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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Disney's California Adventure

After the cruise through the Panama Canal, we had a couple days in California visiting relatives. We had one day to be tourists in the Anaheim area, and Chuck wanted to take me to California Adventure. When it first opened about 10 years ago, I heard terrible reviews, so it was not something I was really looking forward to. I do so love Disneyland and was hoping we could go there, but he and I had been to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando at Disney World a few years ago, so after much discussion, and my doing some research on the internet, we decided to go to California Adventure. I don't know how I missed this, but it's actually a Disney Park. I hadn't ever heard that it had any connection to Disney. That made me much more interested in going as I love most things Disney. The day was absolutely perfect at 68 degrees and sunny. We couldn't have asked for a better day temperature wise. The admission price to go is fairly expensive and that seemed ridiculous to me, but then again I am "The Coupon Lady" and there were no coupons or bargains that I could see. Oh, yes, I forgot, Chuck did get a senior discount of 2 whole dollars!!! I was thinking that Walt Disney would probably not be very happy about the small a discount for seniors seeing as he was a senior citizen when realizing his dream of opening Disney Land. But I guess some savings is better than none!!! So we were off to explore the state of California at this park. When doing my research, I found a list of rides that were must experiences and also the ones which were best to use a Fastpass for. We headed right to those rides when we got in, but one of them, even when using a Fastpass, meant that we wouldn't get to ride it till between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. which was ridiculous since we were planning to leave the park before then. Some of the rides we did go on were Soarin' Over California (one of the best rides I have ever experienced) Radiator Springs in Cars Land, and The Aladdin Show...which was extremely entertaining even for adults. I did catch a glimpse of Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck and Pluto which was really fun. We got a tour of a sourdough bread bakery, complete with a free sample, which you know Chuck loved since he's a huge fan of sourdough bread, and went to the Ghiradelli Chocolate Shop for ice cream in the afternoon. I had a chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream there that was one of the best I have ever had! We went on a few other rides and ended the day with a Pixar parade that was a lot of fun. There were characters in it from A Bug's Life and Toy Story, but I did miss Mickey and Minnie and the original Disney gang in that parade. If I can figure out how to get pictures on this blog, I will post one of Chuck and I posing with a statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse...one of my favorite pictures from our trip.( Okay...I figured it out as you can all see below!!!) All in all, I really enjoyed the day and am glad Chuck suggested we go to California Adventure.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Panama Canal Cruise: Final Blog Entry

Imagine this: You and the love of your life are sitting on a cruise ship balcony. You are sharing a bottle of wine as darkness descends around you. As you look off in the distance, you can see the lights of the port of Puntarenas, Costa Rica fading away. Warm breezes caress your faces and add to your ability to relax and sink back into your lounge chair. You and your love have just spent a day exploring Costa Rica with a guide and had seen monkeys, crocodiles, beautiful beaches and a variety of hand made crafts created by the Costa Rican natives. As you look at each other in the dusk, you toast to five more days at sea which will enable you to relax and share each other’s company while eating delicious foods that you did not need to prepare, enjoying entertaining shows, taking naps and laying in the sun whenever the mood strikes. Not to mention you will be waited on hand and foot. This is how the last part of our cruise started out on Sunday night. And that is what the rest of our week will be like. Today is Monday and started out slowly as we woke up early, went to the buffet for breakfast, and then needing to find something to do while we gave the steward time to make up our room, we laid in thick cushioned lounge chairs in the Lotus pool and spa area. Here's the area we relaxed in. This area is air conditioned, but has cushioned lounge chairs lining the windows. It is quite a nice place to get away from the heat while still being able to enjoy the views of the sea. I didn’t see anymore dolphins, but watched some large silver fish repeatedly jumping out of the water and splashing back down. Shortly thereafter, we did see another family of dolphins again jumping over the waves left by the ship as it passed by them. It is such a thrill for me to see them in their natural habitat, rather than just being able to see them at the Mystic Aquarium. Chuck did some work this morning while I read. We also went to a talk about the electronic and technical workings of our cruise ship which was much more exciting to Chuck than to me. We did our third load of laundry today as well. I love I that Princess ships have Laundromats on them so for $2 to wash a load and $2 to dry we can have clean clothes for $4. There are also free ironing boards to use and that comes in handy too…. Out our windows today we can see no land, only the sea all around us. Yesterday it was a bit cooler and we can tell that we are getting out of the Central America area. I have heard a few passengers around the ship comment on how much nicer the air temperature is now. It’s easier to breathe and isn’t as balmy. I totally agree with them. We saw 3 dolphin sightings yesterday. One was around noon, one at about 4:00 p.m., and one at 5:00 p.m. The last one was when I was once again working out and I ran outside to see them better. There were about 20 dolphins in this group. They were having so much fun jumping over the waves from the ship that I actually laughed out loud. One jumped up and spun around in the air. I am quite surprised at how high they jump. Here's the treadmill area in the gym where I had a great view and could see the dolphins when they jumped out of the water. We spent another day of relaxation which included some time in the sun, reading in lounge chairs on the Promenade deck, and working out. After dinner in the Horizon Court Buffet, we listened to some music by a piano player. We were not interested in the shows which included a hypnotist and a female singer, so instead, headed back to the room for some more reading. We have a lot going on tomorrow night so we decided to just take it easy tonight. I watched the movie, “This Means War” starring Reese Witherspoon, on the stateroom TV. They have some really good movies on the TV in the stateroom, and I love to watch the art channel as it has biographies of famous artists as well as some of the artists whose work is displayed on the ship and auctioned off at the art auctions on board…… Today after breakfast we found a nice quiet place to read. Chuck took a book out of the library on board. You may have heard of the book that Bill O’Reilly helped to write called, ‘Killing Lincoln?” It’s really interesting and Chuck has been reading interesting tidbits to me as he finds them. At 10:00 a.m. Chuck went to a lecture about the discovery of electricity, while I walked around the ship and took pictures. After lunch I am going to the movie, ‘The Silver Linings Playbook” and tonight we have the Captain’s Circle Party…a party for all the returning Platinum and Elite cruisers on Princess. They give free drinks and snacks and there’s a chance to win prizes. After dinner we have plans to see a comic at 8:45 p.m. and a dance production at 9:45 p.m. Never a dull moment on Princess!............ Today’s the last day on the ship. The movie, “The Silver Linings Playbook” was really wonderful. Especially for those of us who have known people that struggle with mental illness. The comic from the other night was hilarious. And the show was very good as well. Yesterday was another relaxing day. It is getting quite cool now as we are further away from Central America, passing Mexico. Chuck didn’t even want to lie out in the sun. I gave it a shot with shorts and short sleeves for only about 20 minutes. The wind was quite strong. We aren’t seeing anymore dolphins as the air temperature and water temperature gets colder. In the afternoon there was a Breast Cancer Walk on board on the Promenade deck that passengers could participate in. Over 80 people took part, which is actually not very many since there are 1800 passengers on board. It was a $15 minimum fee to participate. Chuck didn’t walk but he did sponsor me. Afterward we worked out, went to dinner and he had lobster tails and prawns which was the specialty in the dining room. It was the last formal night so we had to dress up. After dinner we saw a really fantastic show dedicated to the Louisiana Bayou with lots of songs by the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt. It was the best show we have seen over the whole cruise. Today is even colder than yesterday. Hardly anyone is sunning themselves or in the pool. I am sad because the cruise is ending. We still have some fun planned for tonight, including dinner and a variety show and Chuck has promised to take me dancing. I have been walking around taking pictures of the ship so we have them to remember it by. I will be writing an article complete with pictures and publishing it on Hub Pages so you will be able to see it when it’s complete. Although it’s a bit of a sad day, we still have each other and I am so happy about that. Oh yes, and we already have another cruise planned in October…a 12 day Transatlantic cruise from Copenhagen to Florida on Norwegian Cruise Lines. Life is good! I hope you all have enjoyed these cruise updates. See you or talk to you soon! Karen & Chuck

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Costa Rica

Yesterday was a sea day and we spent it relaxing. We actually got some sun for about an hour but the sun was so hot, it made us almost feel as if we were melting. We did hop into the pool at one point and we didn’t feel the strength of the sun when in the water. On the Movies Under the Stars screen, which is right in front of the pool, they had TV trivia all afternoon. People were shouting out answers to questions about sound clips of themes from TV shows, trivia questions asked about TV starts and sitcoms, etc. I knew a lot of the answers which surprised me and made me think I must have watched a lot of TV as a child! A lot of the questions were about TV shows from the sixties through the nineties. After lunch, and a nap, I dragged myself to the ship’s gym, although I didn’t want to go. Chuck has been much better than I have about working out on this cruise. But then, he always has been anyway. Chuck had gone back to the room and I was still on the treadmill, hoping to convince myself to walk at least 30 minutes. After 20 minutes I happened to be looking out the window in front of me, and saw something jumping out of the water. I immediately hit the stop button on the treadmill and was off running out the door before the belt even stopped. Right outside of the gym is a nice walking area and from there I saw an amazing sight…at least 10 dolphins were jumping out of the water next to the ship. They were playfully jumping over the waves. One even had her baby with her and it was a beautiful sight the see a baby dolphin jumping as well. They followed near the ship for about 5 full minutes. I was hoping that Chuck was also seeing this because he had already gone down to the room. I debated about whether or not to run down and tell him about the dolphins and grab my camera, but it was one of those instances where you don’t dare move, afraid that you might miss such a miraculous sight. I stayed where I was, reveling in the glory that is dolphins playing in their natural habitat. I was so excited that I went back on the treadmill and finished my workout with much more energy! When I got back to the room later, the first thing Chuck asked me was if I had seen the dolphins. He had seen them too and I was so glad. We had a wonderful dinner last night in the more formal dining room. Chuck had beef ribs, and I had roast beef with Yorkshire pudding followed by New York Style cheesecake afterward. It was the meal I have had on the ship so far. After dinner we went to a show performed by the Coral Princess singers and dancers. It was a tribute show to the Rat Pack and was quite good. Sunday was our last cruise port. I am writing this Sunday night but it takes so many minutes to log on and post these updates that I probably won’t get to put this on the blog for a couple days. We pulled into Costa Rica this morning bright and early. Fortunately we set the clocks back an hour last night so getting up at 6:15 a.m. to get ready for our tour felt more like getting up at 7:15 a.m. After a very quick breakfast at the buffet, we headed to the designated meeting place for our tour. I was surprised to note on our way to the bus that although it was only 7:15 a.m., the beach near the cruise dock was already full of people. I have never seen crowds of people at the beach that early. Today’s tour was a train ride and an eco-boat ride through Costa Rica. I was really surprised by the train ride. First of all, it was a very old train with wooden paneling inside and padded seats that reminded me of the seats on school buses. The train had no air conditioning and the windows were open. It moved fairly slowly so I was able to take a lot of pictures that were not blurry due to movement. The train ride made me feel quite sad because it took us away from the tourist areas and we saw how many of the people in Costa Rica really live. And they are poor. We saw so many shacks with tin roofs and hardly any furniture inside. Some of the buildings that they live in had rubber automobile tires as foundations for the home. They had kitchen chairs from the fifties and sixties outside on their porches to sit on. Old kitchen tables from that same time period are in their kitchens, and some people had those types of tables in covered areas outside their homes and that’s where the family eats. Many families have one lone dog tied up by a heavy metal chain to a bush or tree in the shade in their yards. Their yards are littered with old oil cans, plastic containers, broken chairs, etc. Although we did see some nicer houses, they are not of the caliber that we live in. They are cement buildings, with cinder blocks for carports. The crazy thing is, they all seemed so happy. Lots of people, from babies, to children to adults stood in their yards and waved at us with big smiles on their faces. That made me even more sad because they seem so happy when they have so little, and we in the U.S. seem to always want more than what we have. And we have so much more than they do. Gasoline here in Costa Rica is $7.00 per gallon, and many people make only about $25 per day at their jobs. The average take home salary for a worker though is $700 - $800 per month! Yikes. The biggest employer in the country is the tourism trade. At the beach today we saw people making sand carvings and charging $1 to take a picture of it. The carvings were of men and women lying in the sand in bathing suits, and of horses in the sand as well. They were quite good actually. There was a sign next to the carvings that said, ‘This is my job. I have no other source of income and need this money to survive.” While on the train, we also stopped in a grove of trees to take pictures of a family of monkeys. They were really cute and paid no attention to us. I was able to stick my head out the window of the train and aim the camera straight up to take pictures. We also saw a lot of mango trees throughout the countryside as well as a cantaloupe melon plantation. The second part of the tour today was an eco-tour on a boat. We stopped at the visitor area and were treated to fresh watermelon and pineapple, iced tea, cold water or beer. There was also a nice gift shop there as well. We boarded the boats and headed down a river surrounded by mangrove trees. I was amazed at how large and how many roots these trees have. We saw two small crocodiles, more monkeys in trees, bats sleeping on the underside of a log, land crabs, termite nests, bee’s nests, and a variety of birds. It was a one hour boat ride but didn’t disappoint us at all. The day was hot and we were so glad to be able to get back on the air conditioned bus. The drive back was about 45 minutes along the coats and it was very beautiful. When we were done with the tour, we took a tram ride to the end of the pier where we shopped at various vendors who had tents set up for about ¼ mile down the sidewalk bordering the beach. The guide on the ship that spoke about the Panama Canal also gave port talks about each of the ports were going to, and highly recommended this area for Costa Rican crafts. There were a lot of leather products, jewelry, and Costa Rican wood products available, as well as the more touristy type goods of souvenir shirts, hats, magnets, etc. We spent about 40 minutes there, then returned to the ship for a late lunch. After a nap (the heat really does us both in) and another workout, we headed upstairs to the buffet for dinner. It was Bierfest night and almost everything at the buffet was German food. German food is not my favorite but I found a really good vegetable stew, some roasted chicken, a salad, and Black Forest Cake so I was satisfied. Chuck does like German food so he enjoyed the pretzel rolls, sauerkraut, red cabbage, split pea soup with ham, and a few other German dishes. After dinner we went to a show with a very good comedian. He has been on a lot of cruise ships as an entertainer and had some pretty funny stories about people he has met while cruising. Well, I am signing out for the night. The next 5 days we are at sea so nothing to do but relax and enjoy the ship’s amenities and entertainment and rest up to face the real world when we get back to Connecticut.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Panama Canal Cruise: Panama

Well, my entry about going through the Panama Canal was so long that I did not want to keep writing about what we did at night. But to celebrate going through the Panama Canal, we went out to eat at one of the 2 restaurants onboard that charge an extra charge of $25 per person. We usually don’t do this but it was a special night. Our choices were the Bayou Café, which is a steakhouse serving Cajun style steaks, and Sabatini’s, and Italian restaurant. Since I don’t like Cajun food, we went to the Italian restaurant and ended up having steaks there! We were given a window seat and although it was dark, it was still nice. By the time we had an appetizer, soup, salad, and the side dish of mushroom pasta, we were stuffed and I could have done without the steak. First they served us bread with vinegar and oil for dipping. Chuck had fried calamari as an appetizer and I had a mushroom torte which was delicious. I had a salad and they brought Chuck and amazing seafood tomato soup which he really enjoyed. I wouldn’t have liked it because it was very fishy, and you could taste the fish even in just the tomato broth, but I am sure that soup is a favorite in parts of Italy. They then brought us each a small plate of pasta in mushroom sauce which was so delicious I could have had it as the main course. There was an option to do that, and I should have stuck with that option. Chuck loved his steak, mine was just okay. For dessert, I had a white chocolate mousse torte which was very good. Unfortunately, Chuck can’t remember what he had for dessert. We only know that when we left, we were stuffed! The whole meal for the most part was delicious and the experience was wonderful. We shared a bottle of wine from Italy as well, but I don’t remember the name of it at the moment. The next day, we were in the port of Fuerte Amador, which is just outside of Panama City. We took a bus through Panama, starting in Panama City to get back to the first locks we had gone through. We had booked a tour of the Gatun Locks and a boat ride on Gatun Lake, which was basically a boat ride to find wildlife. We backtracked back to the start of where the Panama Canal begins via bus, and then were able to climb up onto a viewing building next to the Panama Canal’s Gatun Locks and we were able to watch a huge ship traversing the lock and it was really a different experience watching the ship from the land. Out near the entrance to the tourist viewing area, there was an example of a “mule” from the opening time of the Panama Canal (1914), and one from present day. The one from the 1914 time period has a GE symbol on it, so I made sure I took a picture of Chuck with that since he does some work with General Electric and I thought that would be fun to have. After we viewed that ship, we got back on the bus and headed to a small, family owned Botanical Garden and Nature Center where we were given life jackets and loaded onto a small boat that fit 20 people to motor around on the lake and look for wildlife. It was a bit scary doing this because if you remember I told you in an earlier blog entry that the islands that now stand in Gatun Lake used to be hilltops and mountaintops? Well, a lot of trees from that original time of the flooding of the lake are now just stumps sticking out of the water by anywhere from a few inches to a foot. The guy steering the boat had to be very careful not to crash into any of those. It was a nice ride around the lake and I was happy to get Chuck back on a boat since he still misses his boat. Some of you may be wondering what I could possibly be talking about since Chuck and I are ON A BOAT for 2 weeks during this cruise. But this is a different type of boat than motoring around close to the water on a lake. During our one hour boat ride, we saw 1 lone howler money sitting in a tree, 2 sloths, a few butterflies, and once again, many, many birds. The guide we had today was named, “Roberto” and he was very interesting. During the bus rides, we learned all about the history of Panama and the country’s economy, exports, etc. After returning to the bus, it was a 45 minute bus ride back to the boat. It was sad to see the way many people in Panama live. There is a lot of poverty, both here in Panama and also in Columbia. The one thing I like about taking a tour that involves bus ride is the chance to see the homes and yards of the people who actually live there. We got back to the ship, had a late lunch ( at 4 p.m.), worked out, relaxed a bit and then went to dinner in the Horizon Court buffet in time to catch a Movie Under the Stars. The movie they played was, “Parental Guidance,” starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, and it was one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. I haven’t heard much about this movie and don’t even know when it came out, but it made me laugh and it made me cry and I came away from this movie feeling fortunate to have seen it! Tomorrow is a day at sea so it will give us a chance to relax and stay out of the heat.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Panama Canal Transit

We made it to the Panama Canal finally on Thursday, 4/11. We had been prepped for the Panama Canal transit over the first few days of the cruise as the ship had not only a session about the Canal’s history through a Scholarship at Sea program, but there had also been a few documentaries shown that any passenger could access a number of times either in a theater on board or on a Princess cruises TV channel on our stateroom TVs. By the time this day came, I was surprised at the information I had learned about the history of the Panama Canal. It was an extremely hot day, even at 6:30 a.m. when I woke up and headed up to the forward part of the ship (front for those of you who are not up on your boating terminology!) If you know me well, you will know that I am definitely not an early riser and prefer to stay up late and sleep in. So I surprised myself when I woke up even earlier than planned, after a restless night of trying to sleep but trying not to miss anything good about our first and probably only crossing of the Panama Canal. Chuck had set the alarm for 6:45 a.m. but I was up and out of the cabin by 6:30 a.m., kissing him good bye and telling him I would be on the 14th or 15th floor forward, outside. When I arrived there were only about 20 other people up there with me. We were a few miles away from the actual entrance but I got a really neat picture of the sun rising just above the city of Colon, Panama. The guide who would be speaking throughout the day had suggested getting up in a good viewing area by 7:30 a.m. as that was the time we should be entering the canal. I didn’t want to miss anything since I am taking most of the pictures on this cruise. I found a spot right in front, and decided to stay there until Chuck could find me and be front and center of all the action. I was a bit disappointed because right in front of all of us at the railing were tinted blue plastic panels to break the wind. On either side of the panels in each section was a space of about 2 inches where if I finagled my camera at just the right angle, I was able to get a clear picture of what was in front of the ship. Someone nearby was complaining about the panels and said when he went online and watched videos of Panama Canal cruises on this ship last year at this time, those panels weren’t there, and people in the front had an open view. I started snapping pictures very far in advance because it was just so exciting to be entering the Panama Canal. Thank goodness I have a digital camera and can get rid of the pictures I took too early, or that were pretty much duplicates because I didn’t want to miss a chance at a good shot! I repeatedly turned around for the next 90 minutes looking for chuck. It didn’t feel right entering the Canal without him beside me to share it. Before the trip I really wasn’t all that excited about the actual Canal but I wanted to see the wildlife in the area. Shortly before we entered the actual canal, the guide doing the announcing said there was a crocodile sighting off to the port side ( left again for the non-boaters) and there happened to be 3 crocs sunning themselves at the edge of the water. I debated leaving my spot only for 1 second, and decided to stay put to save the place I was at for Chuck because I had such a good view. I had high hopes of seeing other crocs and wildlife during the rest of the day at the sides of the canal. I am writing this after the crossing, and am sad to report I haven’t seen a crocodile yet!!! But I was not about to give up my front row seat, so to speak and expected Chuck to arrive at any moment. As we got closer to the canal entrance, we saw 2 shutes in front of us. The one on the right already had a huge ship in it, as well as a small tugboat. During the whole day, we had a detailed description of what was happening and what we were experiencing. The speaker’s name is Bill Keane, and I had seen on the Cruise Critic website that he does these canal cruises all the time, and is an expert at it. His voice is broadcast on the two top decks of the ship as well as in the Horizon Food Court, and on the stateroom channel TVs, so it was hard not to be able to hear him. He told us that both the large ship and the tugboat were going through the Canal at the same time because if more than one ship can fit in 1 lock at the same time, then they will take more than one because it saves water. We entered the first lock and it was quite exciting. This was the lock called, ‘Gatun Locks” and we were entering from the Caribbean Sea side ( after going through the Atlantic from Fort Lauderdale, Florida). It takes 12 minutes once a ship enters a lock for it to fill up with water to reach the height of the next lock, at which point the gates open, and the ship moves into the next lock. There were 3 locks that we had to go through at these locks. The whole process seems to take a long time. But when you think about how this system works, it’s really amazing and doesn’t take that long a period of time. The locks run by a series of gears, and gravity, and no electricity is used to transit ships through the canal. On the sides of the canal, are little small almost like train cars called, mules” that attach to the ship by cable and help pull each ship through without smashing into the sides of the canal. On each side of our ship there was approximately 18 inches between the ship and the edge of the canal. There are 4 mules on either side of the ship, so 8 all together. I took lots of pictures of the mules, and tried to get a shot of how little space there is between us and the edge of the canal. I kept repeatedly looking around me trying to find Chuck, but he was nowhere to be found. When I had left him, he was still in bed, saying he would be up on deck soon. My mind started racing with everything that might have happened to him, so finally, when we had reached the third lock, and were transiting into Gatun Lake (one of the largest man-made lakes in the world). Then, at 8:00 a.m. I gave up my coveted spot on the front railing and went in search of Chuck. Scanning both front railings on the top 2 decks, I headed to the stateroom. He was not there so I went to the Horizon Court Buffet thinking maybe he was watching from inside the cool air conditioned dining room. I couldn’t find him there, so sat outside on the front deck in the now very warm sun, and decided to stay put and maybe he would find me. It was 8:15 at that point and I sat for 45 minutes feeling all alone and missing Chuck during this very important experience. At 9, I was too hot and needed a glass of water so decided to try the dining room and then the stateroom pone more time. No luck in the dining room, but I was happily surprised and thrilled to be reunited with him in our stateroom where he had gone to check for me. We sort of fell into each other’s arms with a big hug, both of us expressing the same feelings about wanting to be with the other person during this momentous occasion. Turns out he had gone by where I was 3 or 4 times and couldn’t see me because at the railing, people were standing 3 and 4 deep trying to get a good view of entering the canal. After that we apparently had just kept missing each other while trying to find each other. We had a good laugh about losing each other on a cruise ship, and then went to breakfast fortifying ourselves for the rest of the day which would consist of approximately 9 hours to make it through the whole Panama Canal. It had been recommended that passengers find various viewing spots throughout the day to get a variety of views. For me that meant different areas to shoot pictures from so we spent the day in between the balcony of our room, the 2 top decks, the back deck of the floor we are on which is the very back of the boat ( the stern!) and the dining room. It was quite hot and humid which meant a steamy type of heat. Sometimes after being on the balcony for 20 to 30 minutes, we would need to go inside the cabin to cool off. Although I looked all day for signs of wildlife, I only saw birds, nothing else. I wish I had studied the type of birds that are down here in the canal region because there are so many different varieties, and I have NO idea what type they are. We spent a long time traversing Gatun Lake, going by many islands which, before Gatun lake was flooded, were actually mountaintops and hilltops. Over the course of the day, we went through 2 more locks, Pedro Miguel, and Miraflores Locks. All throughout the day, the ship’s photographers were on the actual walls of the canal shooting pictures and video of everyone on the ship, who were encouraged to wave and smile, and also hang posters off their balconies that they had made so they would be sure to get on the video. There was even a Panama Canal poster contest. Unfortunately, neither Chuck nor I could think of anything creative to put on a poster, so we didn’t make one. But the ship’s photographers still got a few pictures of us on our balcony waving at them! At the end of the third set of locks, we crossed under the Bridge of the Americas, which allows traffic to go across the canal, and came out on the other side to a gorgeous view of Panama City, Panama. The buildings of this city were glinting white in the setting sun. Neither Chuck nor I had any idea how large Panama City is and it was an absolutely beautiful sight…as cities go. We will head over there tomorrow and will anchor in the sea outside of the port for the night. And that was my account of transiting the Panama Canal on the Coral :Princess cruise ship!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Aruba and Cartegena

After 2 days at sea, during which we relaxed, ate, and explored the ship, we arrived in Aruba on Tuesday. It was hot and humid. The ship’s announcement told us it was 81 degrees but it was so humid it felt like 100 degrees. We hadn’t planned an excursion in Aruba because we were only in port from 7:00 a.m. till noon. We had read on cruisecritic.com that the shops in the port town were close enough to walk to, and that is what we had decided to do. We got off the ship, and on the way to town, just happened to walk by a huge ship docked next to us. It was a Royal Caribbean ship but we can’t remember what its name was. A very hot walk into town brought us directly across from some flea market vendors who were selling Caribbean clothing ( dresses, shirts, etc.), jewelry and cheap souvenirs. It was fun to walk around, but still so hot. We walked further into town and I took some pictures of some pretty buildings and the ship from the dock. After 90 minutes, we were so hot we returned to the ship. We didn’t see the Aruba that many people think of…sand and beaches, but we saw some beautiful buildings and had we been in the market for souvenirs, would have had a hay day! Shortly after noon, we headed out of port and saw some beautiful beaches and resorts. We found out that a few doors down from our room is a very nice back deck where we can survey where we have come. I took a nice picture of Aruba from that deck and it will be nice to view the canal from there. On to Cartegena, Columbia on Wednesday. I was not looking forward to going to Columbia but we were on our way. It has such a bad reputation for drugs and crime. We originally hadn’t planned a tour for this port either, preferring to try to get a taxi into the Old City that is surrounded by stone walls. But it had been so hot in Aruba, and Cartegena was also supposed to be hot. Chuck decided we should book something that would get us around in a cooler fashion than walking. We booked a bus tour which included a picture stop at the great fort that protected the city, the Naval Museum, inside the city walls, and shopping at the old dungeons whose previous cells had been converted into 23 shops. It was again hot on this day. We were very happy to see that our tour bus was air conditioned. Our tour guide, Paulina, was originally from Bogeta and told us that the heat is the same every day in Cartegena. Chuck and I decided we could never live here since neither of us likes the heat. On the way to the amazing fort Paulina told us that most people in Columbia make the minimum wage of $250 per week. Gas costs $5.00 per gallon, and most families have to live together because they can’t afford rent for their own family alone. She warned us to ignore the vendors because they are everywhere and don’t take no for an answer. She said it is better to ignore them. She was correct about that. She also said that if you see women selling fruit on their heads, that if you want some fruit, tell them you want to buy some. And if you want to just pose for a picture with them, they will expect some money afterward, usually $1.00. The vendors, even at the fort, are quite bothersome. They were selling cheap costume jewelry, hats, sunglasses and small leather purses. Even if you tell them no, or you aren’t interested, they will follow you, holding out jewelry, and dropping the price as you walk. We just said no and ignored them and that worked pretty well. And there were some ladies dressed in native costume and selling fruit from their heads. We watched 2 women from our bus pose with a fruit woman, and then act surprised when she held her hand out for money. I guess some people don’t pay attention. The stop at the fort was literally 10 minutes so it was just to take pictures. The fort was amazing and the walkways up to it were winding. It would have been quite a feat to walk up to the top in this heat so I was just as glad that we didn’t have time. Next, we were on our way to the Naval Museum. This was our only stop inside the Old City so I was able to get some pictures of a few houses, and the front on the museum with it’s canons. I thought that Chuck would like this stop because he had been in the Naval reserves. Unfortunately, the sound didn’t carry well there so it was hard to hear our tour guide, and this was the first museum we have been to in all of our travels that had nothing written in English! On top of that, the museum was not air conditioned. I entertained myself by taking pictures of some pirate mannequins they had that were hanging from ropes on the ceilings and walls, and another one of Sir Francis Drake, whose name I did recognize at least! At the end of the Naval Museum, we were treated to a series of native dances performed by men and women in costume. The hall that they performed in was a bit cooler because it had fans at the top of a high ceiling. We also were given bottles of cold water which at this point came in quite handy. On the way back to the tour bus, we were again met with vendors, this time trying to sell T-shirts, and yet more jewelry. Once on the bus, we were extremely grateful for the cool air. Our last stop was to an old set of dungeons that the tour guide had said were authentic souvenirs and real silver, etc. These shops were approved by the cruise industry so we felt better searching for souvenirs there. The shops were quite similar and I again took pictures of them. There were vendors all down the courtyard area in front of the shops, and it was again annoying. Inside the shops there were lots of cheap souvenirs if you were interested in key chains, post cards, pot holders, etc., but some had nice jewelry and clothing. We had been instructed to bargain with the shop keepers, but I forgot to do that when I fell in love with a turquoise stone necklace for $12 U.S. Chuck asked me when I came out if I had bargained, and I was embarrassed to admit that no I had not, in spite of loving a bargain and bargain shopping. Oh well, I just have to let that be a lesson for next time, although because Chuck bargained and bought me a beautiful white blouse, I don’t think there will be a next time on this trip. I have my souvenirs, which include also matching t-shirts that Chuck bought for the 2 of us (yeah I know, some of you are saying, ‘How cute” and some of you are gagging at that one!!! Ah, we are love birds, what can I say?!!!) We headed back to the ship after that stop, and went right in to eat lunch because we were so thirsty and hot. One of the nice things that Princess Cruise lines does is provide cold cups of water and cool facecloths as you come back to check into the ship. It’s a wonderful treat, and has probably helped some passengers avoid heat stroke. After lunch, we took a nap, worked out and went to dinner. We saw an illusionist who was not that great, and came back to the room and went to bed early because we are entering the Panama Canal zone at 6:00 a.m. and the canal itself at 7:30 tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Panama Canal Cruise update!

For those of you who prayed that our luggage came in time to make it to the cruise, thank you so much. Your prayers worked. Although as expected, not without a few glitches!You may think that praying for suitcases to arrive is not a priority prayer??? But I was mostly concerned about how stressful the situation was getting for Chuck. We once went on a cruise where 2 people died. And someone we know was on a cruise with their whole family once and her father had a heart attack while standing at a cruise ship railing looking out at the beautiful sea. You wouldn’t think that being on a cruise would cause any stress or health concerns but apparently it can. So, thank you for your prayers. Now back to the luggage story! The original time that it was supposed to arrive was at 12:55 p.m. but the flight actually arrived at 1:30 p.m. We were repeatedly told by Southwest airlines that our luggage would be coming in from Tampa on carousel 6. So we waited and waited…and waited some more. Finally, luggage started arriving, and we waited, and waited and waited even more. When it looked as though most of the luggage had come out, and ours wasn’t there, I asked a passenger who was also waiting for their luggage where they had come from. He told me they had just come from Nashville!!! But he also said that the luggage from Tampa was coming in on carousel 5. Arrrrggghhh! Time was ticking away as we ran over to the other carousel, and waited for that luggage to start coming out. We happened to be going through this with another couple from Massachusetts who had also flown from Hartford and were having the same experience. We had been a bit more fortunate than them in that we were given two toiletry bags from Southwest airlines and they were not. When they asked for bags in the morning so they could at least brush their teeth, they were still denied! They had not slept much the night before because they were so upset about their missing luggage. As we were waiting for the luggage to come out, I happened to notice that the man of the couple had a Lenny & Joe’s baseball cap on. That made Chuck and I laugh because for those of you who know Chuck, you will remember that he loves Lenny and Joe’s. Turns out the wife has a friend who lives in Madison, CT and she goes to Lenny and Joe’s when she comes to visit her friend. Shortly after that, the luggage arrived on the belt. And of course we waited some more. I made a comment when it first started coming out that our luggage was probably last because it was put on first. And I was right! At 2:00 p.m., the last few suitcases that were delivered on carousel 5 belonged to the 4 of us!!! But at this point it didn’t matter…we had our suitcases which meant I didn’t have to go on this cruise alone! We quickly boarded the Princess Cruises bus, a transfer arrangement we had made when the time was getting tight. After stopping to pick up a lot more passengers at different stops at the airport, we finally made it to the cruise port and onto our ship at 3:00 p.m. The latest passengers are allowed to board is 3:30 p.m. and as we arrived on the ship, they were already making the announcement about the emergency procedures drill!!! This was the latest we had ever arrived on a cruise ship, and I was actually starting to get quite hungry, and missing our usual trip to the Horizon Court buffet that we usually make soon after we get aboard. After the drill, we were happy to return to our room and find all of our luggage waiting for us. We changed our clothes that we had been in for 2 days now, and met our steward who stopped by and then came back with our glass of welcome aboard champagne from Princess cruises. We headed up to the Sailaway party, which consisted of a lot of waving to people on the beaches and in the condos on our way out to sea. We were finally off on our Panama Cruise adventure! The ship is beautiful, although much smaller than what we are used to. There are only about 1800 people onboard. The ship is more compact than most because it has to be narrow enough to make it through the Panama Canal. In the atrium, where most Princess ships have 3 stories and are wide, in the Coral Princess, there are 4 stories, and all the action is packed right around the middle of the atrium. The top floor houses an internet café, library and card room. The next level has a piano and wine bar. The next level down has a few stores, and the bottom level has a passenger services desk, excursion desk, as well as a future cruise services desk. There are a few pools onboard, and a buffet area that is smaller than others we have seen. But the food is delicious, and I don’t think we have had as many naps in 3 days as we have had on this trip!!! We are resting and relaxing, and life is good!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Are We Having Fun Yet??? Not Exactly!

I am writing this from a hotel room in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We stayed here overnight so that we can get to the cruise port and be on the ship, ready to leave at 4:00 p.m. So far though, our trip has been quite eventful, but not in a good way. Chuck has described this experience so far as, "The Trip from you know where!" It all started in Hartford, CT as we were standing in line to board the Southwest plane that was to take us to Tampa. From there, we were going to stay on board and pick up more passengers before arriving at our destination airport of Fort Lauderdale. After approximately 10 passengers boarded the airplane, we got our first inkling of what was to come when a pilot came out of the passenger loading area and said something to the clerk that was taking people's tickets. At that point, we were told there was a problem and people started coming off the airplane they had just boarded. An announcement came over the loudspeaker that there was an issue with the plane, and that someone from contract maintenance would have to come look at the plane before passengers could board. There were sighs and groans all around me, including from Chuck! But then we heard that the plane had been stuck by lightning, and I was actually happy we would not be getting aboard that plane right away! They announced that there were free sodas at the podium, but that didn't do much to cheer people up. A woman repeatedly came on the loudspeaker to give us updates. She was quite unprofessional and should not, in my opinion, try a career as a public speaker. While Chuck was up at the podium trying to get the latest details, 2 people near me announced they had just gotten texts that our flight would leave in 6 hours...at 10:20 p.m. instead of the original 4:05 p.m. More groans could be heard as these two people announced this news to those of us waiting in the surrounding seats. When Chuck came back shaking his head and saying that no one at the podium knew what was going on, I told him that the nice woman sitting next to his seat was going to give him the latest update!!! Better her than me, I figured! She laughed and said, ' No I am not!" but then did proceed to tell him about the 6 hour wait. No sooner was this announced though than the speaker announced that although that flight was leaving in 6 hours, they were going to try to reroute us all on other planes, and not to worry, all of our luggage would be sent on to Tampa. I do remember wondering how that was going to help us if our final destination was Fort Lauderdale, but figured they knew what they were doing. Ha ha...wrong. Anyway, they got us on a flight through Baltimore, and then changing planes in Baltimore going to Fort Lauderdale. We arrived in Fort Lauderdale at 10:20 p.m. and to our dismay, our luggage did not arrive with us. Chuck went to the airline office and after about 30 minutes, came out with a disgusted look on his face. Although the airline did give us each an overnight toiletry bag, they said they didn't know where our luggage was. Another passenger was going by and she said they told her that it might be in Baltimore. Since the next flight from Baltimore was due to arrive in 45 minutes, I suggested we wait there to see if it was on that flight. I knew Chuck would be happier once we actually had the luggage in hand and if we could get it in 45 minutes, it would be worth the wait. At this point, we hadn't eaten since we split a sandwich at 3:00 p.m. at the airport in Connecticut. So since we had time to kill, we searched the airport for an open restaurant. If you are following how things are going, you can probably guess that there were no open restaurants at the airport at this point at night. So we went to vending machines and had a dinner consisting of sour cream and onion chips, Ritz cheese crackers, fruit punch and I had an ice cream sandwich for dessert while Chuck had some cookies that he had brought from home. The plane did arrive finally at 12:15 a.m., and by now you might have guessed that our luggage was not on that flight. Checking back in at the Southwest baggage office, we were told that the luggage had been located...in Tampa of course! It is supposed to arrive at the airport on a 12:50 p.m. flight on Saturday a.m. So, we decided that we would go to the hotel, and come back at 12:50 p.m. to pick up our luggage which we are hoping and praying will arrive from Tampa. Chuck called to ask about the shuttle from the airport, but they did not pick up the phone. After a few attempts, Chuck finally called a 1 - 800 number and was told to dial zero when attempting to reach hotel staff that late at night. He did do that and the staff there told him that the shuttle service stops at 10:30 p.m. and that the registration desk is closed so to go inside the front door and use the phone there when we get in to call a staff person. Ugh...more bad news. After standing in line for 20 minutes with about 100 other people to get a taxi, we finally arrived at the hotel, used the phone and were let into the hotel lobby. We reached our hotel room at 1:00 a.m and were finally in bed by 1:15 a.m., tired, but hopeful that things will be better when we woke up. So far, that's not going so well either! Today we woke up and went down to our "free breakfast" which consisted of regular coffee ( no decaf for Chuck) packets of instant oatmeal, oatmeal bars,1 pre-packaged muffin as the rest were still frozen according to the breakfast hostess, and not so fresh looking oranges and apples. We are fortunate that the airline gave us those overnight bags too because although there was soap at the hotel, there was no shampoo. We are staying at an Extended Stay hotel that is rather old, and is actually set up for people who travel for work and bring most of their items with them. We do have a full kitchen which is nice, but it does not make up for a terrible breakfast and blankets with holes in them!!! We won't be staying in an Extended Stay hotel again!!! At this point, Chuck is quite beside himself, and threatening to not go on the cruise if we can't get our luggage. He checked with the airlines just now, and the flight from Tampa which is due to arrive at 12:50 p.m. has now been delayed till 1:40, which means of course it will take a bit of time to unload and we can't get our luggage, which will hopefully be on the flight, till 2 or 2:15 p.m. I still want to go on the cruise, no matter what and am sure we can pick up some extra clothes. I think a bad day of travel is still better than a good day in Connecticut!!! Will the luggage be on the flight from Tampa? Will the flight make it on time, or be further delayed? Will Chuck take the next flight back to Connecticut? Will I be going on this Panama Canal cruise all by myself??? Stay tuned, as these are "The Days of Our Lives..."