Thursday, May 21, 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015 – Panama Canal Transit – Partly Cloudy – 81F

Distance from Cartagena to the Panama Canal: 269 Nautical Miles

The Canal. The Panama Canal, built between 1904 to 1914, is 48 miles long and carries more than 15,000 ships a year.  Ships are raised via a series of locks - Gatun (3 stages) to the level of 85 feet above sea level at Gatun lake.  Two additional locks systems, Pedro Miguel (1 stage) (31 feet) and Miraflores (2 stages) (54 feet), bring ships back down to sea level.   The new locks system was started in 2007 and will involve a third set of locks to handle the super panamax ships.

An overcast, warm, and almost drizzly day at the Panama Canal.

I got up early enough to have breakfast on the back deck and check out the queue for the Canal.  The Pacific Princess no doubt received some priority going through the Canal.

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Ships Queuing up

The ship entered the canal around 8 AM and we expect the transit to take until 6 PM.

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Entering the Canal on the Atlantic Side

Because of the heat and humidity outside, we are going to view the transit from the cool environment of the Pacific Lounge (Deck 10 Forward).  I expected many more people up here but the low numbers allowed us to get pretty good seats.  The only drawback is the blue tinge associated with shooting pictures through the windows.  Fortunately, there is an app on my phone that can remove the blue (neat).

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Best Seats in the House for the Transit

There is another cruise ship – the huge Legend of the Seas – that is ahead of us and will be moving through the left hand side of the locks.

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Entering Gatun Locks

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Entering the Third Gatun Locks 

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Departing the Gatun Locks System

The ship then entered Gatun Lake, which is 85 feet above Sea Level.  The Pacific Princess is probably doing 5 knots at this point.  Several canal company boats pass by. 

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Gatun Lake (View from Aft Deck)

The ship will spend some time in Gatun Lake, so we went to the Panorama Buffet to get some lunch.  One of the highlights of this lunch was the special “Panama Cake” baked just for the transit.  The cake was very good.

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Fortunately, we were able to keep our seats in the Pacific Lounge.

The next point of interest in the Canal is Gamboa, the operations center for the dredging activity.  Titan – or as Bill Fall calls it “Herman the German” – a huge crane (purchased from the Nazis for $1 as I seem to recall) is the centerpiece of the Gamboa complex.

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Gamboa and Titan

A railroad bridge used to bring materials and personnel to Gamboa is visible as we move along.

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The ship then entered the narrowest portion of the Canal, the Culebra Cut.  There is work ongoing to widen the Cut so super Panamax ships that will use the new locks will be able to make the turns needed to negotiate the waterway.

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Culebra Cut

The Cut is home to the Continental Divide (the Divide is a mountainous division that determines the flow of rivers – West of the Divide, rivers flow into the Pacific Ocean and East of the Divide, they flow into the Atlantic).

On the East side of the Divide is “Gold Hill”.  There is no gold here but the French, when they were trying to get workers for their attempt at building the canal, started the rumor that there was gold to be had here.  Quel dommage.

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Gold Hill – Continental Divide

On the other side of the Divide is “Contractor’s Hill” so named because of all of the contractors who worked on this section of the canal – what an original name.

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Contractor’s Hill from Deck 10

After passing the Continental Divide, the Centennial Bridge could be seen in the distance.  This bridge, the second spanning the canal, is named for the 1903 separation of Panama from Colombia.

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Centennial Bridge

The Pacific Princess then entered the Pedro Miguel Locks, which contains only a single stage.  Also going along for the ride was a tug boat and two sailboats (see picture below).  These locks started our downhill travel (31 feet) to sea level.

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Pedro Miguel Locks

The final locks systems, the Miraflores Locks, has two stages, which will drop the ship 54 feet to sea level.  The Legend of the Seas is still ahead of us in the left channel.

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Miraflores Locks and the Legend of the Seas

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Stage 2 – Miraflores Locks

From these locks, we could see the control buildings for the new locks system (below).  The construction is still behind schedule.

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Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian dictator, who was captured in an invasion, is housed in his own private prison along the Panama Canal.

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Noriega Prison

Near the end of the canal, on the Amador Causeway, is the Museum of Biodiversity, a funky, colorful building designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry (this is his only work in Latin America).  It opened in October 2014 and the design was a gift to the people of Panama (Frank Gehry’s wife is Panamanian).

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Biomuseo – Museum of Biodiversity

The ship then passed under the Bridge of the Americas, which I shot from the back deck.

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Just before entering the Pacific Ocean, I was able to get a glimpse of Panama City in the distance.

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And another full transit of the Panama Canal was complete.  We were able to see the canal narrator hop on her boat, while both vessels were moving.  She was pretty nimble but I guess she has experience.

We had dinner in the Panorama Bistro – Cesar Salad and veggie pizza.  Could not be yummier.  Someone told us they weren’t going to have the Bistro set up anymore after this cruise.  Too bad…I really liked it.

The headliner tonight is Heather Sullivan.  She is a singer-songwriter, who wrote the end credits song for the movie “Autumn in New York” but the song was never used. She sang it tonight and it was a wonderful song, words and music.  The theme of her show was “Great Female Singers of the 20th Century” and she did a great job.  The audience and we really liked her performance.

It has been a long day – after a bit of piano music by David, we are back in our stateroom.

Sunday, May 3, 2015 – Cartagena, Colombia – Partly Cloudy – 86F

Distance from Willemstad to Cartagena: 450 Nautical Miles

It’s a hot and humid day in Cartagena, Colombia

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The plan today is to visit the Passenger Center.  We have done many of the tours at this port so are staying with the ship – because of the heat, the day might turn out to be a short one.

The Pacific Princess is docked, as usual, in the commercial port.  Most times, we walk to the Visitor’s Center but this time we grab the free shuttle to avoid the heat.

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The Visitor’s Center has a Coffee Shop, a Gift Shop, and a small zoo.  One of the areas is filled with flamingos and other birds and a member of the deer family that we couldn’t find.

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The Animal Area without and with us

It seems to be that the Visitor Area has been spiffed up a bit since our last visit.  Lots of flowering plants now dot the grounds.  Some of the trees in the area are spectacular (like the one in the picture below).  

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Also a new addition and roaming around the grounds were several peacocks ready to strut their stuff.  Ellen got a little to close to one and was chased by the bird.

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The “Killer” Peacock

I was curious as to what the port had done to the neighborhood just beyond the cabbie pickup area and the gate.  I was stopped by security but I told him I just wanted to walk a few yards and see the stores.  I did just that and found that not much had changed – no stores or shops within walking the distance.  The gas station that I was treated to a beer at last time was still there but now much else.  I returned to the visitor center.  On the way back, we took a picture of a wall of flowers.  We had seen a similar wall on one of our previous voyages – in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Canary Islands.  The flower wall there had a denser growth.  Still nice.

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Wall of Flowers

Another new addition to the Center were animals – one of the animals allowed to roam free was a monkey – I identified him as a cotton-top tamarin, an endangered species found in Colombia.

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Cotton-top Tamarin

The heat drove us back to the ship.  Before dinner, Sarah and the Boys were playing in the Casino Lounge.

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We have seen tonight’s production show, “Cinematastic”, but we wanted to see what it was like performed by a new cast on a smaller stage.  Some of the songs were the same but I think some different ones were added.  It was a pretty entertaining show although some blockbuster themes from famous movies were not included in the show.

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Above two – “The Heart Will Go On”

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“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”

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Tomorrow – the Panama Canal

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Saturday, May 2, 2015 – At Sea – Caribbean Sea – Partly Cloudy – 81F

Seas are still choppy…

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The word must be getting around because the third presentation in the 10 talk series - “Cold Cases Solved” – pulls over 200 people at the 9:30 AM slot.  The talk went well – it’s one of the long ones but I got it in under an hour.

Today the ship is having its signature “Pub Lunch”, which is held in the “Steak House” on this ship.  There was no line and the place was not very full.  The food was OK and this time I did not try the ale.

Another good spot on the Pacific Princess is the Pacific Lounge on Deck 10 Forward.  One of the reasons is “Happy Hour”, where between 3 and 4 in the afternoon on sea days, drinks are two for one (as long as they are the same drink).  Today, we are having “Dirty Bananas”, which are just like McD’s chocolate shakes (with some added banana) for adults.  I can tell that the bar uses real bananas in this drink.

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Dirty Bananas in the Pacific Lounge

It’s another beautiful day at sea, so we are out on Deck 5 enjoying warm Caribbean breezes and reading.  I finished “Malicious Intent” and now I’m reading “The Heist” by Daniel Silva.  This time, Gabriel Allon, Israeli spy and art restorer, is on the search for a rare lost painting.  Daniel Silva really puts the lines together in these novels. 

Panorama Bistro for dinner tonight – another to-order pizza (always good). 

We went up to the top deck to check out the sky and moon. 

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Back to the room to plan our day in Cartagena.

Friday, May 1, 2015 – Willemstad, Curacao, NA – Mostly Sunny – 84F

Distance from Port Everglades to Willemstad: 1150 Nautical Miles

Background.  Curacao is an independent country in the southern Caribbean Sea – It is the C island in the ABC Islands (Aruba and Bonaire being the others).  It was discovered initially by the Spanish in 1499 and then settled by the Dutch in 1634 .  The name Curacao comes from “Cured”; Spanish sailors were cured of scurvy once they ate Vitamin C fruits on the island.  The island has a population of 160,000 with its capital, Willemstad.  Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is divided into two sections, Punda and Otrobanda connected by two bridges across Sint Anna Bay.  The Queen Juliana is a modern tall bridge (at 51 meters the tallest bridge in the Caribbean) and the Queen Emma, built in 1888, is a Pontoon Bridge.  The Queen Emma bridge is appropriately called the “Swinging Old Lady”.  The island is blanketed by Curacao WiFi so connecting to the internet is easy.  The ship is docked in Otrobanda at the Mathey Wharf Cruise Terminal.



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Local Pilot

Just outside the city, we spotted a hotel with an enormous infinity pool – must cost a fortune to stay there.

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On Deck for the Approach

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Approach to Willemstad

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Fancy Hotel and Pool

Also here today is the much bigger, Adventure of the Seas.  The Adventure is an old friend which carried us across the Atlantic a few years ago.  Still a very sleek looking ship.

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Adventure of the Seas

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The ABC Islands are known for their winds and it was breezy as we approached Willemstad.  The seas were choppy but the pilot did a good job of smoothly bringing the ship alongside. 

As the Captain had predicted, the Pacific Princess arrived late in Willemstad at around 1 PM – it was announced that the ship would be leaving later than scheduled (around 8 PM) to give passengers more time to see the city and for the tours to be run in their entirety.

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Adventure of the Seas – Around the Bend

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Waiting to Disembark

The pier is on the Otrobanda section of Willemstad.  It is only a short walk down the hill into the city area.  Greeting us was a large square – Plasa Brion, named for Luis Brion, whose statue graces the plaza.  Luis Brion, Primer Almirante de la Gran Colombia (1782-1821), fought in the Venezuelan War of Independence.  There is an inscription on the side by Simon Bolivar – El Libertador.

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Luis Brion Statue

We decided to walk a bit in Otrobanda but the we saw no other passengers and all of the shops were closed.  Our plans changed and we crossed the Queen Emma Bridge to Punda. 

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Crossing the Queen Emma Bridge (Ellen right side)

The far end of the bridge affords a wonderful view of the colonial style buildings of historic Willemstad.

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On this side of the bay, there were many more visitors (from both ships) but the shops were still mostly closed.  Only the bars and a few souvenir shops remained open. 

One of our goals was to visit the Curacao Synagogue – Mikve Israel-Emanuel – located on Columbusstrasse.  This synagogue is the first synagogue in the New World (ca. 1732),  We found it easily but it too was closed.  There was a plainclothes armed security guy standing across the street.  He told us (in what was an Israeli accent) that he was guarding the synagogue,  He also told us the synagogue was closed because it was “Labor Day” on the island – hence all of the closed stores.

This was our second unsuccessful attempt to visit Mikve Israel – Emanuel.

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Mikve Israel-Emanuel

Although most everything was closed, the bars and a few souvenir shops remained open.  One bar had an outdoor area and a group singing some local music.  I managed to capture part of their performance.

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Performers – Outdoor Bar

One place we thought might be open would be the Rif Fort and Renaissance Mall.  The mall is back on the Otrobanda side of the bridge.  Some shops were open but the main attraction was mall itself.  The shops were located on several levels reachable by stairs of elevator – it felt a little like a bunch of tree houses.

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Rif Fort Mall Courtyard from top floor

The mall had some ceramic cows on display – similar to past bovine statues in Chicago and Kusadasi.  Check out the strange light effects in the picture below – the lens was clean – a mystery.

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In the Cow Seat

The top level of the mall incorporated the fort and had a nice view of the Caribbean.

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Ellen at the Mall with Ocean View

It was pretty warm and humid so we walked back up the hill to the ship. 

After dinner, we caught Alan Bursky’s Encore Show – again he had some funny bits (he stood on stage drinking coffee for a few minutes before speaker show demonstrating that people don’t really start work the minute they walk in the office).

Listened to David in the Casino Lounge before calling a day.