Panama Canal - 2016
This will be the second time we have been blessed with a trip through the Panama Canal, a wonderful experience. Our previous trip was in 2007, and we were Southbound, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This time we will be going the opposite direction, Northbound, from the Pacific side to the Atlantic side.
DAY ONE: EMBARKATION -
It started out early Saturday morning, and Frank and Shirley Stenzel, lifetime friends from our pre-school days, drove down from Gridley to Pleasanton to join us in the ride with the driver we hired to San Francisco's Pier 27. Upon arrival we literally walked right through the embarkation process. Rosalee and I had a little quicker line due to being at the Platinum level of 'loyalty' with Princess. Frank & Shirley are Ruby level, but we can take a couple through with us as our "guests", so we literally were through the process and on board the Island Princess in less than twenty minutes.
Frank & Shirley were given Aloha 431, and most of their luggage was already in front of their cabin. Amazing. Our cabin was down one level, slightly forward of theirs, but we were within mere yards of the mid-ship lifts and ladders, and they were one level below Lido deck, which contains the Horizon Court buffet.
Speaking of Mid-ship... this is the Atrium, which on later-built Princess ships this is referred to as the Piazza. Not sure of the reason for the name change. This is open from the deck 5 to the deck 8. This is the area many of the on board shops are located, as well as several bars and snack food areas. These 'grand staircases' are only in this area, and also, behind the intricate glass decoration on the right are two fancy lifts with two on the left as well, that are 'glass' elevators that allow you to view the atrium while you are en transit. The cars only go from five to eight, however.
This is where you will likely find the Passenger's Service desk (Purser's Desk), and this is where they have musical spots such as a stringed quartet, piano players, and vocal groups performing for short times. Our Dining Room entered from this area. It is usually quite noisy in this area, from people waiting to go into the Dining Room, or the entertainers. Up there on deck 7 to the right was a piano performance by Austin Ray that I enjoyed every evening until midnight.
We dropped our carry-on items in our respective cabins and went up to enjoy our first feast of many... lunch. I was thrilled to find that not only is the Island Princess old enough that it was one that was designed with the Horizon Court at the bow of the ship, one deck above the Bridge. It is one of my favorite places on Princess ships, not because it has food served there, but because it is across the whole front of the ship, with huge glass walls curved around the front, giving you a "King of the World" view when eating... reference to Jack on the movie "Titanic" when he stood at the bow of the great ship and yelled that out to the advancing sea. When headed on an eastward course in the morning, sun comes into those large windows and it is a wonderful place to sit and read or eat or visit with friends or "new friends" that you will meet throughout the day.
I was also surprised to see that the buffet which is doubled (identical serving areas on each side of the ship) were updated from the Island's sister ships on which we have sailed before this. We filled our plates and sat at a table that was next to two ladies that were from Vancouver, BC. They had joined the ship in Vancouver three days earlier. This cruise is a "Repositioning Cruise" where the Island Princess was working the Vancouver to Alaska run, but with the colder weather setting in up in Alaska, the ship is 'repositioned' into the Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale run. It stopped in San Francisco to take on passengers and drop off a few, but after we reach Ft. Lauderdale, it will return through the canal to Los Angeles and then return to Ft. Lauderdale.
We were mostly lazy the rest of the day. We did go topside to view San Francisco and the Marin Headlands as we exited the San Francisco Bay.
A couple of dozen small sailboats were out on the bay, as well as some surf boards with sails playing along the way. The Coast Guard was busy trying to keep the smaller craft from dodging in front of us. They have very little chance of winning a match between them and us. A band was playing and people were making lost of noise, getting started on their 15-day drunk. Fortunately we very seldom see intoxicated passengers. I always enjoy watching The City parade by us as we leave the bay. Frequently people visiting San Francisco for the first time have lots of questions. Of course, I am obliged to tell them about it, right?
After our "sail-away", we went to our assigned Dining Room (Bordeaux) a little after 1700 hours. We struck up a conversation with Dennis and Sue from Floriida (Near Cape Canaveral). When we were seated, they placed the six of us together again,, so we shared a table with Frank, Shirley, Dennis and Sue. He had attended school in the Southern California area years before.
We took in the evening's theatrical show, which is a type of a "Welcome Aboard" show with the "Princess Singers and Dancers" performing. We were introduced to the Cruise Director and they introduced us to a comedian that we will see later on in the week. Their headline shows are shorter now, so they can offer three different show-times. They run a little less than an hour. Of course, to be sure to have a good seat in the Princess Theater, you need to be there more than an hour before the show. And that is fine. The seats are comfortable, you always have someone that is sitting near you that you end up visiting with, and just what else do you have to do? LOL
We slept quite well.
DAY TWO: AT SEA -
We woke to an overcast sky. Visibility was probably less than 500 yards. I was a little surprised that we were not hearing a fog horn periodically. I guess radar is so good that they did not feel the horn was necessary. I love to hear it, as it sounds so far away, being up topside and aimed more forward than down. It is sort of like a train whistle... you can barely hear them when riding inside. If you are outside on an open deck when they blow that horn, such as they did when we left San Francisco and we went under the Golden Gate Bridge, it is deafening.
It is 1000 hours and we are off the coast of Los Angeles. Our course is South-East, we are 322 nautical miles out from San Francisco, and 848 nautical miles from Cabo San Lucas, our first Port of Call.
It was nearly 1100 hours before we got around to making it up to Lido deck for breakfast. We located a table in the bow under the windows, where we had breakfast. We joined two Asian ladies that were from San Francisco. They left shortly, and after about an hour we decided to have a light snack and then skip lunch. I went through the buffet line and found some Boston Clam Chowder, and Shirley spotted me. They joined us and we spent time with them.
Tonight is a "Formal Night" at dinner, so we went back to the cabin to rest up (from what?) and I got this report started. At dinner we were seated at a table for four so we enjoyed reminiscing about old days and old friends and catching up on the local gossip from Gridley. What do you mean Warren Riley got re-married? How nice. He actually had some interest in my cousin Dee back in the sixties, but the ten plus years difference in their ages put those plans to rest. Warren Riley's mom was a dear friend of my mother, and Warren's brother Married Frank Stenzel's sister. That's how it works in a little town like Gridley. LOL.
The evening show was "Do You Wanna Dance", a pretty nice production number that Princess uses throughout the fleet, so it was rather familiar to us. Frank and Shirley left right after the show to catch the end of a football game that was on TV. There was a player from Chico, CA which is next door to Gridley, that was playing and Frank wanted to see him playing. Rosalee and I stayed in our seats and visited with a gentleman and his wife that were sitting next to us. Neither of us were in a hurry so we did not try to leave before most people left the theater.
We walked through the Atrium where a fellow was playing the piano and singing. We sat down and listened. He was good. Rosalee gave up and went to bed and I stayed until he shut down at midnight. He played and sang for three hours... far longer than the production shows in the theater. The artist's name was Austin Ray. He used to live in San Jose, and in the seventies he got his professional start with Beach Blanket Babylon which has been playing in San Francisco for decades.
DAY THREE: AT SEA -
We were up a little earlier today... 0750 hours. We are off the mid-point of Baja California, on a course of 136° (South-East), running a speed of 20 kts. We are 760 Nautical Miles from San Francisco and 410 Nautical Miles from Cabo San Lucas. A little clearer today with visibility of about 4 miles.
We had good 'fishin' today (People Fishin', where we sit at a table that has room for others to join us). We actually were the 'fish' as we joined Stuart and Norma from Australia. What a delightful couple. They were about our age and had grandchildren a little younger than ours. He spent the last fifteen years or so working with the Australian Leprosy Association (not the correct title) and we discussed Leprosy and our visit to the Leprosy Colony on Molokai, Hawai'i. He told us that it was a serious health issue in many countries yet, and especially serious in India and in Brazil. We also discussed education, and it seems that Australia has many of the same shortcomings in their education system that we have. Mostly Political Correctness, Racial 'Equality', and unknowledgeable school administrators. They said that in Australia the secondnary schools tend to split the students, sending them either to an "academic" school or a "trades" school. The Trades schools produce worker-bee types and engineers as well.
After the Australian couple left we had a little snack to serve as lunch and as people filled in for lunch, our table attracted a couple of ladies from Sacramento, CA. Connie and Karen, who is a travel agent in Sacramento. Connie is a breast cancer survivor and Karen lost her husband to cancer. We discussed cancer in general, cancer work, the American Cancer Society, etc.
After our lunch snack we took a walk. Three point two times around the Promenade deck (deck seven on most mid-sized and larger Princess ships). They have closed off the aft section of the walking area. Consulting our maps we learned that what used to be the Vista Lounge on deck 7 aft is not cabins. They block that off now due to the fact that the windows likely are windows into cabins, and no one wants traffic walking outside their cabin window. Most cabin windows have either a private balcony outside or it is the side of the ship, so no one would be out there unless they were related to Spiderman.
We did walk three times around. I pooped out before Rosalee did, so we sat on a couple of chaise lounges/deck chairs on the Promenade deck and watched the other people walk by.
There is definitely a high average age on this cruise. So far we have seen one youngster, and maybe half a dozen people under the age of fifty or so. The fellow we spoke with in the Theater last night was 80.
Speaking about old people... I'm going to try to see if I can get online this afternoon. We are "given" 150 minutes or so "connect time" and have to pay for more than that if we want it. It is nearly a dollar a minute. Karen, the travel agent, said that when she was on Infinity Cruises ship, she was given unlimited and very easy to use wi-fi connection. Princess makes a lot of money off Wi-Fi, but I wish they made it free full-time as well. I would think that they would get a better number of people cruising if they knew it was not going to cost them a fortune to cruise.
Tonight's entertainment is a Will Martin. Billed as an International Recording Artist, "the voice you must hear to believe". When he came out we were amazed at his youth. He looked scared to death as he walked up to the microphone, but he belted out in a thunderous voice that won over the crowd immediately. When he finished that song, he spoke and his voice sounded very young. The first thing that he told us was "No, I am not traveling with my parents." He looks maybe 17, but we think that we deduced his age to be about 22.
He did a beautiful performance, and he included playing a piano while he sang. Many of the women in the audience wanted to adopt him I think.
Back at the end of Day Two I mentioned listening to a piano player and singer named Austin Ray in the Atrium. After listening to him every night so far, I would probably classify as a Cabaret Singer?! He passes out a list of about 400 titles and asks us to select what he should sing and play. He plays and sings very well. I have been listening to him every night. He plays from 9:00 pm until midnight. He has disclosed over the course of the trip so far that he used to live in San Francisco, and Campbell near San Jose, and currently lives in Palm Springs. I mentioned before that he got his start playing and singing in San Francisco in Beach Blanked Bingo (which has been playing for decades). I have also learned that he was the lead singer in the show at the Flamingo Casino in Las Vegas for two years with two hundred singers and dancers and showgirls.
I love it when he takes apart a song and explains what the meaning of the song actually is. What the words actually mean. Such as... do you know what the words. "He drove his Chevy to the levy and the levy was dry" actually refers to? Or in the same some what the words mean "The day music died"? Chevy (Chevrolet) was a popular make of car at the time and the Levy was a bar. In England somewhere I believe. He went there and the bar was dry... empty... closed. He was feeling badly because that day a plan crash had taken the lives of three of the more popular singers at the time... Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Richie Valens. Elvis was in the Army then, and many of the artists were not recording, so... that was "...the day that music died!"
I have recently learned that Merle Haggard (who recently passed away... on his own birthday) was scheduled to take that flight with them, but The Big Bopper needed to get to the same destination to do a show and Merle gave up his seat to the Big Bopper.
Until Princess Di passed I never had really heard the song "Candle In The Wind", so I have only heard the words that Sir John re-worked to fit Dianna's funeral. When Mr. Ray played the song as it was originally written, I listened to the original words and learned that it was written about Norma Jean... more commonly known as Ms. Marilyn Monroe. Rosalee and I were in Los Angeles the week-end that the beautiful MM was murdered. As a pubescent boy in the fifties she made a big impression on me. And a couple hundred million other guys. LOL.
DAY FOUR: LOS CABOS (The Capes) -
Day breaks and we find ourselves rounding "Land's End" which is the extreme southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. Part of the rock formation that makes up Land's End is "El Arco" (the Arch) which is quite distinctive. This officially places us in Bahia de Cabo San Lucas or Bay of Saint Luke. It is the protected berthing area off Los Cabos (The Capes) which includes Cabo San Lucas, the city we will be visiting, and several other "capes".
Just to the right of the arch is what is referred to as "Playa del Amor" (Lovers Beach), which is reachable only by boat (or swimming). We have seen swimmers out there on trips before this one. Looking through the two piles of rocks you can see the other side, which is the Pacific Ocean. They advise against anyone swimming on that side, as it is rather risky. Parhaps that is why it has been named "Divorce Beach"?!
Those three images above are actually one long image. They are taken from the ship in the bay, with Cabo San Lucas on the left, going across, showing the development on the beach. Since the first time we came through in 2005 it has developed into a crowded beach.
To the right, in the third image, is the beginning of the Sea of Cortez, lying between Baja and Mexico.
Today the four of us have a scheduled excursion to the town of Todos Santos (all saints), which is about an 80 minute ride north of Cabo San Lucas on a beautiful air conditioned bus. We woke to find ourselves anchored in Bahia de Cabo San Lucas (Bay of the Cape of St. Luke). We tender ashore on both our own tenders from the ship and tenders sent out from Cabo San Lucas. We queued up in the Wheelhouse Lounge, then moved to the Princess Theater, and then disembarked onto a tender. The tender is one of our own launches that serve as a "survival craft" (the new term for life boat). They are designed to hold 180 passengers during an emergency, but they only carry 90 when serving as a tender, but we took every available seat, with no standing room between our seats, so I have no idea where the other 90 go in an emergency. Maybe I don't want to know?
We passed up breakfast today, and are anticipating a lunch in Todos Santos which is about a 70 minute drive north of Cabo San Lucas. We needed about ten minutes to get to shore, and got settled on one of the busses, and headed out through the town's narrow streets to Highway One, which runs the full length of Baja California, over 1,000 miles long. Baja is a peninsula and only a few decades became accepted as part of Mexico. Not sure what that is about. Baja California translates to Lower California, which is what I recall it being called on maps when I went to school seven decades ago. We learned it is the third largest peninsula in the world, behind Korea and Italy. Our guide said it requires 23 hours to drive from Cabo to San Diego, California, but when he was young and the highway was a dirt road, his father required five days to make that drive. There were few visitors from the US back then.
First stop was a small museum where we saw pictures, paintings, printed articles and artifacts from early days of Todos Santos. These were two paintings depicting early inhabitants of the area. Obviously these depict people that lived there long before the Europeans and people from the US came to "help" them improve on their lives.
The area became an important shipping port after ships were used for that purpose, dating back into the days of galleons and pirates and discoverers. Tuna fish were found to be plentiful in the area, as well as whales, which brought those industries, and eventually sport fishing became popular. That brought the "rich and famous" such as the Hollywood crowd and barons from New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, etc., as planes started delivering people to further out destinations. Not long after the "stars" came the tourists came to 'share' the 'good life'.
These paintings likely depict the Pericu people who lived here a few centuries ago. From what these people are not wearing it is a clue as to the weather in this region. Our guide for the day, who grew up in the area, tells that when he was young his grandfather stated that they have two seasons... there is Hot... and there is Hotter. No spring and no fall. There is limited rainfall except for the occasional hurricane that comes ashore.
We walked from the museum several blocks past stores and homes, one of many plazas, a mission church and reached Hotel California where we had a delicious Baja-style lunch.
Walking past a real estate office, offerings were posted in the windows. One thing about Baja towns... you either see very little color with the dull colors of adobe, or you see bright colors. There does not seem to be a middle-of-the-road. We did notice that if you are going to have a 'yard' to play in, it is going to be on top of your building. Notice the 'patio' up on top of the green building. You will see several of those just in the images I include here. The "patio roof" is not intended to be waterproof. There is little rainfall in the area. It is mostly sun proof. Some will have an old fish net over it. The purpose of the net is to help prevent the roofing material from blowing off in the hurricanes. The usual covering for the roofing is palm leaves.
These old brick buildings show some of the early brick work done a century ago. Notice the "patio" roofs on top of the one building above, and in the back, on top of building in the image to the left.
This is "Hotel California", rumored to be the location and inspiration of the song by the same title that was written and performed by the Eagles. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFi2ZM_7FnM ) When asked years later if there was that connection, the artist that was questioned was not sure. It appears they were not in full control of their capacities on that trip north through Baja half a century ago.
It is known, however, that they had car trouble, and they did spend some time at this hotel. Today the road from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego, CA is over 1,000 miles and requires 21 hours to drive. In the fifties it required five days to drive that distance. The song talks about hearing church bells, and there is an old mission next door with a large bell. There are eight rooms in the hotel to let, and I understand that they are rather minimal in qualities and personal comfort.
For the first time, I listened to the words of the song "Hotel California" when Austin Ray played it, and even though I had heard the song before, this time I HEARD it, and the song meant so much more after that.
Up on the rooftop, the four troubadours. If you look closely you will see that they are life-sized, but they are made of steel.
"You won't have any trouble knowing which bathroom is which" the guide told us. "Just go to the back of the restaurant and look for the two naked people". I found them, but it took me a bit of time to tell the difference... and I'm a sex ed teacher? LOL
The hair cuts are the same. One has pendulous breasts and the other is a younger girl with a teeny bikini, right? They both have a narrowed waist (female trait?!). The left one is female in the groin area but the other is wearing a bikini bottom? Or maybe a loin cloth? Or... Oh! That is his ... um... appendage. I think. Just to make sure, I waited for people to exit the doors, and when a woman came out of the left door, I tried the one on the right. It had to be a men's room with urinals on the wall... urinals that were so high that I could barely get 'over the edge' without getting a stool to stand on. They must grow young men really tall in Baja.
This was the lobby to the Hotel California. The colorful hanging chandelier attracted my eye, and that watermelon on the table is a sculpture, not an edible melon. I like the lamps on either side of the picture.
A bar was the second half of the lobby, with a large seating area for drinks or food, and large walled-in area in the rear with tables for more diners.
We rode our tour bus back to Cabo San Lucas and walking from the bus to the pier to catch our shuttle back to the ship in the bay we walked past these two lads who were both playing a tune on their wooden Marimba. It appeared to be home-made. I had never seen one with wood tubes for the chimes hanging down under the keyboard. They sounded pretty good. They were playing for tips. Notice the box with the dollar bill on it. Their local dollar was valued at 18 to the US Dollar. They indicated that a year ago it was more like 10 to the US Dollar.
Sitting in the bay, along with our Island Princess was the Carnival Miracle, the ship that our graduation class took to Alaska from Seattle when we celebrated our 55th class reunion. She was limited in that they were having trouble with one of her engines, we were told, so we were going to have to bypass Ketchikan, Alaska so that we could make the scheduled stop in Victoria, V.I.. Problem was we had a strong headwind all day going to Vancouver Island so we were late and our stop was only for a few hours. So we lost both stops. :-( You can spot the Carnival ships with their iconic dorsal fin sticking up on their superstructure.
Our second night of the cruise, for dinner we were seated at a table for four (table 3) and our waiter was a cute little guy named Gary. We have continued to request his table. It cuts down on our meeting new people, but we get a lot of that at breakfast and lunch, and we are enjoying the opportunity to get to talk about old times and get to know each other better. After seventy years of knowing each other you would wonder what we would not know about each other but we manage to learn new things each night. We have been requesting that table and waiter every night since.
Tonight's entertainment featured a young man named Michael Harrison who is billed as "A Comedy Ventriloquist". He was seen on America's Got Talent, so I guess AGT is a good launching platform for young talent. A ventriloquist usually has a "dummy", and his was a tennis ball. Not quite like "Wilson", the soccer ball made by Wilson Sports Equipment that was a "character" in the Tom Hanks movie, but little more than that. Of course it was the words that Harrison placed "in the mouth" of the tennis ball that made the act. One other character showed up... a tennis racquet that had strings that moved to create a mouth. Stick-0n jiggly eyes finished the face.
Audience participation is always good on a cruise ship show, since embarrassing someone in your party is the highlight of many, and Harrison did it well. He called up Walt, a fellow I spoke with a couple of nights before. I asked if he was an ex-Marine due to his size and demeanor. He said "Air Force... but I would have been a Marine if I had known they had airplanes." LOL. Walt was conned into going up on stage and Harrison had the tennis ball in his right hand where when he squeezed the ball a cut in the ball would open and appear to talk... about like Pac-Man. So standing between the tennis ball and Walt, Harrison would squeeze the back of Walt's neck. Walt was to open his mouth when his neck was squeeze an Harrison provided the words, of course. It was a riot. Walt did his task well, and came through like a champ.
I caught another act of Austin Ray and he was wonderful. As happens so often in a casual atmosphere such as a cabaret, some people in the close proximity feel it is more important to talk and laugh and make a lot of racket when an artist is literally within breathing distance of them. They totally ignore how tough it is for the performer to do his delicate timing while playing and singing, and they totally ignore that the other people would like to actually hear the artist perform. It happened tonight. Ray had only gotten started when an engineer was turning down the volume on his microphone. They said someone was complaining about his being too loud. How ridiculous is that? How do you perform if you have to be quiet? If anyone wants a quiet place to talk don't sit next to a grand piano with amplification on it and a scheduled performance due in minutes.
I could really see the detrimental effects on Ray. Members of the audience were very irritated at the talkers, and not happy about the microphone adjustment. Most of you know me. I'm inclined to speak when things are not fair, and this would not be the first time I have spoken out. Our kids used to see something going on that was 'wrong' an they would say under their breath "Don't say it dad!" LOL. Of course I did. :-) And I embarrassed my wife and kids. We all paid good money to hear good music, not listen to some Hodeedo telling his story about clinching a deal somewhere.
I motioned the engineer over and told him that we cannot hear the music now... don't turn it down. Instead, move the people out of here that are talking loudly. He stuttered and stammered, and I told him that I was aware that was not the sort of thing that was in his "wheelhouse", but perhaps he might know someone that COULD do something????? He got the point. They were gone two songs later. When they got up to leave, the audience applauded them. Ray was in the middle of a song and was not sure about what was going on, but he figured it out quickly.
I spoke with Ray after the show and asked how he was able to perform with that going on and he said that he is not always able to do it. It is very tough. He felt good that we were supportive of him however. And within one or two songs after the noise left he was performing back up to par.
DAY FIVE: AT SEA -
I made it to bed around 0100 hours, and as I was retiring I noticed that we were having some lightening off in the distance. When we awoke this morning we had a rainbow off our starboard bow we could see off our balcony. It was hazy enough the rainbow was not as brilliant as it could have been.
It was a rather quiet and restful morning. We went up to the Lido deck for a late breakfast. We did sit next to a fellow that was working on a contract. When he finished it we asked if it was business or pleasure. "Both" he said... if this works right, it will pay for another cruise. LOL.
We shared some knowledge about investing and politics and world affairs. He did not stay too long, and it was rather quiet after that. We went back down to our cabin to relax.
As we are resting in our cabin before dining I am typing on this blog, Rosalee is enjoying the balcony and the warm weather, reading a book. The cabin TV is turned on to a station that has just music playing. It is rather dated... back in the forties and fifties, not Rock-n-Roll but stuff like Somewhere Over The Rainbow, There's No Business Like Show Business, and Summertime (Porgy and Bess), the first record that Cody and I owned (I wish I knew where that record is now). Anyway, I'm feeling a bit ancient listening to stuff that would make our kids puke when on comes Pat Boone, singing "Love Letters In The Sand", which is from the movie of the same title, from the fifties. It was the first movie that Rosalee and I shared... although Frank, Shirley, and Don McKay were there too, and they were still running guard for Rosalee at that time, keeping me away from her (he he... I won that one) .
In the queue for the Dining Hall we spoke with a young man from the SF Bay Area that worked for Hewlett-Packard. He enjoyed talking... was very animated. His wife joined us just before we went in to dinner. She could REALLY talk a bunch.
After dinner the featured entertainer was Paul Boland, "The Man of 1,000 voices" who sang in the impressionistic voices of many well-known people, not necessarily singers. Stalone... Eastwood... Jimmy Stewart... Bill Clinton... none of whom are known for their crooning abilities. He did it very well. '
Near the end of the show he came into the audience and sang to a woman as Elvis Presley. Then he got her husband up and had him do the pelvic animations of Presley while Boland sang as Elvis. Then he took the man up the aisle about five rows and had him 'entertain' a lady there. He moved the second lady's gentleman friend out of his seat so the 'singer' could have 'working room'. Then he sat the first man with the second lady and took the second man down to 'entertain' the first lady, and had him sit next to the first lady. The crowd loved the action. Then he finished the show with a rousing crowd participation of "Sweet Caroline" a la Neil Diamond. He was a good entertainer. We have seen him before on previous cruises.
After that show, I sat in on another Austin Ray gig. At one point he pointed out a young gorgeous officer of the ship standing near the staircase with a beautiful young lady in a cute backless dress. They were acting all lovey and stuff. Ray mentioned that it was a request from the gentleman, and he sang to them "You Are So Beautiful.... To Me" and there was not a dry eye in the house. Young love is so cute. After they left Ray explained to us that the girl is one of the dancers in the Princess Singers and Dancers.
DAY SIX: AT SEA -
Nice slow day today. Tonight at dinner is another Formal Night.
It is interesting that when you strike up a conversation with someone in an elevator or standing in a line, you don't introduce yourself... in fact names never come up unless you spend more time together or you see them again. The first question asked is to find out where they are from. So you have a good idea of where many people are from, but little information about names. You even find out what they do sometimes before you know their names.
We did stop in at the Photo Gallery to check on the photos that they took of us when we boarded the ship. When we were doing our "sail-away" leaving San Francisco, a staff photographer snapped my picture up at the rail. So we went down to find them, and the gallery was closed. We went later after dinner and found the images. The one of me at the rail went in the circular file (garbage can) but we took the embarkation photo.
We had a coupon from our travel agent that said it was good for one 5 x 7 photo or equal photo credit (no cash). We gave the clerk the photo and the coupon, and he said "I'm sorry, the coupon is for a 5 x 7 and the photo is an 8 x 10." So I suggested that he credit us for the 5 x 7 price and we would pay the difference for the more expensive 8 x 10. "Oh, no, we can't do that" he said. I asked him why not? Was that not what the coupin specifically states? He said "Yes, but I don't know how to do that". LOL. So, since the photo we were buying was a 5 x 7 image with a border they put around it to make it into an 8 x 10, I said "Well, why don't we take a pair of shears and cut off the garbage you guys put around the 5 x 7 image and just give us the 5 x 7 image for the 5 x 7 coupon. LOL. He said "I'll just give you the whole thing." LOL.
In the line before entering the Bordeaux Dining Room for dinner, we talked with a couple from Danville, which is next door to Pleasanton. She was a teacher in a private school. We had a good conversation with them.
Dinner was a problem... they had Lobster and Prime Rib both on the menu. That does not happen every night... lobster and prime rib only show up a couple times on the whole trip. Our cute little waiter (Gary) said that the lobster was a dish rather than a lobster tail. And upon closer reading that is what the menu described, so we went with Prime Rib. Then after we were half done with our meal he told us that the lobster was indeed a tail, because that is how it was coming out of the kitchen. He said he would bring us one if we wanted it so we all said yes. Lobster AND Prime... quite a dinner. We overdid that one.
Leaving the dining room I stopped in at one of the many restrooms on the ship. All of the restrooms are shaped differently as they slip them into crooks and crannies of the ship's deck plans, wherever space allows. For those that never frequent men's rooms, there are toilets and urinals. On the ships, they sometimes slip the urinals behind walls where you have to work through a maze to find them. I only needed a urinal so I was looking around but there were none visible. So I start looking for those walls that hide the urinals and none could be located. So I headed for an open stall. Just as I was about to enter the stall someone else entered the restroom, and as I glanced over at him I noticed that he looked very feminine. LOL. This could be troublesome. Was that actually a woman or a man? He/she?? did not look at me and went directly into another booth. It was then that the fact that 'he' being very feminine started adding up with the lack of urinals and I decided that I could put off the deed long enough to go back out and look at that little man icon that is outside the door, just to be sure it was not me that was in error. Guess what? Rosalee had this panicked look on her face, and that little man icon? 'He' was wearing a skirt. LOLOL. So we moved on to the next restroom, which had to be located, and turned out to be on the opposite side of the ship. No fuss, no foul. LOL. I don't think the woman that came in even looked my way.
The show tonight was one of the Princess Singers' and Dancers' 'standards' called " MotorCity" which was very loud Motown singing and dancing. A whiz-bang show but not one or our favorites.
We always go in nearly an hour before the show starts. Partly because it is sometimes difficult to find a seat if we wait too long. We have noticed on this trip the same people sit in the same area, and we end up visiting with them. Behind us are a couple from Sacramento (Roger and Betty) that we enjoy visiting with.
Austin Ray was exceptionally good tonight. He mentioned tonight that he spent a year in England as the Master of Ceremonies for The Chippendale Dancers. After the show as I was leaving I told him "I cannot wait for your show every night when I learn about another chapter in your life". He really laughed at that. "I've done a lot of different things, for sure. Some I can't really tell you about though." And we both laughed at that.
DAY SEVEN: AT SEA -
We got up early enough to attend a lecture in the Princess Theater on our upcoming visit to Cartegena, Columbia. The speaker was an architect that decided to get away from the drafting tables and travel. He is an avid photographer and a model railroad enthusiast from Southern California. His talk was illustrated by his photos and he was very interesting.
After the 'destination lecture' we went to the Bayou Cafe where they were offering an "English Pub Lunch" today only. I had fish and chips that were pretty good. While we were waiting for them to start seating us we sat next to a couple from Livermore, which is next door to Pleasanton. They have a 23 year old grandson that graduated from college with a degree in kinesiology, the same as our granddaughter Delaney.
Will Martin was headlining again tonight. He was the one we saw on Day Three. He was equally good tonight. We did hear that someone looked him up on the internet and found out that he is 31 years old. I swear he looks 16, but he has accomplished too many things to be that young.
Austin Ray was his usual excellent self. He is so delightful. He seems to really enjoy what he does, except when those drinking over by the bar are making so much noise that we can't hear him very well.
DAY EIGHT: SAN JUAN DEL SUR, NICARAGUA -
No breakfast this morning. We have an early time to queue up in Wheelhouse Bar then Princess Theater before we get on the tender to go ashore where we got on a 33 passenger bus and drove for 1 1/2 hours through a couple of towns. ;Beautiful green countryside. The road is not great, but passable. The homes are small and very sparse. Some literally appear to be re-claimed animal shelters with a small pen surrounding it that is now the fenced-in yard for the home. Vehicles for local travel seem to be bicycles and motorcycles as number one. And not big ones either... most we saw on the road were carrying two people, usually not wearing helmets, and only traveling about 40 mph. There were a lot of three-wheel "pedi-cabs" with a seat for two on two wheels in front and the back half of a bicycle in back. I did see one of those that was a motorcycle in the back.
There are a lot of small cars that are smaller than a SmartCar, or an Isetta. Smaller than a VW Beetle or the original mini-Cooper. Gasoline runs around $4.00 American down here. Pickups are popular because they can carry a bunch in the back.
On our way to the volcano we had to stop for a short shopping venture, of course, in an area that totally turned off Rosalee an me. The guide mentioned that he would arrange with the people 'running' the restroom so that we would not have to pay to enter. He would meet us there. Of course... where is... ??? We did find the restrooms. The lady was sitting in front of the open door to the restroom, with a paper pad and pencil, collecting money if you wanted to go in. Our guide was no where to be seen. She did not hassle me. Oh... would you like toilet paper with that? LOL. Not sure what the price was. There were three stalls inside with doors, and the urinal was all the way to the end. It was a corner that was tiled with a little bit of a curb to keep water from running on your feet. A faucet was sticking out of the wall and was hooked to a 1/2" PVC pipe that must have had holes drilled in it to wash down the back wall. I didn't touch nothin'.
Rosalee and I walked rather quickly through the conglomerate of carved whatchacallits on wooden racks all over the place. We got out quickly. Meanwhile little brown-eyed children are tugging on you asking for "Dollah?" The fellow on our ship that talked about the destinations on our excursions to smile and say "No, Gracias" so we said that a lot. Of course just once is not enough. One maybe ten year-old boy had some leaves that looked like gladiolia leaves. He would cut about an inch off the end, fold the short pieces, and hold it in front of you to sell it to you. Not sure what the price was. Girls that were teen-aged were selling some cellophane-wrapped pieces that were about six inches square and a half inch thick made from cashew nuts. Teen boys were selling something that was woven from yarn, that looked like a hammock but it was only about three feet long. They were "Ten Dollah." "No, Graias." "Nine Dollah." No, Gracias. "Eight Dollah." "No Gracias."....... after a while you must have to totally ignore them until the step in front of you.
This is just the front of the 'store'... more a 'flea market'. It goes back under the roof a good two hundred feet.
A caring soul cannot help but feel badly and wonder if their selling you that item determines if the family will eat tonight. Then you notice the newest model of smart-phone in their pocket, so they must be doing better than they look. That is when I start fuming about the fact that five-year olds are out hawking the wares and the parents are... ???? Possible some of the adults sitting on their butts over to the side. Everyone knows that to sell something you use sex or a child... either one works.
We could drive right up to the edge of the caldera of the volcano. It was something near 2,000 feet elevation... a very low volcano. They call this one Masaya, and they have several in the area that are active. This one we were at an elevation of about 3,500 feet, and we could look right down the throat of the volcano, down about 1,000 feet into the magma pool of red hot magma boiling and splashing.
With a telephoto lens, we can see that the red lake in the bottom of the volcano is not a placid smooth surface. It was churning and boiling. You can see that it is quite turbulent. The discerning eye can see that the shape of the edge of the lake is changed from the image above, and they were taken only 30 seconds apart.
On our way back down the mountain we could see how green everything is. We did not get rain, but it is fairly frequent in the area, we are told, and as this lush greenery illustrates.
We stopped at a restaurant that they had set up for a lunch for us. It was served to us cafeteria style with us taking our plates past those dishing out the food. Some chicken, some pork, some fish, some beans, some rice.
We did a little walk through the city of Granada. These are some of the buildings in the city. Some look very nice while others do not look so good.
Of course we had to stand in the sun and watch some locals doing a dance in the street. I occupied myself by checking our the surroundings. I did find a place to eat... and yes, that does say $125 for the chicken bowl. However, that is the local dollar, which is greatly devalued when compared to a US dollar. They freely take US money here, and some even accept credit cards.
In case you may be interested... this is a restaurant. If you zoom in closely, you will see that the round sign on the door says "Kathy's Waffle House".
The agricultural land around the area appears to be very rich and productive. This is from the bus on our way back to the port.
On the tender, headed out to our ship, I noticed this lonely lighthouse on the bluff. The sun is setting rapidly.
And there lies our Island Princess, with the kitchen warming up to serve dinner. That blue light mid-ship, topside, is the huge LED movie screen that is so bright it is easy to view in broad sunlight. You can see a tender next to her at mid-ship, where we will also board.
We were told that the scheduled entertainer for tonight was called home for an emergency, and Branden and James, a duo act was called at the last minute. They were in the US when their agent asked them "Can you two get your equipment together and grab a plane to Nicaragua... tonight?"
One played the Cello and the other had a deep baritone singing voice. They did a nice show.
Tonight was Austin Ray's only night off. Too bad they did not ask him to do the show tonight. He certainly could have done well with it.
I made an early night of it tonight and went up to the cabin. Rosalee did not quite know what to do with me there... she is usually asleep by the time I come in around midnight.
DAY NINE: PUNTARENAS, COSTA RICA -
We did not have breakfast this morning. We are eating far too much, and we normally have a very small breakfast, so we skipped it this morning. We are scheduled for a very early excursion. Before we left for the Princess Theater to queue up for departing the ship, I watched as we came into our berth. We have not been to this port before. Looking at that long, long pier, I was already tired. That would be one humongous walk back to the ship, and this excursion returns after dark also.
I wondered how the Captain was going to be able to stop this ship exactly at the opening in the side of the hull at the end of that pier. As it was, the ship went past it and swung along the side of the pier. Much easier. And fortunately, the bus we were to ride was able to back all the way out on that pier to pick us up. Phew!
This bus trip will go to several Costa Rican towns and visit Poas Volcano. The tour should take 8 hours, getting us back to the ship after dark. We were able to see some beautiful, green countryside and saw some rather poor homes. One thing that I noted was that homes seem to be built right up to the paved road. Little or no sidewalk. And almost every home, no matter how nice or ramshackled it may be, has a wrought iron gate/fence in front of it, from one property line to the other. Whether it had a yard behind it or nothing more than a front porch. Some even appeared to have additions to the home built out over the sidewalk.
As we got further out of town, the gates seemed to still be there, but things opened up a little bit.
This was one of the small homes that had been turned into the Police Department.
On the way up the side of the volcano, we saw a lot of small orchards and gardens. They grew a lot of produce in the area. The large covered area is high enough from the ground that you can walk under it. It is a shade from the sun and from the frost, and protects the ornamental plants that we buy in our grocery stores and building materials stores, all potted and ready for your home.
As we neared the volcano, the guide asked if we wanted to do the volcano first as the clouds may cover it soon, and do lunch afterword. We went with that idea. He told us that there was a little bit of walking at the volcano, "...but it is all level, my friends". Well... he was kinda right... it was a nice paved path, with some stairs at the end, but the end... the volcano overlook... was one kilometer away. Did I mention that we were walking at 8,500 feet? Did I mention that the "level" walkway was at least a three percent grade... up.
The guide said that if we went ahead, that is ok, but we must all come back down together. Then he talked about if not back he will wait five minutes and then you will have to hire a taxi to take you to the ship. We never saw the guide until we made it to the volcano. The four of us were the last to make it to the volcano... everyone else was gone. Then the guide showed up. He headed back down without saying anything, and we were trying to catch up. At least it was a slight downhill slope. Meanwhile, a woman asked the guide "Where is my husband. He was with you?" They could not find him. After half an hour waiting in the bus, the guide told the driver to take us to lunch. The guide, the missing idiot, and the wife joined us as we were finishing our meal. Same meal as we had at the previous volcano by the way. It seems that after five minutes of telling all of us that we were NOT to walk down into the crater to the lake, this idiot did that. We all were on the bus back to the ship.
Lotsa fuss for a hole in the ground. :-)
The locals wanted a church built but with all of the volcanoes and earthquakes in the area, the big wigs were reluctant to invest in the construction of a church. So someone designed this one. Earthquake and volcano proof. The entire church is made of steel.
We made it back to the ship, and we were grateful that the bus drove clear out to the ship... especially because it was raining.
The headliner show was Princess Singers and Dancers with "Piano Man - A musical tribute to Billy joel, Barry Manilow, and Elton John. The only song I heard that sounded anything like the title of the show was the final song, which was used to introduce all of the cast. It was the first 8 bars of "Piano Man". Good show but a bit disappointing... I thought there would be someone playing the piano and singing... like a ... um... Piano Man!
Austin Ray was back... that helped. A lady requested a song that was from Manchester England. Austin said he spent time in the nineties in Manchester as the Master of Ceremonies for the "Chippendale Dancers". When a Rod Stewart song was requested he mentioned that when he (Austin) was performing at the Flamingo in Vegas, Rod Stewart would come to his show. When Austin went across the street to see Rod's show, Rod had him come up on stage and sing the song the lady had requested, with Mr. Stewart. He said that Rod Stewart was a very nice fellow. I asked Austin if he has a website, and he said it was www.Austinray.com.
DAY TEN: AT SEA -
We met Jim and Karen from Texas... somewhere south of Austin... in the Horizon Food Court. They were enjoyable. After our breakfast/lunch we returned to our cabin and read, worked on this blog, and watched a NOVA program of early Panama Canal work on our cabin TV. The first Presidential Debate of 2016 is on tonight, but it conflicts with our evening entertainment. We will hear all we need to hear about the debate in the very near future, we are quite sure.
Billed as a Musical Madman, the entertainer tonight was David Meyer. He had an amusing and entertaining show.
Austin Ray show and then bed. Tomorrow we do the canal.
DAY ELEVEN: PANAMA - PANAMA CANAL PASSAGE -
Today we do our passage through the Panama Canal. We did this in 2007, but it was from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to Seattle Washington, so we passed through in a southerly direction. You can look back to that cruise to see the canal passage from the other direction, or to see the changes that are visible in the canal. I must say that the canal zone looks very well kept. Everything looks clean and proper. The United States turned over the operation and the maintenance of the canal zone to the local citizens on December 31st, 1999, as per the Torrijos-Carter treaty of 1977.
But first things first... we have to find a good location from which we can observe the passage through the canal. We are blessed with a nice balcony off our cabin, but that only allows the starboard view of the canal. I wanted to see both sides, so I went forward to seek my vantage point.
This is a view of the front of the superstructure of the Island Princess. At the top we see a row of small, square windows. That is Sky Deck (deck 15) and it is open to the top. Below that is a full row of larger windows. That is the Horizon Court on Lido Deck (deck 14), where they have the buffet. That is my favorite space on the ship. Early Princess ships had this, but later on they moved the Horizon Court back along the port side and aft.
Below the Horizon Court are the backward slanted windows of the Bridge. This is the widest portion of the ship, and is all one room. The 'outrigger' extension of the Bridge you can see is also on the other side, and from those two locations, the Captain can look straight down through the glass floor to see the edge of the ship as it kisses up against the dock when docking. Obviously, I was not going to be able to stand on the Bridge. So, just below the bridge is the first (uppermost) 'cutout' in the front of the superstructure, which is an open deck that can be accessed from the hallways on Baja Deck (deck 11) which is where our cabin was located. If you are counting, the Bridge is on Aloha Deck (deck 12), which is where Frank and Shirley's cabin was located. There is no deck 13 on a ship... old sea superstition.
So Frank, Shirley and I stood on that deck, through most of the passage through the canal. We had an excellent view. Rosalee viewed the passage from our own private balcony, where she could be comfortable and read during the lesser exciting areas. Shirley joined her off and on.
You might think that out on the bow, on deck 8, would be ideal. The problem is the rails on the edge of that deck are much higher from the deck than my hat, and you cannot look over the side. For that reason, it is a restricted area for employees only, on their very rare time they are not busy with their tasks. There were none out there throughout the entire passage.
We are approaching Panama City, which is a lot larger than most people would suspect if they had never been there. We are northbound, and the entry to the Panama Canal is to the left or west of Panama City. Below we are looking to the west or to the left of the entry of the canal, and we see two relatively new condominiums that have gone up.
We are approaching the Bridge of The Americas... this is (was) the only physical connection between North America and South America, other than walking across the doors of the locks. Fifty miles away at the other end of the canal there is a one-lane bridge that lets vehicles cross but it swings out of the way for each ship that passes through. Panama City is off to our right.
We are told that the US has no involvement in the canal at this time, but we do have the option to defend and protect the canal. As we can see below, we have some military involvement in the area, and there is an Air Force Base not too far away.
We will be passing through one of the two lanes of the original lock complexes, but over the last ten years they have been building a pair of new locks that are wider and longer to allow larger ships to pass through the canal. This is the new complex, as seen from our ship. The highest item is the control tower, and to the right of it we see a structure that is black and white with a red splotch on it... that is a ship that is going through the new locks.
The original locks were constructed 110 feet wide and 1,000 feet long, which means the largest ship (called a PanaMax ship) that could pass through is 106 feet by about 950 feet long. The new locks are 1,400 feet long, 160 feet wide, and another 10 to 20 feet deeper, allowing larger ships through. The new locks are only a single lane of locks, adding a third passage into the same original canal.
Between our locks and the new locks are concrete ponds that hold excess water that is used to help fill and empty the new locks, which allows the same water to be used for several passages of ships. A water conservation process. Basically all of the locks... old and new... operate merely by allowing water in the lake that is retained behind the locks (basically the canal) to flow through filling each lock, lifting each ship. The series of three locks we go through to enter the canal lift the ship a total of 85 feet above the level of the sea. These locks are referred to as the Miraflores Locks.
We are entering the left or western locks. The Sweet Brier is in the eastern locks and will pass through independently of us. Up ahead of Sweet Brier on the higher level the brown multi-storied building is the museum and a part of the control system for the canal. The two tiny row boats you see at this end of the center island between the two lock sets are manned by two people that actually row out to catch the line thrown from our deck, and they take the line back to the island, transferring it up to the top where the 'mules' are waiting, and they attach their cables to the lines. The 'mules' or locomotives are used to keep the ships in the center of the canal. They also help stop the ships from moving too far forward and destroying the canal doors. The ship actually moves itself all throughout the canal and locks.
You can see that there is a ship in front of us in the western canal. She is at the highest level in lock #1. She is actually moving into lock #2. We cannot move into lock #1 until that lock is lowered to sea level and the doors are opened.
A closer look at the island between the locks. You can see the two men in the row boat. You can also see four 'mules' waiting for us. Two will be located at each of our four corners. Notice the small house at the end of the island. The tower on top of the roof is holding a large arrow... orange with a green tip. It was used to signal to ships in the old days as to which side they were to enter. Today it is all done by electronic communication.
The swirling water in front of us shows that water is still draining from lock #1, so that we will be able to enter it. Over on the right, in the eastern lane, we can see the large doors opening. The Sweet Brier will soon be pulling forward. The ship ahead of us in our lane has been lifted to the full height and will soon be moving out into the lake, as soon as the doors are opened.
We are now moving into lock #1. The ship ahead of us is moving out of lock #2 into the lake. Notice we have a couple of 'small' leaks in the doors ahead of us. Those doors are hollow steel and built like a ship's hull, with a steel frame and riveted sheets of steel covering both sides. The would actually float if they were released from the lock walls. Each door is 65 feet wide, up to 85 feet tall, and seven feet thick. Workmen enter into them to service them from inside. There are no motors inside them, but they have zinc sacrificial plates to control electrolysis and prevent rusting. There is about 54 million gallons of fresh water that will move from lock #2 into lock #1 when a ship passes through. The doors are never opened to allow water to run through like a river. Excess water behind the top lock will exit the lake over a nearby dam.
One of our 'mules' is climbing to the next higher level. You can just barely see two cables coming from the side of the mule near its wheels, that attach to the ship. These mules are totally custom made, and weigh over 100,000 pounds. The driver sits in the cab sideways, facing the ship. He controls the winches that control the cables to the ship to keep the ship centered in the canal. And with only two feet of clearance on each side, they don't want to snooze on the job. They run on regular railroad tracks, with a third cog rail in the center. It has holes that a gear under the mule locks into the holes to allow it to climb those steep grades and to allow it some grip to help stop the ship from moving forward. Each mule costs between one and two million dollars US.
This canal was finished in 1914 which makes that concrete 102 years old. At the north end of the canal (Atlantic side) the concrete is one solid pouring of concrete over 5,000 feet long. At the time it was the largest concrete pour in the world, and they were still not that sure about the formulation of the concrete. It appears that they got it right.
We are up to the front of lock #1 now. You can see that we have two sets of doors in front of us. It is not clear as to why we had two in some places and only one in others. Notice that up ahead, we can see the next set of doors are a single set. They are closed so as soon as the doors behind our ship are closed, they will start releasing the water in lock #2 through large pipes in the ground into our lock, raising us and lowering the level of #2 so we can enter. We can also see that the ship ahead of us is past the locks and into the Miraflores Lake. There will be one more lock to go through to reach our highest level.
You can see that workers freely walk across the doors when they are closed. The canal runs 24 hours a day so there is always a way to walk across. The public is not encouraged to walk across. They may be even forbidden.
The water level is equal in #2 and #1 and you can see that both sets of doors in front of our bow are opening. We will be moving forward as soon as the large doors are tucked away under their little niche in the walls of the canal. You can see that large "Crew Only" deck in this view. The Sweet Brier is already in her #2 lock and they will be letting water in to lift her to the level of the lake.
Sweet Brier is a little higher. Our later level is a little higher. It takes about 35 minutes for us to move from one lock to the next.
Looking to the port side, we can see the ship we saw earlier in the new locks. She is up higher than we are because the went ahead and lifted her to the highest level and constructed six miles of that levy to allow them to do all of the lock work in one location. We still have one more lock to do, about four miles ahead.
We are still in lock #2, but looking across the eastern lane, and some of the canal shops, we can see the dam that maintains the level of the lake we will be entering in just a moment. Without that dam, water would be too high behind the lock doors and flood the whole operation.
We are now moving out into Miraflores Lake. We can see ahead buildings that are where our third lock is located. They are called the Pedro Miguel Locks. The large ship in the new canal continues to move forward in her elevated canal. We will both be at the same level once we go through Pedro Miguel (lock #3). We can actually see the water on the other side of the levy... that is Gatun Lake, which makes up the majority of the canal. Stretched across the canal way up ahead we can see the 'relatively' new Centennial Bridge on the Pan American Highway.
Again looking across the ship to our port side, we see some of the maintenance facilities, and behind the building we see some white boards on steel structures. These are navigational aids to help the ships to be in the right location when going through the canal. It is not a straight canal, and in some cases it is a matter of maintaining a marked channel in a wide lake. Getting too close to the side of the channel can cause hull or propeller damage, or a risk or running aground, and that could be embarrassing. We will see more of them.
This is the narrowest part of the entire canal, except for the locks of course. It is considered to be Gatun Lake, but it is following the original Chagres River path. We also get a closer look at the beautiful Centennial Bridge.
A little greeting from the Panamanian authorities. I do not recall seeing this in 2007 when we came through.
This was the toughest part of the canal to dig. This is actually the Continental Divide. It is known as the Culebra Cut. I took the image from our balcony, and had I in my forward location I would have seen the western side, which was the real problem. When the French attempted to dig the canal in the end of the nineteenth century, this is one problem they had not figure out yet. When we dug this out, on the other side or the canal it slipped back into the canal several times, destroying the rail lines and the digging that was done. They just had to keep re-doing it until they had such a shallow slope it would not slide into the canal. They still to this day have to keep clearing it out.
Remember those white boards on towers I mentioned three images back? Do you see some dead ahead, on top of the hill, right next to the woman on the ship's balcony? Those are our target through here. You can see a couple more of them to the right of the ship ahead of us. They are her target. Notice she is on a different heading than we are. Somewhere along the line something tells the Captain to stop using the ones ahead of us and start using the ones off to the right.
These workers are actively cutting back into the hill to remove more material so that they can excavate and make the canal wider at this point.
We are still in the canal. There are several locations like this where there are small towns or construction facilities. This rig, called the "THOR" is a floating machine (and a tug boat) that is taken to where they need to remove a lot of material. It is a drill that bores multiple holes into which explosives are placed to blast way large amounts of material.
Right next to THOR we find "TITAN" which is one of three monstrous cranes constructed during WWII in Germany and used in their ship yards. They were removed after the war and one came here to work. It too floats. On other was taken to another country in Europe, and we are told that the third one was lot at sea in transport to some remote location. What a shame.
This shows how wide parts of the canal can be. Looking to the right along the sides of the water you can see buoys that mark the channel. Those are green. There are red ones to our port side, but none visible in this image. Did you notice the markers over on the right shore? Well, we are not following those. We are following the two that are dead ahead or us. It takes good eyes, but the markers are just at the water line, just to the right of the top of our flag mast. Below is a blow-up of what we are looking for.
Notice that there is a red light at the top of the upper panel. That tells our Captain that our ship is slightly off course. The red light indicates we are closer to the red bouys than we should be. It turns green if we are too close to the starboard. I know... those with sea salt in their veins are thinking "Red... Right... Return". In this case we are going in a reverse direction, so red is on our port or left side.
The fellow on our ship that was giving the lectures to everyone about the excursions off the ship and about the towns we were visiting was giving a nice running commentary of all that we were seeing all the way through the canal. He had information about just about any ship that we saw. This somewhat pugish looking ship was carrying automobiles. Five Thousand of them. I don't know where they could have been. Of course, look at that little flotsam at the stern... that is a full-sized tug boat. The commentator also was 'into' tug boats. He told us the maker, year of construction, number of and type or engine(s), horsepower, and anything else you could want to know about every tugboat we saw. He liked tugs.
We are approaching the Gatun Locks, which are at the Caribbean Sea outlet or the canal. To the left of the image are the Gatun Locks where we are headed. Over to the right is the new cut through the hills that leads you into the new larger locks.
The Gatun Locks have all three locks in one place, so we will be back down at sea level when we finish here. This time we will be in the eastern side. We are already entering lock #1 and the ship ahead of us is moving from #2 to #3.
We are in #1 and the doors are opening so we can glide right on into #2.
You can see how the doors tuck into openings in the side of the canal, clearing the canal as much as possible.
We're in #2 and the ship in front of us is pulling out of #3. It still has seven miles of canal before it is in the Caribbean Sea though.
Number three's doors are closing so our lock will drain into #3.
You can see the prop wash from the ship in front of us. She is under her own power to go through the locks. Those towers off in the distance are supports or a new automotive bridge that is under construction.
We are now in #3 and the doors are still closed. That is our water coming out of the wall ahead of us. Look closely in front of our doors... there are yellow handrails. There is a steel bridge down almost out of sight. It will open when our gates open.
And here you can see the bridge opening, along with our doors. You can also see the large hydraulic ram that opens and closes the huge door. Once the bridge and door are tucked away in their cubby holes in the lock walls, we are free to go.
Looking back over my right shoulder we can see the new lock system that has only recently opened. We can also see a bunch of our commentator's favorite tugs.
A closer look at the new vehicular bridge to carry the traffic that is now handled by that little steel bridge that swung away to allow us to exit lock #3.
We watched a NOVA show on our cabin TV yesterday that talked all about the early construction of the canal. It was nicely done, but it was thirty years old. It mentioned then that the most expensive fee for passing a ship through the canal had been when the Queen Elizabeth II through and it cost $99,999.00 to go through. Seven years ago we went through on the Sun Princess that is a sister ship to the Island Princess we are on now, and that passage cost $180,000, with the most expensive feel at a quarter million dollars US. Today they tell us that our ship going through cost almost a half million dollars. I guess we are helping them to build that new bridge.
Doug Funk, a comedian, was the lead entertainer tonight. He was funny and different. He looked like a crazy wild man, and he needed a haircut, but he was different and put on a good show.
Work In Progress.
DAY TWELVE: CARTAGENA -
Frank was having some problems today, with a night of tossing his cookies and diarrhea, so as per instructions of the ship management he contacted the medical staff and they checked him out and asked him to lay low in his cabin for 24 hours. Shirley was allowed to come and go, so she joined us on our planned excursion for the morning. Frank was able to reimbursed for his ticket for the excursion.
This was the worst excursion we have ever been involved with, and I would recommend very strongly that you not patronize them. Princess Cruise Lines calls it "CTG-110 "Old City" & Historical Museum of Cartegena". Cost was $49.95 each.
More homes that are 'gated' right up to the small
sidewalk. The electrical lines were all over the place, and this spaghetti
on the pole below is not the worst that we saw. I pity the poor lineman.
A city block full of angels. Obviously a burial ground, it looked like every gravesite had a carved angel on it.
The Princess literature read: "Get a revealing look at Cartegena's past. Photo opportunities abound at your first stop, Castillo d San Feliope de Barajas (Fort of San Felipe), the most importamt work of Spaniosh military engineering in South America." There were enough people from the ship that took this that we filled up three large busses. They were air-conditioned and comfortable, but the guide that got on with us (Rivcro) spoke such poor "Spanglish" that no one on the bus could understand him, and the back half of the bus could not hear him. He was not holding the microphone up to his mouth. The fort? We saw it... we stopped in front of it and he said "We have fifteen minutes here... it is now 9:20... be back on the bus at 9:30". He obviously did not learn math either.
It takes three minutes or people to get off the bus, and as they step to the curb they are inundated with locals of all ages selling everything you can think of. Blankets, hammocks, jewelry, cigars, candy, cashew nut cakes, flowers, weeds they call flowers, water, drinks, etc. After getting past the swarm of vendors, I took a picture, and it was time to locate the bus again (Rivero moved it). I found Rivero on the walkway and told him that no one in the back half of the bus could hear him, so could he please peak more directly into the microphone? (Oh, absolutely, my friend.)
On the way to the next location I noticed that the cars have an exact copy of their license plate pasted on their roof. This truck has one, as well as one on the side of the door.
"After a quick shopping spree at Los Bovedas, once dungeons, now home to boutiques and souvenir shops, you'll travel to the Old City". I did not care to do any shopping... especially at 'touristo' places that this guy chose. He obviously is compensated for the people that he brings in. So I just stayed on the air-conditioned bus. The stop was only about twenty minutes... far longer than the fort.
After everyone returned, we drove some more and then we got out and walked. It was bloody hot. It was in the high nineties and the humidity was the same. Soon we walked into this extremely narrow street. Very picturesque, but that is why I took pictures, so I can be cool and admire the buildings. We were standing in the very hot street, no air was moving in that confined area, and Rivero wants us to stop and look at a street artisan. "This man is a friend of mine and he is very good, my friends. We will watch him show you how he does his painting. It only takes a few minutes." People were croaking. We carried water and hats but it was just too much. Most of us moved on down the road a little to get through the parked cars and get into the shade, where Rivero was standing. We were there about ten minutes. Of course his wares were for sale.
As we started to move again, I again approached Rivero and told him "No More Vendors!" He just laughed.
We entered that large church to the left, and stood inside, out of the sun, but it was stifling with no air movement. Rivero rambled on about something that we were trying to understand. After ten minutes he took us up stairs. Thirty stairs. Ten Inches Each stairs. There were some paintings up there that were ancient and dark and absolutely meaningless to us, and Rivero did not talk about them. We think he talked about early history of people coming to the area. Not sure. Another ten or so minutes and back down the stairs.
I heard a woman tell Rivero that her husband stayed down stairs and was in the bathroom. She thought he should know. That is usually the case. When we got back down stairs I saw her husband and he was not looking good. It was more than exhaustion. He was Type I diabetic as well as dealing with early Parkinson's disease.
We stepped out into a courtyard in front of the church. We were mobbed with more vendors, and Rivero disappeared. He had a little sign with the number "12" on it to hold up so his party could see him... it was nowhere to be seen. He was nowhere to be seen. Three busses of people were milling in the square, all from the ship, plus a bunch of vendors, so myself and several others were 'on our own'. We walked across the square, and made the decision to turn right. We met Rivero coming out of another street.
"You'll stroll the narrow streets and cobblestone squares of this walled city to the Historical Museum of Cartegena and San Pedro Claver Church." The museum was across the street from this square. We all filed in, and were funneled into a small dark room. There were paintings on the walls but no lighting to see them. There were two small display cabinets of tiny soldier figures standing around a grass hut. The room was about 150 square feet.
As we walked in I noticed someone getting a plastic lawn chair for the fellow that was looking pretty pale to sit down. His wife told me what his situation was. I am also diabetic and carry food in case my numbers go down, so I offered them and she said that he was OK in that area, but they did not know this outing had so much walking.
They shuttled us into a second, similar, equally dark room, also small, and then... then... boom. Half of the building was the third room, very well lit and full of showcases, lights, and sales staff, selling you emeralds. This was no museum at all. Just a sales point. I walked clear through out to the front where the fellow in the chair sat. I spoke with him and offered support to him and his wife. They are Darryl and Linda Perlin.
When Rivero came out there were only twelve of our group there, and he said "Everybody ready?" and he walked out the door. By the time everyone could get out there he was gone. Darryl could not get up by himself and Linda could not lift him so I helped and we were the last out the door. We had three ways to go, so we chose one and figured it was moments before we had to find a taxi... somehow. I spotted Rivero half a block away with his sign down on his chest. He had stopped to watch break dancers in the hot street. Of course they were hoping for nice tips.
The three of us made it up to the group and I went up and motioned Rivero out away from the group. I started chewing on him about him neglecting a sick man in his group which he already knew about, and not holding his sign up so we can see it. "Oh, but my friend, I do hold it up!" I'm afraid I did not use gentlemanly words when I responded to that. I must say, the rest of the tour he did better... a little. My wife had also chewed on him when she could not find me. Others did the same.
Back across the plaza and back inside the church... again. This time into a beautiful interior garden. A fast walk all the way back to the rear, and then... "You wan' to haf your picture taken with a parrot?" Rivero took us all that way to sell us some picture with a parrot. No one obliged so we walked all the way back out. Then back into the church through another door to sit on the seats in the sanctuary. Others were in there to pray or to find solace and we were drug in there while Rivero rambled on about something we could not understand. It is not cool in there.
Back outside we go and then we step into another old building, which I dearly love, but we have no idea why. We are given a paper 'ticket' and led into a large masonry room with benches. They did not give a ticket to Darryl for some reason, and after we sat down, I was told by another travelor that we can trade the ticket for a bottle of cold water.
"You'll cap your day off with a stop at the Navy Museum where you can enjoy a local show and a refreshing soft drink." I guess the water was soft. The show? Some dancers that were 150 away from us dancing to a DRUM. Do you know what a drum in a stone walled room does to a bunch of hot people with headaches? Not good, my friend.
Navy Museum? Only in the name. Not one thing that I recall seeing made me think Navy or even water... except the bottle they gave me, which I could not open. I had to beat it against the stone wall to break the seal.
Ten or fifteen minutes there and we are outside walking again, about half a mile, to the bus. A young man in a wheelchair was sitting where we had to walk around him to enter the bus, holding his hat out for a tip.
Linda tried to explain to the Princess Excursion Desk personnel what happened and they told her that she has to expect things like that... "After all, we are in a foreign country!" Basically, they were not interested in doing anything about it.
I will be writing to Princess. Fourteen cruises with them should qualify me to at least tell them that they are not treating their clients properly if they are not interested in what happens to us when we are off shore. After all we chose Princess excursions for that reason, we did not pick up a stranger on the dock for that.
OK, I'm through ranting. Sorry.
Back on the ship we had lunch with Bruce and Tracie from Australia. We had a wonderful time. They were very pleasant. He is a financial advisor.
Frank is feeling better, but he did not come down to dinner of to the entertainment.
The Captain came on the intercom to let us know of a forced Itinerary change due to Tropical Low Pressure System that was going to keep us from going to Aruba. Instead we are going to Grand Cayman Island. The crew is happy... they prefer Grand Cayman to Aruba. Rosalee and I have no love for Aruba, so we an take it or leave it. Excursions scheduled on Aruba were reimbursed due to the situation. That Low Pressure System will continue to haunt us because it is the early stages of Hurricane Matthew. I heard that President Obama has 'decreed' that from now on they shall be called Himacanes due to respect for the ladies. Hey, idiot! It is a Hurricane, not a HERricane. If I'm lyin' I'm dyin'.
The headliner for tonight was Lorenzo Clark, who did some magician things, but really it was a comedy act with a small about of magic. The humor was good.
DAY THIRTEEN: AT SEA -
Frank is feeling better today, and joined us for meals.
Pretty much a relaxing day today. Did not do much to 'write home about'.
Formal Dress tonight, our last formal night.
Stephanie Parker was our singer tonight. She used to work on the Princess ships as an entertainer and has moved on to Las Vegas. She did a wonderful job.
DAY FOURTEEN: GRAND CAYMAN -
Frank and Shirley went ashore, and they said that they enjoyed their excursions. Rosalee and I were lazy and enjoyed the day reading and blogging on board the ship.
Headline show was excellent... The Princess Singers and Dancers singing songs from the Bayou.
Austin Ray mentioned that he has two Master's Degrees from Southern Baptist University and was a Baptist Minister in Campbell (south side of San Jose) for several years. He also auditioned for Beach Blanket Babylon in SF - his first audition - and he was there for a couple of years.
DAY FIFTEEN: AT SEA -
We had a little rainfall in the last couple of days, and it gave us a beautiful sunset this evening. I took this from up on Lido Deck (14) where one of the swimming pools and several of the hot tubs are located. This is also the deck that has the huge outdoor theater screen. That is deck 15 in the background. There is another swimming pool on this deck that has a sliding glass roof over it, and it enables you to swim even on bad weather days, if you are so inclined.
Today we had to pack and put our bags out in the hallway as we go to dinner. We dress a little less than Smart Casual for this last meal as we have to carry off everything that we did not pack earlier in the day.
Amateur singing show tonight. They had some talented folks that were cruising on this ship.
It was followed by the Crew amateur show. It was so much later, and we have seen it so many times on other cruises, that Rosalee made an early night of it and I caught Austin Ray's show.
DAY SIXTEEN: FT. LAUDERDALE, FL - DISEMBARKATION -
Everything went pretty well. We were off the ship a little after 0820 in the morning, and we collected our baggage in the terminal. We took our bags out to a waiting bus that stowed our luggage away and allowed any "carry-ons" we wanted to take with us to go in our overhead bins. This bus was another Princess Cruises excursion that was going to take us to a place where we will take a ride on an air-boat. It moves across the top of the water by two large airplane propellers at the back, driven by two large V8 automobile engines. We also will visit a nice park area where they have flamingoes.
We are doing this because our flight to San Francisco does not leave here until 2100 hours tonight.
This is one of the airboats that they had in which we were to ride. It is all aluminum, flat-bottomed, and built right there, 'in-house'. The engines in the back are mounted side by side and direction is changed by a rudder in the wind behind the aircraft propellers. Our boat looked just like this one, and it had two Cadillac 7 liter engines. Talk about noise. The ride was quite comfortable, considering. We were only in the boat for about 25 minutes and the driver talked about the flora and the fauna that we saw as we moved about. The boats could probably do about 30 mph with 25 people on board.
Speaking of fauna... here's one now. This is a crocodile, not to be confused with an alligator. Yes, there is a difference, but if he were to be scrambling across the lawn toward me I would not stick around to determine which it was. We were told that you can estimate the critter's full overall length by estimating the distance between is nose and his eyes... often the only thing above the water. In case you don't see his eyes, this may help you to see the eyes.
After visiting the 'gators, we re-boarded the bus and drove over to a park that until recently was the home of a family that bought the land with it was almost being given away. They built their home and planted many trees and plants from all over the world, and birds and animals naturally came to be a part of it. None of the animals are penned or constrained and are free to come and go. Animals that are rescued from owners with good intentions but later cannot care for them and injured wild animals are brought here and they have all they need so they just stay.
It was plenty hot, and while at the Flamingo park it opened up and rained on us... while we were finishing our tour, but we were on open trolleys but we did not get wet. They had a nice food area where we had nice meal for lunch. Rain only lasted bout fifteen minutes. When we re-boarded the bus, the guide had ice cream bars for us. Very nice.
We were able to load our luggage onto the bus when we disembarked from the ship, so it was all with us while we playedv. The bus dropped us at the airport as part of the excursion, but it was 1:30 in the afternoon and our flight was at 9:00 pm. The excursion was an attempt to fill that void. The airport would not take our luggage until 8 hours before our flight, so we had to wait in a crowded little spot for half an hour until they would take us in. Most of those in that little area also got off the ship, so we just continued to visit.
After being on the bus, Rosalee realized that she was lugging two small water bottles and a can of Coke in her carry-on, and none of that is allowed so we all shared the Coke and she dumped the water in a waste can. When we went through the checkpoint, Shirley was carrying a can of Coke that Frank had and they forgot about, so she was 'held up' getting through. Three different agents checked every stitch of her carry-on's and her person. Then an agent that none of us could tell was male or female did a complete pat-down there in the line. They literally took fifteen minutes to decide if they would allow her to get past them. Caution is certainly called for, and rules are certainly rules, but when a 75 year old minister's wife forgets a sealed can of Coke, can we not use a little common sense here?
Shirley survived that with relatively good humor, and we began our wait. Three planes boarded and left before we were able to board our own plane. Rosalee had booked all four of us on an earlier flight with United Airlines, and only because a friend of hers tried to find that same flight did we discover they converted that through, non-stop flight to San Francisco into a three-stop, plane-changing flight. So the only flight that was through, non-stop, was this 9:00 pm flight through Jet Blue. We have never flown Jet Blue, but when they advertise as being cheap, you usually get what you pay for. And it was true in this case.
At least we had assigned seating... that is an absolute must. Without that it is animals lined up for feeding time. But the back of my seat would not recline. Others only reclined a very small amount. Seven hours in this plane? Oh, by the way, the water system on the plane is not working, so consider that when you use the toilet. And of course, no seat service. You could pay money for something they offered. And the two stewards that were on the flight must have been stevedores. Personalities of a brick.
The plane had one redeeming feature... every seatback had a video screen. Movies cost money, of course, but for gratis they had this screen displayed.
The little blue plane on the map showed our position throughout the entire flight, and offered our altitude and our airspeed. That was nice. That is something that I wish that I had every time I fly. But... it's not enough to get me back on Jet Blue. :-(
We arrived safely in San Francisco sometime after 1:00 am, but our trusty driver was there to take us home. Frank and Shirley slept over and drove home to Gridley next morning, after we went out for breakfast.
It's good to be home.