dawn and Coral Princess ships before, so the layout was familiar to us.
We found the Horizons buffet on deck # 15 and settled in for a light lunch. It was sunny and 73 degrees out. Afterwards, we stood top side and watched the activity all around us. We were be
rthed in the Inter coastal waterway at Port Everglades. The boating traffic all around us was considerable. Up and down the quays, several other large liners sat at
their berths taking on passengers. Across the small barrier beach into the blue atlantic, we could see several large tankers and a forrest of small
sails tacking back and forth in the noon day sun. It was a pleasant visage against an azure blue background. The small tug, Paddy McAllister, was already hard at work nudging the huge freighters in and around the
We had been advised that the mandatory first day boat drill would begin at 4:15 P.M. , so we walked back to our cabin to pick up our life jackets and then headed down to the Deck #7 Wheel house Lounge where our group would assemble. The passengers were all happy and expectant of the coming cruise. They chatted amiably with each other as we waited for the c
rew to begin. Six short blasts of the ships horn, followed by one long one, brought the talk to a halt. It was the ships signal to Òman the life boats.Ó The Crew explained emergency procedures to us and where we would board our lifeboats should the need arise. We had been thought his many times but paid heed well. You only have to need the life boats once and a it was a big ocean out there. A few passengers even looked nervous at the prospect. We sat there with our bright orange cork vests complete with light and whistle and thought about what we would do should the need ever arise. The crew appeared both serious and well trained, the mark of a good skipper.
After the life boat drill, we dropped our vests off at the cabin and headed for deck # 15 and one of the more pleasant rituals, a drink at departure. We sipped a glass of cabernet as the great ship made preparations for getting underway. We watched in the bright sunshine as a virtual parade of these floating hotels glided out
slowly into the Atlantic. Holland, Celebrity, Costa and another Princess ship slid out before us amidst cheers and waves from boating traffic and other passengers. Everyone was festive and enjoying the spectacle. As we chatted for a bit with a couple from Chicago and enjoyed the chance encounter, the great ship let go her lines and began to mortor away from the dock. It is one of the great pleasures of cruising this meeting of people from everywhere.
It was late afternoon and we were tiring from the day. As the vessel cleared the narrow causeway and turned on a Southerly heading, we retreated to our cabin. Our bags had arrived, so we unpacked and cleaned up for dinner. The staterooms are compact but have lots of space for everything. The balcony is a welcome addtion for fresh air and sight seeing.
We walked down to deck # 5 and the Bordeaux dining room, our assigned trough for the duration. We were escorted by a waiter to a table for two, just nches away from another
table for two.
We introduced ourselves to Tim and Mary Kelly from Chicago. They are 80 something retirees and proved to be pleasant enough company for dinner. Our conversation was lively and wide ranging. Mary had been involved in edcuation. Tim had owned several Frame shops in the Chicago area.
A glass of Cabernet was followed by Spring rolls, mushroom soup, caesar salad, a seafood in pastry medley and a delicious swiss torte for dessert. It was exquisite and we knew that the caloric battle for the voyage was on! After dinner, we strolled the upper decks. It was still in the 60Õs and muggy outside. The stars were out twinkjling against the inky night sky as we sailed South towards Cuba. It is a nice way to spend an evening.
The Academy Awards were playing on a large screen in the Deck Seven Princess Lounge. We sat for a time enjoying the awards ceremonies. Slum Dog Millionaires won several awards. It is a great film.
It was only 11:00 P.M. but we were yawning to beat the band. We retire
d to our stateroom to read and ready for days end. (Seven Deadly wondersÓ Mathew Reilly.) It had been a long and interesting day and we were looking forward to the cruise. The motion of the ship rocked us gently to sleep.
Monday- February 23, 2009- At sea, sailing off Cuba.
We were up early at 6:30 A.M. The vessel was motoring off the Northeast tip of Cuba. We could see the dark land mass of the island fortress off to our starboard. We walked up to the deck #14 gym for a workout. The place was mobbe
d, so we walked topside off a few laps . It was too windy to keep our balance so we walked down to the deck seven covered walkway and completed our laps for an hour.
After our walk, we visited the deck 14 HorizonÕs cafe. Omelets, lox and coffee were all good. The cafe was filled to the rafters. Back at the cabin we read for a while and then settled back in for an hour visit to Ozzie Nelson.(nap)
At 12:30 P.M. we tried the small miniature golf layout on deck 15. It was sort of goofy. We walked topside and sat out in the sun for a bit. The winds were 30 mph across the deck and made walking difficult.
We ventured to deck seven the Wheel House lounge around 1:30 P.M for our first ÒSpanish at Sea Lesson.Ó A young crew member, named Julio, gave us a sheet
with basic phrases in Spanish and then walked us all through the pronunciations. It was fun and informative. From Spanish at sea, we went back to the HorizonÕs cafe for a light lunch of salads,
mussels and red snapper, then returned to our cabin to read and relax for an hour.
Late afternoon found us in the deck 14 gym again for a 45 minute workout on the weights and exercycle. We were hoping to make the cruise calorie neutral. It was formal dress night for dinner and crowds of tuxedo clad passengers were already making their way to the CaptainÕs Cocktail party. Usually the entire shipÕs crew is introduced at these affairs and awful champagne is served. We passed, returning to our cabin to clean up and dress for dinner. We enjoyed a glass of cabernet whil
e watching the 6:00 P.M. sunset from our balcony. Sunsets at sea are inspiring.
At 7:30 P.M., we walked to the deck seven Crooner's Lounge and enjoyed a drink before dinner. The place was full. We didnÕt know that the ships captain would be speaking in the three story atria outside the bar. We settled in with three Indian Couples and chatted with them enjoying the mix of cultural diversity. We were dining in the Bordeaux dining room again on deck five. Scores of tuxedo clad passengers, their wives in evening gowns drifted by the broad walkway outside the bar. It made for a party atmosphere.
We were again seated at a table for two, next to a couple from Brighton England. Richard and Ann Brown are interesting and fun to dine with. He is a Crown Jurist
who handled major crimes trials. Ann gave us her perspective on Barack Obama and American politics. It was an eductaion. Crab Quiche, a clear fish soup, Alaskan salmon with dill sauce and asparagus and a hazel nut souffl_ made for an exquisite repast. I donÕt think we are going to win this calorie battle.
It had been a long day and we were tiring. We parted company with the BrownÕs and returned to our cabin to read for a time and surrender to the sand man. It had been a nice day at sea on a great ship. The vessel motored on around the Eastern tip of Cuba.
Tuesday- 2/24/09- At sea off Cuba.
We were up to watch the 6:39 A.M. sunrise. We had to change our watches an hour forward to meet the shift into a more eastern time zone. We had ordered c
offee in our room at 7:00 A.M. It arrived promptly and we watched Cnn for a time while enjoying some good coffee.
The ship was motoring on a Southwest course through the Windward passage between Cuba and Cap Dame headland of Hispanola bound for Aruba.
Eight A.M. found us walking for an hour on the deck seven covered walkway. It was windy and fewer walkers were about. You had to make
use of your sea legs here because the ship was rolling through a mild swell. By nine OÕclock we breakfasted in the deck 14 HorizonÕs cafe. It was wall to wall with passengers all rising late due to the time change. An omelet ,fruit and good coffee made for a nice start to the day.
After breakfast, we read for a time in our cabin and then settled in for a
delicious hour long nap. LIfe at sea can be very agreeable if you allow yourself to enjoy the slower pace of ship board life.
A so so lunch was less than what we expected. But we werenÕt cooking it, so who cares? We found the Art Auction on deck seven and watched for a time as the auctioneer explained the various paintings. Several sold, most did not.
It was windy and humid out so we walked top the deck seven Princess Theater and settled in to watch ÒThe DuchessÓ for two hours. It is an interesting English Period piece. We enjoyed the film.
We hit the gym again at 4:00 P.M. for a one hour work out. We had a lot of calories to burn. Then, a few more laps topside. It was hot humid and in the 80Õs out.
We cleaned up for dinner and enjoyed a Martini on the balcony, watching the sea around us and relaxing before dinner. It was an agreeable part of the day.
P.M we walked along the deck seven interior promenade and enjoyed the ebb and flow of guests coming to and from dinner. We sat in one lobby area an talked with a couple from Houston Texas. We were dining in the deck six Provence dining room this evening. We had a table for two and actually dined by ourselves this evening. A glass of cabernet, shrimp and scallops appetizer, crab soup, Mahi Mahi entree and a chocolate cake al a orange made for another exquisite repast. We were losing the caloric battle.
We were tiring from the long day, our ramped up exercise program, and the sea air. We returned to our cabin to read for a time before surrendering again to the sandman. It had been another enjoyable day at sea on a great ship.
Wednesday- 2/25/09- At sea approaching Aruba
The ship berthed in Orangestad, Aruba at 5:15 A.M. It was warm and humid out. We could see the twinkling
of running lights from the many oil tankers waiting in line offshore. It was warm and humid out.
We made our preparations for the day and had an early breakfast in the Bordeaux Dining Room before disembarking at 8:45 A.M. The Emerald Princess was berthed nearby. The colorful tsunami of sneaker clad tourists would soon engulf the small town. We had spent a week here a few years back so we elected to settle for a walk through the town for
our brief stay in port.
We walked along the main drag and admired the prosperous looking facades of the business section. They are of bright pastel in color and feature that charming crenelated facade of Dutch Colonial Architecture. The traffic was heavy, a work day in progress.
Queen Wilhelmena Park lies along the ocean, just outside of the business district. We walked through it admiring the green expanse and the colorful flags ruffling in the wind. The solitary statue to the
long dead Queen sits atop a solitary pedestal at the center of the Park. It is a restful setting amidst a very busy town center.
From the Park, we walked back through the busy streets of Orangestad until we found a small internet cafe. The shop charged $3.50 and hour for usage, as opposed to the ships. $.75 a minute. We checked our mail and sent out a few messages. It is a nice way to keep up with what's going on in the world.
We browsed through the business district. The many Jewelers, like Bulgari and Colombian Emeralds, were doing a brisk business with the tourists. We walked through the air conditioned Mall and enjoyed the cooling respite. The Elegant Renaissance Hotel sits at one end of the mall. We watched her skiffs tie up to the hotel. They would ferry her guests out to a private beach along the shore. This place is tres elegant.
It was hot and humid out as we wandered the streets. You feel safe here and there are no street vendors assailing you.
We enjoyed the eclectic architecture and people watched from one street corner. Iguana JoeÕs was lining them up for lunch.
It was nearing 11:00 A.M. and the ship was due to leave by 12:30 P.M. so we walked back to the ship. We noticed a few empty store fronts along the main drag and wondered if the recession was hitting so affluent an island like Aruba.
The line to board ship was already getting long and it was hot out. We passed through the ships security and entered the welcome air conditioned bubble. On deck fourteen, we sat down to lunch with two Canadians from Niagara on the Lake,Ontario, a village just twenty miles from us in Amherst. It is a small world.
We were standing topside as the Island Princess cast off her lines and eased out of Orangestad, bound for Cartegena, Columbia. The turquoise seas and bright white sands of ArubaÕs beaches are visually captivating. We watched the frenetic activity around the main pool for a time and then retreated to our cabi
n for a conversation with Ozzie Nelson. (nap)
Later in the afternoon, we made our way to the Wheel House lounge for an Art Lecture. The speaker was the art shipÕs art auctioneer. He gave an interesting history of Art, from Boticelli to Warhol, complete with slides. It was both informative and interesting.
After the lecture, we hit the deck 14 gym for an hourÕs workout with weights and exercycles. We were losing the caloric battle. We walked topside to stretch our legs, enjoying our first look at the South American Coastline off Venezuela. We then retreated to our room and enjoyed a glass of Cabernet and some cheese on our balcony. The day was still warm but the ocean breezes were cooling. We showered and cleaned up for dinner. We had 8:00 P.M. reservations at the Bayoux Cafe o
n deck six.
The Bayoux Cafe is one of two specialty restaurants on board. The other is SabatiniÕs Italian restaurant. Both gourmet restaurants charge a $15 per person cover charge to dine there. Our fees had been paid by Canadian friends from Toronto as a birthday present. They had also left us a bottle of Kenwood Cabernet for dinner. Nice Friends, huh?
In any case, the food here is memorable. Corncakes and rolls are tasty. A Crab BIsque was exquisite. Then, we sat back and enjoyed an eight ounce Lobster tail, scallops and a to die for chocolate cake. The service was excellent and a singer and pianist entertained us. The place was uncrowded. We relaxed and enjoyed a memorable evening, drinking to the health of Terry and Suzie Landry who had sent us this thoughtful gift. It was wonderful dining occasion and well worth whatever extra fees you pay for it.
After dinner we walked topside to enjoy the sultry night air. A muscial group and the Cruise Director were whipping t
he passengers into a dancing frenzy pool side. There was going to be a late night buffet served at 11:00 P.M. and the hungry passengers were lining up. How you could eat a fourth meal, after consuming about 4,000 calories earlier in the day was a mystery to us. We listened to the music for a time, enjoying the evening at sea off the South American Coast. Then, we returned to our cabin to read and surrender to the sandman. It had been a nice day. At 2:00 A.M. we turned our clocks back to coordinate with EST. The ship motored on towards Cartegena.
Thursday, 2/26/09 Cartagena, Columbia
We were up by 6:45 A.M. It was warm and humid out at 78 degrees. Today would be a scorcher. The ship was motoring along the Colombian Coast. We were 1485 miles from Ft. Lauderdale. We dressed for the day and walked topside, watching the dark mass of Columbia off to our port side.
Breakfast in the deck 14 Horizon Court was omelets, fruit and coffee. It was pleasant watching our approach to Cartagena over breakfast. We
could see the the recent forest of high rise condos that were springing up over Boca Grande a rounded point extending out from the harbor. The
Limestone bulk of San Felipe Fortress stood sentinel over the outer harbor. You could imagine the enemy fleets coming under her banks of guns when attempting a hostile sea landing.
A very old touring ship, ÒThe Fortunia,Ó sat grounded shore side. We later found out it serves as a homeless shelter. The Don Lucho, one of those colorful and powerful harbor tugs was guiding us into a massive container port area of the harbor. Maersk, from Germany, is the container company presiding over the rows of stacked metal containers. The CNNI Mejllones, registered in Panama, was berthed nearby loading her containers.
At 9:00 A.M. we assembled in the Princess Theater for the ÒBest of the FortressÓ tour #100. We sat in rows and awaited our tour guide. Thirty of us followed a crew person ashore
and boarded a small air conditioned bus. Our Guide, Ò GermonÓ introduced himself to us and gave us labels with his name on them for wearing on the tour. We were as sheep being led in a flock.
Columbia is the fourth most populated country in South America with 44 million people. It is rich in emeralds and produces for export, coffee, bananas, gas, orchids and coal.
The school system in Columbia is graduated and tuition is charged according to certain professions. Medicine and Engineering cost the most at University level and the other professions less.
The City of Cartegena was founded by a Spaniard, Don Pedro De Heredia, in 1533. It was to become a treasure port where ship loads of gold and emeralds were shipped back to Spain over the next few hundred years. This attracted both pirates and several other nations to try and raid her repeatedly. In 1586, Sir Francis Drake captured the city for England. After that, King Fe
dlipe !! of Spain ordered a massive limestone wall and the San Felipe Fortress constructed to guard her from such raids. Countless pirate raids had been beaten back from the Fortress. Another massive assault, by the English General Vernon in 1711, with 100 ships and 20,000 soldiers failed miserably due to inclement weather and tropical diseases. The harbor had seen some action over the centuries.
It now is a city of over one million souls, many of whom we were to discover to our dismay, were aggressive street vendors bent on draining every tourist of any money that they held on their person, willingly or not.
The bus took us to a busy street in front of the San Felipe Fortress. There, we exited and ran our first gauntlet of the obnoxious street vendors. We walked up the very steep winding ramp to the fortress above us. The vendors dogged us every step o
f the way. If you made eye contact or responded to them in any way they were on you like flies on doo doo.Ignore them and walk eyes straight ahead no matter how much they pester you. They intimidated the older tourists badly.
The fortress itself is huge and solid, like El Moro in Havana or those in Puerto Rico and St. Augustine, Florida. Germon told us of the many times that she had been attacked, most unsuccessfully. Rows of lethal looking gun ports bedecked the walls. Narrow tunnels traversed the fortress walls where powder and shot monkeys carried the cannon fodder. A huge Columbian flag flew over the fortress waving in
the brisk breeze. It was hot, humid and in the 90Õs out. We sweated profusely. We were in ColumbiaÕs Summer Season(Nov.- April) The other wet season ran six months and drowned everything in hot steamy rain.
After again running the gauntlet of the street vendors, we reboarded the bus and drove off through the
busy streets. Fleets of swift motorbikes serve as individual taxis in the busy streets. We watched the confusion from the air conditioned splendor of the bus. Germon pointed out the Monument of the ÒTwo Shoes.Ó It is a bronze memorial to Colombian Poet Carlos Lopez, whose most famous work is of that name.
Then we began our ascent to the El Popa monastery high above Cartegena. Along side the road we could see the shacks back in the hillsides, some mere collections of sticks. Each year, on the February Feast of the ÒCandelaria Virgin,Ó a procession of towns people carried an enormous statue of the Virgin, in a candle light procession on a gilded pallet, up these steep roads to the monastery above. The procession stops at each of the twelve stations of the cross erected along the winding road. The Virgin is presented with a newly made and elaborate gown to clothe her each year. It is considered a great honor to be a part of this ceremony.
At the hilltop, outside the monastery, we again waded throu
gh the street vendors to get inside the ancient grounds. The vistas all around us were breath taking. It is the highest point in the city. Boca Grande, the Fortress and the harbor lay spread out before us . The monastery itself is of limestone and coral construction. Hordes of other tourists were already wandering through it musty rooms. We viewed religious relics, a statues of the Virgin and even and ancient depiction of devil worship. A collection of the older and elaborate dresses for the virgin were on disp[lay.
The Candelaria chapel features a 50 ft; wooden carved altar, gilded with gold leaf. The Augustinian order of monks who founded the Monastery in the 1500 are still here in residence on the third floor of the complex. Their founder, Alonzo Garcia, had been slain by native indians with a spear. A statue to him graces one of the rooms. The central
courtyard of the complex is much like the Spanish Monasteries in Southern California. Huge Banyan tress and many flowering bougainvillea
rees give the place color. The clay tiled roofs and stone walls warded off the heat that gets well over 100 degrees here in Summer.
It was both hot and humid out. We fended off the vendors as we walked back to the bus and then enjoyed the slalom ride down the winding roads to the city below. Germon continued his lectures on the
culture and commerce of Columbia. We were headed for the old walled city near the harbor fortress. Just outside the wall stands the bronze stature of an indian maiden, Catalina. She has a Pocahontas type of history in Columbia and the casting looked suspiciously like one of Pocahontas in the Virginia area. Maybe they were twin sisters? We would also see several thousand smaller replicas of her for sale in the small shops we were to visit.
Just inside the old cityÕs walls, we stopped at what had been both a jail house and a soldiers barracks. Now it is a series of commercial shops where every conceivable souvenir and product of Columbia is for sale. Even outside these
;shops the street vendors were ubiquitous. We wandered through a few shops eyeing the statues of Catalina, native carvings, tee shirts and other things on sale. I lasted through two shops. Then, we walked along the shoreline to a stone plaza facing the ocean., The cool ocean breeze felt wonderful and there were no slumdogs here.
After 30 minutes of this fun, we fended off the street vendors. They followed people onto buses and into taxi cabs trying to coerce them into buying things. Some of the older women looked frightened and it made me angry. I wish that
I had a small, low voltage cattle prod for local use.
The bus took us into the heart of the City at Simon Bolivar Square. Locals sat idling and enjoying the day. They diluted some of the slumdogs as we walked by the church of St.,. Pedro and by the old headquarters of the Inquisitions of the Calle Inquisition. It wasnÕt one of the better practices that the Spanish brought to the Americas.
An imposing statue of Columbia's founding father, Simon Bolivar, sits astride a horse at the center of the shaded square. We took our pictures and followed Germon further into the crowded pedestrian streets. The buildings surrounding the square are both old and impressive. The gold museum, a cathedral and several government offices give the square its stature.
ubiquitous street vendors buzzed around us like angry mosquitoes on our line of march to the Church of Pedro Claver. He had been a Jesuit and the patron saint of the one million slaves who had been imported through the port of Cartegena. He had tried as best he could to look out for their welfare. He died in 1654 at the venerable age of 74, a saint to his people. Slavery wasnÕt abolished here until 1851.
The church itself is airy with 100 foot, vaulted ceilings. A Massive marble altar is the centerpiece. Built in 1735, it must have been a soaring epiphany of prayer to those early inhabitants. Now, it is a collection of
aging and flaking limestone rooms for tourists to wander through. The monks still live on the top floors of the church., Various nuns stood mutely seeking donations to the churches charities. God bless them for their efforts.
From the church we walked over to a restored limes
tone building called the Naval Museum, though why we could not discern . A few plaques of some naval vintage, some old sailing trophies and an anchor or two were her only signs of naval provenance. The hall was filled with tourists watching authentic native dancers in colorful costumes entertain them with a lively Samba. We sat and enjoyed a Colombian beer called Aguilla and appreciated them for their artistry as well. It was hot and humid out and we enjoyed the shade and cool of the stone buildings for a brief respite.
We waded through the obnoxious street vendors one more time to get back to the bus and its air conditioned comfort. It was hot here. We rode in comfort to the newer section of the city, Boca Grande and an upscale collection of shops. The slum dogs were on us again as we walked through the shops. Colorfully dressed women in local garb, with bunches of bananas on their heads,demanded payment to have pictures ta
ken with them. We retired from them into a small coffee shop. At $2 a cup, the coffee was weak and awful. We threw it into the shrubs and sat for a time unmolested in a small square. Jewlers of every type were hawking emeralds all around the square.
Finally, the ordeal was almost over. We waded through one last wave of slum dogs to get to the bus for a very welcome ride back to the Island Princess. The city is interesting, alive with history and stories of struggle and intrigue from many nations fighting for wealth, nationhood and religious freedom. It is of interest, but until the local authorities reign in these slum dog vendors, give it a wide berth. No one should have to put up with this kind of intimidating and obnoxious harassment just for visiting.
By 2:30 P.M., we were back aboard the air conditioned splendor of the Island Princess. Hordes of other tour groups had descended upon the Horizons court for a late lunch, so we settled for a slice of pizza top
}side. It was pretty good pizza too.
We were tiring and mildly dehydrated, so we retreated to our room to read for a time( Double Cross- James Patterson), cool off and relax. We watched the ship cast off her lines and leave port at Three P.M. We said an enthusiastic good bye to the hordes of street vendors and hoped never to return. The ship was swaying like a hog in a wallow on the run through the narrow harbor entrance and then we were free in deep water. Yeah!!!
We watched Tiger Woods return to playing golf in T.V for a bit and then ventured to the gym at 5:30 P.M. for an hourÕs workout on the weights and exercycle. It was crowded with other passengers who were
eating too much like us. We then walked topside to stretch our legs and enjoy the early evening air as the ship motored westward towards Panama.
After a bit, we cleaned up in the cabin, dressed
for dinner and walked down to the deck six Provence Dining room. We were seated with two very charming young people, Denise and Tristan. They are both London Bobbies. We had an interesting and enjoyable dinner with them talking about their professions and ours.
A glass of Cabernet, smoked salmon appetizers, tomato soup, caesar salad, sole Florentine and chocolate cake made for another wonderful meal. They feed you well on this ship. We made our goodbyes to the kids and then walked up to the deck seven Princess Theater. We watched a comedian, Billy Vader, who claimed to be from Buffalo,N.Y. (small world) Then we retreated to our cabin to read and surrender to the sandman. It had been a full and eventful day.
Friday, 2/27/09- At Sea approaching the Panama Canal Zone.
We were up by 5:30 A.M., anxious to see the Island Princess transit the Gautn Locks of the Panama Canal.
"We could see winking lights along the shoreline of Panama. It was warm and humid out. The Princess picked up her Panama Canal Pilot and gingerly made her way into the entrance to the Canal near Cristobal, Panama.
By 6:30 A.M. we were topside, watching the Princess slide into the first of the three Gatun locks. They would raise us up 28 feet for a total of 85 feet, the level of Gatun lake. Each of the twin sets of parallel locks is essential a concrete box 100Õ long by 106 feet wide and 40 feet deep. The huge vessels enter the lock slowly proceeding under their own steam. Then, three small gauge rail engines, on either side of the vessels, affix metal hausers to guide the ship through each lock. There is a margin of clearance on each side of the ship of only two feet. When the shi
p is completely within the lock, two large gate way doors swing shut from recessed niches in the canal walls. Water is then pumped into the cement lock raising the ship 26 feet at a time to the level of the next lock.
The process was repeated twice more until the Princess sailed into the manmade lake Gatun and motored to its center. Off the bow of the ship, we could see a whole fleet of tanker ships who were waiting their turn to transit the canal eastwards towards the Caribbean. Transit time is three t
o four hours and relatively easy. The cost is the kicker. Panama has a tonnage based formula to determine the fees for a ship to cross the canal. A liner as large as the Island Princess would be charged almost
$200,000 for a crossing. Considering the time and fuel needed to round the tip of South America. I guess the fees are a bargain. On the other side of Lake Gatun are a series of three more locks that gradually lower ships the 85 feet back down to the level of the Pacific at PanamaÕs capital, Panama City. On either side of the canal, a 15 mile wide Canal Zone had been left natural and undeveloped. It was green and filled with wildlife.
The Canal had been built in the early 1900Õs, completed in 1914 at a cost of $387 Million dollars by the United States, after a failed French effort. Thousands of lives had been lost to yellow fever and tropical diseases during its construction. Panama had assumed control of the canal on December 31, 1999.
We walked topside for an hour enjoying the view
of the locks and Lake Gatun and marveling at the engineering involved in creating this man mad river across Central America. It was hot and muggy out at a steamy 90 degrees.
The ship dispatched several tenders full of tour groups headed for rail and bus tours in Panama. We had a $200 tour paid for but elected to pass on the opportunity. We had had enough of the aggressive street vendors the day before in Columbia.
We settled for a breakfast of kippers, omelets and fruit in the Horizons Cafe on deck 14, then returned to our cabin to read for a bit and catch a one hour nap. It was a nice way to spend a morning.
By Noon, we had returned topside to sit by the pool, read and enjoy the hot sun. We ventured into the pool and found to our surprise that it was a fresh water pool. We frolicked and swam with other guests and enjoyed a leisurely few hours by the pool.
At 2;30 P.M., the ships horn blew loudly. She had recovered her tenders, raised anchor and set out to recross th
e Gatun Locks. Topside, the decks were awash with passengers watching the slow transit. You could look down the three locks from the lofty height of the ships top deck and get a sense of the distance in elevation that the ship needed to descend. One lock, then two and three were traversed without incident. The little toy trains guided us through with cables. The lock doors and pumps functioned flawlessly as they did thousand of times each year. By three P.M. we were through and entering the harbor area of Cristobal. Container ships and all manner of commercial cargo vessels were stacked up along the horizon awaiting their turn to transit the canal.
We changed into our gym clothes and hit the deck 14 gym for an hours workout with exercycles and weights. We could watch the activity all around us in the busy port through the glass windows of the gym. Cosco from China, Zim from Canada and a whole array of other commercial lines were shipping cargo through the area.
The ship tied up at Pier #16, L
as Cruses Terminal, in Cristobal.
We were in for a surprise. The Panamanian Government had set up a huge warehouse of craft vendors, performing cultural groups and even a few taverns for visiting tourists. We got off the ship and strolled through the booths that offered an eclectic array of trinkets and souvenirs for sale. Each of the many vendors was as polite as you could ever wish. They did horse trade, with bargaining offers for their goods, but never once were insistent or unpleasant. It seemed almost surreal in contrast to the vendors in Cartagena. It worked for us. We spent more money in the this port than we did in all of the other ports combined.
We sat for a time drinking an icy cold HeinekenÕs beer and watching native dancers do a rhythmic and enchanting Calypso and singers belt out the haunting ÒDay OhÓ a Caribbean favorite about banana pickers. It was cool insid
e the warehouse and an utterly pleasant experience. Some one had his thinking cap on when they built this place. Several of the booths were manned by indigenous peasants wearing grass skirts and nothing else. They were natural enough in their appearance. That's all the women wore in their neck of the woods. When in Rome, right? We left the pier reluctantly to reenter the air conditioned
bubble of the Island Princess.
We hit the gym at 5:00 P.M. one last stab at the caloric battle. Then, while topside we enjoyed a glass of cabernet as we watched the MSC Lyrica, berthed next to us, prepare to slip her lines and leave port. The entire port side of her faced our ship. Hundreds were waving back and forth at the traditional send off. The entire ship broke into cheers as one last young passenger sprinted to the gangway and made her way aboard, seconds before they shipped the gangway and sealed the doo
rs. She would have been left behind in another few minutes. We laughed and cheered for her as well. To the haunting strains of an Andrea Boccelli aria, the ship slid from her ways and began to exit the harbor. We all waved and cheered ahd wished her bon voyage. It was always fascinating to watch these huge but graceful leviathans enter and leave port.
Soon after, the Island Princess slipped her lines and edged gracefully from her berth to follow the Lyrica. The ship set a course for Limon, Costa Rica. We returned to our cabin to shower and dress for dinner. We had 8:00 P.M. reservations in the Bordeaux dining room.
There, we were seated next to a delightful couple from Toronto Canada, Shelly and Susan. We chatted and much enjoyed their company. A Crab and shrimp appetizer was followed by a wonderful mushroom soup, a garden salad, a delicious fresh water trout (sans le tete) and a sinful sacher torte, accompanied by a glass of cabernet. It was exquisite and one of the reasons we were worki
ng out twice daily to try and keep
up the caloric burn.
It was only 9:30 P.M. when we finished dinner and said goodbye to Shelly and Susan, but we were tired form the long day. We returned to our cabin, read for a time and surrendered gratefully to the sandman. Panama had been a pleasure to visit.
Saturday 2/28/09- Limon, Costa Rica.
We were up by 6:00 A.M. It was warm and humid out with a light rain. The ship had berthed in Limon, Costa Rica early this morning. We prepped for the day, breakfas
ted in the HorizonÕs cafe and assembled in the Princess Theater by 7:15 A.M. for our day long tour to San Jose, high in the mountains of Central Costa Rica. It would be a three hour bus ride each way.
We followed a crew member off the ship to the wharf area where we got on to a large Swiss Tours bus for the trip. Our guide, Zelma introduced herself and her wheel man Bosco. It was the beginning of a
day long narration of the countryÕs history, geographical and social progress. Zelma kept us enthralled like a
good kindergarten teacher who leads her class all day.
First ÒdiscoveredÓ and named by Christopher Columbus in 1502, Costa Rica (Rich Coast in Spanish) had declared her independence from Spain in 1821. Populated by 4.2 million souls, the country is composed of seven provinces. Its ethnic mix is diversified. Native Indians had mixed with the Spanish, a sizable number of Chinese, who had been imported in the late 1800Õs to build a rail road and a large population of Jamaicans, who themselves are a varied mix of peoples. It made for a melange of cultures and a gentler nature where all races and creeds are more readily accepted.
Physically, the country straddles Central America. Her Pacific Coast is sunny and warm and draws huge numbers of tourists. The Caribbean side is warm and wet. The central portion of the country is mountainous with peaks rising to three 8,000 foot range. Her Capital, San Jose lies in a mountain Valley in the center of the country at the 5,000 ft. level in the
ÒÓcloud forests.Ó The Caribbean side lies in a Ò:rain forestÓ and is much wetter. There are many volcanoes in Costa Rica, three of whom are still considered active.
Botanically, the country is a lush treasure house of plants and vegetation. Banana and coffee plantations abound. Orchids, pineapples and a variety of other agricultural products make Costa Rica comparatively prosperous among her neighbors.
As the bus emerged from the warm and humid drizzle of the rain forest, the air began to clear. Steep, heavily forested jungles carpet the landscape. Twenty five per cent of Costa Rica is set aside as National
Parks in a forever wild concept. The homes along the roadsides looked sturdy enough. Cars and trucks conga lined up into the mountains with us. The highway we were on runs from coast to coast, from Limon to Punta Reinas, and is sometimes called the Òdry canal,Ó comparing it to the Panama Canal. Trucks are everywhere.
The scenery about us was almost primeval. Wisps of cl
ouds drifted amidst the steep mountain valleys giving the countryside a ÒJurassic ParkÓ appearance. Everything was lush and green. Huge ferns bedecked the roadsides. Native used them for ÒumbrellasÓ when they were caught out walking in the rain.
ZelmaÕs narration was continuing and informative. The coffee plantations needed 45 pounds of beans to yield 5 pounds of the countryÕs highly prized coffee. The pineapples took 24 months to mature and had three distinct grades of quality depending on the amount of sugar in them at the time they were harvested. The bananas matured continuously and are sweet to the taste.
As we traversed the mountains at the 8,000 foot level, we entered Trillaurillo National Park. The ferns are dense along the road sides. The ar
ea hosts over 800 species of bird life, free roaming jaguars, three toed sloths and a whole host of jungle fauna. Though attractive to look at, one would not want to have to walk through these lush green jungles without being armed with a knowledge of them and sufficient armaments to fend off whatever came at you in the wild. It is pretty but potentially lethal.
We crossed over many good sized rivers. All had the stone river beds similar to those you see in Alaska, from heavy mountain runoffs. One river had a clearly discernible red rust running down one side. It was sulfur run off from the volcanoes high above. A Botanist and zoologist would be enthralled by this ride.
As we approached San Jose, the businesses and homes increased markedly. This is a
city of one million people high in the mountains. Just North of the city, there is a substantial settlement of ex-patriate Americans attracted to the country's mild weather, political stability and relative affluence. Costa Rica has a 95% literacy rate and a substantial number of its students graduate from University and remain in Costa Rica to work. The natives like living here and are proud of their industry and level of success.
It was a cool 67 degrees out as We stopped first on Calle 2, in central San Jose. There, we toured the century old Opera House, the Teatro Nacional. The aging stone exterior cloaks a lush interior of polished
woods and marble that would do justice to any ancient European museum or arts facility. The plush seats and boxes ar
e a source of pride to Costa Ricans. The upper seats or Òchicken boxes, of the U shaped, three story collection of seats are reserved for citizens at no cost. Opera here is meant for everyone. The hall is also used for most large official gatherings
and presentations in San Jose.
From the Teatro Nacional, we rode our bus a few blocks over to the Museo Nacional. It is the sight of a former army compound. We could still see the bullet impacts on the cratered exterior. Cost Rica had abolished its army in 1948 after a defeated coup attempt. The low slung stone building now houses a collection of gold, jewelry and many artifacts from the the areas past. It has a feel of the old Getty Art Museum in Santa Monica , Ca. Some of the pre Colombian stone furniture and carvings were over 2,000 years old, bespeaking a sophisticated culture that had flourished here long before the Europeans ar
rived. We wandered the rooms and enjoyed ZelmaÕs narration. The woman is well educated and a veritable font of cultural, geographic and social information on Costa Rica and her peoples. She had been a former air line stewardess and was married to a pilot. She much enriched the trip for all of us.
The central court of the museum is flowered with cacti plants and bougainvillea and has a vista of the mountains and valley beyond. In the center of the courtyard, sit several huge limestone and granite boulders. Enormous in size and perfect round, they have a series of stories attached to them, some believable some not. To me it looked like they had been spewed from the huge lava tubes eons ago. But I will think up a better story for them at some later point.
From the Archeological Museum Zelma took us into the cityÕs University district. Colorful graffiti on some of the areas r
ocks and bridges was an expression of student opinions on the issues of the day. Costa Ricans have a long history of freedom of speech and use it often to express their displeasure on any issue they donÕt agree with.
We pulled up to an attractive two story building in the district. A former residence, it now houses the ÒLe ChandelierÓ restaurant. It was well ordered and affluent looking. We filed into an upper room where places had been set and a buffet laid out for us. We sat with Richard and Ann Brown, from Brighton England, whom we had formerly met on the cruise. An attractive feed of rice, salad and chicken or beef were both well presented and tasty. We had coffee or tea along with sparkling water. This restaurant is a keeper which we well enjoyed. I complimented the hosts in my limited Spanish as we left.
From the restaurant, we traversed the busy city streets, They were clogged with automobile traffic. We found a spot in the cityÕs arts district
where we spent 30 minutes shopping, a
t the La Rueda gift store, for very well made and attractive souvenirs. There were several arts stores in the area and NOT ONE STREET VENDOR. Mary and I walked the surrounding streets looking for an internet station. There were two, but the internet was down apparently for the whole area that afternoon.
We were enjoying seeing this very Spanish city high in the mountains of Costa Rica. At 2:00 P.M. we set off for Limon and our ship, It was already a long day for us and we were tiring.
The bus made its way from busy San Jose back up into the smoky cloud forests high above. We watched the exotic scenery pass by us as we traversed the mountain passes.
Zelma continued her pleasant narration. In Costa Rica a security force of 11,000 police has replaced the army. The country has over 45,000 teachers to educate her young. Salaries are good here and workers pay a 9% social security tax so that they can retire at age 68 with good old age pensions.
We heard of the history a
nd harvesting of coffee beans, bananas and pineapples. Anything you wanted to would grow well in the countryÕs lush volcanic soil. The influx of wealthy foreigners had driven the price of land and housing very high. A hectare of land a good house would now cost almost $100,000 in U.S dollars.
The driver pulled along the roadside so we could all look up and watch a three toed sloth hanging from a roadside tree. It was an amusement for us. Next, We stooped at an actual banana plantation. It had a comical appearance. The banana trees sit on mounds of land with small ditches around them for drainage. Hanging from their limbs, the banana bunches are encased in blue plastic bags to promote moisture retention and growth. The blue plastic bags hanging from the trees are an oddity. The driver brought back a large limb of a banana plant. In each pod, were rows of tiny lady finger bananas that would mature in different stages for a year round
harvest. We sampled the small bananas and found them sweet and delicious.
As the bus descended back into the rain forest of the coastal areas, we could see large puddles where the rain had fallen. Finally, at 5:00 P.M. we pulled into the harbor area and the welcome sight of the Island Princess at her berth. We thanked our guide an driver and tipped them liberally for their wonderful days experience. They really had made Costa Rica come alive for us the entire day. These Swiss Tour folks hire some very competent and affable guides.
Aboard ship we made our way to the cabin to freshen up and get ready for dinner. At 6:30 P.M. we watched the huge liner Oceania leave port. She was berthed next to us. Hundreds of her passengers and ours waved back and forth to the European chant of ÒOle, Ole Ole,Ó It was a nice tradition of tour ships at departure. We read for a time, showered and made ready for dinner. The Island Princess left port soon after and we watched the harbor and the many ships i
n port drift astern as we made our way into the Caribbean, bound for Jamaica.
At 8:00 P.M., in the Bordeaux dining room, we were again seated with Shelly and Susan from Toronto. We were joined by two coupes from the Cleveland area, Marv and Sandy, Ralph and Bonnie. We had a pleasant and wide ranging discussion of travel and touring with all of our dinner companions.
Escargot, corn chowder, salad, pasta with mussels and an apple torte, accompanied with a glass of Cabernet, made for another pleasant dining experience. Princess feeds her guests well. After dinner we realized that we were tired from the day. We returned to the cabin to read ( Brass Verdict- Michael Connelly ) and surrender to the sandman. It had been a long but enjoyable day in Costa Rica. We would hope to return here anytime to further enjoy the country .
Sunday- March 1,2009- at sea sailing to Jamaica
We arose at 7:30 A.M. It was sunny, warm and breezy out at sea in the Western Caribbean. We walked the deck seven track for
an hour, enjoying the sight and smell of the sea around us. The winds blowing across the deck made it a challenge. Breakfast in the deck #14 Horizons cafe was an omelet, lox, with fruit and good coffee.
It was hot and sunny. The cabin beckoned with a conversation with Ozzie Nelson.(nap) It was a nice routine we had going. Later in the morning, we sat topside enjoying the hot sun and swimming in the cool waters of the main pool. It was crowded with everyone aboard on days like this, but still comfortable enough.
After our swim, we changed into our workout gear and hit the gym for an hour of weights and the exercycle, still trying to win the caloric battle. Afterwards, walked topside to stretch our legs.
It was an early day for us. We had to clean up for the CaptainÕs Circle cocktail party at 5 P.M. It was also a Òformal nightÓ at dinner. We made our way to the Princess Cocktail lounge and sat with almost 900 other CaptainÕs Circle members for a free drink and a short speech by
the cruise director. We had met the Captain and his wife on the way into the
lounge. Because of the crowd, most passengers were lucky enough to get a single free drink. There was some grumbling from those assembled. It wasnÕt a good move by Princess. These were your best customers. Give them a few drinks and send them away happy next time. It is a cheap customer satisfaction expense.
From the cocktail party, we walked down a deck to the Bayou Cafe. We had made 6:00 P.M. reservations at this estimable eatery. It was sparsely populated as before. A Glass of cabernet was joined with oysters in a cheese sauce, crab bisque, seafood gumbo and a chocolate fudge cake. It was exquisite.
The night was beautiful topside, as we walked enjoying the stars and the evening breeze. But we were tired form our workouts and the sun. We returned to our cabin to read and meet up with the sandman. It had been a nice day at sea.
Monday, March 2, 2009- Ocho Rios, Jamaica
We were up by 6:30 A.M. The dawn was r
ising as the ship neared port in Ocho Rios. A local pilot had boarded the ship to guide her into the harbor. We were steered away from the main dock to a former cement plant, the James Bond Dock. It had been one of the scenes in the early 1960Õs classic bond film, ÒDr. No.Ó It seemed sort of strange looking out onto an old cement plant, but Òwhatever.Ó It was deserted and secure.
It was already hot and sunny out at 7:30 AM. as we walked the deck seven track for an hour. After our walk, we had breakfast of omelets and frui
"t in the deck 14 HorizonÕs Cafe. We watched the huge Celebrity Century liner enter the harbor and tie up. The great ship pointed her nose at the anchorage, at at perpendicular angle, and then let her port side thrusters gently ease her sideways into her anchorage. It was an impressive display of modern seamanship. She had a good skipper on board.
We had been to Jamaica before and enjoyed the trek climbing up DunnÕs River Falls, in Ocho Rios We had also experienced the aggressive street vendors and mendicants near port. It was not for us
today. We had already had enough of that. We returned to our cabin to read fort a time and surrender to a late morning conversation with Ozzie Nelson. (nap)
After sitting topside sunning and swimming, we changed and sat down in the Bordeaux dining room for lunch. We were joined by a pleasant couple from New York City. Black bean soup, a salad Nicoise and some rocky road ice cream were agreeable. No wonder we were doing two hours a day of exercise and still losing the battle.
The Princess Theater was running a 2 hr film , ÒAustralia, Ò with Nicole
Kidman. We had seen it before but elected to see it again. The constant chatter and restfulness of the aging viewers sitting around us gave us an early taste of watching television in a nursing home. The
film is scenically gorgeous on a huge screen.
From the Theater, we hit the gym for an hourÕs workout with weights and the exercycle. We watched from our lofty perch as the ship slipped her lines and edged away from the James Bond Pier. She motored away from the beautiful beach and turquoise waters of Jamaica into the deeper blue of the Caribbean. The ship set a course for the Northwest headed for the narrow straits between Haiti and Cuba. We were on our way home.
We had a glass of cabernet on our balcony and read for a time, enjoying the lazy day at sea in the late afternoon sun. Then we cleaned up for dinner and made our way to the wheel house lounge for a drink before dinner. We listened to a musical group and enjoyed the comings and goings
of passengers headed to and from dinner.
Eight oÕclock found us in the Bordeaux Dining room. We were seated with Joe & Linda, from Philadelphia. Shrimp cocktail, lentil soup, King Crab legs and a black forest gateau (cake) made for an excellent repast. Princess lived up to her reputation as usual.
We walked topside for a time after dinner, enjoying the night air and the moonlight sparkling on the sea. Then we returned to our cabin to read ( Midnight RamblerÓ- James Swain )and surrender to the arms of Morpheus. It had been another nice day at sea.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at sea off Eastern Cuba
We were up at 6:30 A.M. It was cloudy and cool out in the 60Õs. The ship was rounding the Eastern tip of Cuba. The great landmass of Cuba was a dark
series of hills low on the horizon. We suited up and hit the deck seven track by 7:00 A.M. for an hour walk. The cross winds on the ship made it difficult walking but a better caloric burn.
The horizonÕs cafe was busy as always at 8:00 A.M. We sat with a Taiwanese couple who had settled in New Jersey. An omelet and fruit with good coffee was as good as it always was. The man had come to America with $24 in his pocket as an Engineering student in Nebraska. The family had prospered ever since in the grand tradition of immigrants in America. We enjoyed the conversation.
We returned to the cabin to read and relax. I found Evelyn our maid and tipped her liberally, thanking her for taking cares of us these last 10 days. She was a nice older woman
who is both pleasant and efficient. These cabin stewards work long hours to keep us comfortable.
Lunch found us again in the Horizons cafe. They had a desert special today, tables laden with every imaginable sugar and chocolate coated confection. We enjoyed a salad and tasted several of the sweet treats. We sat with a younger couple from North Carolina and shared stories with them of their coastal area, where we had spent many vacations.
It was both windy and cool out, not too comfortable a day for the pool. We sat in on our second ÒSpanish at Sea Ò class at 2:15 P.M.. Julio. the young instructor. led us through our paces of Spanish expressions. It was both fun and helpful.
From Spanish class, we hit the gym again for another hour workou
t on the weights and excercylce. We might not win this caloric battle but we were trying like heck anyways.
We walked topside to stretch our legs and sat for a time enjoying a cup of coffee. We were close to the Cuba Coast near NW Cuba. Off on the Horizon we could see a line of picket boats from the Cuban Military. They were low slung and looked both fast and lethal. I guess the old goat Fidel still was paranoid that a bunch of tourists might invade his space.
It was our last night aboard and our small cabin looked like a clothes bomb as we packed for out departure. WE continued our task and got ready for our last dinner aboard in the Bordeaux Dining room.
We were seated with an extended family from Albuquerque, Denver and Ohio. We had a nice conversation with Steve, Connie and Mary during dinner. The seafood appetizer, lemon salmon and ice cream desert were as good as any meal we had on board. Thanks Princess.
It was late and we needed to finish packing our bags, s
}o we returned to the cabin and completed out task. We then set the bags outside our cabin with the proper tags for pickup during the evening hours. Tomorrow would be a busy day disembarking. We read for a time and fell asleep to the gentle sway of the sea. It had been a nice cruise but we were ready to go home.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009- Port Everglades, Florida
We were up by 6:00 A.M. The ship was a bustle of activity. It was my 60th birthday today. WE packed up what little we had left in the cabin and wandered topside. It was a very cool 58 degrees out. After spending many days in the 90Õs, this was chilly for us. A light rain was falling.
We found some coffee topside and walked the deck observing the hustle and bustle of a great ship entering port. Porters were off loading the huge volumes of luggage, ships [personnel were pre[paring to unload one passenger comple
ment and take on another.
The schedule had our deck sitting in the Princess Lounge at 7:30 A.M We arrived early and were rewarded with an early departure call. We mad e our way off the ship and into the huge warehouse alongside. We found our luggage in the color coded section of the warehouse and then proceeded to the line for customs. An elderly German couple must have messed up their entry forms. We stood for 30 minutes while an agent talked with them The unlucky passengers in the line behind us grumbled loudly. I think the U.S, Customs could do a better job than this when 2300 passengers were all disembarking in a short period. Finally we passed customs and made out into the sun. A taxi cab ferried us the short few miles to the Spring Hill Suites where we had left our car. It was nice to be back.