Panama Canal Cruise

I know I’ve talked about my good friend, Alice, several places online but I don’t know if I’ve mentioned her here.  There were several places she dreamed of going but never got the chance to go.

My DH always wanted to go to the Panama Canal.  In November, I started looking at cruises and finally settled on this one.  It was a very expensive Christmas/anniversary/birthday gift – for many years – for him but I remembered Alice and thought that we have to do this now, while we have the opportunity.

Here’s where we’re going…

Coral_10DayPanCanCaymans13-14_R1_CA

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Tuesday, March 4

4:00 PM

Day 2

At Sea
Wednesday, March 5

Day 3

At Sea
Thursday, March 6

Day 4

Aruba
Friday, March 7

8:00 AM-7:00 PM

Dutch influence still lingers on this balmy Caribbean island, part of the former Netherlands Antilles until its independence in 1986. Aruba is a contrast: the island’s arid interior is dotted with cactus and windswept divi-divi trees while secluded coves and sandy beaches make up its coast. Aruba’s long and colorful heritage is reflected in its dialect. Called Papiamento, it is a tongue that combines elements of Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, African and English.

Our Tour:

arubaSemi-Submarine, Shipwreck & Island Drive

Your tour begins when you board the ferry “Stingray” at Palm Pier, on one of Aruba’s best beaches. After a 20-minute transfer, you’ll board the semi-sub. This is a surface vessel where you sit five feet below the waterline, the perfect way to discover the fascinating sea life that lives in these crystal clear Caribbean waters. The semi-sub will head towards the wreck of the “Antilla,” a German freighter that was sunk off the coast of Aruba during World War II. The tour is narrated and you will learn about how this 440-foot-long freighter met its watery end. You will also be able to view coral and the plentiful sea life, before returning to dry land. Here you will board your air-conditioned transportation for the short yet scenic journey to the California Lighthouse for views of Aruba’s windward coast.

The lighthouse is named after the U.S. ship which sunk in 1893, years before the lighthouse was built. Your captivating day then continues as you drive to the Casibari rock formations, where you will have time to browse the gift shop and view the amazing landscape formed by diorite boulders the size of small houses. Energetic guests may wish to climb the 80 rustic steps to the formation’s summit for stunning views of the island. Finally, it’s time to head to Aruba’s rugged north coast, to view the breath-taking Baby Natural Bridge, carved by the surf from solid coral and limestone. You will also be able to view the collapsed original Natural Bridge, and visit the gift shop here. Your route back to the ship takes you past the fascinating ruins of a 19th-century gold mill at Boca Mahos, and at the end of the tour, you will have the option to independently explore Aruba’s capital city Oranjestad. You will then be responsible for your return to the ship, which is a mere five minute walk away.

Day 5

At Sea
Saturday, March 8

Day 6

Cartagena, Colombia
Sunday, March 9

7:00 AM-2:00 PM

One of the more interesting cities on your itinerary steeped in history. This was the transit port for all the wealth Spain derived from South America. The famous “Old City” is comprised of 12 square blocks filled with attractions, boutiques and restaurants.

Throughout Colombia, the Spanish Empire’s influence in the New World is self-evident. Its fortress walls, quaint narrow streets, and balconied houses are all vivid reminders of Spain’s hold on Cartagena and throughout the Caribbean and South America. This is the land of El Dorado and flamboyant adventurers in search of the ever-elusive gold. Cartagena’s well-constructed fortifications defended its borders against seafaring pirates whose attacks lasted for more than 200 years. Today this modern and bustling city, seaport, and commercial center still boasts much of its original colonial architecture. Your journey here will provide you with a significant link to the region’s grand past.

Our tour:

cartegnaScenic Drive of Cartagena & La Popa Monastery

Departing from the pier, you will be accompanied by an English-speaking guide, pass by the traditional district of Manga to admire the beautiful houses of the Republican time on your way to La Popa convent, built during the 17th century and dedicated to Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, one of the city’s patron saints, enjoy the splendid view over the city and visit the small chapel for a look at the famous wooden statue of the Virgin, marvel at the wonderful gold leaves laminated main altar.

Continue on with your journey to a photo stop at the largest Spanish fort in the New World – Fort of San Felipe de Barajas, originally built in the 17th century, and snap pictures of the ancient towering walls and main entrance.

Take a 30 -minute drive to the walled city and marvel at the plethora of colonial buildings and age-old fortifications around every corner, as well as the old churches domes, the clock tower, symbol of the city and the city ocean views.

Continue your journey to the Navy Museum, established in 1986, restored ruins of the Jesuits school, discover the historic military efforts of Cartagena, enjoy the wealth of historical artifacts, maritime life and naval history of Colombia, enjoy a folkloric show and a refreshing soft drink.

After cooling down, take your transportation again for an overview of the modern residential area of Bocagrande, famous for its wide variety of shops, restaurants and hotels, before returning to the ship.

Day 7

6:00 AM-3:30 PM

The narrow isthmus separating the Atlantic from the Pacific Ocean had a colorful and turbulent history long before Ferdinand de Lesseps first dreamed of building a transcontinental canal.

Spanish conquistadors hauled Incan gold through the dense rainforest to ports on the Atlantic. English freebooters sought to ransack those ports and attack the treasure ships that sailed from Portobelo. And 49ers braved mosquitoes and yellow fever to get to the California gold fields. While the Panama Canal remains one of the great American engineering feats of the 20th century, visitors to Panama will discover a whole range of scenic wonders. Hike into the dense rainforest, home to over 1,000 species of animals. Or pay a visit to an Embera Indian village in the heart of Chagres National Park.

Disembarkation in Gatun Lake is restricted to passengers who have booked the following tours only: PC1-100, PC1-110, PC1-115, PC1-120, PC1-170, PC1-175, PC1-235, PC1-350, PC1-385, PC1-605, PC1-610, PC1-615. Passengers on these tours are taken ashore by tenders. Later in the day, the ship then retraces her route through the Gatun locks to dock at Pier 6 in Colon in the Caribbean. The tours return to this point. All remaining passengers are able to disembark in Colon, where they may explore the dockside shops. There are no tours offered in Colon.

Note: The Panama Canal Authority assigns specific time slots for the transit of a vessel through the locks. The ship will anchor in a designated area and will wait for instructions. Once clearance is transmitted to the ship, procedures begin to bring ship’s tour passengers ashore. Therefore, tour departure times may vary and will be announced onboard.

Our Tour:

trainPanama Canal Railway & Miraflores Locks (Dome Car)

Imagine traveling around the Panama Canal in a deluxe 1938 vintage executive railway car. During this six-hour tour you’ll not only take in the sights of the canal but transfer to the Miraflores Locks for an up close look at this engineering marvel.

After boarding your air-conditioned transportation you’ll make the short drive to the train station at Colon. Here, you’ll board your unique train. Reminiscent of the golden age of railway travel, the passenger cars feature luxurious wood paneling, tables, carpeted floors, soft lamp lighting, wooden blinds, air conditioning, bathrooms, large windows to appreciate the picturesque journey and open-air viewing decks that allow passengers to step outside and “smell” the tropical rainforest.

Then, you’ll leave the Colon station on an approximately one-hour train trip to the Pacific terminus of the Panama Canal, passing Gatun Lake and the isthmus’ dense rainforest. During your railroad journey, you guide will provide commentary on the railroad, Panamanian history, and the canal.

The rainforests of the Panama Canal are some of the most accessible green zones in the world. With over 50,000 acres of pristine rainforest, this natural gem hosts an incredible 105 species of mammals, 525 species of birds and 124 species of reptiles and amphibians. Enjoy a light snack and beverage during this part of you tour.

The Panama Canal requires a vast rainforest watershed to feed water to its lock system, which uses millions of gallons each day. Since the rainforests are so important to the national economy, the Canal Zone has had to actively preserve its natural resources, providing pristine green areas and excellent photo opportunities.

When your train arrives at Panama City’s train station, you’ll transfer to a coach that will take you to the Miraflores Locks Observation Center to view a documentary on the history of the locks. You will also have the opportunity for a close up view of the passing ships and functioning of the locks from the top floor of the center. The lock gates at Miraflores are the tallest of the three due to the extreme tidal variation that takes place in the Pacific Ocean. Depending on the size of each vessel, you can see one to three vessels simultaneously make the transit. From the moment the vessels enter the locks, it takes approximately ten minutes for the process to be completed. The water enters and leaves the locks by means of gravity only, there are no pumps or other man-made devices that assist in this process.

At the end of this fascinating adventure, you’ll return to the pier.

Day 7

Colon, Panama
Monday, March 10

5:00 PM-8:00 PM

Day 8

Limon, Costa Rica
Tuesday, March 11

7:00 AM6:00 PM

Costa Rica’s Limon Province boasts pristine beaches, sprawling banana plantations and dense rainforest.

These Caribbean lowlands are still sparsely populated–nearly a third of the province’s population lives around Puerto Limon–and conservation efforts have led to growing eco-tourism. Limon Province offers other charms as well. Afro-Caribbean influences abound, from the lilting speech and reggae rhythms brought by Jamaican settlers to the colorful bungalows lining small fishing villages. Limon is a zesty little slice of heaven.

Our Tour:

tramRainforest Aerial Tram, Nature Walk & Lunch

Board your air-conditioned transportation at the pier and travel to an acclaimed ecotourism and research facility near Braulio Carrillo National Park. Here, glide through the canopy in an aerial tram, offering intimate views of the forest from the treetops. The rainforest canopy is teeming with wildlife and is home to two-thirds of Costa Rica’s rainforest species. Towering trees, giant ferns, bursts of color and myriad wildlife make up a large part of this incredible hanging garden. A naturalist guide will accompany you on your ride, explaining the delicate balance of the rainforest and pointing out the amazing wildlife amongst us in this intricate ecosystem. After your tram ride, you’ll be served a tasty, traditional Costa Rican lunch buffet at the charming Rain Forest Restaurant, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the forest. The orchestra of creatures in the forest serves as wonderful background music while you dine. Following lunch, walk it off with a guided stroll through the rainforest for a deeper appreciation of this complex environment from a totally different perspective. You’ll have time to visit the gift shop for eco-friendly handicrafts made exclusively in Costa Rica before we head back to the ship.

Day 9

At Sea
Wednesday, March 12

Day 10

Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Thursday, March 13

9:00 AM4:00 PM

Ocho Rios (Spanish for “Eight Rivers”) is located on the northern coast of Jamaica–67 miles east of Montego Bay. Blue-green mountains, white-sand beaches, lilting breezes wafting across flower-adorned hillsides – Jamaica is a sensual feast. Stunning natural beauty and a unique society molded by British, African, Spanish and Asian influences make Jamaica an unforgettable port of call in the Caribbean. Ocho Rios is a superb slice of Jamaica. The area is named for its spectacular rivers and waterfalls, including famed Dunn’s River Falls.

Day 11

At Sea
Friday, March 14

Day 12

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Saturday, March 15

7:00 AM

According to the popular 1960 beach movie, Fort Lauderdale is “where the boys are.” The city’s reputation as America’s Spring Break capital, however, has been replaced with the more favorable image of a prime family tourist destination, attracting more than 10 million visitors annually. The most popular beach resort in Florida is even more rightly famed as the “Yachting Capital of the World,” with more than 40,000 registered crafts calling its waters home. The city also prides itself on being the “Venice of America” with more than 300 miles of navigable waterways. Fort Lauderdale boasts world-class theaters, museums, sightseeing, and shopping.

The city sits 24 miles north of Miami and is named after a series of forts built by the United States during the second Seminole War. The forts took their name from Major William Lauderdale, who was the commander of the detachment of soldiers who built the first fort. Look hard and you might find remnants of three of them today. More people seem to be interested in taking a water tour aboard the “Carrie B.”

Note: Luggage is stowed on the transportation during disembarkation tours. Disembarkation tours end at the airports; therefore passengers who have post-cruise packages at local hotels must disembark at Fort Lauderdale International Airport. Passengers will then be responsible for their transportation to the hotel.

Our Tour:

intercoastalIntracoastal Waterway by Boat & Las Olas Blvd with Fort Lauderdale Airport Transfer (Disembarkation)

Departing passengers shouldn’t miss this last chance to tour Fort Lauderdale’s finest boulevards, beaches and waterways, on an excursion that promises to delight. Your tour starts when you board your air-conditioned bus for a guided tour along Fort Lauderdale’s famed golden beaches, en route to trendy Las Olas Boulevard, which features a multitude of delightful art galleries, eclectic boutiques and busy sidewalk cafés. Here, you will have 20-30 minutes to browse the many interesting shops, enjoy a refreshing beverage or simply wander around this bustling, sunny neighborhood, before heading aboard the charming “Carrie B” paddle-wheel boat for a relaxing cruise along Fort Lauderdale.

Your captain and crew are friendly and approachable, and will be on hand to point out the many elaborate mansions and celebrity homes along Millionaires Row. You’ll also get close to the massive yachts docked outside the Bahia Mar Marina, Hyatt Pier 66 and the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Grande hotels. This super-fun vessel features both open and enclosed decks for your comfort, as well as a comprehensive snack bar. Returning to the boat’s docking location, you will then board your bus and head to the airport.

Webcam from the deck: http://www.kroooz-cams.com/coral/coral1.php

Costa Rica, Day 7 and Home

Early, early wake up time.  We have to be at the airport by 5:00 am so we were up at 4:00 am.  We got things we had taken out repacked – mostly electronics we wanted charged.

Checking out, we were able to get free “breakfast to go” bags that included cereal bars, juice, bananas and muffins.  Pretty good.

The Holiday Inn had a 24/7 shuttle so we got on that within 5 minutes.  It was only about 8 minutes to the airport.  It was a good thing we were there early because the line to pay the departure tax was pretty long.  Luckily, we had gotten a porter to move our bags because he was very helpful in showing us where to go for the departure tax and how to fill out the forms – then where to check in.

We got through security in plenty of time and I got a few pictures of the mountains outside the departure gate.

I ate the banana and the muffin.  I should have had the juice since it was confiscated in a final security just before getting on the plane.  The bottle was all sealed up but they took it anyway.  Oh, well.

I was very happy on the plane.  They showed the movie Water For Elephants.  I had read (and shared with everyone) this book several years ago.  I was glad to be able to watch the movie but it did cut into my naptime.

We arrived in Atlanta on time and went through the whole Customs/Immigration ordeal.It wasn’t as bad as some places we have been through.  All our luggage arrived and that’s a good thing!

We stopped for a real meal at T.G.I.Fridays, then on to our gate.  We were there about 30 minutes, then the gate changed so we dragged our stuff up the hall to the new gate.  Boarding was pretty easy, then we taxied out for takeoff.

Then, we stopped.  The pilot said that there were storms in the DC area so we couldn’t land there.  He figured that the storm was colser to Reagan airport and those flights were probably diverted to Dulles (our airport) and Baltimore.  Whatever.

We sat, with the engines off, on the field.  No engines, no A/C.  They passed out ice water and told us to close the window shades to keep it “cooler”.  Right.

Finally, we were able to take off.  Although I could see that we passed through some thunder storms, the flight was fairly smooth.

Into Dulles, got one suitcase.  The big one is nowhere. Finally, that showed up and we got a taxi for home.  Then off to get our dog ant the trip was over.

There will be more pictures later from Tom’s camera plus the ones we took with the waterproof carmera in the Rainmaker rainforest.

Fairwell to 

Costarica

Thanks for reading!

Costa Rica, Day 4B

We ended going out to breakfast here at Pueblo Real and I took the pictures of the flowers afterwards.

After exchanging our reservations since Michael can’t join us, we ended up going to Rainmaker Rain Forest. That’s a privately owned rain forest down a long gravel road.

On that road I took the picture of the cow/bull or whatever it was with the huge buffalo hump.

True to it’s name, it was pouring when we got to rainmaker. We decided to go inside anyway.

Because it was raining, we had to take most of our pictures with a waterproof camera, old-style that will need to be developed before uploading.

There was lots of climbing, suspension bridges, slippery places, rain. What fun!

I was pretty ok until we saw the red band around the tree that meant a worker had spotted a snake in it that morning. I don’t know if the snake has to move the band when he moves.

Tom went very quickly by the tree and didn’t see the snake. I looked into the tree and did see it. With the help of Wikipedia and google I identified it as a green vine snake when we got back. It’s venom was “serious cut not lethal” to humans.

After I saw him, what little adrenaline I have got depleted very fast and I had some trouble finishing the walk. This was the day (of course!) that I didn’t bring any extra cortisone.

Finally got home and took the cortef and Tom went back out for gas.

After he got back we got phone calls from our Thrifty friends who were off somewhere, in the rain, getting dark out…with a flat tire. Tom gave them phone numbers of the office here, Thrifty and others. He was thinking of trying to find them but they somehow got help from someone closer to the scene.

We went out to dinner and major rains, thunder and lightning. This is an open-ish restaurant so we had rain blowing in…and a crab wandered through.

Finally, we figured it was time to go and the ice restaurant folks lent us an umbrella.

Time to head to bed. Out early tomorrow for a sail/snorkel/lunch trip.

This is not my video but it’s a good one of where we were today.

Costa Rica

We finally got our plane tickets today – that makes it “official”.

We traded our timeshare a while ago for a place in Quepos, Costa Rica.  We had originally traded for Saint Martin but after reading the online reviews changed our mind and switched to Costa Rica instead. Neither of us has ever been there before so it looks like it will be really fun.

Here’s someone else’s video:

Some of the things that I thought were really neat about this place was that it was near to Manuel Antonio National Park, rainforests, volcanos,  ziplines and whitewater rafting.

Manuel-antonio

From http://www.govisitcostarica.com/travelInfo/nationalParks.asp

With over 615 wildlife species per 10,000 sq km, Costa Rica sits atop of the list as the most bio-diverse region of the world. Home to an incredible plethora of exotic and tropical flora and fauna, this tiny Latin American country is the habitat of 12 key ecological zones. With an estimated 5% of the world’s biodiversity found here, it is no wonder that Costa Rica is often referred to as ‘the living Eden’ by many scientists and naturalists from all across the globe.

In an effort to preserve much of Costa Rica’s natural beauty and surroundings, 25% of the country’s land has been set aside and turned into protective parks and reserves so as to safeguard the beautiful and lush environs from deforestation and logging. To date Costa Rica has 27 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas/mangroves, 11 forest reserves and 8 biological reserves, as well as 12 other conservation regions that protect the distinctive and diverse natural habitats found throughout the country.

Home to a staggering 10,000 species of plants and trees, Costa Rica is also the home of over 850 indigenous and migrant birds, 205 species of mammals, over 35,000 species of insects, 160 species of amphibians, 220 species of reptiles, and around 1,013 species of fresh and saltwater fish.. This diversity and richness of nature and wildlife makes Costa Rica a truly natural paradise.

Deciduous forests, mangrove swamps, rainforests, herbaceous swamps, cloud forests, riparian forests, swamp forests and coral reefs are just some of the many habitats that are protected by the national parks and reserves of Costa Rica. Areas of geological and geophysical interests, such as active volcanoes, hot springs, caves and relict mountains as the result of plate tectonics setting; areas of historic and archaeological interest, such as battlefields and pre-Columbian settlements; areas of scenic beauty, such as beaches and waterfalls; and areas of conservational importance, such as islands where the brown pelican and magnificent frigatebird nest, or enclaves with the last remaining stands of Mesoamerican dry forest, or beaches where huge sea turtles flock, all fall under the protection of the national parks and reserves in Costa Rica.

Home to many endangered wildlife plant and animal species such as the Leatherback turtle, Olive Ridley turtle, West Indian manatee, Scarlet Macaw, Resplendent Quetzal, Tapir, Golden Toad, Jabiru and Ocelot, Costa Rica’s national parks offer tourists a wealth of diversity that was previously unheard of.

Some of the popular national parks in Costa Rica include; the Arenal Volcano National Park – with the country’s most active volcano; the Barra Honda National Park – with its Pre-Columbian limestone caves; the Chirripo National Park – home to Costa Rica’s tallest mountain; the Corcovado National Park – considered to be the most biologically intense place on earth; the Las Baulas National Marine Park – where millions of Leatherback turtles nest; the Turrialba Volcano National Park – with the largest volcano craters and the La Amistad International Park – which is a biosphere project.