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2001-11 Panama Canal -Cruise Summary

 Panama Canal:

 Cruise Summary   Cabo   Acapulco   Costa Rico   Canal Transit   Columbia   On Board   Galveston

Panama Canal Cruise

Aka: Locks of Fun!

The week before we sailed, our travel agent at CruiseOne told us that the check in process was transferred to the Wyndham hotel in San Diego.  Since we were planning on arriving the Galveston 8.jpg (19129 bytes) day before, we made hotel reservations for the Wyndham.  This gave us a day to explore the Gas Lamp district of San Diego. Within walking distance of the hotel, were plenty of specialty restaurants, shops, and activities.  At the hotel the cruise check in process was timely, however, at the pier there was a lengthy line in front of the x-ray machine. Although it took 30 minutes to wind through the line, there were no complaints from anyone.  For the rest of the cruise every time we boarded the ship everything was x-rayed and we were required to show the cruise card and a government issued picture ID.  Also noticeably present was a armed Coast Guard ship. 

The Rhapsody of the Seas Ship

The Rhapsody of the Seas is a smooth ship.  There was no noticeable rocking right to left, and a slight rocking forward to back for most of the cruise with seas to 8 feet. The last sea day was a different story, we had wind gusts to 50 mph, which caused quite a bit of rocking, especially on the upper decks. During this time, all the outside decks were closed off and all the pool loungers were tied down. 

On Board 64.jpg (21082 bytes)The pool areas are separated into the main pool and the Solarium pool area.  The solarium had an Egyptian theme with the artwork and sculptures. Two marble sphinxes marked the entrance to the solarium pool, while the crystal canopy was help up by line of mummy statues.

 

On Board 46.jpg (29585 bytes)The main ship atrium is glassed on both sides of the ship for tremendous views from each of the five decks that open to the atrium.  The bottom level included a flowing waterfall that creates the relaxing sound of babbling brooks water.  Periodically there were musical trios playing, such that the sounds of their music rose through out the atrium. The Champaign bar area at the bottom made for a nice stop on the way to  or from dinner.  The bar tender kept a stock of  chocolate covered strawberries from about 8:30pm till they’re gone.  

On Board 43.jpg (15643 bytes)The onboard art collection includes a variety of sculptures, tapestries, paintings, and ceramic mosaics.  Of particular interest were two face sculptures that we frequently passed by between the 6th and 7th floor aft stair well. One face was an evil blue with sinister eyes, while the other was a pure clear color.  

On Board 18.jpg (13608 bytes)The onboard Internet center was just done the hall from our cabin, which made logging on very convenient.  The Internet fee was a flat rate of $0.50/minute.  Staying in touch with people at home was quite easy.  

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Our Cabin – 8046

On Board 27.jpg (13453 bytes)We were very pleased with our room.  Our room steward, Mack, kept the room impeccable, and we rarely saw him throughout the cruise.  It was amazing how us entertained with a variety of “Towel Animals” that appeared each time he cleaned the room. Overall the room was larger than what we were expecting, the balcony had a lounger, two chairs and a small table, all of which were frequently used.  During the afternoon of the Panama Canal crossing we enjoyed a 4-Course-Lunch on the balcony.  

The Food

On Board 50.jpg (23643 bytes) Immediately after boarding we visited the Maitre’D who was able to reseat us to a table for two.  The tone of the meals was set on the first night when the menu displayed my favorite dessert, key lime pie.  Food and service were excellent, each night.  With the two-story Edelweiss dining room split into nine sections, we saw our headwaiter nightly. Our headwaiter, Silvio, stopped by nightly to assure everything was excellent.  

Ports – Cabo San Lucas

Cabo 2.jpg (17439 bytes) We were the third ship to arrive at Cabo, so our tender time was a little longer (8 minutes total).   Having traveled to Cabo before, we opted not to take any shore excursions this time.  We walked into town and explored the shops, and then returned to the ship. 

 

Cabo 5.jpg (27697 bytes)While walking into town, we once again saw the old Mercury station wagon (similar in design to Mr J.'s)   

 

Cabo 3.jpg (19072 bytes)We had a good view of the rock arch at the southernmost point of the Baha. From our balcony we watched large marlins hop out of the water and dive back in with a resounding clap on the water surface.   Also we had the opportunity to see the Carnival Elation ship stop by and make a quick (unscheduled) stop. This was the same cruise that we were on two years earlier.  

See more pictures from Cabo San Lucas   

Ports – Acapulco

Acopulco 3.jpg (24460 bytes)  Again we opted to explore on our own.  We took a taxi to the cliff divers ($16 round trip versus $74 for the RCL shore excursion).  The cliff diving show lasts about 20 minutes and was awesome. The divers start out by climbing up the cliff. This by itself is quite a challenge, since there are no stairs, steps, or safety lines.  The lesser-experienced divers stop partially up the cliff, and from these sports they sometimes dive together. The final cliff diver left from the highest point and did a forward flip, which was very impressive.  After the cliff diving for another $22 our taxi driver gave us a scenic coastal tour of all the beaches, hotels, and neighborhoods.  Since Acapulco was very hot and humid, this air-conditioned tour was quite appealing.  We made frequent photo stops and climbed up the mountain for a view back on the coastline.      

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Ports - Costa Rico

Costa Rica 15.jpg (36131 bytes)We signed up for the Skywalk tour. This was advertised (frequently) onboard as a tour above the treetops that required the use of a harness and lines that went from platform to platform.  When we decided to take this tour, it was already sold out, but we were put on a wait list.  Because of the popularity (another 30+ people) they were able to arrange for another tour van, and we got our tickets.  Unfortunately the tour we received was a nature walk down the mountain (I got some pictures of leaf cutting ants) and across five metal suspension bridges.  Needless to say everyone was very upset with the misrepresentation.  Onboard (after submitting a complaint) they apologized and worked out a 50% refund, but directed us to the Miami office to pursue a complete refund.   See more pictures from Costa Rico  

Panama Canal

PC -1 Pacific 6.jpg (15720 bytes)We woke up early in the morning to find ourselves in the middle of a parking lot for ships.  However, very quickly we had an onboard pilot for the Panama Canal  crossing and a narrator to explain the history and the mechanics of the locks.  As we approach Panama, we passed under the Bridge of the Americas, which is the only bridge to pass over the canal. As you can imagine it is pretty high and connects the North and South sides of Panama. 

Prior to crossing the onboard television was playing a Nova special on the making of the Panama Canal. We also had an onboard informational lecture in the theater.  I had no idea that France originally began the project in 1880.  They abandoned the project in 1889 after $250 million and 20,000 fatalities. The Americans moved in 1903 completing the project in 1914.  The Americans spent $350 million and lost 4,800 people.  To understand the magnitude of the project financing, the French after the failure to complete the canal referred to “Panama” any time that a swindle was suspected in the finance world.

PC 3-Balcony View 15.jpg (17800 bytes)The narrowest part of the canal, Culebra Cut, was widened to allow two-way traffic between the locks between 1954 and 1970.  Today ships, like the Rhapsody of the Seas, are built around the size limitation of the canal locks and are called Panamax because of their maximum Panama Canal design specifications.  Our ship had as little as 6 inches of clearance when actually in the locks.  Interestingly when we got off the ship at the next port, there were visible marks where the ship had rubbed against the rubber bumpers. These marks were all painted over by the end of the day, which involved a small motorboat to paint the opposite side of the ship from the pier. 

PC 2-Mira Flores Locks 4.jpg (17710 bytes)Overall we were raised 85 feet through three locks.  We then snaked through Culebra Cut to Gatun Lake where we dropped anchor until we were cleared to pass through the Gatun locks to the Gulf of Mexico.  Gatun Lake is a fresh water lake. Panama receives 9 feet of rain each year. When building the canal, an 85-foot high dam on the Atlantic side called Gatun Dam created Gatun Lake.  While waiting we enjoyed room service on our balcony.  Talk about a relaxing day!  We were able to watch the other ships waiting with us, observe the jungle vegetation, and have some great food.

PC 4-Gatun Locks 10.jpg (23251 bytes)As we began to enter the Gatun Locks, we again scored with having our cabin on the good side.  The left lock was shut down for planned maintenance, so we again had a view of the locomotives, and control towers.  I was able to take some pictures of the control tower as our ship was lowered down.  Finally as we left the last lock, nighttime had set in. 

 

The fee for our ship to pass through was $165,000, which when the ship was new was the largest toll ever collected. However, it has since been eclipsed by the new Radiance of the Sea built launched April, 2001 with a $201,000 crossing toll. It takes about 45 minutes to pass through each lock and it took us about ten hours to travel the entire 52 miles.  Overall this leg of the journey was definitely “locks of fun”.  See more pictures from Canal Transit  

Ports – Cartagena, Columbia

This was a surprising port.  After our shore excursion experience in Costa Rico, we decided to explore on our own in Cartagena.  From the ship provided maps we decided to scout out the old monastery and the old city.  As we walked off the ship we were impressed with the landscaping that was done around the port. Considering that it is primarily an industrial port, the landscaping was a nice touch.

Once clear of the customs gates, there was chaos, we ere simultaneously bombarded by street vendors, panhandlers, and taxi cab drivers.  One of the taxicab people spoke fairly good English and guaranteed us a tour of the monastery, old city, and shopping areas for $20.  After a little hesitation we took him up on the offer, with our fingers crossed that he was genuine.  As we buzzed back and forth through the streets our minds were set at ease when we started to see the crosses along the road that marked the way to the monastery.

Columbia 1.jpg (14803 bytes)Once inside the 22-carat gold altar that was at least 2 stories tall impressed us.  The monastery was founded in 1610 at the top of the hill overlooking the waterfront. Our taxi cab driver filled us in on all the details of the city.  Including the old fort, the wall around the old city, and the demise of the original monk, who was killed by the Indians in 1633.  From the monastery, we stopped by the old fort for a picture. A statue on the corner remembers the old fort commander. He was a hard fighter in that he had one arm, one eye, and one leg.  The beauty of the “taxi tour” is you can set the pace. Since we just wanted to see the fort up close, we did and then moved on to the old city.

Once you pass through the wall into the old city, everything was very crowded.  Many of the roads were narrowly wide enough for a car, included street venders, who would stick their arms into the cab windows with their wares. They noticed that I had Serengeti sunglasses on and were insistent on showing me their “Italian” sunglasses as we inched along.  In the center of the old city, we stopped by the oldest church in Cartagena, which was founded in 1525.  At this time we had enough and decided to head back to the ship. 

All in all we feel that this was a better tour than we had in Acapulco, and that both were better deals than the planned shore excursions.  See more pictures from Columbia  

Ports - Galveston

Galveston 9.jpg (15607 bytes)We arrived in Galveston at 5:00am. The three days at sea from Columbia passed by incredibly quickly, and it was somewhat sad to know that vacation was about to end.  Nonetheless, being familiar with Galveston, it was interesting to see the ferry, the piers, and the Strand from the water instead of from land. Unfortunately because of the early morning hour, everything was quite dark. 

See more pictures from Galveston

 

 Panama Canal:

 Cruise Summary   Cabo   Acapulco   Costa Rico   Canal Transit   Columbia   On Board   Galveston


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