It's been just 8 months since the last cruise but Sandy was itching for another vacation. She'd turned down my plan for cruising New Zealand, Antarctica and Australia in Dec 2006/Jan 2007 as too expensive. That probably would not have worked anyway due to changing work schedules so we were looking at no vacation until maybe March 2007 at the earliest. Then my work schedule looked there was going to be a little slack in the fall until the stuff hit the fan starting in mid November. Sandy asked for a time period where she could book a cruise. I gave her a three week window where it looked like I could be gone from work. She took it all and booked a 19 day cruise from LA to a partial transit of the Panama Canal and back. At $1350 a head, it was a deal. Sandy booked it at Vacations To Go. If you are willing to wait until nearly the last minute, you can get a good deal on a cruise.
It is still a month to go before we leave. this is pretty much what I could find about the ship and our itinerary.
|Propulsion Type||Diesel Electric|
|Diesel Engines||4 ea. 8 cylinder, 36,800 KW total|
|Propulsion Motors||2 at 12 MW ea|
|Thrusters||2 bow 1780 KW total, 2 stern 2075 KW total|
|Propellers||2 fixed pitch, 6 blade, 19' dia, 15 tons each|
|Stabilizer||2 Brown Bros.folding fin, 16'9" reach|
|Cruising Speed||20 knots|
Our stateroom will be B104, an inside cabin at the very forward part of the Baja Deck.
|Sun Deck||Lido Deck||Aloha Deck||Baja Deck||Caribe Deck||Dolphin Deck|
|Promenade Deck||Emerald Deck||Plaza Deck||Fiesta Deck||Gala Deck||Holiday Deck|
The cruise starts tomorrow morning but today I have to work. They are getting their last licks out of me before I leave.
We are safely ensconced in our cabin, B104 on deck 10 forward. This is our inside stateroom, there is nothing behind the curtain but a wall.
We got on the ship a little after noon but we passed on lunch because the whole family went to Denny's and had a large breakfast at about 10 AM. Neither Sandy or I felt like eating.
Charlie (Sandy's father) and Capt. Lew Mitchell (formal navel aviator) are in cabin E121. We all have 2nd sitting for dinner with little likelihood that we could get on 1st seating. I am waiting now for the evacuation drill at 1515 and then the ship is scheduled to sail at 1600.
The ship is fairly large but it is quite plain, not nearly as ornate or decorated as the Holland America ships that we had been on. There is no deck plan for Deck 3 above because there are no passenger accessible areas on Deck 3. I did a short video tour of the ship already, I'll do a more complete one on the sea day tomorrow. I'll also get some stills of interesting areas of the ship.
There is Internet access on the ship at about half the cost on Holland America Lines. This just makes it horribly expensively instead of hideously expensive. An hour is $21 billed by the second. There is supposed to be wireless access in the main lounge outside the reception desk but I have not tried it yet. The Internet Cafe is small and cramped and has no wireless. However, if you are reading this before we have returned, it obviously worked.
Just before we set sail at about 1610, a LA City Fire Department fireboat gave us quite a display out in the channel. This went on for several minutes as the fireboat slowly turned around and around in place. Then we departed and headed down the channel to the breakwater. During our whole exit from the harbor, a harbor police boat was circling the ship. I suppose that they were watching out for any small boats that were trying to close to our ship. None were, we exited the harbor without being blown up.
We've picked up some swell since we left the harbor, there is only a small amount of perceptible pitch and roll, just enough to notice but not enough to affect walking. There is also the constant low level vibration of the ships engines and propellers plus some occasional thumps and bumps, probably from plowing directly through a swell. One has to get used to these strange noises, creaking, clunks and bangs with no obvious cause. They seem to be quite normal on ships. I have found in the past that the of constant vibration leads to very good sleep, I hope it works this time.
Tomorrow is a sea day. We plan to get some sleep, laze around and do very little except eat and then walk it off through extended strolls around the Promenade Deck. I've got some classic science fiction to read, "Dune", "The Mote in God's Eye", "Ring World" and "The Ring World Engineers."
We've toured the shops that opened after we left port. Typical ship stuff, mostly not worth buying. There will be the typical art auction tomorrow. They'll get the crowd juiced up on free champaign and sell horribly overpriced prints of paintings that I would never consider buying.
We were so hungry before dinner (2nd sitting starts at 2000) that we went up to the pizza shop to split a small pizza just to hold us over for dinner. I was half Hawaiian and half veggie and it was a pretty damn good pizza. I'm going to have to go back there for an antipasti later.
We had a little mess up at dinner last night. When we were shown to our table, the steward was all flustered because there were already three people there at a four person table. It turns out that a couple of women had booked the cruise and then later one of their husbands booked it. They were seated at different tables and they said that somebody had told them that they could sit together. We were taken back to the dining room manager to get it straightened out. There were also about 50 other people in line trying to get their tables changed. He was plenty annoyed and was ready to throw the husband off "our" table so that he could seat us. Instead, he found us another table where we had dinner. However, while we had his attention, we asked that Charlie and Lew be seated with us. We got a new table assignment today, hopefully all four of us are together.
Dealing with dinner at 8 PM (2000 hours) is new to us, we are not used to eating that late. We are starting to shift our meal times a little later in the day so that we don't get too hungry before dinner. The manager indicated that there was no way that we could get on first seating. This is one the prices that you pay when you book a cruise late, you don't get your choice of staterooms or seating assignments.
Cabin choice is another issue. Inside cabins are considered less desirable due to the lack of a view and therefore they cost less. It is nice to be able to see the ocean from your own window or balcony, but the extra cost is usually considerable. We typically book inside cabins and sometimes get upgraded, at no cost, to an outside cabin. Inside cabins are good for sleeping in however, it can stay completely dark all day which is good for sleeping late or napping. Our cabin on the Regal Princess is at the very forward end of the ship so that there isn't even any foot traffic outside to indicate that folks are up and about. It would be very easy to oversleep an early morning tour so that an alarm clock AND a wakeup call will be necessary to get us up.
As far as noise and vibration goes, we haven't noticed much difference. Swells can produce a more pronounced effect near the front of the ship, roll is the same everywhere. At the stern, there can be more engine vibration, but the newer ships are electric drive and the vibration producing diesel engines can be spread down the length of the ship. On the Oosterdam, the worst vibration was amidships. On the Rotterdam, our cabin was near the stern and had nearly zero vibration. Cabins higher in the ship involve less stair climbing to get to the outer decks and buffets, ones lower are nearer the dining rooms. There really is no perfect location.
On our stateroom desk is just one lonely power outlet. There is one other in the bathroom. The ship will not provide an outlet strip for a lame reason, "our power supply is fragile." In any event, Sandy and I are going to have to carefully manage charging our computers, PDAs, Sandy's cell phone, my iPod, my camcorder and the batteries in Sandy's camera and my iPod speakers. It really hadn't occurred to me how many of these electronic gadgets we have brought until we need to charge them all from one outlet. Note to self... bring a small power strip next time on Princess. Holland America provided them for the asking.
I did a video tour of the ship today starting at deck 14 aft. There is no deck 13. I worked my way forward and aft on each deck trying to discover all of the nooks and hidy holes on the ship. I found a couple. One was 4 decks down the stairwells at the stern, there are a nice shady observation areas on decks 8 and 9.
From deck 14, I could look down at the pools amidships. This is the forward pool. There is a window on the aft wall of the pool that looks into a stairwell. Right behind that is a swim up bar that is adjoined to the rear pool.
This is one of the other hidy holes on deck 10. There is an observation deck right below the bridge. Hardly anybody knows about this deck and it doesn't show on the ships maps so that this would be a good place to go to watch the action while the ship is moving about in the Panama Canal.
Eventually, when we got to the canal, the ship posted signs pointing to this deck so that it was crowded. However, they don't allow people on the deck when it is dark. Opening to door to the deck results in light spillage and can spoil the night vision of the navigator. I got there when only a few people were waiting in line and I got the spot that I wanted to view the canal.
The pool is for the crew's use but during the canal transit, they planked over the pool and opened it for observation too.
I found Sandy relaxing on Deck 12 next to the pools. She had been in a futile search for some ice cream. It turns out that there is no ice cream on this ship except at dinner and some lunches. Further, the ship doesn't keep the ice cream cold enough so that it is usually a melted mess by the time that you get it. Holland had an ice cream bar open every afternoon and evening and it was kept very cold.
At the forward end of the Promenade Deck, deck 7, I found an open door to the forward machinery room. This is where the anchor and mooring line winches are. A section of the anchor chain can be seen in the middle of the photo.
The satellite internet connection is pretty flakey. This is not surprising because it's been flakey on every ship we've been on. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it isn't. Page updates could get pretty sporadic.
Last night was the first of three formal dinners. This time Charlie, Lew, Sandy and I are all assigned to the same table with two other couples.
We walked back via the Promenade Deck and discovered that, unlike every other ship we've been on, it isn't continuous. The dining room takes up the entire width of the ship on deck 7 so that the Promenade deck is blocked around the stern of the ship. At the bow, it is blocked by the mooring machinery. The continuous walking and jogging course is on Deck 14.
I did manage to connect to the internet last night and downloaded my mail from one mail server (all spam) but the other mail server would just time out. I tried to upload a update to this page, but the data rate was so bad that it clearly wasn't going to happen.
We got into Cabo San Lucas at about 1100, pretty late but this was the schedule. The Vision of the Seas left San Pedro at about the same time that we did and they were here already. I went out on deck 10 to watch the entry. It is so humid that my video camera announced a humidity emergency and would not record. I was able to take stills however. It is not particularly hot, about 86°F, but it feels like a sauna outside.
Sandy and I plan to ride a tender to the port and then look around for trinkets for an hour or so and then wander back. The ship sails at 1800 for another sea day and then Acapulco.
There was a pretty big swell at Cabo San Lucas. This raised havoc with the tender schedules so it took until 1430 before we actually got on a tender for the ride to the harbor. Our target was the flea market where I found a pair of clip on sunglasses as I had left my regular pair at home. The flea market has the usual collection of fake Rolex watches, hats, shirts, cheap jewelry, wood carvings, and hash pipes (in all manner of interesting shapes). The initially quoted price for about anything is usually 2x or more the final negotiated price and I'm guessing that there is still quite a bit of profit left for the vendors.
It was hot and humid and we ran out of steam quickly. After just an hour and a half we were back on the ship.
I am planning on a "pre-dinner" tonight. I'm going to try the antipasti at the pizza shop. If I still feel like eating at 2000, I'll go down to the formal dinner... or maybe not. We can always eat earlier in the buffet.
I brought my old and somewhat beat up iBook on this trip. It is more suited to travel than the much more capable PowerBook and has much less residual value so that if I lose or damage it (further), it will be less of a loss. The iBook is capable doing most of the things that I need to do on this trip. The main purpose is to write this trip diary. However, I also use it to check my email (using the ship's wireless internet access), keep track of my kids and organize and back up my photos. Further, everything that I create or modify on this trip is also being backed up to my iPod and a spare memory stick. By the end of each day, I literally have four copies of each photo on four different media, the camera's memory stick (raw photos), the computer's disk (2 copies there, one copy raw, one formatted), the iPod's disk and another memory stick (both formatted). I find it much easier to download, rename and file my photos on the same day that I take them. At least I can remember what is on them. I then pick a few to post on this trip diary. One thing that this computer won't do well is allow me to back up and edit my video. Video work is just a little beyond the capability of this computer. CPU is too slow, the disk isn't big enough and it won't burn DVDs. I'll download the DV video tapes and edit the movies when I get home.
Today is a sea day on the way to Acapulco. It is hot and humid with no sign of tropical cyclones in development.
We went to a lecture today on Ferdinand Magellan, there are seven more lectures in the series, the first was on Vasco De Gamma. The rest of the day is just lounging around, I'm reading "The Mote in God's Eye."
Now about one of my favorite subjects, food. On cruises, I usually go wild and overeat like mad for a couple of days and then I am forced to severely back off simply because I cannot eat that much, anymore at least. Even true trenchermen are destined to total and inglorious defeat. The ship simply has too much food. They will win.
The food on this ship is generally not as good others I have been on in quality and variety. However, that is not all bad because it still pretty good. The fish is typically uninspiring but acceptable. The Italian Bistro, however, is more than excellent, this is some of the best Italian that I have ever had. The 2nd dinner sitting is doing me in. I just get too hungry too early. Also, I am not used to going to bed all filled up. I went to the pizza place last night at 1800 for a snack and ended up eating an antipasti, a caesar salad, a lasagna and half of Sandy's pizza. At dinner, I had hardly anything at all, a small piece of fish and a couple of jalepeno poppers and I clearly ate too much. Breakfast this morning was a single pear.
Similar to the other cruises that I have been on, all of the food on this ship is without extra charge. Ice water and iced tea are available all day at no charge. Juices are available at breakfast. Milk is available with all meals, again with no charge. All other beverages come very dear. Canned sodas are $2 each, beer wine and mixed drinks are more. I don't know how much because I don't drink. On the first day of the cruise, they offered a bottomless soda offer for $66 for the cruise, still pretty steep. Instead, Sandy brought one whole small roll around suitcase packed with 2 liter bottles of diet soda, that thing was heavy but it will probably go home stuffed with loot. I am making due quite nicely with ice water, my favorite beverage anyway.
We have to change our eating schedule, we're going to skip the formal dining room and eat at a normal time in the buffet for a couple of days to see how that works.
At Acapulco, the ship docked right across from Fort San Diego again and we were again besieged by by taxi drivers and "guides" before we could get out to the street. One of the guides attached himself to us and followed us into town. It took quite a while to convince him to just go away.
The highway that runs between the cruise terminal and the fort has no traffic control and comes around a blind curve. It seems that several tourists a year were getting killed trying to get to or from the fort so that the Mexican government built a pedestrian bridge from the terminal right to the entrance to the fort (which can be seen at the upper right).
We walked about a quarter mile to a square and then wandered around a bit. Acapulco is a busy town, crowded with tourists and locals (many of which seem to be trying to sell something to the tourists). It is also loud. The noise was getting to me. It was hot and humid and it didn't take long for Sandy to simply wilt. I figured that we had better get back to the ship before she melted down completely.
There is a shopping area at the cruise terminal. Inside there is a telephone/internet shop. I decided to blow $2 for 15 minutes of internet time. It was a struggle. First, the US style keyboard had virtually ALL of the punctuation rearranged into different locations so I had to find the / and : keys to simply type a URL. I just did a global search by pressing every key to map them. I never did find the @ key so typing an email address was difficult but I worked around that. Then it crashed. Windows XP ... bah! When I got back to my webmail, it said that I had 274 messages waiting (probably all spam) but would not display them. I did manage to get to noaa.gov to see that there are no Pacific tropical cyclones predicted for the next few days. At that point I was out of time and I gave up. I've burned through 30 minutes of shipboard internet time in 5 days so Im running at $2/day which isn't too bad. I don't have time to surf, just to download incoming email, upload outgoing email and upload this web page. The net data rate is worse than dial up but sometimes hits 10 kbytes/sec for short bursts.
We left Acapulco about an hour ago and are on our way to Huatulco, Mexico. I'm told that this is a very small town, it doesn't seem to have much to offer in the way of shore excursions. We figure that we'll be walking and shopping. The small places have the better shops.
I tried out the mid deck pools out this afternoon after the sun got a little less intense. The forward pool is cool, just about right. The aft pool is very warm, it was about the same as the starboard hot tub (which was not hot). The portside hot tub was out of service. Sandy spent part of the afternoon and a Mexican folk dance show, I stepped in late, but I can only take so much Mariachi music so I left before it finished. Sandy says that I missed the good part.... oh well.
Huatulco is a coastal town of about 7000 full time residents. It is in one of the 9 bays that make up this region. Huatulco is very unlike Acapulco, it is very laid back and open. Even the taxi drivers accept "no."
The rest of the whole town is in this photo. The large trees in the middle are the town square. Just on the backside of the square is the flea market. There were 50+ small shops all gathered together, the selection was somewhat limited but the prices for what they had were pretty good. Cheap Tee shirts were going for 3/$10US and could be haggled down a little. Embroidered shirts were $8US.
At one of the cruise line sanctioned shops, this dragon caught Sandy's eye. It was $4,000 and not in pesos. It did not come home with us.
This is a typical gift shop stall, tee shirts and blacked glazed figures, apparently a common product of Oxaca.
It's hot and humid here as well, we expect that this will be the weather pattern for the rest of the trip, barring storms. We did have some rain yesterday morning in Acapulco, but it had stopped before we got outside. The sea has been kind too, not much swell at all.
The ship left at 1300 today bound for Puntarenas, Costa Rica after a day at sea. The captain had considerable difficulty with the jet skiers in the bay, they kept on buzzing the boat and cutting right across the bow of a moving ocean liner, pretty dumb. The Federales in a gunboat were trying to herd them away but there were just too many crazy jet skiers, obviously drunk, for them to handle. They did have to tow one dead jet ski right out of the ship's path before a motorboat came by and hauled it away.
Huatulco is without any doubt the nicest town I've seen in Mexico. On the way of of port we saw a little resort hotel tucked in a little bay. I think that I could spend a week in someplace like that.
It got really windy outside, the captain indicated gale force, with an attendant swell. We are rocking and rolling quite a bit. All the doorways to the outer decks are whistling and some of them have been roped off. This should continue through the whole evening.
It's another day at sea. Maybe it was helped by the inside cabin but we didn't even wake up until 0930. Breakfast was at 1000 so it looks like lunch and dinner will be late too. There is another lecture on seafaring subjects at 1230 so we'll probably get lunch after that. Such are life's hard decisions aboard a cruise ship. We figure that we slept 11 hours last night. This is opposed to the 4 to 5 hours that I had been sleeping each night for months. There is pretty clearly something environmental going on here. I would suspect that stress, or the lack thereof, is involved.
I've finally got my desire to eat practically everything in sight under control. For the last few days, breakfast has been a few small pieces of smoked fish, some pineapple and other fruits. Lunches have been getting lighter and I am refusing seconds and dessert at dinner. Maybe I won't come home too much heavier than I left.
We came down to the Atrium at deck 7 to check for email (all spam) but something in one of the shops caught Sandy's eye. She returned in a few minutes empty handed.
The wind from last night died down after a few hours, but the gusts would hit the ship broadside and the whole ship would shake. The captain announced that we might have similar conditions this afternoon. Now the winds and sea are calm and the sailing is smooth.
The rest of our day was spent lounging around and trying not to eat too much. I finished "The Mote in God's Eye" and started on "Ringworld." Nothing exciting happened today, the predicted wind didn't show up and the sea is nearly dead calm. It wasn't as warm today as the past few days have been, but it is just as humid. I suppose that I won't dry out until I return to LA.
Tomorrow we go on our first shore excursion out of Puntarenas, Costa Rica. We are going on a "tropical scenic drive" which I assume is a bus ride through the jungle.
We are back on Central Standard Time because Costa Rica doesn't observe daylight savings, no need for it in the tropics. We are at the costal town of Puntarenas.
We took a bus ride into the jungle a ways just to see what the area looked like inland. The tour guide made no mention, but the crime rate must be fairly high here. Most houses in Puntarenas are protected by bars on the windows, high walls or high walls with broken glass or concertina wire on top.
It is all "dry jungle" as opposed to a true rain forest such as is found on the Caribbean side. Most of the trees are balsa (very soft and light), teak, (very hard) and ironwood (so heavy that it sinks). This is mostly a fishing village while the inland areas grow mostly tropical fruit. The pineapple that I get a Costco usually comes from Costa Rica.
We drove up into the hills to a fruit stand. This seemed like an odd destination but Sandy found a trinket stand behind on the of the shops that had some Aztec like fired clay figures. I believe that this is the one that she bought in that shop.
Then we drove up into the hills to a small town called Esparsa. There was a fairly impressive church on one side of the town plaza where we stopped to see a local folk show. Even in small towns, these people take their churches very seriously. 83% of the population of Costa Rica is Catholic. Since this was the only tour bus to go through this town in quite a while, they tried to put on a good show.
We then drove a short distance to a restaurant that had yet another gift shop with even more Aztec stuff for good prices too, less than $10/piece. Then it was back to the ship for lunch.
At the end of the pier there was the "tourist avenue." This was a walkway along the beach that was packed with vendor stalls selling the usual stuff. I went with Charlie and Sandy took off on her own. There wasn't much good stuff here, mostly a lot of nicely carved wood stuff, very little Maya or Aztec like stuff. Then it started to rain and the prices got better in a hurry. It didn't rain hard enough to get us really wet. When we got back on the ship, the blast of dry chilled air made the dampness evaporate quickly. It felt good after the very high humidity outside.
As the cruise as progressed, more and more of our toys have come out to play. Off the single outlet on the desk we have managed to keep two computers, two PDAs, a cell phone, two iPods, a camcorder and the AA batteries for two still cameras charged. It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be, it just takes a little planning to be sure that the toy that is likely to be needed next is the first one charged. Also, several of the toys can charge from the USB ports of a charging computer.
We gone through yet another time to eastern standard time. We've been changing forward or backward an hour almost every evening lately. Today is a sea day while we progress to the Panama canal. We aren't that far away, but I am guessing that we will get there early to stand in line so that the ship can transit the canal at or near some pre-scheduled time. We are supposed to go through the locks on the Pacific side, tootle around in Gatùn lake for awhile and then transit back out the Pacific side and then dock for the evening in Puerto Amador, Panama.
I've settled into a reasonable diet. I've discovered what is good and what is not so good so that I am not tempted to eat everything, only the stuff that I really like. In order of volume, this is what I am eating. After Sandy saw this list, she expressed her preference, it is somewhat different than mine.
|George's Preferences||Sandy's Preferences|
Dr. Atkins would not approve, but I don't seem to be putting on a lot of weight based on my belt notch.
The Italian bistro has clearly the best food on this ship. The sauces are pretty rich so I have to be careful. The creamy cheese sauces make a typical alfredo sauce look like health food. The vast majority of the fat and cheese that I am eating is from the Italian style food.
It's another rough day at sea, the winds are calm, the Pacific is a big lake, no swell at all. The temperature is lower today, maybe in the mid 80's and the humidity is down, probably in the 70's or so. We are paralleling the coast of Panama, we can see it in the distance off the port side.
The passengers on this cruise are older on average than in previous cruises. I would guess that the average age of the passengers is 60 to 65 and we are in the youngest 5th percentile of the passenger population. There are some children on the ship, but only a few, certainly less than 10 total. Many of the passengers are moving around slowly with canes or in wheelchairs, motorized chairs, electric scooters and walkers. I would guess that this type of cruise generally pre-selects the retired crowd. Working people and those with young children probably can't afford to take 3 weeks off work and pay for child care for 3 weeks or bring their kids along (which takes them out of school).
I find myself getting quite a bit of exercise just moving around the boat. To get to the food, it is either 2 flights up or 3 down and all the way to the other end of the ship. To reach an outer deck, its the same 2 flights up or 3 down, but only partway down the length of the ship. The Promenade deck (3 flights down) is blocked both fore and aft so that the walking loop is 3 flights up. We only take the elevators if we are returning to the ship after walking ashore and don't want to climb 5 or 6 flights of stairs to get back to our cabin although we do climb them all sometimes.
The forward pool has a window to the midship stairwell. I went swimming and Sandy was shooting pictures through the window. The pool had a sign next to it that said that it was 84°F but it felt cooler than that.
Sandy wanted me to add this photo to the web page. Yesterday morning while we were having breakfast, this dragonfly came to visit. It landed on the back of a nearby chair and stayed there for quite a while. We were at least 20 miles from land at that point, so this guy must have been carried out to sea by the wind. He'll have a long trip home.
The captain came on the public address system a little while ago and announced some changes in the plan for the Panama Canal. We will be entering the first locks much earlier than planned after bunkering (refueling) all night outside the canal. We will reach the first locks sometime between 0500 and 0600 tomorrow and come out again in the evening with further adjustments to be made depending on the traffic in the canal. We will then dock at Puerto Amador, Panama to take on water and the next morning we will move to a point in the harbor where we can disembark via the ship's tenders. Where the original plan had us into Puerto Amador in the afternoon, we will instead be there in the morning. This will give us all day to look around and then we have a tour scheduled back to the canal sometime in the afternoon or evening (exact time TBD).
Other than the light rain and some thunder we had at Puntarenas the weather has been clear. This might change in Panama as there is some unsettled weather predicted so it could rain anytime.
Another issue with an inside cabin is that it can thunder and lightning outside and one would never know. When we went out to dinner, we walked across the Lido deck and it was wet. Then the flashes. We stopped under the protection of deck 14 and watched quite a light show off the port side of the ship. During dinner in the buffet, the lightning was still going on. On our way back from dinner, the lightning had shifted so that most of it was off the bow. We positioned ourselves under the cover of deck 14 so that we could look forward and watched the lightning for about half an hour. The majority of the bolts were a couple of miles away. I didn't count one down that was closer than a mile and a half. Almost every time a bright bolt would hit, there were distinct pops, crackles and clicks coming from the public address system. Clearly, the bolts were inducing current in the ship somewhere. After the lightning calmed down a bit we went back to our room ... via the lower decks inside the ship.
We're part way through the Panama Canal right now, just entering Gatùn lake. We're inside now because just after we got through the locks to the Culebra Cut it started to rain pretty hard. However, the weather through the canal was just fine. It was heavily overcast and about 70°F so that we could stand outside without overheating or getting sunburned. The diffused light also was good for photographs.
Last night, we anchored outside the Pacific side of the canal to bunker. At 0-dark-30 the ship started to move to the canal entrance. We got to the Miraflores Locks at 0630, just about sunrise.
A container ship had entered the right hand lock ahead of us. I had staked out a position on the Deck 10 Forward Observation deck on the starboard side. This was probably the best position on the ship to watch the action as I could see forward, backward, sideways and down from that one spot. The lock gate ahead of us is closed and several "mules" are waiting for us.
The mule is an electric locomotive that runs on a rack rail on each side of each lock. The mules can pull smaller boats through the canal but the larger ones such as the Regal Princess and the container ship go through on their own power. The locomotives serve to keep the ships centered in the locks. We have about 2 feet to spare on either side. The mule has two cables that it uses to control the ships. Each cable is spooled up on a large reel inside either hood of the mule. The drive motors are underneath in the undercarriage.
This is a detail of the mule and track. A rack is centered between two conventional rails. A cog wheel under the locomotive engages the rack and allows the mule to pull a very heavy load, or climb steep gradients (such as between locks). Power for the loco is picked up from a pair of sliding shoes that engage a 3rd rail through a slot next to the farside of the track.
This mule is pulling the container ship in the adjacent lock. The power pickup shoe can be seen right at each axle hub as a dark spot.
The container ship has just entered the first of the Miraflores locks and the gates are closing behind it. Water will then be drained from the lock ahead through culverts into this lock to raise the ship about 27 feet per lock so that it will match the level in the next lock.
This is the closed lock ahead of the Regal Princess. The green area will be below water level when the lock has filled. These lock doors are hollow and actually float. It takes just a 40 hp electric motor to operate one of the gates. It seals pretty well considering the relatively small amount of leakage from the gate. This view also shows the very steep incline that the mule will have to climb to reach the level of the next lock.
This is the 2nd of the Miraflores locks. Our lock is nearly filled and the other one is fully filled with the gates ready to open to release the ship through a short channel to the single Pedro Miguel lock ahead.
Our gate is opening in this view. The yellow stuff on the sides is a handrail that folds up and down. It lifts to the upward position only when the gate is closed. It can then be used as a walkway for the workers to cross the locks.
At each end of the locks there is a turntable to allow the mules to be moved around. There is a third track down the center of the lock island that appears to be little used. For much of it's length, the power slot has been taken out. The turntable still allows the mules to be driven into a shed at each end, probably for maintenance. There are also railway cranes on each lock. One was electric, the others diesel. These are probably there to rerail derailed mules.
This photo is the entry to the Pedro Miguel lock. It is built in much the same fashion as the Miraflores locks except that there is only one lock. On the other side of the canal, all 3 locks are strung in a row. On this side, they are arranged into two sections.
The outside entry ramp for each lock has a set of wheeled bumpers on it to help guide a ship into the lock without grinding away at the lock itself.
This view shows the container ship entering the lock. A dual gate is closed in front of it. There are sometimes two sets of gates, sometimes one set and in some cases, a gate is situated partway down the lock, probably to allow the passage of shorter ships with less loss of water.
The whole system is gravity driven. Rainwater is collected from the rainforest into Gatùn lake. Water from the lake is flooded into the highest locks. When a ship needs leave the lake, it enters the lock at lake level and the gate behind it is closed. The water is then drained from that lock into the next one down through culverts. When the level in the two locks match, the lower gate is opened and the ship moves to the next lock. The repeats until the ship is at sea level where the water in the lock is drained to the ocean, 26 million gallons worth. No pumps are used, there is sufficient rainfall to run the canal. Excess water in Gatùn lake is drained via a dam to generate about 5x the electric power it takes to operate the canal. The rest is sold.
At the exit of the Pedro Miguel lock is a channel that leads about 20 miles to Gatùn lake. This channel, the Culebra Cut, is what beat the French when they tried to dig a sea level canal. There was just too much dirt to move and the malaria and yellow fever were killing the workers at a horrible rate, about 22,000 died. The French company went bankrupt on this project. The Americans came in about 15 years later and finished the job, but with a canal that passed the continental divide at an elevation of about 85 feet instead of at sea level.
As we entered the Culebra Cut, it started to rain lightly. We stayed outside for awhile and then went in for our 2nd breakfast. By the time that we finished, it was raining pretty hard. This pretty much cleared the outer decks.
The cut is still being cut wider to reduce landslides and to try to widen the cut so that larger ships can actually pass in the cut, it's one way traffic now. At this location, PVC pipes are driven into the remaining ledge and filled with explosives.
After the explosives are set off, it leaves a broken mess like this one.
The mess is then gouged out and cleaned up with a dredge like this one or a hydraulic one that we saw later. It was raining too hard to get a photo of that one.
We tooled around in the lake for awhile but there wasn't a lot to see except rain forest right down to the water all around. Then the ship turned back south and we went out the way we came in. It took about 12 hours to do the full loop. The ship docked at Balboa, a commercial terminal, underneath some absolutely huge container loading cranes to take on water. Tomorrow morning early the ship will move over to Puerto Amador where we be able to get off the ship for some shopping and a tour back to the canal.
We spent the night at a container ship loading dock. These absolutely huge cranes were hovering over the ship. Note the ships stack in the lower part of the photo. I have no idea how these cranes got here, they are just too big. Even the legs of the cranes must be over 200 feet tall. I can only conclude that the pieces were brought in and the whole thing was welded together in place. However, the cranes that lifted the pieces in place must have been truly gigantic.
Puerto Amador is nothing but 3 small islands that have been filled in with canal debris to make a yacht harbor. There is also a causeway that connects to the mainland at Panama City. Panama City is the capital of Panama and home to 2 million, 2/3 of the population of all Panama. However, on Puerto Amador, there is nada but a tourist shopping mall. I got a Panama hat but otherwise, Puerto Amador is somewhat less than spectacular. We'll be going on a tour this afternoon back to the canal.
We got back from a tour of the Miraflores Locks and visitor center. They did have an original mule on display, but overall, the trip was a bust. There was no ship traffic in the two hours that we were there. The visitor center and museum is pretty nice and we did get a bus tour of the Balboa area. Balboa was within the former US controlled Panama Canal Zone. The military bases and buildings have been converted to civilian use.
Our next port of call is Puerto Corinto, Nicaragua. We are going to take a tour inland to Leon, a major town and some other things along the way. In the meantime, we are at sea making good time, over 20 knots. We've been running in and out of rain squalls all day. We attended one of the historical lectures, this one about Captain Bligh and the Bounty. Life at sea was a little tougher in those days.
We slept in until about 0900 and didn't finish breakfast until 1000. We lounged around on deck until the 1215 lecture and then did our laundry. Lunch was at 1500, it's nap time now. Dinner is a formal affair at 2000. Life's tough, but somebody's got to do it.
Internet access aboard ship is pretty awful. Uploads seem to work ok so that I do not have much difficulty updating this site via an ftp tool. However, download rates are terrible, often less than an hundred bytes/second. Often, page loads will simply stall with no result at all. My mail tool will often give up trying to reach the mail server.
This morning as we were just entering Puerto Corinto, the ship picked up a pronounced roll, maybe as much as 5 degrees. Apparently the captain had pulled in the stabilizers. Just as we entered the breakwater, the roll abruptly stopped.
Puerto Corinto is a very small town. It is Nicaragua's only container port on the Pacific, it has exactly one container crane. The town itself is quite "rustic", much more so than any other place we've been. This is a pretty typical street corner with very few cars, lots of bicycles and pedicabs.
We walked straight down what appeared to be a main drag to the plaza in the center of town. The church was one on side, and the "zoo" was in the park. It consisted of a pen with a crocodile and a bunch of turtles. The croc was getting sprayed down with water and was appreciating it.
As we walked into the park, Sandy's father snapped this photo of us. I'm wearing my new Panama hat. It works fine in the sunshine, but not so well in the rain.
Even in a backwater like this, the internet is there. This is one of three internet cafes on this street alone.
This is a tortilla stand. I have learned, through hard experience, to NEVER eat at anyplace that has an Alka-Seltzer sign out front.
There was nothing to do or buy in town so we walked back to the ship. There were several vendor stands set up there. Sandy bought a carved wood Inca style mask. This was the one thing in the stands that I would have bought for her but she saw it first.
We got back late from a tour last night. It was a half hour past sailing time but since we were on a ship provided tour, they held the ship. We went on a bus tour inland that was to go to Leon, a colonial town and some mud pots. The trip turned into kind of a bust. Just as we arrived at the mud pots and I was pretty far away from shelter, the sky opened up and it rained hard. I was caught out in the open with no rain gear. Sandy had stayed behind to bargain with a vendor selling some clay figures and she was under shelter. I did get to the mud pots and took a few seconds of video, but I had to turn back as I, and my camera, were getting soaked. Sandy took this picture from a distance and the pots had already started to steam heavily from the rainwater falling in them. The rain, lightning and thunder followed us all the way to Leon.
My Panama hat didn't fare so well in the wet. It turned into a limp rag and almost completely lost it's shape. It treated it on the bus a little but it was still wet and limp by the time we got back to the boat. I shaped it again and left it sitting on the floor. When it dried, it held the shape it was in. Now I know, don't get it wet. I also know that if I want to reshape it again, I can steam it.
By the time that we got to Leon, it was dark and raining. We did stop by the cathedral where mass was being celebrated but we could only stay a few minutes. We had been further delayed by a truck accident that blocked the main highway and the driver had to take us by back roads. We actually went to see Leon and the mud pot tour was the cheapest ship's tour that would get us there, but the tour started so late that it was assured that we'd get to Leon at dusk and would not be able to see much anyway. This was poor planning by the tour operator at best, deception at worst.
When we got back to the ship, we found a notice on our door that our scheduled tour in Guatemala had been cancelled due to inadequate bookings. The tour was to have gone to Guatemala City to see the museums there. So then we were left with no tour from Puerto Quetzal and no way to book another one that night. The ship's representative at the purser's desk could only suggest that we show up at 0900 in the morning to check with the tour staff to see if anything was still open.
About 0830, the ship arrived at Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala. There is no real town here, just a port with a small area for vendors to set up shops. At 0900 we went to the International Lounge (where the tours are dispatched) and waited until one of the tour staff could see if anything was still open. There was nothing there that Sandy liked so we elected to stay on the ship as the remaining tours were long, expensive and didn't got to anything particularly interesting.
The little shopping area was set up better than most and was well organized. The vendors there typically offered high prices but could be bargained with to about 25-30% of their original asking price. I'd typically start at less than 20% and they'd start at 70%. I'd come up to maybe 20% and then stick there. I'd have to walk out a couple of times before I'd settle at about 25% or $15 max for a figure like these. They guys would squirm and whine, but they would deal. This particular vendor had a selection of Mayan-like figures in carved wood, clay and a sort of cast stone. There was more stuff with much more variety than we found in any other port and Sandy determined that shopping there was an acceptable substitute for a long bus ride inland.
We just got back from our 2nd lunch (to tide us over till dinner at 2000) and I got to thinking about food again. There is plenty on this ship. If one should want 2nd breakfast or elevensies, it's here. Not counting room service, there is some food available somewhere on the ship 24 hours a day.
|Room Service||all||24 hours||never|
|Palm Court (Main) Dining Room||Breakfast||0700||0900|
|Afternoon (High) Tea||1530||1630|
|First Sitting Dinner||1745|
|Second Sitting Dinner||2000|
|Cafe Del Sol (Buffet)||Continental Buffet||0400||0600|
|Light Snack & Sandwich Bar||1430||1800|
|Bistro Dining "A La Carte"||1800||0400|
We are at sea today sailing between Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala and Zihuatenejo, Mexico. When we woke up this morning, the ride was quite bumpy. There was not a lot of roll or pitch, just a bouncy ride and random, sometimes surprising, movements. The sea is very choppy and covered with whitecaps. This is the roughest ride that we've had so far but it still not enough to make walking difficult. I still haven't really needed sea legs.
In the Gulf of Tehauntepec there is a phenomenon known as Tehauntepecanos. This is when the prevailing winds can increase in strength without warning to force 10 to 12 on occasions (48 to 65 knots). These winds are knows as Papegayo and are caused by a cold air mass crossing over the Central American mountains from the Gulf of Mexico and falling down into the Gulf of Tehauntepec. We experienced them on the outward leg as well as we left Huatulco, Mexico. The Gulf of Tehauntepec is a large mousebite in the coast of Mexico just south east of Huatulco.
The internet is working poorly again today. Actually, it isn't working at all. This seems to be the case on most sea days, too many people are trying to use the satellite link at once and it chokes. I tried to login and I couldn't even get the login window to finish loading, not a good sign. Yesterday while most of the folks were off on tours or shopping at the little market area, the internet was working the best that it had for the entire trip. This is to say that it was merely slow, but at least it worked at half dial-up speeds during downloads and equivalent to a slower DSL speed during uploads.
While we were eating lunch on the fantail, some dolphins were playing next to the ship. There were also fairly large sea turtles floating by on the surface. I didn't have my camera with me then. When I went out later to try to catch some photos, the dolphins were nowhere to be seen and only two turtles floated by and I didn't get a worthwhile picture of either of them. Maybe better luck later....
One the way back to the cabin, I found that there was a fresh batch of cookies in the buffet. I brought a plate of them to Sandy and she was very appreciative. However, during the whole time on the ship, I've only seen them put out just one kind of cookie. They are a cinnamon oatmeal raisin cookie and they are quite good, but one would think that the cooks could make some other kinds once in a while.
Later that evening, when a new batch came out, lo and behold, there was a different kind of cookie, a dark chocolate chip version that looked identical to the other one but was quite different.
The ship arrived at Zihuatenejo, Mexico fairly late, about 1000. We are scheduled to leave again at 1430 which left little time to see what is here. Primarily due to the limited port stay and the inevitable delays due to tendering to the pier, our target was the flea market near the dock. This was 2 blocks of vendor stalls, perhaps 40 feet deep. It was hot and humid again today so we didn't stay all that long as we knew that there would be long lines to get back on the tenders.
Sandy decided that she wanted a Margarita before we went back to the ship so we stopped in this bar to get one. They came 2 for $6 so she drank them both. We should have ordered one without alcohol so that I could drink it, but we didn't. I took a sip of one and now I remember that I never really liked the taste of alcohol, I merely tolerated it for the effect. By the time that we got back the the ship, the tequila had done its work and I literally poured Sandy into bed to sleep it off.
Tomorrow is Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and then two more sea days back to Los Angeles to finish the trip.
Today is our last port of call, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The one dock was in use by another Princess ship so we tendered in then took a cab about 3 miles to the downtown portion. This is a view from the Malecon, or shoreline drive. Our ship and one other are barely visible at the lower right. There was a total of three cruise ships in town today so the place was lousy with tourists. Finding nothing of interest in the downtown, we took another cab back to the cruise port. There was a rather large flea market there that either wasn't there two years ago or we missed it then. In any event, their prices were not so good, the products were not appealing and the vendors wouldn't haggle.
Instead, we walked about half a mile to the Wal-Mart. At least it was air conditioned as it was hot outside, about 90°F but not quite as humid as some of the other ports. This was our loot, a bottle of Squirt, two bottles of habanera sauce and some spiral bound quad lined notebooks. We also bought a newspaper outside to use to better wrap the things that we bought in other ports. By the time we got back to the ship, were were soaked in sweat. This required a shower and a complete change of clothes to fix.
There are two full days and three nights to go. Up to this point neither of us has been seasick, any other kind of sick, sunburned or even slightly injured. Other than the dragonfly pictured above, we've not had a single encounter with any kind of insect. This is highly unusual for me, but I still have two days to go to keep my streak going, I usually come back from vacations more battered than when I left.
We've just left Puerto Vallarta for the two day trip to LA. Sandy has settled back renaming and filing digital photos from this trip and the Mexican cruise that we took two years ago. I've been dealing with photos on the day that I take them, or at worst, the next day.
Tonight was crab leg night in the dining room so of course, I ordered them. Dinners in the main dining room are well prepared, but typically small in portion size although seconds can be ordered anytime. This suits me fine because the smaller portions help me control the amount that I eat. I expected 4 or 5 split legs. I got about a dozen. Then a minute later, the waiter dumped another plate full on top of the pile that I already had. I was a happy camper.
Tomorrow is the galley tour and cooking demonstration. I'll be going on that one. There is also the second to last lecture on seafaring subjects, this time on Capt. Horatio Nelson. Then "Dead Man's Chest" is playing in the theatre so I am planning on seeing the second "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie. I've seen "Cars" and "Over the Hedge" already in the theatre. After sleeping in, that, along with meals, should keep me occupied much of the day. Sea days are not all that bad.
The galley tour was pretty standard, they looped us through the galley on deck 6 immediately beneath the main dining room. The cooking demonstration in the lounge before that was half farce, half real demonstration. Maitre D'Hotel play the roll of the comic, the Executive Chef was the straight man.
The ship consumes a lot of food. The table below is the specs on the DAILY food consumption.
|Food Prep Area||Item||Quantity/Day||Unit|
|Fish Preparation Area||Fresh Fish||720||lbs|
|Meat Preparation Area||Poultry||770||lbs|
|Garde Manger (Cold Kitchen)||Salads||825||lbs|
|Soup, Pasta, Vegetables||Pasta||465||lbs|
|Cakes and Pies||225||ea|
|Fruits and Cheese Pantry||Butter||340||lbs|
|Sugar for Coffee||30||lbs|
|Dishwashing Area||Dishes Washed||39,000||ea|
I estimate that about 18,000 lbs of food is prepared daily for 2000 passengers and crew. Much of that is water content, but this is still almost 10 lbs per head per day. It is no great wonder why some people come back from cruises just a little heavier than they left.
Food again... Tonight was the last formal dinner. Lobster tails were on the menu. They served two smaller tails, but well prepared. Just as I was finishing my meal, the waiter dropped another on my plate. Then as I finished that one, he delivered two more. The waiters really want you to pay attention to the service, especially as the cruise ends and the tips are due.
On Princess, as well as Holland America, tips are added to the cruise account at $10/day/person and then distributed among the staff with the dining room attendants and room stewards getting most of it. If one wants to change the distribution or the amount, this can be done at the purser's desk. Bar attendants are tipped from a 15% charge added to the bar tab. Tips for other services can be offered as the service is rendered.
We've started receiving all of the end-of-cruise paperwork, surveys, immigration forms and instructions, customs forms, baggage tags and disembarkation assignments. We are scheduled to get off the ship at 0830. Charlie and Lew are scheduled at 1000 so we be waiting for them for an hour and a half before our Charlie comes by in the van to pick us up.
As we move further north toward LA, the weather is becoming cooler and the humidity is much lower. The cruise is winding down and Sandy does NOT want to come home but we don't have a lot to say about it. The ship will take us back to LA whether we like it or not. I don't know our exact position but we ought to be well up the coast of Baja California by now.
I'm not going to get around to reading "Dune" on this trip. "The Mote in God's Eye" was very good, "Ringworld" was good and "The Ringworld Engineers" was only fair. I still need to repack my suitcase. It will contain all of my loot. I bought a Mexican newspaper in Puerto Vallarta to better wrap the stuff and then I'll pad it out with remaining clean cloths. The soft roll around will contain the rest of my dirty cloths. My carry on bag will contain my toys and the computer will be in its own case. The two suitcases need to be placed out in the hallway by bedtime tonight, I'll pick them up on the dock. I'll carry out the toy and computer bags.
We've made it home in good order. The kids haven't burned down the house and nothing major has died. Sandy got some urgent email from her work and shot out of here like a rocket. My work seems be ok.
We got up at 0545 because we thought that we had to see the US immigration agents at 0645. However, I misinterpreted the color of our luggage tags. There were dark blue and the blue color was scheduled for 0645. It turns out that "blue" means "light blue", ours were "navy." Our time was 0700. In any event, the ship was an hour late docking and the customs agents weren't even on the ship until after 0700. We got off an hour after our scheduled time and then waited a while for Charlie and Lew who were scheduled for later. We called our Charlie on the phone and asked him to come down to get us. Charlie and the van got there just after Grandpa Charlie and Lew got off the boat. We took Charlie and Lew to the Long Beach Airport to catch a flight back to Oakland and we drove home. At 1200, we were home.
I've spent the last two hours unpacking, doing laundry, catching up on the internet and doing this final update to this trip diary. Oh, and I only gained 2 lbs.
This page has been accessed times since Aug 22, 2006
© 2006 George Schreyer
Created Aug 22, 2006
Last Updated October 13, 2006