2018 Panama Canal Cruise

Jim and I went on a cruise through the Panama Canal with a group hosted by Gina and John Ostos of You Are Not Alone Travel Group. This cruise departed from Miami, Florida and arrived in Los Angeles, California fourteen days later. Since we were on a one-way trip, we rode the Florida Redline Shuttle from Bradenton to the Port of Miami. We arrived safely at the Port of Miami about midday and was able to board the Norwegian Star pretty quickly. We spent the afternoon exploring the ship, taking pictures of the Miami skyline and enjoying the buffet. Jim also showed off his dancing skills during the Sail Away Party.

Miami Skyline

Jim doing the Cuban Shuffle during the Welcome Aboard/ Sail Away Party.

We were looking forward to seeing Gina and John, along with other members of the nineteen persons group at dinner. It was a pretty diverse group of people, which included families, neighbors, life-long friends and people meeting for the first time. Jim and I reunited with friends that we sailed with last year. We took the picture below on the second night of the cruise.

You Are Not Alone Travel Group
2018 Panama Canal Cruise (Miami to Los Angeles)

We had two sea days before reaching our first port of Call. Those days were spent getting to know the new people in the group and catching up on life with group members that we already knew. Some people needed these two days to get their sea legs. The Caribbean was very turbulent, which caused seasickness in some group members. There were lots of things to do on the ship during the days at sea. Some of the group members and I met with Gina in the ship's gym to participate in group exercises. That helped offset some of the extra calories we were consuming. Jim and I also played a few games of Bingo, participated in some music trivia and caught up on some reading. We purchased an internet so we were never off the grid.

Cartegena, Colombia

Our first Port of Call was Cartegena, Colombia. Cartetegena is a modern city and a major port on the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean Coast Region.

Cathedral of Cartagena

We visited the Cathedral of Cartagena and Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a fortress within the city. It was built by the Spanish during the colonial era and is located on the Hill of San Lazaro in a strategic location.

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Highlights of Cartegena with Tour Guide Sandy

Sandy's tour was very informational. It highlighted the importance of the Catholic church in the colonial era. There was a of terrible acts in the name of religion. There were torture chambers, weapons and executions. There was a native performance and a tour of a museum.

Cruising through the Panama Canal

Cruising through the Panama Canal was an interesting experience. This was definitely a bucket list item. It took over eight hours to travel the 51 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Three canal locks at the end lifted the cruise ship up 85 ft above sea level to Gatun Lake, an artificial lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal. We were then lowered at the other end by three locks into the Pacific Ocean. Being engineers, we were still amazed that this engineering feat was completed in 1914 and locks are operated by gravity and displaced water. We were escorted into locks by Panamanian authorities, who charge an average toll of $150,000 per crossing.

We saw the skyline of Panama and spotted a crocodile swimming near the shore. The area around Gatum Lake remains unscathed by human interference and one of the few accessible areas where various native animal and plant species can be observed undisturbed in their natural habitat.

Puntarenas, Costa Rico

As you can see, the weather was absolutely fantastic in Costa Rico. The city was decorated for the holiday season. Irene and Gustavo were our tour guide and bus driver on Scenic Costa Rico tour.

The school children were allowed to performed as a reward for good grades and good behavior. We were encouraged to join in the celebration. There were opportunities to shop for homemade items.

Corinto, Nicaragua

Jaime was our tour guide. He asked us to call him Jimmy. Our tour was called Colonial City of Leon, which involved a one and a half mile drive from the Port of Corinto to the City of Leon, a former capital of Nicaragua. We traveled on a new luxury bus with restroom and a water/guave juice fountain. Jimmy said that it cost $280,000 and is owned by the driver, Carlos. I mention this because the disclaimer on the tour stated that air conditioning was not guaranteed. We were pleasantly surprised. Jimmy provided us with lots of information about the country of Nicaragua, some things I knew and had forgotten, and some things I never knew. For instance, the shortest distance between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is 11 miles in Nicaragua. There are 19 active volcanos, which is one of the reasons the International Canal was built in Panama and not in Nicaragua. China now has a project with Nicaragua to build a canal.

Traveling the 70 miles to Leon gave us the opportunity to see the countryside and get a glimpse of how the people lived. Things that I noticed was most homes had electricity, but no indoor plumbing or air conditioning. Cooking was done outside. I noticed a few televisions and cell phones. Travel was by horse or bicycle, with very few automobiles. There were an unusual amount of semi-trailer trucks in driveways. There were large and small farms. Agricultural products included mangoes, cashews, peanuts, sugar cane and bananas.