Monday, November 3, 2008

Panama Canal Cruise

We're back!  I kept a journal while we were gone so I am just going to copy the entire thing into one post instead of doing individual posts.  All the pictures are now in the gallery with descriptions.

Dianna is fine, but she gave me a scare on Day 8 as you will read below.


10/17/08          Panama Canal Cruise Day 1

We awoke early since we were excited and ready to get going.  Dianna packed while I did some last minute prep outside and also made a trip to Wal-Mart to get some nail hardener Dianna decided she had to have.  I found some Rollo’s I needed while I was there.

We borrowed our replacement camp hosts car for a quick ride to District office on del Presidente in San Clemente.  Super Shuttle would not come to the park to pick us up because we do not have an address.   We got there just about noon which was the scheduled pick up time, and they arrived about 17 after.  We were the only passengers until we got off at Seventh Street in Long Beach where another passenger was picked up.  We took city streets through Long Beach, across the harbor and the Vincent Thomas Bridge (which is no longer a toll) and to the cruise terminal in San Pedro at about 2 PM.  It was fun driving through our old haunts in Long Beach.

Check in was quick and painless, except for having to go through the metal detectors line just like at the airport.  I hate those things.  We bypassed the boarding photo and quickly found our room on deck 8 at the forward port side of the ship.  The cabin was much smaller than our bedroom and bathroom in our trailer, so getting back to the trailer will seem like a huge expansion in space.  Sounds funny to say that, but this ship is almost 17 years old and the rooms are now considered very small.  The view out our window is into the side of a lifeboat, but we can see down to the water, just not the horizon unless we look toward the rear between two lifeboats.

We explored the ship a little and found we were located in a pretty good spot.  It is three decks up to 11 where the pool and café are located.  Three decks down is the main deck, and our dining room is on four.  Deck 7, just one deck down, is the promenade deck where everyone who wants to walks laps.  The ship is not terribly large so getting around is not difficult.  At four PM we participated in the required lifeboat drill, and then had a couple hours before dinner.  We went to deck 12 to watch the ship pull out of the dock and down the channel, through the breakwater and into the ocean.  This was the last time the Monarch of the Seas was leaving Los Angeles after being here for the past five years on the 3 and 4 day Ensenada, San Diego, Catalina fun ship runs.  We had a fireboat escort and they played some good-by music since it was somewhat of an event.

The sun set, it got cool outside, and we went in to watch a short show where the cruise director introduced some of the acts we will see on the cruise, then we went to dinner at the dining room.  Our table was set for 12, but only 3 couples showed up.  We are seated at a table next to the captains table.  Dinner was OK.  The food was not great, but it was good.  The waiter and assistant waiter were good as usual.

Since our dinner seating is at 8 PM, we didn’t have a lot of time to kill after dinner before bed.  We just wandered around a little and visited the shops on deck 5 before turning in.

 10/18/08         Panama Canal Cruise Day 2 -- At Sea

We were at sea all day today.  We woke about 7:30 and went upstairs for breakfast.  There were lots of choices and it was the usual buffet style food.  Good but not great.

After breakfast Dianna did some sunbathing and I hid in the shade.  Dianna then went to the exercise room while I took a nap.  Lunch time was again in the café on deck 11, followed by a one mile walk around the promenade deck.

We hung around during the afternoon and did more nothing.  There is plenty of time for that on a ship when at sea.  I did start reading Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, and that filled some time.

We dressed for our first formal night dinner.  Dianna looked very nice in her blue and silver sequined dress.  She discovered that she had forgotten to hem her new black formal dress, so needs to find a needle and thread somewhere. 

Tonight there were five couples at our table for dinner.  One couple is from Ireland, one from Wales, there was another American couple and the last are two ladies who sat at the opposite end of the table from us and were too far away for us to talk to.  They are both from near Vancouver, BC.  One is from there originally and the other is originally from England.  Dinner was again good but not great.

After dinner we went to a 10:30 show.  It was the ships song and dance group.  They were quite good and did a medley of songs from the 60’s and 70’s.  Afterward we went up to the hot tub and stayed there until it closed at midnight.

10/19/08          Panama Canal Cruise Day 3 -- At Sea

We woke about 7:30 and had breakfast in the café again.  Afterwards Dianna went sun bathing again, and I found shade in which to read and catch the journal up to date.

A little after noon the Captain came on the loudspeaker to announce that we had experienced some kind of engine problem overnight and would not make it into Puerto Vallarta on time.  She said we would be about three hours late.

We had a late lunch, followed by another mile walk around the ship on the promenade deck.  Afterwards we sat in some lounges on the same deck and dozed off.

We got ready for the evening and went up to the circular bar for a cocktail.  I had a beer and Dianna had the foo foo drink of the day which came with the glass of the day.  Afterwards we went to the 7 PM show in the theater.  Tonight was a comedian who also did impressions.  He was pretty good.

Dinner was at 8 and another disappointment.  The crowded table had 11 of us which made it unpleasant.  We were joined by a single man who had been sitting by himself.  He is from Tulsa, OK.  The main course was surf and turf which was lobster and steak.  It would have been good if the lobster had not been the smallest I have ever seen.  It was about 3 bites.  Several people at the table ordered some Indian dish and all of them sent it back.

After dinner we took a stroll on deck 12 and 13.  It was very pleasant and still quite warm.

10/20/08          Day 4 Panama Canal Cruise -- Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

There was a time change overnight so we did not wake until 9 AM ships time.  We had breakfast in the Windjammer as usual and then went for our morning mile walk.  It was quite warm and humid, but we were finally in sight of land.  Afterwards we went up to the pool deck to watch us pull into port.  Dianna was overcome with the heat and finally retreated to our room to lie down.  I had to bring lunch down to her but she did not feel like going ashore at all.

I decided to at least check things out ashore, although I figured it would not be anything new.  I was right.  There were the same cheap shops selling the usual Mexican tourist junk.  I took a pretty good walk around town but found nothing of interest.  It is just a dirty town, interspersed with some nice resort hotels and condos.

I did find an internet café where I could check our email.  It was only $1 for one hour and fairly quick response time.  We had no mail of any importance.

I made my way back to the ship and re-boarded.  Dianna had taken a nap so I joined her. When we woke up about 4 she was feeling better but still not right.

We had an uneventful evening in the dining room.  The show for the evening was a violinist who was pretty good.  Of course, none of the entertainers are as good as they think they are, and as they tell you they are, but not bad.

10/21/08          Panama Canal Cruise Day 5 -- At Sea

This was a very uneventful day at sea.  We did the usual things but certainly nothing exciting.  The evening entertainer was a singer of the Tony Bennett/Frank Sinatra style.  He again was good, but not original.

10/22/08          Panama Canal Cruise Day 6 -- Acapulco, Mexico

We docked in Acapulco at about 8 AM.  We had breakfast as we enjoyed the view of Acapulco Harbor which is beautiful.  It is a large bay with a fairly small opening, similar to San Francisco, but ringed with beautiful beaches almost all the way around.  Of course, there are hotels and condos on every inch of beach.

We took a taxi to the cliff divers location and paid to watch the show.  Our tickets came with a couple drinks each and we each had a margarita.  For the second drink I had a beer and Dianna had another margarita.  We also ordered chips and salsa.  The show was very good.  They dive from incredible heights.

After the show we walked back to the ship.  It was quite warm and humid but did not feel all that bad at first.  The walk was about half a mile and mostly down hill, but near the end Dianna was again overcome by the heat.  She barely made it back to the ship, but felt better after a cold shower and a rest.

We watched the early show before dinner.  The entertainer was supposedly an impressionist, but unless he had told us who he was doing, we could not have guessed.  The show was still entertaining but not because of his impressions.

After dinner we took a short walk before bed.

10/23/08          Panama Canal Cruise Day 7 -- At Sea

Dianna was up during the night with an upset tummy.  She took some Imodium which seemed to help, but did not feel completely well in the morning.  I went to breakfast and brought her some tea and an English muffin but she stayed in bed until noon.  We had eaten the same things in town so have no idea why she was sick.

I spent the morning reading and catching the journal up to date as well as loading all our pictures from the camera onto the computer.

The rest of the day was spent in the usual at sea fashion; naps, reading and a little wandering around as we waited for dinner.  Dianna got to feeling better and was fine by dinner time.  The show for the evening was a pianist.  He was very good.

10/24/08          Panama Canal Cruise Day 8 -- Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

We arrived in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala today.  The port is a couple miles from the nearest town and is primarily a commercial ship loading facility.  The dock is quite small and it took the captain quite a while to get us in and docked.  They don’t get many cruise ships here.  There is a small tourist village at the dock, but not much else.  The ship only offered a few tours from here and people who had been on them before said never again.  Apparently the poverty in Guatemala is overwhelming for most tourists. 

We did spot some beautiful volcanoes in the distance, but clouds kept them hidden most of the time.

After all the tours had left we got off the ship and did some shopping.  The shopping area was nice, but most of the goods were brightly colored stuff that you would never use except to say you got it in Guatemala, but they did have some very nice jade jewelry.  Dianna bought some things for Julie and Diane as well as three Christmas ornaments.

It was very hot and humid but Dianna had a wet shirt and washcloth, and we went into an air conditioned building a couple times to cool off.  When we returned to the ship we had lunch, then Dianna laid out by the pool while I went ashore to use the wireless internet connection at the little bar.  The Corona was $5 but that included unlimited use of the internet so I downloaded all our mail and updated the blog.

When I returned to the ship I took a nap and Dianna went to the spa to work out.  She returned and took a shower, and that’s when the fun began.  She came out of the shower and said she was confused and could not remember anything she had done today.  She could not remember any of the ports we had stopped in, or how we got to the ship from our trailer, or the names of our camp host partners.  Basically, she had lost her short term memory.  I gave her some answers but she could not remember what I had told her five minutes later.  We were both quite concerned so we went down to the ships infirmary. 

The Dr. immediately was concerned as well, thinking as I was that she may be having a TIA, or mini-stroke.  The other possibilities were dehydration, heat stroke or reaction to medication.  None seemed likely but they immediately gave her an injection that would prevent further damage if it was a TIA, and drew blood to do a full workup on her.  The also gave her several other injections and began a saline IV.  Some of the medications made her sleepy and dizzy, but her memory began to improve and she could remember some of the things we had done.  All the blood work came back normal and they could find no real explanation for the problem.  The best guess is dehydration, although the her electrolytes were fine, or just some unexplained reaction to heat and humidity.

We returned to the room, her in a wheelchair, and as soon as she got over the dizziness from the medications she felt much better.  I went to the pizza bar and got us some food, since that was the only thing open by then.  She ate well and was feeling much better as we went to sleep. 

10/25/08          Panama Canal Cruise Day 9 -- At Sea

Dianna slept through the night and was fine by morning.  We had breakfast and then tried to get the IV needle taken out of her arm, but there was a long line in the infirmary so we waited.  We went to the tours desk and cancelled her tour in Costa Rica since all the tours there included being out in the heat for some periods of time.  No sense in taking any more chances.  We also booked a tour in Cartagena that was almost completely on the bus with only short stops.  She should be able to tolerate that OK.

 We took a walk, then a nap, and then we ate lunch.  We did not realize that the infirmary was not open during the afternoon, so when we went down again about 2 they were closed.  We called them on the phone on the wall and they came out to help us anyway.  The nurse took the IV needle out of Dianna’s arm and we asked him to tell the Dr. that she felt time.  No sense in paying for another office visit if we could avoid it.

We then took another walk, this time five laps instead of four.  I am certainly getting stronger and able to walk further.  Five laps was one and a half miles which we did in less than thirty minutes.  We then watched sea birds catching flying fish, as well as watching an oil tanker headed in the opposite direction while we stood at the rail and cooled down.

The rest of the evening was normal for a sea day.  We had dinner and watched the talent show.  Some of the passengers were OK, but they all exhibited a lot of nervousness.

10/26/08          Panama Canal Cruise Day 10 -- Puntarenas, Costa Rica

I awoke at a little after six so I could get breakfast and be ready for the tour departure time of 7:30.  The ship docked about 7:00 and all the tours left on time.  We were loaded on a small bus that held 24 passengers and headed toward Manual Antonio National Park, about 3 hours away.  Most of Costa Rica’s roads are in very good condition, with only construction areas a bit rough.  The countryside was very green and lush, and the people here are obviously the most educated and most wealthy of the Central American countries.  There was almost no trash anywhere, people were clean, well dressed, polite and obviously up scale from those we have seen in the other countries.

We travelled along the beach for much of the trip, but some was inland a short distance.  We passed houses and condos that sold for one million dollars and more.  This is not a poor country.

Along the way we crossed over a river where several crocodiles were sunning themselves.  One was particularly huge.  The crops were mainly rice and African palms which are harvested for oil.

We arrived at the park and walked about ½ mile to a beach area.  Along the way our guide explained the flora and fauna.  We saw monkeys, 2 toed and 3 toed sloths, deer, iguanas, lizards, a raccoon or cotamundi, and many birds.  Most of the tour decided to stay at the beach but a young English gal and I decided to take a hike to the top of the hill where a lookout deck provided a very nice view of the coastline.  It was very hot and humid, and I was tired by the time we finished the 2 kilometer hike, up and down the hill.

After leaving the park via a loop trail and a row boat ride across a river, we stopped for lunch.  I ordered the beef fajitas and they were very good.  It started to rain as we left the restaurant and continued for the rest of the afternoon, heavy at times.  On the return trip we made a stop at a gift shop where we got some free coffee in exchange for a short walk in a tropical downpour.  We arrived back at the ship at 5:30, exactly 10 hours after we had left.  It was a very nice tour and I enjoyed it very much.

While I was gone Dianna stayed on the ship and did her usual routine of workout, nap, read, etc.  We watched a very good comedy show and then had dinner.  Afterwards we only took a one lap walk around the ship and went to bed.  I was exhausted.

10/27/08          Panama Canal Cruise Day 11 -- At Sea

We were at sea all day today.  We could see some islands to the east and have started to see more shipping traffic as we near the canal.  There were also many rain squalls in the area.  It rained very hard for a while, and then cleared off for the evening.

We watched the show which was a female singer.  She was quite good.  She has the room next to us so we heard her practicing during the day.  We then ate dinner, took a short walk and then went to bed.

10/28/08          Panama Canal Cruise Day 12 -- Canal Transit

Today was the actual Panama Canal Day.  We arrived during the night off shore Panama City and dropped anchor to wait for our turn.  At about 7:30 we hoisted the anchor and made our way under the Bridge of the Americas into Balboa Basin and into the Miraflores Locks.  There were two lifts and then we crossed the small Miraflores Lake and entered the Pedro Miguel Lock which had only one lift.  At that point we entered the Culebra Cut and on to Gatun Lake.

It took quite a while to cross the lake which is formed by the dam on the Chagres River at the other end.  It was rather narrow at first, but grew wider as we went.  The trip across the lake is about 30 miles of the entire 50 mile trip.  There were many islands in the lake and it gave an interesting impression to be sailing so close to land.

We reached the Gatun Locks at about four and it took until about 6 to pass through the three chambers.  It is the largest and most impressive of the three locks on the canal.   The sun set while we were in the lock system and the short tropical twilight was very evident.  I took a picture at 6:08 and it was still very light outside.  The next picture was taken at 6:21 and it was completely dark.

We watched the evening show and had dinner, then went ashore at Cristobal Pier, Panama where the ship stopped for a few hours.  It is a shopping area that was fortunately covered and right next to the ship, since it was raining heavily.  We had managed to make the complete canal transit without rain.  We bought some gifts for family and friends since the prices were better than any we had seen on the trip.  The ship pulled out a little after 11, just as we went to bed.

10/29/08          Panama Canal Cruise Day 13 -- At Sea

We awoke to rain, thunder, lightning, the ship’s fog horn and rough seas.  For the first time we ate breakfast in the dining room.  It was very good, but a little too formal for my taste.

The rest of the day was a very quiet and relaxed day at sea.  We read, played cards and napped.  We had dinner in the dining room and went to bed since we had to get up early.

10/30/08          Panama Canal Cruise Day 14 -- Cartagena, Columbia

We woke up at 6 to get ready for our tour of Cartagena, Columbia.  The ship docked at 7 and we got off for our tour about 7:45.  There were 400 on our tour, which required about 20 busses.  We made stops mostly in the old town where we saw forts, walls, cathedrals, museums, cloisters and some shops in what used to be dungeons.  We also saw the slave sale square as well as the mayor and governors buildings.

It was very hot, but we manage to keep Dianna cool enough by wetting her top and finding shade and breeze where possible.  After a drive through some of the residential areas we toured the new part of the city, with a shopping stop, followed by a drive back to the ship.  There were about 1,000 people in line and it took us about 45 minutes of standing in the hot sun to work our way to the front of the line.

We then showered and had lunch, followed by a game of Euchre as we left Columbia and headed for Miami.  We have a tight schedule to arrive on time so the ship quickly accelerated to full speed.  It was windy and rainy and we soon ran into rough seas.  Because we could not be late for airline connections, the captain was not able to slow down and it became a pretty rough ride.  We watched the ships song and dance team put on a show, and then had dinner.  All the while the ship was rocking pretty good.  For some reason I have not been bothered at all with motion sickness on this trip.  That is a first for me.

We went to bed around midnight and the ship was really bouncing.  It kept me awake for much of the night, but the bouncing going in the cabin next door from 2:30 to 4:30 did nothing to put met to sleep.  It sounded like someone had a very good time.

10/31/08          Panama Canal Cruise Day 15 -- At Sea

The seas finally settled down somewhat by morning, although the wind was still blowing quite hard.  We had a late breakfast, followed by a very lazy day.  Dianna worked out, we played Gin Rummy, ate a couple more meals, watched a magician/comedian who was pretty good, and went to bed.

11/1/08            Panama Canal Cruise Day 16 -- At Sea

We woke to rain and overcast skies, ate breakfast and prepared our tags and envelopes for departure.  The end is near which may be good since they seem to be running out of a lot of food items in the dining areas.  Otherwise, it was a lazy morning and afternoon.

The entertainment for the evening was the original Drifters.  It was a very good show which everyone on the ship enjoyed.  After their performance the ship’s dancers and singers did a farewell thing, and then we had more of the same at dinner by the wait staff.  They have to introduce everyone and expect applause.  I finally quit even my unenthusiastic applause because it just got so tiring.  Every entertainer we saw was such an applause junkie.  It does get old after while.

We had to pack everything except for what we planed to wear tomorrow and leave our bags outside our room.  It was still overcast and rainy, but we went to bed hoping for better weather in Miami tomorrow.

11/2/08            Panama Canal Cruise End of Cruise -- Miami, Florida

We awoke as the ship docked in Miami about 7.  It was still raining cats and dogs, which dampened our spirits for the day we had planned.  We were going to rent a car and see some sights since our flight was not scheduled to leave until almost 7 PM.  We decided that would not be any fun in the rain so we just took a cab to the airport and tried to find an earlier flight.  All flights were completely booked so we had no choice but to wait it out.  We paid the $10 for a day of internet connectivity so we could catch up on email.

The flight left on time and Julie picked us up at LAX, then drove us home and spent the night with us.  Everything was just as we left it.  It was a very long day and we were glad to be home.  The only problem is that there is no one picking up towels on the floor, making our bed, washing our dishes and making more food than we can consume any more.  Back to reality.

We will get things packed and ready to go, go see Dianna’s parents one more time, then head east.  Those of you in Arizona had better be on the lookout for us in a few days.  We’ll let you know.


  1. Sounds like a really good time for the most part. I'm glad Dianna's episode seems to have been just heat. That would certainly scare me. Now I'm going to look at your pictures.

  2. Wow, that was quite a trip. Couple of comments:

    I hope the first thing Dianna does is get a thorough checkup by her physician. I don't like the sounds of what happened to her at all. I think she needs a brain MRI to make sure it was nothing serious.

    Secondly, it sounds like a 16 day cruise is almost too long, with lots of wasted (expensive) days at sea with nothing to do.

    I'd be very interested in knowing how much you spent on extras for the whole thing. I know you are very frugal when it comes to souvenirs, but how about the tours, and any extras on the boat?

    Now I'm off to look over the pictures. Welcome back to dry land, and we look forward to seeing you soon.

  3. I am most disappointed that the food wasn't better, since that has always been the one thing most people rave about.

    I don't like Dianna being sick; hopefully it was mostly dehydration. Did they give her an IV? It's hard to think of, but you've been married 40 years, and are going to be more susceptible to the bad stuff. Your mom and I are tired of carrying the whole load of Senior Citizen; you have to start practicing; it's right around the corner for you! I'm sorry; that is not a nice note on which to close. Oh, well, it's the truth, and you may as well get prepared. There are also lots of advantages, but sometimes you have to search to find them.

  4. Wow, sounds like fun except the medical issues. I'd like to go through the Canal sometime.

    On the Yang Zi river cruise we went through a single lock at the old dam, and that was interesting, but no match for the Panama Canal.

    One problem with touring in the tropics: it's always hot and humid.

    Sounds like everything was "good, not great", food and entertainment. I think we had great food on our Princess Scandinavia tour, but the entertainment was also generally "good, not great".

  5. I second your comments about Costa Rica. I've been there on business, but only to the inland mountain city of San Jose. Very middle-class country.

    I understand that it is very popular with retired Americans, who can live there more cheaply than in the US.

  6. Well, you definitely had some experiences! I hope Dianna is better and that there is nothing more involved.

    Hope to see you when you pass through!

  7. OK. Let me see if I can answer some of the questions here and from the gallery.

    Dianna is fine but will see her Dr. when we get to TX. Yes, she had an IV as well as 5 shots of one sort or another. One in the stomach and one in her thigh, the rest in her arm.

    The food was not bad; it was just not as good as we have had on some of the other cruises we have been on. It was always possible to find something good to eat.

    Donna -- You are correct that we are rather frugal. As for extras, the tips for waiter, asst. waiter and room steward are almost mandatory and run about $10 per person per day. That was a little over $300. Other than that I went on 2 tours and Dianna on 1, taxi and show at the cliff divers, souvenirs, a few cocktails, etc. all added up to only about $400. Of course, there was also air fare from Miami back to LA and Super Shuttle from San Clemente to San Pedro, but they were paid up front and are dependent on where you start and leave from.

    Cota Mundi -- I did some checking and am even more certain that I am correct. It does turn out that they are a very close cousin to a racoon, and that may be what they call them there. is a link to a good explanation.

    Canal Crossing -- The locomotives pull small ships, but only keep large ships centered. Fill time for a chamber probably varies somewhat by the size of the ship, but not much. It takes from 8 to 12 minutes. I doubt oil tankers would be able to fit. The ones they now have are gargantuan. The entire trip is about 50 miles which includes the entrance channels on both ends. Gatun lake is about 23 miles long, but I don't know if that includes the Calebra Cut which is about 8 miles long. The railroad runs along side the canal most of the way.

    I think that is all the questions, (at least the ones that deserve a response) but if I missed anything I'm sure someone will let me know.

  8. Don't any of you remember the coata mundi that we encountered one of the first summers we were in AZ? Was it Mt. Lemmon or Dos Cabesas? It came right to our table, and ate food we threw to it. The ranger told us not to do that, because some of them were rabid.

  9. I thought it was in Chiricahuas.