Monday, June 29, 2009

Panama Canal Transit – Pacific Princess May 2009

Continued from earlier posts…

Monday May 11, 2009 – San Francisco, CA – 65F – Sunny

I had failed to mention the picturesque sail-in to San Francisco. The city truly opened up its “Golden Gate” for the Pacific Princess. Sailing under the bridge gave a unique perspective to this incredible structure.

IMG_2034 IMG_2036

Alcatraz Island was also visible from the ship as it made its way to the pier.


The Pacific Princess looked positively regal at the dock


A beautiful day in the Bay Area and we are on tour today: “The City of San Francisco”. The guide was terrific and the bus was comfortable. We made our way to Twin Peaks, where one was rewarded with a great panoramic view of the City by the Bay

SF from Twin Peaks

I’m pretty sure that in the seven years we lived in the Bay Area, we never went to Twin Peaks. The bus wound through Chinatown and the Haight-Ashbury District (“put some flowers in your hair”); we also saw the famed St. Francis Hotel and Golden Gate Park. The Holocaust Memorial was sobering with its plaster figures.

Some of the architecture associated with San Francisco was embodied by the “Painted Ladies” houses

Painted Ladies Homes - SF

A bonus in this shot – the Transamerica Pyramid in the distance

The bus stopped at the park along side the Golden Gate for some great photo ops and snacks.


Sausalito was added to the itinerary – the town was a bit more crowded than I remembered it but one of our favorite restaurants, the Spinnaker, was still there (we left the area in 1979).

The bus dropped us at Ghirardelli Square where we could sample some chocolate before walking back along Fisherman’s Wharf to the pier. The trek wouldn’t be complete without checking out the sea lions basking in the sun.


A last look at San Francisco.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009 – At Sea – Pacific Ocean – Coast of Northern California – 57F – Sunny

Relaxing day at sea – good day for the gym – Outcome: Treadmill (308 Calories burned – 2.7 miles walked) – a drop in the Buffet bucket.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 – At Sea – Oregon Coast – 50F – Rain

My final talk was an informal Q and A Session in the Cabaret Lounge. I had a very good turnout – some folks were sitting on the floor. We chatted about DNA and historical mysteries – The Titanic Child, Anna Anderson, and Columbus. I also shared with them the work done on identifying the 9/11 terrorists’ remains (so they would not be buried with victims). Fascinating stuff and I think the attendees picked up some interesting information.

We attended the Farewell Show with Sid Gold (still very funny) and Brandi Chapman (great performer). Sammie also did a final number in her terrific fashion.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 – Seattle, WA – 50F – Rain

Debark was quick and easy and soon we were at SeaTac Airport.

In a few hours, Chicago was in view


How to sum up this cruise?

Great, cozy, ship

Great food and staff

Fine entertainment

Great passengers (met so many nice people)

But, it was good to be home.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Coast to Coast Through the Panama Canal

Thursday, April 23, 2009 - The cab is on time, the weather is
good, and we are all set for our 21 day cruise from Ft. Lauderdale
to Seattle through the Panama Canal. There are 11 sea days on this voyage so I've prepared 11 presentations (that would be a lot of speaking - almost a semester's worth of lectures). The climbout
over Chicago (especially the hard left bank) is always exciting...

Once settled in our hotel, we are off to have dinner with my
booking agent, Diane, her husband, Larry, and fellow cruisers, Steve and Marina (also Bridge Instructors on the cruise) at a great Italian restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale. Great conversation, great people - wonderful food - a perfect evening.

Friday, April 24, 2009 - Boarding the beautiful Pacific Princess -
The "Love Boat" of TV fame is a cozy, elegant ship (more like a country mansion than a cruise ship) and with only 670 passengers a ship where you can meet nearly everyone on board.

Ellen during the sailaway

Sunday, April 26, 2009 - At Sea - Caribbean Sea 79F, Sunny -

For a lecturer, sea days usually mean work - my first talk
"The CSI Phenomenon" drew over 100 attendees to the Cabaret
Lounge. The group was interactive and had good comments and
questions - the attendees were very loyal and attended all six of the lectures during the cruise. A perfect audience.

The ship and staff (especially the cruise director, Sammie), really supported the lectures - very nice...

Monday, April 27, 2009 - Oranjestad, Aruba (80s and Sunny always windy) -
On tour today - We visit the Casibari Granite Rock Formation
(the top has great vistas), the California Lighthouse (named after
a sunken ship and not the state) and Palm Beach.

California Lighthouse

Palm Beach

Added excitement (no extra charge)- the boat scheduled to return
us to the dock had engine trouble a few miles from shore - we needed a tow and a new boat - this time a catamaran (much more fun).

Ellen and me on the Cat

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 - Cartagena, Colombia - 91F Hazy -

We are again on tour today ("The Best of Cartagena"). The
monastery, La Popa, stand atop a tall hill near the city and
affords terrific views of the city and the grounds are green and very colonial. The old city wall is even visible from this location.

View from La Popa

La Popa Courtyard

Cartagena (with old city wall visible)

Another great stop is the San Felipe de Barajas Castle - a fort used
to defend the city - complete with tunnels and turrets - and buses and buses of schoolchildren

Thursday, April 30, 2009 - 82F - Rainy - Daylight Transit of the Panama Canal

Even though it is raining, this is the highlight of the trip - a multi-hour transit of the Panama Canal - through the three locks and into the lakes - note: The humidity was so high that condensation formed inside the lens of my camera giving everything a foggy look. I let it dry out in a warm place and the fog was gone

Panama Canal "Mules"

Bridge of Independence (continental divide)

Bridge of the Americas

The ship anchored at Fuerte Amador (a small shopping port near Panama City) - we spent some time with Mark and Celia (from Napa, CA) and their friend, Sue (from Australia). Good Panamanian beer and good conversation on a steamy tropical night

Ellen at the pier at Fuerte Amador, Panama

Saturday, May 2, 2009 - Punta Arenas, Costa Rica - 92F - Cloudy

No tour today so we decided to check out the local vendors lining the beach at this small town (population 4,000) - besides Aruba
which is known for its winds, this stop was also a bit windy. The beach looked pretty nice and the locals were out in numbers.

On the pier

Ellen and Marina at the Beachside salon

The Swine Flu Issue
During the early part of the cruise, all the buzz on board revolved around the swine flu pre-pandemic and all of the cases in Mexico. Rumors abounded about what the ship would do about our planned stops in Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Well, eventually the company erred on the side of safety (as it should) and decided to drop both Mexican Ports. Instead, they added the port of San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. However, that also meant five straight sea days. OK with me...who needs the flu.

Sunday, May 3, 2009 - San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

We are on tour today and visiting a number of sites at this newly
added destination. One of the stops takes us to the town of Rivas for some sightseeing and R and R.

Sammie and Ellen trying to figure what this statue is

From Rivas, we visited a resort owned by former major league pitcher, Dennis Martinez (no doubt a local hero). The resort is on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. This Lake is pretty famous because in its center lies the island of Ometepe, which houses two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas. There is a move to make this island a modern wonder of the world (the guide wanted us to vote for it).
It's too hazy to see the volcanoes today

Lake Nicaragua with its famous twin volcanoes (squint, please)

The big issue with this tour site is the tremendous number of flies that inhabit the resort and grounds - they form a carpet of flies on the ground and I can't even describe the washrooms.

We ask the driver to drop us off in the center of the town so we
can use the internet cafe to touch base with home - there weren't
many locals around and we walked back to the ship (a few blocks)
when we were done. We both felt very safe in this quaint little town.

Ellen staying in touch at the internet Cafe

Monday, May 4, 2009 - At Sea - Pacific Ocean
What about marine life? Did we see any? Yes.
Did we get many pictures? No. It's similar to the situation with
UFOs - you never seem to have a decent camera or
camcorder handy.

Believe it or not, there are two dolphins in this picture

Tuesday, May 5, 2009 - Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala - 80F - Sunny
This is an interesting stop - we are docked at a very nice pier just across from a pretty big vendor complex - there are some indoor vendor but most of the proprietors are working outside.
The marina is very nice with upscale boats taking up the moorings
The Pacific Princess and the marina at Puerto Quetzal
As we walked around the complex, we took in a performance by
some local dancers
We were basically on the lookout for another internet Cafe but were told that there wasn't one but the bar by the marina had free WiFi - I do believe this is a step up from Panera or Corner Bakery. For the price of a great local beer, you can log into their WiFi (which is very quick) and nobody even pays any attention to you - not even to ask you to pay.

That's exactly what we did for a good hour plus - a little e-mailing, some electronic banking and a good beer - this is what exotic locations are all about. Very friendly locals.

May 6 - May 10, 2009 - The Great Sea Adventure

Five straight sea days - they were great - very relaxing although the seas were a bit rough. We played a lot of trivia with Mark, Celia, and Sue (even won ocassionally) and another new friend, Suzanne (an actress from LA).

Sat out on the deck and just watched the waves go by. Sea days are lectures days, so I presented additional forensic lectures (people really seemed to like the Cold Case lecture). These consecutive sea days were good practice for our Transatlantic Cruise in December.

May 11, 2009 - San Francisco, California - 60s - Sunny

Most of the passengers couldn't wait to get off the ship and get on dry land that doesn't move (actually the ground in San Fransisco has been known to move quite a bit).

Even though we used to live in the Bay Area, we decided to take a tour (it's been a while since we have been here and we never got to the City that often)


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Since I retired a few years back (I was a R&D manager for a major Medical Diagnostics Company), my wife, Ellen (a retired teacher and terrific travel companion), and I have been on the Cruise Ship Lecture Circuit. I am a guest lecturer on several of the major cruise lines and speak on Forensic Science, DNA, and genetics. This gig has given us an opportunity to visit and enjoy many wonderful and exotic sites around the world and meet interesting fellow travelers along the way. We want to share some of our adventures with you and hope you enjoy our musings and photos. When we're not traveling, we live north of Chicago and close to our two wonderful daughters, their terrific husbands, and six gorgeous grandkids.

Welcome to the Blog

Join us on our travels...

Hal and Ellen