Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale through the Panama Canal

For our 50th wedding anniversary we decided to celebrate by taking a cruise through the Panama Canal (actually, this was the third and last of our celebrations; more about the others in a later posting). An added bonus was the happy circumstance that one of Amelia's long-time (back at least to high school) friends, Joan, and her husband Larry, also wanted to take a Panama Canal cruise. Some months of planning ensued. On January 4 we flew to Los Angeles and stayed overnight in a hotel in San Pedro (blocks from the cruise terminal).

January 5

About noon the we caught the shuttle to the cruise terminal, where Amelia and I waited patiently for our time to board the Island Princess. We had time to ponder our cruise route and itinerary. Finally we were aboard and checking out our cabin (it was quite satisfactory). After a quick lunch in the buffet we met Joan and Larry on the forward Sun deck. Later in the afternoon a guide boat came longside to herd us out of the harbor. We were on our way!

January 6, 7

We had two days at sea and we used it to relax, attend some lectures, figure our way around the ship, try to decide what tours we might like, and visit with Joan and Larry. Well, in addition, I had not finished David McCollough's The Path Between the Seas, and what's more, I forgot to bring it along. Fortunately, Larry had brought his copy, which I borrowed and worked on finishing the last 75-100 pages (it is over 600 pages, plus Acknowledgments, Notes, Sources, and Index). A fantastic book about a fantastic project.

January 8

Today we anchored in the Bahia San Lucas, Mexico. We opted to not go ashore, but Joan and Larry walked in (after a tender ride to the dock) and reported they had a nice walk, but they didn't find too much of interest. Cabo San Lucas is pretty well developed as a resort community, also seen here. There was lots of fun being had, boating, parasailing (or whatever it's called when towed behind a boat), and sailing, As we were leaving bay, we saw whales.

January 9, 10, 11

We then had three days at sea. Lot of visiting, reading, and attending lectures. Probably saw a show or two. One enjoyable get-together was for aviators. I took the liberty of attending and heard some interesting stories by various attendees. We had some beautiful sunsets and I'm pretty convinced I saw at least on "green flash" (not so much a flash as just quick green line) as the sun dipped beneath the (water) horizon. We also saw turtles, and frigate birds. I also saw this "line" in the ocean. Here is a sequence of eight shots in order, (look left to right, top to bottom) leading up to (and including) the picture above. These pictures were taken at various angles from the ship, so while the line was actually pretty straight looking, it doesn't necessarily come out that way in the sequence. I'm pretty sure this was the boundary of an ocean current some 400 miles west-northwest of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Speaking of lectures, here's a shot of Larry in the theater awaiting a lecture. Oh yes, most importantly I rediscoverred how good the hard rolls served on the Princess ships are, and rapidly starting working my way toward the (more or less) 50 of them that I ate while on the cruise. Also long the "let's eat" line of thought were the occasional "British Pub" luncheons in the (would you believe) the Bayou Cafe.

January 12

We anchored off San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua early in the morning. Larry and I had signed up for the tour to Mombacho Volcano (quiescent), and Amelia and Joan for the tour to the Masaya market and views of the (live) Masaya Volcano. Along the way to the volcano, we saw quite a few wind turbines. There were lots of flowering plants. Part way up the volcano we needed to switch to an all wheel drive truck (I was glad we never had to put on the spare tire). During the ensuing rest stop we were able to see something about growing coffee in Nicaragua. Larry paid rapt attention to the discussion. There was a short presentation about the volcano and they had this model of it. We hiked up to and around (I think), the lower right hand caldera. Here is a line of tourists, here we are filing into a chasm in the rock. Here's one of the happy hikers. And again (I get so few chances to get shots of myself in, I couldn't resist). And, another happy hiker. What was that I said about hardly ever getting my picture in these stories? This is supposed to be the largest orchid (well, the species, maybe not this particular instance). Yes, it was raining part of the time, but not a lot. More pretty blossums. Then we came to an overlook of Lake Nicaragua and Grenada, a bit hazy off in the distance. More flowers. Oops, there he is again (guess I had a worthwhile partner on this tour). Speaking of the partner, here's a windblown shot of him. Fungus on the wooden pathway. Pretty berries and bromelieds. Back down on the highway, we saw some of the local transportation. Then, it was on to Granada where we had a brief tour, seeing the Palacio Municipal, a mismatched pair of carriage horses, and a restaurant where we had lunch and enjoyed the local cerveza Victoria. On the way back, the tour guide explained that there are no railroads in Nicaragua because the engines were all sold (maybe, except this one) during the insurgency in order to buy AK-47s. On the way back to the ship we got a view of the Masaya Volcano. Having a keen (tourist oriented) eye, the bus driver stopped so we could see some howler monkeys.

January 13

We had a quick overnight trip to Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Amelia and I opted to take a rainforest hike followed by a ride on the tram up the mountain. We could have ridden a zip line, but didn't. Larry and Joan went on the coffee plantation tour. But I get ahead of myself. As we got off the ship I took this shot of our balcony, (lowest level and midway between the two lookout ports on the promenade deck just below). There were some people on the beach as we rode the bus in on the pier. Along the way we went over a bridge and saw that the crocodiles had eaten all of the bus that went over side, except for a couple tires (just joking). The bus driver stopped so we could get a look at this Macaw. When we got started on the walking tour we saw lots of flowering plants and this iguana (poisonous, to some extent, but slow). Here is a sequence of flowering plants:

  • One
  • Two
  • Three
  • Four
  • Five
  • Six
  • A bit further on was a display of snakes in Costa Rica. All in all, they have 23 different poisonous snakes, including one of the most venomous, the Fer de lance, Then it on to the tram, where we went up the side of the mountain. Here's a selfie of the happy trammers . It is in a rainforest, and while we had little rain, the waterfalls were running. Here's a shot back and across the valley. Now we are on the way back down looking at another "car" coming up. For the engineers among us, a shot of part of the mechanism. After a buffet lunch we headed back,this time finding a pair of Macaws. Back in Puntarenas, I took a few shots. Here's bougainvillea, a local delivery vehicle, some wooden natives guarding the Bar Imperial. One thing we had hoped to see were butterflies, but we didn't see many, and none close enough to get a picture. On the way out from the Puntarenas harbor, I looked out at the balcony, and there was a butterfly. I took a few pictures of it, then it flew in the sliding glass door and landed on the curtain and posed for pictures. Then we tried to shoo it out of the cabin, but it liked us. Finally, we got it to go out.

    January 14

    Another day at sea. More relaxing and going to lectures and partaking in other activities. We pretty much ignored the movies (pretty much like at home), although they did have some good ones on both closed circuit TV, in the theater, and on the open air Lido Deck. Sometime along the way, probably before now, we discovered that the Rhapsody Trio played often from 5:00 until 8:30 in the Atrium, playing a variety of music during the cocktail hour(s) (well, some of those hours, anyway). Here's a video clip that does not do justice to them.

    January 15

    This was the big day, and we were up early with room service delivery of coffee, croissants, and juice. Coffee tended to be luke-cold, although Joan and Larry re-ordered their's and got hot coffee then. Be that as it may, around 6:30am local time we were approaching the for Bridge of the Americas, and looking back we could see the for Balboa Yacht Club boats. As we got closer to the bridge, we saw the morning rush hour traffic and for the flag of Panama on a nearby Sosa Hill. A little later we are into the canal and can look for back at the bridge. A little further along are the docks and unloading for cranes of Panama City. We are soon joined by a sheparding boat. It is just sunrise for us at about 6:50am. The Frigate birds are out and about. The for LDS Temple is on the south bank. By 7:10am we are approaching the first of the Miraflores locks. A large container ship is just entering the left side lock ahead of us. On the south (well, it seems like south, but actually it is on the northeast; anyway, nearest the Columbia) side of the present locks a new set of larger locks are being constructed, and some of the construction equipment can be seen. We will be going into the right side lock, in which the water level is still being lowered and the gates are still closed. Ahead of us we can see the ship that preceded us as well as the Centennial Bridge. As we slide into the lock, the "donkey" awaits our arrival so it can guide us (not pull us) through the lock. Looking over the edge one can see there is about one foot between the side of the lock and the ship. The large container ship having moved to the next lock on the left side, water is being drained to lower the level for the next ship. There were a couple of resting Pelicans and an Egret along the way. Here's another shot, taken from our balcony, of the close fit in the lock, as well as the "donkey". On the other side, the container ship has been lifted through both locks and we can see the gates holding back the water. Now we approach the building (control center, I presume) for the Miraflores locks. We also can get a good view of the second of the Miraflores locks on the left side, the container ship having moved out. Note the secondary gates for safety and possible use in case the primary gate fails. As we proceed we can look back and see the water being drained from the second lock on the left side. Then we are on to Lake Miraflores, following the conainer ship, which is going into the third lock (separated from the first two by Lake Miraflores). As we enter the third lock, we again see the tight fit and the "donkeys". Well yes, a tight fit. Just going in, 980 feet to the end of the lock. A good shot of the flag of Panama. We're kind of getting there, only 250 feet to go. The three locks have raised us about 85 feet, depending on the tide. Finally, here we are in the Culebra Cut about 4 hours after approaching the Bridge of the Americas. The Culebra Cut was one of the most challenging parts of building the canal. It was continually over-estimated how steep the sides of the cut could be. There was a slide that partially blocked the channel a few years ago, and you can see from the activity on the side of the cut, and from this dredging that the land is not giving up easily. An hour later we are emerging from the cut where the water is quite silty looking and 40 minutes after that we are in Gatun Lake, where the water and the Lake are quite beautiful. Oh, there's that container ship again. The excitement being over for a while, Amelia takes time out for some relaxation. The view is very pleasant with a few ships in view, some at anchor for a day or two, during which time the barnacles drop off, unable to tolerate fresh water. Must be a lot of barnacle shells on the lake floor. About 1:30pm we approach the Gatun locks, this time going to the left while the container ship goes to the right. Getting the guide ropes to the "donkey" is a low tech job. Here the container ship has exited the first lock and water is refilling the lock while the next lock is being drained to lower the ship. Following that ship is the Sinochart Beijing. Now the lock is nearly filled and the gates will open to allow the Sinochart Beijing to enter. As it does, some of the sailors onboard are taking pictures of us while we are taking pictures of them. Here they enter the lock as we await while they fix a malfunction of our gates (one didn't open all the way). This is a shot of the TV in our room displaying the image from the forward facing video camera as we enter the first lock. Here's Amelia watching the proceedings as the Sinochart Beijing passes into the next lock. Here it is into the next lock and the gates are closing, finally closed (well, almost). On the other side (in the middle of the two series of locks) is the Gatun control building. Looking backward on the right side, we see the ship in the lock is being lowered from lake level. Soon, we are at sea level, and proceeding on. Along the way we pass alongside the gates for the new locks. If they look big, it's because they are. We passed by the docks at Colon and the cranes. Along the way we passed this elegant looking yacht (more likely it passed us, I guess). This is a view of the Colon harbor and a ship at sea, beyond the breakwater.

    January 16

    Overnight we cruised to Cartagena, where we took a combination tour/self guided walk to the old town area. Getting off the ship there was the usual "kodak moment" available, and I snapped a picture without getting in it myself, of what appeared to be one of the occupations available. On the bus ride to town we saw the old fort on the hill, with the flag flying. Here's a statue of a South American hero, Simon Bolivar. All of the churches (this one in the background) face west. One could take a buggy ride past a statue of Simon Bolivar, mounted this time. Larry and Joan took a different tour, but we ran into them here. We then went to the Museo del Oro Zenu to see a display of gold artwork by South American natives, some of it quite intricate. There was also a small display about how they lived, including this interesting picture of their farming and irrigation methods. When we left port in the early afternoon we saw this view of modern Cartagena, then further along the coast.

    January 17

    The next day we arrived in Oranjestad, Aruba around 1:00pm. Along the way we saw this Gannett ligntening his load. In Oranjestad Joan, Larry, Amelia, and I decided to just take a walk to the city, a hike of a couple hundred meters. We did some shopping (well, Amelia did some shopping). After all of that physical exertion, we decide to check out the local beverages and found them satisfactory. We then took a ride on the trolley, seeing shops, among them the Best of Aruba (think so?).

    January 18, 19

    The next two days we were at sea. The streaks in the water in this picture are flying fish. That night was our final formal dinner, so we sort of dressed up. Here are Joan and Larry enjoying the Rhapsody Trio, and we are too. The cruise path during these two days took us through the passage between Haiti and Cuba, then northwest off the coast of Cuba toward Florida.

    January 20

    We arrived in Port Everglades Harbor bright and early this morning. Since we were not taking a flight, we were given a late department time (11:00) from the ship, so I have time to take a picture or two. Here is the Celebrity Constellation docked nearby. Some pretty nice yachts across the way. And an interesting trimaran, I'm guessing a tour boat of some kind. Here is another cruise ship in the harbor, but I'm unable to figure out which line. Eventually we disembarked and got a shuttle to Ft. Lauderdale airport where we picked up a car (after we figured out how to pick our way through the airport).

    January 20, 21, 22, 23

    We made our way to Pembroke Pines to Elise's condo. Later Jack and Dawn came by (fortunately, since Jack had to travel the next few days). One day we went over to Dawn's new house to visit with her. She has two poodles, but I only got a good picture of one. One day we went to the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Science and Discovery. The 22nd was Dawn's birthday, so we went out to dinner with Dawn, Elise, and Alexa, Britt, and Emory (EM). Here's Alexa and Em. And Alexa and Britt and Em. On the 23rd we flew back to Tucson and were soon at home in Green Valley.

    Afterword

    This was a great trip from several perspectives. The canal transit is awe inspiring. What a tremendous undertaking it was to build it. Having Joan and Larry on the same excursion was a wonderful chance to touch base with them on a more extended basis than we've had for 50 years or so. Maybe we can do it again soon. We met some wonderful folks on the cruise and hope to get back together with some of them again.

    Then there is a short bit about food presentation. I've been accused of not paying enough attention to presentation of food and not taking enough pictures of such (I haven't been accused of not paying enough attention to eating it). Not for everyone, but here's a few shots of food.

  • Here's the lunch Larry and I had in Granada
  • During the Panama Canal transit I had a bratwurst
  • Lunch onboard after leaving Cartagena
  • Forgot until too late - remains of birthday dinner