Saturday, December 26, 2009

Next Cruise

I know it seems like just yesterday we sailed, but truely it was last September when we sailed on the Island Princess to the Panama.

Every January we love to travel to the Caribbean and this year is no different. When we originally started looking at cruises for January we thought where is our friend James Deering sailing. He is -- or I should say was -- the Passenger Services Director on the Crown Princess. We decided to book a trip so we could see him again.

Then it was a matter of what can we do after that 7 day Western Caribbean cruise, well the Ruby is there! And she is a new and beautiful ship, and we have sailed on the sister ship the Emerald so that was a bonus. We decided on a 10 day Southern Caribbean cruise that we had done in the past but loved.

So after checking Best Price Cruises and booking with the help of Pam we were set.

Crown Princess - Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Roatan and Princess Cays. Then three days in Fort Lauderdale to relax and enjoy Bernie's birthay for which I have been roped into going to a hockey game. Then boarding the Ruby Princess - Princess Cays, St. Thomas, Grenada, Curacao, and Aruba.

We are happy that friends are sailing with us again. Larry and Amy from Orlando and Anita and Richard from Vancouver will be joining us on the Crown. For the Ruby sailing our friends, Mike and Sue, Bill and Cathy, Allan and Karen, Jerry and Rose and I am sure I am forgetting someone but again it will be a lot of fun.

We have a balcony booked for both sailings which is new for us in the Caribbean we don't usually book balconies in the Caribbean.

Of course we are flying out of Seattle again, and got a great deal at the Hilton near the airport;jsessionid=83C8171F82560E094C16A72EFE5168DB.etc34?brand_id=HI&brand_directory=/en/hi/&xch=540194624,GY4SPRWAFOPLGCSGBIUMVCQ for $50 thru Priceline.

We then booked the Renassance Fort Lauderdale for $100 for the night prior to the cruise. And we booked the Hyatt Place for $70 a night for our three night stay between cruises.

We leave soon, and we can't get away to the warm weather and relaxing with my honey for three weeks.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Aruba and Home - September 28 - Oct 1

Aruba and the last two sea days.

We arrived into Aruba with beautiful sunny weather. Now we have been here two times this year all ready, and it isn't one of our favorite places and I thought, this is the day I am going to relax and enjoy myself. Jerry/Rose and Karen/Allan went ashore, and Bernie went to just pick up a few souvenirs. I stayed on board.

Bernie was only gone for about a half hour and back on board stating that there were lots of souvenirs but the prices we too high and he didn't want pay that much for junk. Again we are the first ship in port for the season.

I decided the Sanctuary was my place today. I went there for the afternoon and relaxed, I was the only one there.

The next two days are sea days and relaxation are in order, as if we aren't relaxed all ready! We spend the next day in the Sanctuary. We arrive for the afternoon session and there are a few people around. On the Island the Sanctuary is located aft, right behind the gym, and right above the kids area - but there are no kids on board.

It is so peaceful here, but around 4 pm, the aerobics spinning class gets started and all you can hear is their music blaring away. So we ended up leaving shortly thereafter.

Our next sea day is spent saying goodbye to everyone. We had organized another informal meet and greet at 11 am in the Explorer's Lounge and many of the crew came. Here I am with Paul Hilcox, our Cruise Director.

On some of the sea days there is pub lunch in the Crown Grill and we all ended up there for a nice meal.

After the lunch a bunch of us met and headed to the casino, we all contributed $20 and put it into one slot machine and played away. It lasted for almost an hour, and the hoots and hollers every time we won had everyone in the casino looking on. Many people wanted to get into the action. In the end we ended up with nothing but lots of laughs.

Here Marie is on the chair trying to bring some luck to her spin.

Said goodbye to Miss Beverly and hoping that one day we will see each other again.
The next morning we were off the ship relatively early and grabbed our bags and off to the airport. We were there by 9 am and our flight home.
The Panama Cruise was one of the best trips I have ever taken. It was made that way because of the itinerary and the people we sailed with.

Cartagena Columbia - September 27

I am in Columbia!

We wake up early as we are only in port for the morning and I want to really see this country and the city of Cartagena. We open the door to the balcony and bamm, the heat hits us again, the humidity is already very high and all the mirrors and windows in the cabin fog up instantly.

We dock at what looks like an industrial section, amongst container ships. When we get off we are welcomed by people in period costumes, and free fruit/candies from the area. Again we are the first ship in port of the season.

We walk thru the port area, at first there are taxi asking for your business, but most want to just sell you tours. We didn't want to do a tour this time, we are a little toured out and just want to do our own thing. Karen and John are joining us, and we walk thru the gates of the port to the taxi line and hire a taxi. For $20 total we are taken to the "Old Town" and dropped off at a flea market craft place. We didn't go in to look but there looks like you can pick up any and all souvenirs up here.

First thing we notice is the architecture, beautiful, very Spanish. Everything is well laid out and functional. The plants that cascade over the balconies truly add to the character.

Now one thing we quickly noticed was how darn big the doors are, and usually encased in this huge door is a little door. Normally these open to a huge courtyard.

It is a Sunday and it is quiet and lots of locals have come out to enjoy the day. Local vendors sell fruit and juices to those on the street.
Very narrow streets.

Here is a good outline of how large the doors are, compared to the artist sitting there selling his pieces. You can just make out the outline of the smaller doors.

The day that we were there the government was having a city election and people were going to the polls.

Very artistic city, lots of displays of statues of all types.

Somebody has their crafts for sail, I love the colors.

Lots of open spaces

You can see how hot we are.

This man is selling snow cones!

What a woman really looks like.

This woman is selling fruit.

Bernie hands out the Canadian pencils we brought.

We stop for something to eat and a cold beer. Here the guys goof around sampling the local beer. Okay twist my arm.

Karen and I have to try some too.... see how hot and sweaty we are!

Aguila, their local beer.

It was a nice little restaurant and the food was great.

John with his new "Panama Hat" he bought in Panama City - doesn't he look handsome.

These two parrots were right at the port and they did talk.

It is a considerable walk to the ship from the port entrance, but there is a shuttle, but be prepared and have good comfortable shoes on and lots of water.

Here is a good shot on how the port looks, very industrial, and the port stores, and taxi are to the right (not in the shot).

The view of Cartaghena as we sail away from her.

Yup this is how we looked when we got there, which way to go????

Since we were only here for part of the day, we got back on the ship and quickly went to the pool deck to cool off. Here we enjoyed a dip and a hamburger and some music. Ah that is why I love cruising. You get to really enjoy the sights but also get the chance to relax and enjoy the ship.

Panama Canal - September 25

Woke up all excited, today is the day I finally get to transit the Panama Canal. Now for a long time I dreamed about cruising and the cruiser's dream is transiting the Canal. It is there so I have to do it. You can feel the excitement on the ship, many are up very very early. Again we are the first cruise ship of the season to go thru the canal.

Shot of the city first thing in the morning before the sun comes up -- this is around 5 am, but we were all up.

First order of business was getting latte

Look who I found up on deck, John.... the ship is quiet but people are moving about getting ready for the event.

Now prior to our crossing we had listened to lecturers (which are re broadcast in the cabin), had read thru books, watched the "Building the Canal" documentary, and scanned thru the pamphlet that they delivered to our cabin. I had a good grasp of what was involved, I could comment on what lock we were going thru and when and how things were built. But now that I am home - I have forgotten it all. So good idea is to purchase one of the many books in the shops on board about the history. It makes a lovely souvenir.

The Bridge of the Americas, linking North America and South America

Days prior to arriving at the Canal the crew put out poster boards and markers and invited people to come and do up Canal Signs to show on the day we transited the Canal. Many friends and family could watch the web cam and see the signs back home. The Princess videographers were also all about and they filmed us going thru the Canal as well as taking pictures. It was so neat to see everyone with their signs. My favorite was an older couple who did up a sign that said "Grandma and Grandpa enjoying retirement, please send money".

Here workers get into these dingys to tie up the cables to the ship and then the locomotives.

The Canal was first started by some adventurous French who say it as a way to make money. In 1880 Count Ferdinand De Lesseps (who built the Suez Canal) took on the task of trying to build the Panama Canal. But because of disease and mismanagement the project brought the enterprise to financial ruin in 1889.

Here are the cables that are attached to the ship from the locomotives. They are heavy steel cables that can be expanded or shortened depending on where the ship is in the lock. Their job is key as there is only about a 1 or 2 foot clearance to the walls of the canal and the walls of the ship. These locomotives keep the ship centered.
Entering Miaflores Locks, a set of two locks that takes us into Miaflores Lake.
The Americans purchased the rights of the French in 1904 at a cost of $40 million. It took ten years, labour of more than 75,000 men and women, and almost 400 million to complete the job. The Americans signed the Torrijos-Carter Treaty in 1977, which provided for disestablishment of the Canal Zone - the Americans gave up rights at noon on Dec. 31, 1999 and Panama assumed full responsibility for the administration of the Canal.

Water rushing in after the lock door is closed, pretty amazing force.

Now everyone wants to know the best places to view the locks. Well there really isn't a specific place, you need to move all over the ship. The top decks are busy but people were polite. I went to the forward decks on Baja and Caribe, just walk past all the cabins and there is a door that might say "crew only" but it is okay to go thru. The first time I went thru the door I was shocked - so much for the "secret" area, there were at least four people deep at the railing.
My real favorite area is the aft decks. So walk all the way back on Caribe, Dolphin or Emerald and there is a lovely area, the decks get wider the lower down you are but you can watch the gates close and the water rush in and not too many people.

The Canal uses a system of locks; chambers with gates that open and close. The locks operate as water elevators that raise the ship from sea level (either on the Pacific or the Atlantic) to the level of Gatun Lake.
Each set of locks was named after the town in which it was built. Each lock chamber is 33.53 meters (110 ft) wide and 304.8 meters (1,000 ft) long.

The Canal is 80 kilometers (50 miles) long from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It was cut through one of the narrowest and lowest saddles of the long, mountainous isthmus that joins the North and South American Continents. The original elevation was 95 meters above sea level where the Canal crosses the Continental Divide in the rugged mountainous range.

the locomotives transit along with the ship

the gates opening now that our ship is at the same level of the lake
It requires about 8 to 10 hours for an average ship to transit the Canal. During this period, the passengers aboard have the opportunity to see one of the modern engineering wonders of the world in operation.

Ship in the locks beside us gave us the opportunity to see what was being done in order for the ship to transit

Fact - During the fiscal year 2007 there were 14, 721 transits. This represented 312.6 million Panama Canal Universal Measurement System net tons, and $1.18 billion in toll payments.
The lowest toll for transiting the Canal was paid by Richard Halliburton who paid 36 cents to swim across the Canal from August 14 to August 23, 1928.

While in Miaflores Lock I went back to the cabin for champagne and orange juice - did I mention how HOT it was.

Bernie and Rose toasting our crossing
Okay, did I mention how thirsty I was.

This machine is use to dredge the canal. This is necessary all the time so that ship can transit safely without running aground.

This is us coming into Pedro Miguel Locks. You can see the ship beside us and how close they are to the walls of the Canal.

Canal crew come on board the ship (about 25 of them) and act as the pilots while transiting the Canal. Here are some of the pilots on the ship beside us.

You can see how close we are to the side of the Canal walls.

Lone worker on the ship beside us.

Pedro Miguel Lock

This is a shot of the wall of the Canal, as you can see a lot of ships have banged up against these guards, lots of painting to the side of the ships is necessary after a transit.

It amazes me as we enter we are 20 feet lower, and slowly the ship rises and we are even with the water in the next lock.

When the doors close the pathway is available for the staff to cross from one side to the other. Looks scary to me.

This is a shot of the lock doors, they are 7 feet wide!

Here is one door that was closed that does have a leak.

Bernie, me and Jerry - we were all sweating like crazy

Here are the video crew that are on shore. They hold out this banner so that everyone on the ship will wave and they can capture it for the video.

Here the crew cross the Lock over one of the doors, scary.

Here is the hindge of the door for the lock, see all the scratch marks.

Locomotive worker, his job is just to keep the ship centered in the lock.

The crew were all very friendly, and like I said we were the first ship to transit of the season.

Here is a crodolile that we saw on the shore - from our balcony.

Here is a panaramic view of the lock doors when they are closed.

Absolutely beautiful scenery.

At the end of the day I was beat, hot, sticky and very tired.