Archive for November 2011

Panama Canal   Leave a comment

Ah, it was the moment that we’d been waiting for.  The only reason we’d booked this cruise.  Making the Panama Canal transit.  It was around six in the morning that we sailed under the Bridge of the Americas, marking our entrance to the canal.  I slept through this, LOL.  Six is a bit early in my mind for vacation, and we’ve sailed under a number of bridges…you’ve seen one bridge you’ve seen them all, right?  Besides, I knew DH was up taking pictures galore.  🙂  I was up by seven however, drinking the in the spectacular view from our balcony.

We’d ordered breakfast in this morning, knowing full well that we wouldn’t want to miss a moment of our transit.  Lucky, our butler, delivered it a little after 8:00.  I always feel strange ordering breakfast in a suite as the butler always sets the table.  By this I mean white linen table cloth, salt and pepper shakers whisked from hiding and the napkins and plates arranged just so.  It’s a bit formal for breakfast in my mind.  If they’d just dump the stuff on the table, I’d be perfectly happy.

So we brought breakfast onto the balcony and divided out time between watching the trains get tethered to the ship and the television in our room which gave us the forward view.  A guide had boarded the ship and his commentary could also be heard over the television.  An added bonus.

Watching the enormous doors glide shut behind us once we were in position was mesmerizing.  I stared as the gap between the doors narrowed and finally vanished.  It was time to flood the first lock.  It was surreal watching the water rush in and realizing, once you looked up, that the ship was now higher.  It was about ten minutes until we’d reached equilibrium with the next chamber and we saw, on the monitor, the doors at the front of the ship swing open.

At the most forward part of all of the cruise ships we’ve been on, there’s a crew area with a crew swimming pool or hot tub(s).  For this day only, the Captain of the Star opened this forward area to the passengers so that we could experience that spectacular view.  Once we’d cleared the first two sets of locks, we dashed to this forward area to watch our entrance into the next lock.  It was unbelievably hot in this unshaded section of the ship.  They did have a bar set up selling a variety of drinks, plus a station with free coffee and pastries.  Although with the temperature approaching a billion degrees, the last thing I wanted was coffee!  We marked our transit of this last lock and gratefully made our way back to our aft (translated “shaded”) balcony.

I thought that the four hours or so that we were to sail Gatun Lake would be boring.  Not!  Although at first glance we saw a very large, very calm lake, what you don’t realize is that the channel the ships need to sail through is very narrow with a lot of turns.  The Panama Canal Pilot was busy maneuvering our ship through this twisty channel, not to mention avoiding the other ships that sailed our way.

The scenery was also spectacular as we sailed through what can only be described as jungle.  In the hours that we sailed the lake, the only structure we saw was a penitentiary.  Otherwise we were surrounded by lush trees and birds.

Finally, we arrived at the Gatun Locks.  Here the three locks were all in a row, so we’d drop a total of 84 feet by the time we sailed away.  The catwalk of the building servicing this area had been eye level with us when we arrived (we were on deck 9!)  By the time we left, that building was far behind us and I had to crane my neck to look up at the catwalk.  The wind had whipped up and the Star couldn’t get into position at the first lock on her own.  As the Panama Canal guide stated, our tall ship was reacting to the wind gusts like a big sail.  The tugs that had been keeping time with us all day, sprang into action and pushed us to the first lock so the trains could hook up to us.

Our cabin on the back of the ship had a balcony that wrapped around to the side (I’d booked this cabin for this very reason).  There had been a window-washing unit at the very end of our balcony, and as we arrived at the Gatun Locks, the cleaning unit was moved to the front of the ship.  We were just happy that for once, we had an unobstructed view down the side of the ship.  However as the water was released from the first lock and we “sank” we quickly saw why they had moved the unit.  Being at the back of the ship, we could reach out and touch the sides of the Canal (how cool was that??).  The window-washing unit would almost certainly have been damaged as it bounced off the sides of the Canal.

Maybe thirty minutes after we’d entered the first set of locks, we left the Gatun Locks and made our way to the Atlantic Ocean.  Along the way we passed the tiny channel that was the “French Canal”.  I was surprised at how little they accomplished in their ten years of digging.  We paused to drop off our Canal Guide and pick up the photography staff that had been filming our progress from the land.  Leaving the Panama Canal I was amazed at the vast number of ships and boats stacked up, waiting to make the transit.  I understand now what they mean by the thousands of ships that use the canal annually.

In the end, it was probably the best ten hours we’ve spent on a ship.  Sailing the Canal was stunning and a true testament to the ingenuity of mankind.

Posted November 25, 2011 by cubechick in Panama Canal Cruise

Capuchin Monkeys   Leave a comment

DSC00903 by cubechick
DSC00903, a photo by cubechick on Flickr.

Posted November 22, 2011 by cubechick in Panama Canal Cruise

Crocodile Man Tour   Leave a comment

DSC03741 by cubechick
DSC03741, a photo by cubechick on Flickr.

Posted November 22, 2011 by cubechick in Panama Canal Cruise

So…Costa Rica…   Leave a comment

Rather than book a tour through the ship, we opted for a private tour arranged by one of our rollcall members on Cruise Critic.  The tour (Okey-Dokey Tours) was very good excepting a couple of things.  First was that there wasn’t a person waiting at the pier with a sign as promised.  It would turn out that they did have a sign with a name on it…but they left it in the van for reasons that were not clear. The confusion at the pier meant a late start on the tour.  Also, at least one stop was skipped.  The tour mentioned a mango plantation (we drove by one) and the tour guide mentioned something about stopping for sugar cane (same stop as the plantation perhaps?) but that didn’t happen…

Otherwise the tour was as promised.  Pricey for the area ($79 pp w/ no price reduction for the number of passengers) but pretty good.  The first stop was to feed Capuchin monkeys…I was apprehensive about this, and stepped back to see how it went for other folks.  All appeared to go well, so I nutted up and took a piece of banana over to a likely candidate.  I did as instructed; held the banana in my fist, extended my arm in the direction of the monkey and let it come to me and do the work of opening my hand.  It was mere seconds that I felt those little fingers under mine, prying my fingers open.  He snatched his banana chunk and scrambled off to eat.  Pretty cool.  Two points of warning were, first, don’t stand under the monkeys.  They poop almost constantly (fruit diet…makes sense).  Also, don’t clench your fist too hard.  If the monkey starts to bare its teeth, let go!!!

From there we went to a fruit stand where Charlie (the owner of Okey-Dokey) dashed out of the van to get us fresh fruit.  He returned with enormous slabs of watermelon and pineapple and a few sleeves of cashews (not roasted but yummy).

The next stop was where the group divided.  Half of us opted for the Crocodile Man river tour, the other half zip-lining (there was a third option for a rope-bridge walk, but no one was interested in that).  The river tour started off…well interestingly.  This would never have happened in the USA.  They muscled a large, wheelchair bound woman down a rickety ramp onto the boat.  How they didn’t manage to drop her is beyond me.  We’re far too liability conscious in the States to go for that.  Either there would have been proper wheelchair access or she wouldn’t have gone.

At any rate, the river tour was cool.  Numerous birds were pointed out to us and we’d spend a tranquil few moments among the mangroves.  Naturally the highlight were the crocs.  Moments after we boarded the boat, we were brought to a sandbar teaming with vultures and crocodiles.  The pilot of the boat leaped onto the sand bar and fed hunks of fish to the lunging crocs.  This all took place about five feet from us!  This is one tour where you listen when they tell you to keep your hands in the boat!

Back at the pier we watched with apprehension, while five guys muscled the wheelchair bound woman up a rickety flight of stairs.  I think I held my breath until she was safely on land.

From here we drove maybe ten minutes to pick up the zip-liners from the tour, then it was all off to lunch.  Boy was this an authentic lunch.  It was a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where they served you from pans of food.  As was typical this trip, the staple food items were chicken, beans and rice.  The Costa Ricans add a garden salad to this.  DH and I limited the amount of salad we ate…who knows what germs may have lurked in the water they used to rinse the greens?  In retrospect, this was a wise move.  We’d hear a few days later, that the Norovirus came aboard the Star in Costa Rica.  I can’t help but think of all of those meals being served with salad…

A stop at Maxxi Bodega (owned by Wal-Mart) so people could stock up on coffee and rum, then it was back to the ship.

A long, but entertaining day in Costa Rica!

Posted November 22, 2011 by cubechick in Panama Canal Cruise

How to deal with PCD?   Leave a comment

Post Cruise Depression that is!! Plan your next cruise!  In all fairness, I’ve had multiple cruises booked for a few years now.  I’m not happy if I don’t have three or four cruises in the pipeline.  So, I stepped off the Star in October with less than four months to go until we hop on the NCL Spirit in New Orleans.  But I’ve planned most of what we want to do on the Spirit cruise.  We’ve booked all of our excursions save one…and that’s only a matter of choosing between two options.  I do need to research more about our post-cruise activities…which will be Mardi Gras in NOLA.  But really, minimal planning is needed.

So we needed to think about the trip(s) after.  We had booked a cruise to Bermuda in June, but that was mostly because I caught a good sale.  I always had it in the back of my mind that we could very well cancel that.  Also, I began campaigning to DH to return to Hawaii in 2013.  We’d been saving that Spring to sail on NCL’s newest ship, the Breakaway.  However when her transatlantic cruise was announced…the timing wasn’t the best and the prices for suites INSANE ($9000 per couple!).  So how better to console ourselves with missing out on the Breakaway TA with a return to Hawaii?

Sunday I really needed to do some homework (working on a certificate in Project Management) so naturally I researched vacations instead. 🙂  So much for my project management skills!  Before we’d even arrived for our few hours in Key West last month, we’d toyed with the idea of going there for a couple of days in May.  We just knew we weren’t going to be satisfied with our chintzy stay.  So that plan was swirling around my head when DH came up with the brilliant idea to follow up Key West with a 3-day Bahamas cruise aboard the NCL Sky.  I would have never considered traveling all the way to Miami just for a three-day cruise, but when it’s an add-on to a Key West vacation, it was suddenly very appealing!  After all, we’re going to be in Miami anyway!

So I spent Sunday morning booking the hotel in Key West just in case (I’d researched this a couple of months ago and knew exactly where we wanted to stay), looked at airfare…worked out the best/cheapest way to travel between Miami and Key West (we’re going to rent a car and drive down, then take a shuttle back to Miami).  Booked a hotel for one night in Miami (then moved that booking today when DH expressed interest in South Beach) and searched for the room we’d want on the Sky.

I’d already scoped out the date we want on the Pride of America for Hawaii…oh and I’d already booked our hotel there (I was shocked that the Outrigger Waikiki let me book this far out).  DH shook his head at my booking our hotel, but like I told him, it cost us nothing and made me happy.

Sunday night, DH agreed to both Key West/Bahamas and Hawaii, so I shot an email to our Personal Cruise Consultant at Norwegian.  By noon on Monday, our cabins were booked, the June cruise cancelled…and I’d reserved our convertible for the drive from Miami to Key West (only $20 more than renting a mid-size car…so how could I resist?)

Planning vacations is almost as awesome as going on them! 🙂

Posted November 8, 2011 by cubechick in Cruise Planning...it never stops!

Guatemala   Leave a comment

DSC03711 by cubechick
DSC03711, a photo by cubechick on Flickr.

Posted November 8, 2011 by cubechick in Panama Canal Cruise

Guatemala   Leave a comment

DSC00664 by cubechick
DSC00664, a photo by cubechick on Flickr.

Posted November 8, 2011 by cubechick in Panama Canal Cruise

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