Category Archives: 2009 World Cruise

2009 World Cruise – Jan. 9 – Day 5 – Panama Canal Crossing

2009 World Cruise – I woke up early; really early – as 4:30 am and got up at 5:15.  I was on the bow before 6 to watch the sail-in to the Panama Canal.  There are two parallel lanes making up the canal so two ships go through at once.  We followed another cruise ship called “Amedea” into the right side set of locks.  John and I spent pretty much the entire day on one or another of the outside decks; mostly on the bow, watching the ship go in and sail out of the locks and the land pass slowly by.img_2628 img_2629The Panama Canal is considered to be the Eighth Wonder of the Modern World and has shortened the trip around the continent of South of America by 7,000 miles (11,265 km).  Amazingly the idea of a canal through the Isthmus of Panama was conceived by King Charles V of Spain in 1523.  He even commissioned a survey of the Canal area, which was completed the following year.  The sheer magnitude of the task though was too daunting for the Spanish and the idea was shelved.  The Gold Rush of 1894 brought the completion of the Panama Railroad across the Isthmus and it wasn’t until Panama’s independence from Colombia in 1903 that the idea of building a canal was seriously undertaken.

A deal was struck with the United States.  The US would guarantee Panama’s independence and, for the measly sum of $10,000,000, Panama granted the USA power and authority within the then ‘Canal Zone.’  America also paid an annuity of $250,000 beginning nine years after the treaty was signed.  This annual fee increased a few times over the years until it reached $1,930,000 in 1955.  On December 31, 1999, Panama assumed full responsibility for the administration, operation, and maintenance of the Panama Canal.

img_2630 img_2644 img_2665 The project was originally started by a French company but they went broke and the States bought them out for $40,000,000.  It took 10 years and 6,000 lives from yellow fever, cholera and accidents before the $387,000,000 Panama Canal was opened.

It has remained virtually unchanged since the opening in 1914.  The installation of lights in the 70’s allowed ships to go through the Canal 24/7.  It has only been closed for a few days two times since it opened.  The Canal is a neutral zone so any ship that can pay the passage fee is allowed through. (Average cost for a container ship or cruise ship is $100,000 – $200,000.  The smallest amount ever paid was 36 cents in tolls paid by a fellow, who in 1928 took ten days to swim the Canal.)

The ships pass through three sets of locks that effectively lift the vessels 26 meters above sea level to the level of Gatun Lake and then lower them back to sea level on the opposite side of the Isthmus.  The ships use their own power to navigate the lake but are assisted by pairs of electric locomotives (called Donkeys) on rails that use cables to keep the ships in position within the locks chambers.  The transit is 48 miles (77 km) long and each crossing flushes approximately 197 million liters of fresh water into the sea.  It is a good thing the area has a very high rate of rainfall.

img_2634 img_2653_edited-1 img_2662 img_2655 img_2656_edited-1Our ship, the MS Rotterdam is one of the smaller cruise ships around these days and pretty much the largest that could go through the Canal.  We had very little clearance on each side of the concrete walls.  All the big cruise liners today just stay on one side or the other and do the same cruise over and over.

The glimmer at the bottom of this photo is the water in the lock.  You could easily touch the concrete walls if you reached out from one of the cargo doors on the lower deck.

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img_2677There is a lot of traffic along the lake shore and within Gatun Lake as you sail from one set of locks to the other.  Everyone moves dead slow so it takes all day to make the crossing. img_2693-1 img_2696-1 img_2707 img_2711 img_2719 img_2744We passed the Panama Railway Bridge and sailed under the beautiful Centennial Bridge before entering the Gatun Locks on the west side of the lake (The locks on the east side, where we entered the Canal, are called the Miraflores Locks).img_2680 img_2721_edited-1 img_2726After we passed through the last lock and past the Visitor’s Center, whose three levels of balconies – and the roof – were packed with people watching the ships; we entered the Pacific Ocean. We made our way to the beautiful Golfo Dulce coast of Costa Rica where we did scenic cruising all the next day.img_2730 img_2753 img_2761



2009 World Cruise – Jan 8 – Day 4 – Cartagena, Colombia

2009 World Cruise  – We were up at 6:45 in order to have lots of time before our first tour of the cruise.  Thank heaven for room service breakfasts.

Our home for the next four+ months.img_3123 img_3124Cartagena de Indias was founded in 1533 and became a major port for Spanish ships taking gold and other products from northern  South America.  The city also became a center for the Inquisition and a major slave market.  The province declared its independence from Spain in 1811 and years of civil war followed.  Today the city is Colombia’s fifth largest, mainly due to petroleum fields discovered in the Rio Magdalena Valley in 1917.

The first stop on our tour was Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a massive stone fortress that covers a hill 135 feet above sea level.  it was originally built in the 1600’s and named after Spain’s King Philip IV.  Over the years it was re-fortified and expanded.  In front of the fortress is a statue of Don Blas de Lezo, a Spanish Admiral who defended the fortress and city from an attack by Great Britain in 1741. (If you look closely at the statue you will notice the empty right sleeve – hence the left-handed swordsman – and a wooden left leg.  Don de Lezo lost these limbs in other battles and also lost an eye – brave and persevering fellow, I think.)img_2569_edited-1img_2572 img_2571  The view over the city was magnificent.

img_2579 img_2580_edited-1 img_2583_edited-1After we toured the fortress we had a walking tour through the narrow streets of the Old Town.

img_2584 img_2590 img_2593 img_2596_edited-1 img_2597In a park there is a statue of national hero Simon Bolivar, who defeated the Spanish and liberated most of South America.  He died Dec 17, 1880 from, it is commonly believed, tuberculosis (known at the time as Galloping Consumption).

(FYI – It is commonly held – although not universally adhered to (as proven by this statue) – that the position of the legs of the horse in an equestrian statue signify the death of the rider.  If the horse is rearing with both front legs off the ground, the rider is said to have died in battle.  If only one front leg is off the ground, the rider was wounded in battle and died of his wounds later.  If all four feet of the horse are on the ground, the rider survived any battles and died later of other causes.  Just so you know.)  img_2605 img_2601 All in all, it was a good first port-of-call and an interesting tour on a nice day.

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2009 World Cruise – Jan. 3- The Adventure Begins

2009 World Cruise – I began writing my travel blog when we drove across Canada in 2014.  But that was not the beginning of our travel adventures.   I had never heard of a blog at that time and had no idea how to share one.  Times have changed; I have learned.

I have decided a fun project would be, whenever I have the time and the notion to write up a blog about our other holidays.  They won’t be done daily.  Perhaps not even weekly.  There will probably be large gaps between posts, but I thought it might be fun to reminisce.  So…. here we go.

John and I retired in the spring of 2007.  We wanted to go somewhere warm for a month or so of the winter in early 2008 so, in the fall of 2007, we went to see a travel agent at BCAA Travel in Vernon.   We were directed to the desk of Lindy Frazao, a very friendly, professional and competent lady.  While Lindy was scrolling through her computer to see what she could offer us she said, in an off-hand comment to herself, “Oh, they are doing another World Cruise.”  My ears immediately perked up.  I had never heard of such a thing.  “A World Cruise,” I said. “Who does that?”

Lindy explained that Holland America Cruise Line does a series of ‘Grand Voyages,’ the longest of which is a cruise around the world lasting 110-115 days.  “Well.”  I said, “If they plan one for 2009 please let us know.”  They did; and she did.  So there we were.

We had never sailed on a Holland America ship (We cruised a few times with my dad who liked Royal Caribbean.  We had also done a cruise with friends on Norwegian) and we had never been on a cruise longer than two weeks.  We booked it anyway.  And – we didn’t just book the 114- day World Cruise, we added on another two weeks at the beginning.  This is entirely due to my obsessive, compulsive issues.  That year the world cruise began in Los Angeles, CA and ended in either Ft. Lauderdale, FL, or three days later, New York, NY.  My brain did not compute a cruise around the world that began on one side of a continent and ended on the other – you would miss a big bit.  Fortunately for me, the MS Rotterdam was doing a regular weekly cruise in the Caribbean and needed to get to LA to begin the round-the-world voyage.  Therefore, there was available a regular 14-day cruise through the Panama Canal from Ft. Lauderdale to Los Angeles.  We booked that too.

img_6858img_6857 We also decided that if we were going to be on a ship for over four months we wanted some personal space and reserved a balcony suite.  This cabin option came with perks: unlimited luggage picked-up and returned to our door by courier, First Class flights to Ft. Lauderdale and back, and limousine service from the airport to the hotel on arrival in Florida.

The unlimited luggage was a fabulous perk.  How could you pack for over four months into one 50-lb bag?  You couldn’t which would mean extra fees at the airport.  The goodie did have a down side we discovered.  In order to ensure sufficient time for our bags to  arrive at the Ft. Lauderdale Cruise Terminal the courier would come and pick them up on December 3.  The ship sailed January 5.  I usually pack the night before I leave.  Packing a month early was a killer.  Downside number two:  Since we live in Canada and our un-accompanied luggage was being sent to the USA we need to itemize and value every item in our bags – in triplicate.  We wanted to have a variety of clothes for each of us in each bag in case one of them went missing so we made piles all over the living-room and wrote out the manifests as we loaded the bags (2 big bags each).  This took all afternoon!  When I complained to my sister Irene, she, very kindly and sympathetically said, “My heart bleeds for you; you will not have to cook, or do the dishes, or make your bed, or clean the house for four months.”  Nice.

We left home on January 3 in order to have an extra day in the event of flight delays. (The flight from Kelowna to Toronto was an hour late leaving and the Toronto to Ft. Lauderdale flight was over three hours late.)  Flying business class is a whole new world.  We had real food!  On real plates!  With real cutlery!  Lots of leg room and 2 flight attendants to take care of 16 passengers.  Oh, if only I could fly that way all the time.

A Holland America representative met us at the airport in Florida and told us where to wait outside for our ride to our hotel.  There was another couple standing beside us who were also going on the cruise and who also had booked a balcony suite.  Down the drive comes this long, black stretch limo.  The driver gets out, asks our name, opens the door and directs us inside.  “These folks are going to the same hotel,” I said.  “Their car will be along shortly,” he said.  Sure enough, driving up the road I could see another stretch limo.  My practical side thought that was a bit silly. There was room for 10 people in each of those cars.  I wouldn’t have been offended if I ‘didn’t get my own limo.”  I do admit that it was a fun experience.

p1050106 dscn3153 dscn3154 dscn3155We spent the night in a lovely hotel and were taken by limo again from the hotel to the cruise terminal at 10 am the next day.  We boarded the ship at noon and set sale at 5. We sailed two days before our first port-of-call: Cartegena, Colombia.

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