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Panama Canal Cruise - Week Two

11th Feb
This morning we had another clock change. We moved the clocks forward another hour. That is 3 hours we have lost in the last week but we haven’t noticed any difference. We had a day at sea while we headed for Panama. The number of ships around this area due to the canal was amazing. The sea was moderate but you can see these ships look like they are going to collide.
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12th Feb
This morning we awoke to being docked at Fuerte Amador in Panama. It is situated at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, it is a man-made peninsula extending out into the Pacific Ocean. The one-mile causeway was created by connecting four small islands with rocks excavated from the Panama Canal.
As we walked out onto our balcony this morning the seas were flat and we had a lovely view of Panama City. I had no idea it was so big and modern.
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We had to tender to shore for our excursion. The tenders were launched.
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Here we are on arrival on Panama land.
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This cruise has a 2-day transit so we have a whole day to explore the locks before cruising through then tomorrow. We took a scenic ride through the lush rainforest and stunning scenery to the Gatun Locks to see them in action and learn its history.
We arrived at the Gatun Locks.
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Once there we went up to the viewing platform to watch the ship Wolverine move through the locks. We were amazed at how close we were to the ships.
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This is the Wolverine once up at the top of the locks. She looks really big yet this is only a Panamax size ship.
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We learnt how ships navigating from the Pacific Ocean will first pass through two locks – the Miraflores and the Pedro Miguel. These two sets of locks place the vessel in the Gatun Lake, which was once the largest man-made lake in the world. Then, the vessel crosses the lake to the Gatun Locks. Next, there are two parallel sets of locks that consist of another three locks that measure 984 feet long and 118 feet wide. This set of locks lifts ships a total of 85 feet into Bahía Limón and the Atlantic Ocean. The canal was finished on August 15 1914 and the US managed the waterway until 1999. At noon on December 31 1999, Panama took full operation, administration and maintenance of the canal.
At these locks they used mules to help steady the ship on the lock. (They are electric locomotives, but still called mules as it was actual mules that used to do this job).
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You can see what the drop in level is like from this angle.
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Here is Shane in one of the old mules.
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Then he thought he would try out what he thought might be a dream job.
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After observing this amazing feat, we travelled to the Expansion Observatory Platform where we saw the recently constructed new traffic lane called Agua Clara.
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The extension program began in September 2007. Its objective is to double the waterways capacity to satisfy the increasing demand.
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This new lane has created two new sets of locks, one on the Pacific and one on the Atlantic, which has doubled the canal's capacity and allows longer and wider vessels to transit. We were amazed at the size of the ships that used it. We stayed to watch a container ship move through the locks. With the larger ships they use tugs instead of the mules. Here is the MSC Branka getting ready to come through.
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Moving into the first lock.
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Now the big gates shut. These ones do not swing shut like the old locks. They have one gate that pushes across the lock.
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She has now been lowered and is moving into the next lock.
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The gates shut behind her.
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We loved watching this occur. It is a lot slower at the new locks due to the size of the ships. An average transit for a Panamax ship is 8 to 10 hours. For the new post Panamax ships it takes 10 to 12 hours. We would love to have stayed longer but it was time to get back to the ship.
We once again got a tender back to the ship after an enjoyable day. As we had to wait until morning before transiting the canal we had a distant view of Panama City by night. It was hard to get a photo but you will get the idea.
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13th Feb
After the conquest of the Inca Empire in the 16th century, the Spanish tried to find a direct route for gold shipments to the Old World. The long and painstaking trek began on the Pacific coast, where gold was loaded onto mules and carried overland. Upon reaching Portobelo on the Atlantic Ocean the gold would be loaded onto ships bound for Spain. Centuries later, American schooners carrying trade around the world would make the 8,000-mile journey around Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. Not until the 20th century would there be an easier way to traverse Panama.
Today was the day that we were looking forward to. We get to transit the Panama Canal on the Island Princess from the Pacific Ocean to Caribbean. Considered the 8th wonder of the world, the Panama Canal consists of a series of locks. Built between 1904 and 1914, the 80 kilometre international waterway extends across the Isthmus of Panama from Colon on the Atlantic Ocean side, to Balboa and the Pacific Ocean. Since its opening more than one million ships from all over the world have transited the canal.
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We woke up early as the pilot was coming on board around 5.30am and we wanted to make sure we had a good view. So, we set our alarms for 5am. After getting up we headed up to deck 10 to get a spot on a part of the ship that not many people know about. When we arrived, there were only 2 other people so I quickly headed up and got us a coffee and danish to keep up going while we waited for the transit to commence. There were lots of ships waiting around.
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By the time, we arrived at the Bridge of Americas we were almost an hour later than scheduled, this was good as the sun had come out well and truly. We knew our journey had begun as we saw the bridge.
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These channel markers show up the way, but as you can see they have more than one use.
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We cruised past the container area and soon arrived at the entrance to the new larger locks. There were a couple of ships transiting.
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We would continue up the old part of the canal to Miraflores Locks.
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You can see the difference in height in the locks with these 2 ships.
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As we came alongside we knew which side to go due to the arrow on the dock. There were also lots of mules lined up ready to go. You will also see 2 men in a rowing boat, it looks dangerous. They get ropes from the ship.
There was only half a metre to spare on each side of the ship.
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We slowly made our way into the locks.
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During the transit there were vultures flying around and landing.
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The ship uses its power to move into the lock, the mules just help guide us. Here is the mule guiding us up to the lock gates.
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Here are the gates opening into the next lock.
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We then moved up to the front of the gate again. This one has double gates incase a ship hits it and damages it.
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Once the water level rose we were free to go.
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It took around 1 hour and 5 minutes to get through these locks. We then cruised another 25 minutes and arrived at the Pedro Miguel Locks.
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This transit through the locks took about 50 minutes. At this stage we had been raised 26 metres above sea level.
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We also saw one of the post panamax ships on the new part of the canal.
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No sooner had we got through the Pedro Miguel Locks we came across the Centennial Bridge.
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The canal then narrows considerably.
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At this stage, all ships were heading towards the Caribbean. By the time we arrived at Gamboa ships had started leaving Gatun Lake for the locks we had just visited. This is the first ship that passed us.
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To get through the Gatun Lakes the ships have to do lots of twists and turns. They have these boards up with lights on top and when the light goes green the ship knows it is in position.
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The lake then got quite busy.
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It took around 3 hours to get from Centennial Bridge to the Gatun locks. During this time we saw lots of rainforest. We arrived in the big part of Gatun Lake.
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This is Gatun Dam which helped create this man-made lake for the canal.
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We then arrived at Gatun Locks. As we had been there yesterday and experienced it from beside the lock we decided to find a spot at the back of the ship to maneuver these locks. We made our way into the lock once again using the mules. Then the gates were shut. While the gates are shut the workers use the top of the gate to get across to the other side.
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We were then lowered in the first of 3 locks. Once we had been lowered in the first lock we went through to the second lock and once again the gates were shut.
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We were then lowered again. As you can see in this photo we went down quite a long way and could only see the gate.
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Then into the third lock. You can see another ship coming behind us.
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The photographers were there to take some photos.
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As we made our way to the Caribbean Sea we came across a ferry service that was waiting for us to pass.
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The ferry won’t be in service for ever as they are now building a third bridge across the canal.
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We have now completed our transit and had a wonderful day.
The cost was $431,060 US for this trip for the Island Princess to transit the canal.
It got hot in the afternoon and I ended up with a bright red sunburn face. Oh well. We can now tick that off our bucket list. We had had a long day so had an early dinner then went and had a couple of cocktails before retiring for the night.
We got a certificate for transiting the canal.
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14th Feb
Today is Valentine’s Day. The ship was decked out with Valentine’s Day decorations.
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We had arrived in Cartagena in Colombia.
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This was the transit port for all the wealth Spain derived from South America. The famous "Old City" is comprised of 12 square blocks filled with attractions, boutiques and restaurants. houses are all vivid reminders of Spain's hold on Cartagena and throughout the Caribbean and South America. This is the land of El Dorado and flamboyant adventurers in search of the ever-elusive gold. Cartagena's well-constructed fortifications defended its borders against seafaring pirates whose attacks lasted for more than 200 years. Today this modern and bustling city, seaport, and commercial center still boasts much of its original colonial architecture.
This is the view we had from our balcony as we came into port. We couldn’t believe how developed it was.
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This is the old town from the ship.
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When we got off the ship we had to walk through a tourist area they had set up.
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It had different birds for you to see. Some were in the open and others were in an avery.
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A parrot took a liking to Shane.
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There was some type of vulture. His head was amazing.
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As you walked through to the bus area there were monkeys up in the trees. We saw 2 different types.
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We went on a city tour today to see as much as we could.
Our first stop was the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. This fortress majestically stands guard on a hillside overlooking the city and harbour. It was built by the Spanish for protection against pirates while shipping gold out to Europe. It was built between 1536 and 1657, it stands as the largest Spanish fort ever built in the New World.
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While we were there Shane had his photo taken with a couple of ladies who have an African Colombian heritage. They have a village outside of Cartagena. They were really colourful.
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Our next stop was La Popa Monastery. It is built upon a hill. This is the monastery from the ship.
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It is a 17th century monastery featuring a chapel and museum. It is still inhabited by monks today. It had a beautiful courtyard.
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This is the chapel.
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You could see all over Cartagena from the top.
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You can just see our ship on the left-hand side.
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This is the old walled town from the monastery.
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This is the other side of the city. They are only single story houses. The new style of homes is the high-rise condominiums.
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We then went into the Old Town. Acclaimed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the birthplace of Cartagena is famous for its cobbled lanes, leafy plazas, and well-tended Spanish Colonial buildings draped with bougainvillea. We visited Bolivars Plaza where they have a statue of Simon Bolivar who liberated Colombia. He also liberated other South American countries.
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We walked past Sir Francis Drakes home.
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Then continued on, among colourful buildings and streets.
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We then walked along to San Peter Claver Plaza. It was so colourful.
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We saw the San Pedro Claver Church. Built in the 17th century, the church displays exquisite statues and Old-World furnishings in honor of missionary St. Peter Claver, the patron saint of slaves and the first saint canonized in the Western Hemisphere.
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This was the courtyard between the church and convent.
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Located between the forts of Santa Clara and Santa Catalina, Las Bovedas, or "The Valuts," were attached to the walls by the Spaniards between 1792 and 1796. Originally built for use as storerooms for munitions and provisions, the vaults were transformed into prison cells during the civil wars of the 19th century. Today, they're home to tourist shops and trendy boutiques.
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We took a walk onto the wall of the old town. All I could think about was the movie Romancing the Stone.
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Once back on the ship we had a lovely Valentine’s Day dinner and had some photos taken.
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We had a laugh tonight at dinner. One of the waiters said Shane looked like Liam Neeson. I don't see the resemblance?
Shane also said he was cultured at dinner. He had escargot (snails) and Pheasant. Firsts for him.

15th Feb
We had a day at sea to recover from the hot humid weather of Cartagena. It really knocked us around. Tonight, was formal night so we got dressed up for one last formal shindig. Here is another photo of us, plus information about how far we have travelled.
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16th Feb
Well our last shore day has arrived for this cruise. This morning we looked out on Georgetown on Grand Cayman which is part of the Cayman Islands.
When Columbus made his landfall in the Caymans in 1503, he found tortoises and sea turtles in such profusion that he promptly named the islands Las Tortugas. But the name that stuck for the islands was the Carib word "Caimanas." Fitting, since the caiman is a New World crocodilian and the islands were long the lair of pirates, buccaneers, and assorted freebooters. Despite their past, the Caymans are a Caribbean demi-paradise of white-sand beaches, coral gardens, and offshore waters harboring spectacular shipwrecks. Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman also boast the highest standard of living in the entire Caribbean.
This was our last tender ride for this cruise. We had an early morning trip so headed off at 7.30am.
We set foot on Grand Cayman.
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There were even pirates to meet us.
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Today we drove to Dolphin Cove, a six-acre natural marine park. This ocean-front setting boasts Sanctuary Bay, a 25-foot deep lagoon, home to bottlenose dolphins.
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After orientation from a trained handler, we entered the water, where we were introduced to friendly dolphins for the experience of a lifetime.
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This included "riding" the dolphin belly to belly as the ocean rushed by.
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Giving a kiss
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Getting a kiss
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and playing with the dolphins, they pushed us along on boogie boards.
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Shane had a dance.
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At the end they said goodbye with a big performance.
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We then continued our journey out to the Stingray City Sandbar. Here we interacted with dozens of friendly Southern Stingrays in the wild. That was absolutely amazing. They were everywhere. You can see all their shadows.
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We had to sign a waiver and they gave us a lecture on how to act around the stingrays but they were so gentle.
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We got to feed them and get really close.
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We then headed back to the ship.
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We ate in the dining room and once again had a lovely meal. This is the type of desserts we have been having.
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Tonight they also did the balloon drop in the atrium. So we had a party and then counted down to the drop.
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17th Feb
Our final day at sea before we hit Fort Lauderdale. We had a relaxing day. We went to see the ship talent show, read some of our books, drank coffee and in the evening we went and saw a fabulous violinist named Chris Watkins. (See we are getting lots of culture). Our final activity for the cruise was attending the International Crew Talent Show which we really enjoyed. We packed our bags and put them out for collection, ready to transfer to the Royal Princess.

Posted by shaneandnicola 16:34 Archived in USA

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Wonderful narrative, as always. What a fabulous journey and experience. Love the Panama Canal, as you obviously did!!!

All the best for the next leg of your journey on the Royal Princess. Loved the Island Princess!!!

Leanna and Brenton x x

by Leannab

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