Panama Canal Cruise – Days 2 and 3.

August 31, 2018

The distance between Seattle and Victoria was probably the shortest leg of our journey. Thus, by the time we awoke on Friday morning, we were docked.

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Our ship docked in Victoria

Lu and I had been to Victoria before and saw no reason to pay for a shore excursion. We might have walked into town, but from what we could see from the deck, we would be better served taking a taxi. We opted to walk to a small gift shop at the port and return to the ship.

We were among the few who stayed aboard.

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The area shown in the above photo is the aft deck just outside a number of feeding troughs. The main buffet was on the starboard (right) side of the ship. In the middle was a bar and two shorter (with fewer food options) cafeteria lines, and on the port (left) side was a sports bar and grill. If you entered that side and continued past the sports bar, you’d find a gaming arcade and a pizza and sandwich ‘shop’. All the dining areas on this part of the ship were free (in other words, included in the price of the passage.)

One of my favorite photos shows a sea gull preparing to pounce.

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The thief just waiting for his opportunity.

Shortly after I took this picture, the man and his wife left the table momentarily to look at something at the back of the ship. That is when the bird swooped in and stole a few French fries.

Flying objects were the most interesting part of our time spent on the ship at Victoria.

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One of the many sea planes we saw.

Sea planes are something I’ve seen lots of times in Victoria, Vancouver, and various Alaskan ports. Obviously, they provide much needed short hop transportation.

Looking in the other direction gave us some beautiful scenery.

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The Canadian Rockies.

Speaking of beautiful scenery, this picture is a must see.

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My bride of almost 20 years!

My favorite traveling companion still looks great to me!

One more photo of the area at the rear of the ship shows that most travelers were either in other parts of the ship or had gone ashore.

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We had this dining area to ourselves!

Originally I had thought our stop in Victoria was to stay within the confines of the Jones Act. (I just spent a fruitless search to get the exact details of the Jones Act. Thus, I’ll simply give you my simple understanding of the law.)

Based on a law passed over 100 years ago, only ships flagged in the United States and having a mostly American crew could sail from one United States port to another. All other ships had to stop at a foreign port somewhere in between. Thus, if you sailed most cruise ships around the Hawaiian Islands, at some point you would have to go to a foreign port and waste two days of your trip. (The only cruise line, as of this writing, that avoids the extra stop is the “Freedom of America” operated by Norwegian Cruise Lines. They flagged the ship in the U.S. to get around the law.)

Since our ship was flagged in Panama or some other place, it could not go directly from Seattle to San Francisco. It had to make a stop in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

However, after having watched them load tons of food, water, and other supplies, I think they also stopped to take on the cargo where it was cheaper.

We were docked from before sunrise to late evening and they unloaded one tractor trailer full of supplies after another most of the day.

We left Victoria around dinner time and spent the next day at sea.

While I failed to take any photos on the day at sea, I did manage to begin my walking diet. I decided to walk around the ship’s deck between every meal. By doing that, I would not gain any weight on the cruise!

What I did gain was a big fat blister that ended my diet. The weight I gained will not be discussed any further.

After several great meals and a couple of wonderful stage shows, we awoke to see the Golden Gate Bridge and begin Day 4 in San Francisco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Panama Canal Cruise – Day 1

August 27, 2018
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Here I am enjoying the sea breeze as we leave Seattle.

We were finally on board and sailing out of Seattle. The shadows and the clock make it obvious we are heading northwest toward Victoria, British Columbia. It is late afternoon or early evening and we are right on time.

And then we had this wonderful view of Seattle… and the ship appears to be headed in a more southerly direction.

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Seattle’s waterfront with Ferris Wheel and Sports stadium.

And then we had this beautiful view of the Space Needle and all its billboard information. Wait! Now the ship is headed in a south-easterly direction.

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Sadly, this photo shows a better shot of the billboards.

The vista repeated itself a number of times. Believe it or not, it seemed our captain was doing donuts in Seattle’s harbor.

Naturally I was not the only person to notice this odd behavior. However, one person came up with a somewhat reasonable explanation. Recall that this ship had just spent a week or two in dry dock. These modern ocean liners have a series of propulsion devices and can actually be moved sideways. Perhaps the captain was testing those engines and had the front screws pushing us one way and the rear screws pushing us in the other direction. Therefore, he was making us turn in circles without going anywhere. (Notice that I did not call those devices ‘propellers’. Lu’s father, a retired Naval officer, would have rolled over in his grave had I not used the proper terminology.)

About 45 minutes later, we were back where we had started.

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Our parking space was still available!

As it turned out, someone on board choked on a chicken bone or something and it turned into a severe medical problem. We were doing donuts while the medical staff was treating the person. It was finally decided that the person needed much more serious medical care and we returned to port and the person was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

At the time I felt really sorry for that person. In truth I still do to some extent. I initially thought the person was, like Lu and I, taking a cruise through the Panama Canal for the first time – a trip of a lifetime! In later days I learned that many of the folks on board had passed through the canal numerous times. Thus, the person with the medical emergency may not have been a first timer. In any case, it was sad.

As we finally set sail for Victoria, Lu and I took the time to get familiar with the ship. When we upgraded to an outside cabin, we didn’t know if we’d get an actual window or a porthole. It wasn’t a big window and we had to crawl up on the bed to look out, but it was a nice view.

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Our room for the next 18 days.

Besides the bed, the cabin included a small dressing table, a small refrigerator, a set of drawers and closet for clothing, and a bathroom with a shower that was about the size of the teleportation tubes on Star Trek. It also included a TV so we could catch up on the news of the world. (Somehow I think it might have been nicer to be isolated from worldly events.)

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It isn’t a hotel suite, but it will do.

After unpacking, we headed up toward the buffet to see what sort of meals we might expect. But to get there, we had to pass by the swimming pools and hot tubs. (I’ll include other photos showing people actually having fun in the pools in later installments.)

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The tables next to the pools had drink menus. Nobody was driving, so why not?

The area around the pool was loaded with tables and chairs and deck loungers.

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The view between the pools and side of the ship.

The openings on the right are showers for people who wanted to rinse off at the pool rather than returning to their cabins. Those showers were much larger than the ones in the room, but without doors one couldn’t really take a serious shower using soap and shampoo.

I would include pictures of the buffet and other dining areas had I taken any. I’ll try to do better on our next cruise – assuming we take another.

I believe it was on the first day that we also had to muster at our lifeboat stations for the safety instructions. This was not a way to win friends and influence enemies.

First off, this was our second cruise on Norwegian. The first was on a larger ship and we sailed out of New Orleans. To receive our message of safety, we reported to the auditorium.

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This photo is from the Norwegian Cruise Line web site.

The auditorium on the Norwegian Jewel was much larger than the one on the Norwegian Sun.

(I should also mention that we received a free bottle of bubbly for being second-time customers.)

Remember the first photo in this segment – the one with me standing all alone on a deck? This photo.

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Now, picture this deck with several hundred people standing and waiting for further instructions.

Those instructions would not be given until all passengers were present and accounted for. We had to check in with a crew member and have our names crossed off. Fifteen minutes later, we were still waiting for the late comers to appear. Finally, after about 40 minutes, we were given the instructions. Of course, one person had already passed out by then. Perhaps they gave that person the instructions when he or she came to.

It should be noted that since the cruise was 18 days long and went from mid-April to early May, there was not an overabundance of young families. Instead, there was an overabundance of walkers and wheelchairs. The bulk of the passengers were retirees and did not need to be standing – or sitting – out on the deck to hear instructions that most of us had heard before.

So far, we had had a couple of bad experiences and heard some real horror stories. However, being retired and looking forward to our once-in-a-lifetime experience, we were optimistic that things would improve. We would not be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Panama Canal Cruise – Getting to the Port

August 15, 2018

A few months ago my bride and I took a trip that had been on my bucket list for several years. Actually, it was a combination of two items – first, take a re-positioning cruise from wherever to wherever. Second, take a cruise through the Panama Canal.

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Entering the canal from the Pacific Ocean

A re-positioning cruise is the result of a cruise ship company deciding to move a ship from one ‘market’ to another. In most cases, the decision is based on the calendar. For example, a ship that has been plying the waters of the North Atlantic is moved to the Caribbean in the winter months and then returned to the New England area for the summer travelers. In other instances, an older ship is moved to make room for a newer (larger and more luxurious vessel) that will accommodate more passengers in a particular ‘market’.

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The Norwegian Sun in Victoria, B.C.

In our case, the Norwegian Sun, was being replaced by the Norwegian Bliss (the newest and one of the largest ships in their fleet). The Sun was being returned to Florida and assigned to cruise between Miami and Havana, Cuba. Thus, our cruise began in Seattle, Washington and ended at Port Canaveral in Florida.

The best part of a re-positioning cruise is the price. The cruise line would rather not send an empty ship from one port to another for any reason. This is true in the airline industry as well as the trucking industry. If you can pick up a load and carry it to your destination and make some money in the effort, why not? The best way to get that load is to drop the price.

Our 18 day cruise had a base price (inside stateroom) of about $900 per person, or around $50 per day. Thus, the two of us got to sail for $100 a day. A price that included a ‘motel’ room, numerous meals and snacks throughout the day, nightly Las Vegas style shows, other forms of entertainment throughout the day, a large swimming pool, and numerous other amenities. It cost very little to upgrade to an outside cabin, so we did.

The other costs included airfare from Atlanta to Seattle and from Orlando to Atlanta; shore excursions – we took a bus tour of San Francisco, a hike and boat trip through the rain forest of Costa Rica, and a hop on/hop off bus tour of Cartagena, Colombia – tips for the ship’s crew members, and a few meals on land, and souvenirs. In total, we spent less than $6,000 for a wonderful three week vacation. That total included paying to park our car near the Atlanta airport and paying for someone to take care of our dog in our absence. (More about our dog later!)

We started our trip a few days prior to the ship’s departure. This is good advice for anyone taking a cruise for two reasons. First, the cruise ship leaves port when it is scheduled to leave port. This is true almost 100% of the time. Second, airlines are not always as punctual. If your plan calls for you to fly to the port city the day of the cruise ship’s departure and the flight is delayed or cancelled, you may miss the boat. If you’ve already paid a few thousand dollars for that cruise, a day or two in a motel is a sound investment. Plus, it gives you a chance to tour the port city.

In our case, the motel was basically free. I say ‘basically’ because we had to take a shuttle bus to get from the airport to a small town where we met my brother Doug and his bride Nancy. We then spent some time with them at their home in Port Townsend, Washington.

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Me and my brother Doug

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Lu and our sister-in-law Nancy

While in the area, we toured the town and learned that it had once been a thriving port – long before Seattle became the base for many cruise ships and cargo vessels. We also learned that the local government and chamber of commerce members are working hard to make the area a major tourist attraction. From our experience, I’d say it is worth the trip… even if you can’t stay with my brother for free.

After enjoying our visit, we were up before the sun and making our way to the cruise ship. This part of our trip was free because the ferry boats only make you pay when you are leaving Seattle. (As I recall, many years ago the city of Philadelphia made airline passengers pay to leave. If memory serves, they insisted on cash! I also remember that most people were more than glad to pay to leave. It might have been the “City of Brotherly Love”, but at the time it did not live up to its name.)

It wasn’t long before the city of Seattle came into view and I found myself disappointed by the ‘progress’. You’d have to magnify this picture quite a bit to see it, but the Seattle Space Needle is now plastered with advertising. Lu and I had been to Seattle in 1999 and ate at the restaurant that sits on top of the needle. It was much more attractive without the commercial messages. I’m sure it helps to pay their bills, but it is definitely an eyesore.

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The Space Needle in Seattle

Shortly after that photo was taken we spied our ship. Soon our ferry boat docked and we walked a few blocks and got in line to board and enter the cabin that would be our home for the next eighteen days.

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The Norwegian Sun in Seattle

For whatever reason, we spent the next few hours sitting in a large room waiting to board the ship. It seems they weren’t ready for us. Even after we finally got on board, we were directed to another area to wait until our cabin was ready. During this time we learned all sorts of interesting tidbits about the Norwegian Sun. As I recall, the ‘cruise from Hell’ was a phrase used more than once!

I skipped a lot of details. So before I explain the ‘cruise from Hell’ statement, let me list the specifics of the trip to this point.

First, we drove from our home to a Holiday Inn near the Atlanta airport. We spent the night at the motel to be sure we would have no problem getting to the airport in time to catch our noon flight. That should tell you a lot about Atlanta traffic. We live about 60 miles north of the airport. To get there two hours before our flight would have put us in the middle of the morning rush hour. Smarter option? Spend the night at a motel and pay the few extra dollars.

Our first flight was to Kansas City where we had a short layover and changed planes. That gave us a chance to grab a bite to eat and meet other travelers. We then boarded the plane to Seattle and arrived around 4:30 P.M. west coast time.

From there, we took a shuttle bus to Silverdale where my brother and his wife met us. We then had dinner at a great Chinese buffet that also included steaks cooked to order! Finally, on to my brother’s home to spend the night.

The next day was for roaming around Port Townsend and visiting a few historical sites.

Another night in Washington and an early wake-up call so we could head to the Port of Seattle. That was accomplished beginning with my brother driving us to the ferry boat terminal.

Thus, “Getting to the Port” was actually a three day event.

Now, the explanation of the ‘cruise from Hell’.

Our re-positioning cruise was actually phase two. The Sun had been used for Caribbean cruises and was being refurbished prior to taking on the Florida to Cuba route. Phase one was to move the ship from Florida to a dry dock in British Columbia for a complete refurnishing. As mentioned earlier, if the cruise line can carry paying customers and make some money on the deal, why not?

Well the ‘why not’ was what made this cruise Hellish. Based on some top executive’s infinite wisdom, it was decided to begin the refurbishing effort during the trip from Florida to California. Thus, the ship not only carried passengers and crew, it also carried construction workers and their equipment. For the next two weeks, the passengers had to endure dust, noise, toxic odors, and various areas of the ship being roped off while decks were torn up and completely replaced. While the workers wore hazmat suits, the passengers were left to their own devices.

The passengers insisted on meeting with the captain. He entered the room, blamed everything on upper levels of management and walked out of the room. It took less than five minutes and the captive audience could do nothing until they reached port in Los Angeles.

At that point, they raised so much Hell with Norwegian Cruise Lines that they all received full refunds.

Obviously, had we learned of this before we booked the cruise, we might not have made the trip. But, until we sat in the waiting room waiting to board the ship, we were totally ignorant.

At that point, all we could do was continue on our way and hope for the best. We would not be disappointed!