Mona and I enjoyed our 7 day cruise in the southern Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico – lots of sun, sand and good food! Of course, we were scheduled for a 10-day cruise, but an aircraft brake light glitch at the Raleigh-Durham airport resulted in us spending a couple days in Fort Lauderdale and one in Aruba waiting for “our ship to come in!” Turns out, we didn’t miss much of the cruise besides two days tossing about among a bunch of seasick tourists as the ship bounced through some rough seas. One person we later met on the boat said that at one point the ship’s swimming pool tossed a big wave out of the pool so high it extinguished the flame in the barbecue grill on the pool deck! We were relaxing in a seaside restaurant in Aruba when that happened. We boarded the ship Monday afternoon, Jan. 7.
Next day we spent a few hours exploring some of the shops and the open air market on Curacao. Then it was a couple days at sea until we arrived at the Panama Canal’s northern end at the city of Colon. (The canal runs north and south). Colon has a huge port facility with numerous huge cranes and a dozen or more cargo ships waiting entry into either the port or the canal. We were told that the Canal operates on a tight time schedule, and ships must wait their turn and enter at their appointed time or be required to await the next open time in the flow of ships. Our cruise line (Holland America) pays an extra fee ($35,000 plus the regular transit fee to traverse the canal locks at its desired time). In our case, we traveled only through the first set of locks and entered Gatun Lake about two hours after passing by Colon. Gatun Lake is a man made lake designed by the Army Corps of Engineers when they built the canal to provide water to operate the locks. There is no shortage of water because the area receives an average of more than 250 inches of rain per year!
Our ship anchored in the lake to let passengers go ashore to enjoy shore excursions while the ship returned through the locks to the city of Colon. There were fewer passengers aboard our cruise ship during the return passage through the locks, so we had a much better view of this engineering marvel. We had a couple of hours ashore in Colon, awaiting the return of passengers who had taken excursions. The only thing I purchased there was a panama hat and a ceramic mug with a colorful outline of the Panama Canal.
Next day we arrived in Costa Rica, where we took an interesting shore excursion. This side trip took us on a boat ride in a canal for a close-up look at the birds, animals and foliage of this tropical paradise. Our tour guide proudly informed us that we were unusually lucky to see examples of all three species of monkeys that inhabit Costa Rica, howler monkeys, spider monkeys and white faced monkeys. We also rode an ancient train with wooden bench seats, open air windows and an inoperative toilet, enroute to a Del Monte banana plantation, where we watched the sorting, cleaning and packing of the green fruit. The huge stalks of bananas are brought from the banana groves to the packaging plant by runners who each pull strings of 5 stocks of bananas suspended below a narrow track from the fields to the packing plant. Our tour guide told us each stalk of bananas weighs about 50 to 75 pounds and that the “runners” are the highest paid workers employed there. Because of the annual 20 feet of rainfall, the banana fields have deep ditches running beside every second row of banana bushes for drainage, making mechanized harvesting impractical.
It was a two days and nights sail from Costa Rica back to Fort Lauderdale. We enjoyed the 24-hour availability of great food, the evening entertainment shows, the casino, and various facilities, including pool, spa, beauty shop, exercise equipment and numerous bars as well as classes for all sorts of activities and sunshine almost every day.
Upon docking at the Ft. Lauderdale pier at 7 a.m., we stood in lines and hurried through customs, suffering numerous delays, fearing that we would miss our 10:30 a.m. flight departure from Ft. Lauderdale Airport, but good luck prevailed, and we arrived home at about 7:30 p.m. Monday evening, Jan. 14.