April 21, 2014
Our second straight day at sea began with a leisurely walk around Deck 10 followed by breakfast at the Pinnacle Grill. At 1000 we attended a briefing on favorite ports from the crew’s viewpoint which included a raffle for a number of gifts. The briefing was actually a sales presentation for future cruises. We did not win anything. The winds continued strong and the seas moderate all day. Our Easter day in the sun showed where we had missed with the sunscreen, so we avoided any more pool time today and let the pink skin fade. After enjoying a Tanqueray 0010 Martini in the Pinnacle Bar we headed to the dining room and finally met our tablemates, a couple from Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, since we have a late tour in Curacao, we scheduled a late dinner in the Pinnacle Grill, so will not see them until the night we leave Aruba.
April 22, 2014
The ship arrived early into Curacao, with many tours leaving early. Since we had no tour until late afternoon, we took our morning walk around Deck 10, had another relaxed breakfast and finally walked into town about 0930. Another cruise ship, the “Norwegian Sun” docked shortly after us, but by the time we left the ship, the floating pontoon bridge across the harbor entrance had been re-closed, so it was a quick walk. We spent the next several hours sightseeing and window shopping, visiting places we had seen in 2006, including the floating fish market with fishermen from Venezuela. After seeing the fish in the sun we decided to only have liquids ashore and eat lunch back on the ship. The town was not too crowded, even with two ships in port, but it was hot, and the rainstorms that initially threatened us never materialized. The pontoon bridge was now open, so we rode the free ferry back to the side of the harbor the ship was docked on.
At 1600 we left the ship for our evening catamaran sail. We were surprised it even went due to the winds, but then they took us by bus to the eastern end of the island below Table Mountain. We were surprised to find a large inner bay or lagoon, with boats sailing around inside in protected waters. There were many boats anchored and we found out this is a favorite place to run from hurricanes, since they seldom come to this island and the bay is very sheltered. There were large and fancy homes around the beaches, including some on private islands in the bay. After touring the bay while sipping rum punch, we headed out the inlet and further east up the coast before turning around and sailing back as the sun slipped below the horizon. We all watched for the “green flash”, but had to settle for a green banana liqueur drink instead. Returning to the dock in the dark we boarded the bus and returned to the ship in time to make our late dinner reservation.
Our meal was perfectly cooked, but it was getting very late and the entrée was large, so Patrick ordered “nothing” for dessert, while Miriam ordered some strawberry cheesecake. When her dessert arrived, rather than eat dessert alone, the waiter brought a empty dessert plate with “Nothing” written in chocolate syrup and dusted with powdered sugar for Patrick. We all had a good laugh and it was a fun ending to our late meal. It was 2230 by the time we left for our cabin, so we decided to skip the sail-away party at midnight.
April 23, 2014
After a short night with relatively calm seas, we circled outside Oranjestad, Aruba until dawn and then docked just before a Royal Caribbean ship “Vision of the Seas”. We had booked an early tour with snorkeling and sailing and were concerned that the tour would not depart with the winds gusting to 35 miles per hour. However, we departed on a large sailing catamaran and headed west along the coast to a protected bay where he had our first snorkel in shallow water with lots of fish. Dropping the permanent mooring in the bay, we headed out into rougher and deeper water to snorkel around a sunken ship, the “Antilla”, which was scuttled in 1940 by the crew to avoid capture by the Dutch in the months leading up to WWII. The ship is in 60 feet of water and easily visible while snorkeling, with the highest parts only about 20 feet under water. After 30 minutes at that location, the rum punch magically appeared as we sailed back to the main harbor along the beaches. After returning to the ship, showering off the salt water and having lunch we headed into town for a brief walk in very warm and humid weather. Finding nothing in the shops that called us by name, we returned to the ship shortly before a 1630 departure under windy, hot and humid conditions as we head further west towards the Panama Canal.
After a so-so dinner we headed for the “Pub Crawl”, which was a fun event that started in the “Crow’s Nest” and moved from venue to venue as we had various competitions, singing and dancing before finally finishing at 2330. Tomorrow is another day at sea where we can once again test out our sunscreen.
April 24, 2014
The entire ship seemed to be in slow motion after yesterday’s hot and humid weather and the late night events. The weather is very hot, with the wind now astern of the ship, under overcast skies. People seem to be saving their energy for the formal night and then the Panama Canal transit in the morning.
April 25, 2014
We arrived at the eastern entrance to the Panama Canal in the dark and followed another cruise ship, the “Norwegian Jewel” into the Gatun Locks just as the sun was finally up. As we approached the lock chambers at about 0700, we could see the excavations for the new larger locks; the lock gates were in a row alongside the channel. The Gatun locks are actually two parallel locks, so both ships were in the lock chambers at the same time, with the Norwegian Jewel ahead by a few minutes. Although bigger and higher than the locks in Seattle, the process was very similar except for the use of the “mules” to keep the ships centered in the lock chambers. The ships use no fenders and have only about 18 inches of clearance on each side, so great care is taken to avoid touching the unforgiving concrete sides of the lock chambers. The skies were gray and before we exited the Gatun Locks we heard thunder, saw lightning and then the skies opened up with torrential rain. The rain continued off and on, with more lightning until we were about halfway across Gatun Lake.
When the sun did appear the temperature soared quickly and with the high humidity our cabin was a welcome sanctuary from the weather and the mosquitoes. The ship entered the Pedro Miguel locks about 30 minutes later than planned after transiting Gatun Lake and the 8 mile Culebra Cut, which has been widened, but is still a one way section of the canal. Our speed from Gatun Locks to Pedro Miguel Locks was about 8 knots. The entire time we had been following the “Norwegian Jewel” but as we entered the final locks leading to the Pacific Ocean,”Miraflores Locks”, we pulled ahead and exited just slightly ahead of them. The four story tourist center was jammed with people, apparently there to see the final two cruise ships transiting from the Atlantic to the Pacific to join the fleet of cruise ships in Alaska for the summer. There was lots of horn blowing by both ships as we exited the side by side locks together at about 1600 local time.
The excavations for the new locks on the Pacific side appeared to be less complete than on the Atlantic side of the canal. Both sides have a long way to go before completion.
We have now experienced the Panama Canal twice, once each direction. This transit was on the 100 year anniversary of the completion of the Canal, one of the reasons we picked 2014 for another cruise. The actual 100 year anniversary will be in August, but we will be in Alaska and no cruise ships transit that time of year anyway.
Pictures when we have a faster internet connection.