Our Trip To Panama

The Trip

Days 1 and 2

Friend took us to the airport for our 10pm flight. We had TSA Select check-in, which as far as I can tell simply means you don’t have to take your shoes off and go through the big scanner. Belt and cell phone still have to come off, and you go through the small metal detector.

Got into Chicago before most off the shops were open. Thence to Ft Lauderdale. Dinner at a nice seafood restaurant next the hotel. Beer was OK, shrimp cocktail had solid, yellowish shrimp. Outside it was warm and breezy- too warm to go walking, so we went to bed early and got up late.



Comfort Inn

Movement to the ship was a bit of a zoo, but a well organized zoo. There were three ships loading that Sunday, about 6000 people. We had bought the upgraded package, so we got preferential treatment, and everything went smooth and fast. We departed at sunset, with our own escort.


Departure, with a Princess Lines cruise behind us

Escort to the outer buoy

Room was spacious, with a nice veranda, two stateroom attendants, and the Neptune club across the hall for those with the upgrade package. Neptune club had snacks and drinks and a concierge to help with getting stuff done.

Days 3 and 4

Our first stop was half moon cay, an island that Holland America owns. All it is is a beach with powdery white sand and a few crafts shops. We walked around for a bit before the heat got to me, and we took a lighter back early. That meant we missed the BBQ, but it also meant that dinner was a lot less crowded.

On the way south we passed a lot of small islands in the Bahamas chain. What made it interesting was that these were the same islands Columbus sailed by, and the observation deck was about the height of the masthead on his ships, so we were getting the same view he did. Of course I didn’t get any photos.

Half Moon Cay

Two -dam ships at the Cay

Days three and four were ‘at sea’, on the way across the Caribbean to Aruba. Passed through the Windward Passage, with Cuba on one side and Haiti on the other. The Haiti coast looked just like the drawings in the old Hydrographic Office Sailing Directions.

That night was a ‘gala night’, which (unlike in Australia) meant semi-formal/suits and ties. Of course, that was the night a power supply went out in the fire fighting system, causing all the fire doors to close and the air conditioning to go off. Our desserts were melting almost as fast as the sweltering wait staff could bring them out. Fortunately things were all fine by bedtime.

Days 5 and 6

Long run to the south and we arrived at Aruba in the afternoon. Temps were in the 80’s, so it was a good idea that I didn’t schedule any tours. MJ went off with some bell friends and had a lot of fun.

One of the things she wanted me to do was get a pedicure. Between the dry skin and velociraptor nails, my feet really needed it. The nice lady kept herself busy with soaks and/oils and creams and industrial strength electrical wire cutters and magic organic stones. The result was quite impressive.



Being this far south, it was my only chance, probably forever, to do some southern sky astronomy. Didn’t work out too well. Cruise ships at night are lit up like a — well — cruise ships. The best dark sky view turned out to be from our cabin verandah. The overhang blocked off the ship’s lights, and 80% of the sky. In addition, my astronomy app goes mad in the presence of magnetic fields and metal. We were on the port side, so on the run from Aruba to Curacao we were facing north. The Dipper hung low in the sky, and Polaris was almost invisible on the horizon. Meanwhile, my app was showing me a picture of Cassiopeia. Tomorrow night we head to Panama and I’ll get a look at the southern sky.

Days 7 and 8

Got up early to see southern cross. Also, ship entered the canal at 5am. Both were very impressive. In preparation we watched four movies on the canal so far, only two of which show up in IMDB. MJ took a tour. I stayed on board. The ship anchored for 3 or 4 hours, then went back out (cheaper that way). It was just as impressive going in as coming out. Saw the entrance to the start of the French sea-level canal. Called my brother from there, because how often do you get a call from the middle of the Panama Canal.

Canal, going in

Canal, going out

Gatun dam

French canal

Ship was due to depart between 7:30 and 8:00, but at 7:30 a bunch of buses drew up and a hundred people got off. Turns out they’d been delayed. Then a passenger had a medical emergency, bad enough to need an ambulance. So we were delayed some more, hopefully waiting for them to get back from the hospital. Finally pulled out sometime after 9pm.

Next day we made Port Limon. Enroute, the ships clocks were set back because we were changing time zones, again. Made the mistake of putting my phone on auto time set. Evidently it couldn’t figure out where we were, so it defaulted to UTC, and our alarm got us up at midnight.

Once again, MJ went on an excursion with some friends while I stayed home. Temps and humidity continued too high for me. Turned out to be too high even to sit on the verandah and sip drinks with little umbrellas in them.

On the way out we passed Uvita island, where Christopher Columbus anchored his ships for repairs during his final voyage to America in 1502. Good example of a mast-head view.


MJ, et al., going ashore

Uvita Island


Days 9 and 10

And so we headed home. A long, two-day run past the west side of Cuba and through the Yucatan Channel and the Straits of Florida. On the way, we had concerts by the Bells of the Cascades and by the other ringers attending the workshops. MJ had more fun this trip, because the last bell cruise we were on (to Alaska) she’d just had her shoulder replaced.

BOC concert

Much better with two hands

It was 80F when we left Port Limon, 58F when we arrived at Fort Lauderdale, and 37F when we arrived in Spokane — at midnight, to be picked up by the same dear friend.

Overall, it was a fun trip, but I learned that I am no longer functional above about 76F and 90% humidity. I didn’t mind staying on board, eating ice cream and studying Japanese, but it did make the cruise less exciting. Next bell cruise will be to Mexico, and I’m thinking the lower humidity will improve things.

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