December 10 –20, 2000
The Panama Canal
A tight squeeze--Crown Princess at 105'
8" wide enters the Panama Canal
Fall foliage—who would have thought a roundtrip Panama
Canal cruise on our Love Boat would begin with flashes of red, gold, and yellow?
Northern Florida hardwoods gave way to palm trees as we made our way
south. After spending Friday night
just north of Jacksonville, we arrived on Saturday afternoon in Fort Lauderdale
at the Hyatt Pier 66 to embark the next morning on the Crown Princess.
We toasted the early evening departures of the Century and Ryndam from
our balcony overlooking Port Everglades before joining friends for dinner at the
California Café. Adjacent to Pier
66, it’s one of Fort Lauderdale’s hottest eateries and we thoroughly enjoyed
the food and good company. It was
particularly festive because our friends were due to sail on the Costa Atlantica the
dawned… well, it must have, but it greeted us with intermittent downpours.
Not an auspicious beginning. By
noon, it was still showering outside but nothing could dampen our spirits
as we arrived at the terminal for our first Princess cruise.
Amid a tangle of busses and taxis, Mel dropped me off with the luggage
and parked in the nearby garage. Making our way inside we found short lines that moved rapidly and within
about fifteen minutes we were greeted on board by security, photographed for our
boarding passes, and inspected our stateroom. I’d barely unpacked our carry-ons when our cabin steward Wilfredo
delivered the first of our two checked suitcases.
By the time it was unpacked, the drawers were barely half full.
We’ve never had a stateroom with more drawer and storage space.
The second suitcase didn’t appear for a few hours and by that time
we’d discovered that the supremely comfortable beds had real box
springs and mattresses and no room beneath them to store luggage—at least ours
didn’t fit. No problem, though.
Wilfredo stored them for the duration of the cruise and they appeared
like magic on Day Ten for repacking.
Outside Double With Private
Princess was our chosen vessel for several reasons—the itinerary suited us
perfectly because we didn’t have time for a complete transit of the Panama
Canal (but were dying to experience at least a part of it) and we wanted a round
trip from Florida. Plus, we were
celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary and Princess is, after
all, the Love Boat. For a special
treat, we purchased the Deluxe Renewal of Vows package.
In addition, Crown Princess’ sleek silhouette and generous staterooms
and amenities intrigued us. The
availability of a balcony was a huge plus, although our Fort Lauderdale
departure was somewhat soggy. We
still enjoyed the residential air horn serenade from a vantage point at the
promenade deck rail as the Love Boat theme song was piped over the public
address system. Corny though it
was, it brought back memories of the television series we enjoyed watching as
newlyweds when I dreamed of taking a relaxing and romantic sea cruise.
Twenty-five years later, there we were!
unexpected treat was the announcement that we would actually be able to depart
the ship for tours in Panama—a Princess first.
We had pre-arranged our chosen shore excursions and quickly added a
Panama tour as we steamed out for a glorious sea day before our first stop—Ocho
Rios, Jamaica. Mel travels to
Jamaica often on business and I’ve been to Ocho Rios several times so we
planned a relaxing day ashore browsing the shops, visiting with the proprietor
of Colors, and admiring the beach from a shaded poolside lanai at the Jamaica
Grande resort. Maybe it’s just
that we’re accustomed to them, but the taxi drivers and vendors seemed more
laid back than on previous visits. All
in all, we had a nice day ashore and looked forward to another day at sea before
four “port” days.
you do, don’t forget your binoculars for this itinerary.
Landfall in Limon, Costa Rica came early and we were whisked off the ship
for a cruise of another sort—through the lush rainforest teeming with
wildlife. Costa Rica is wildly
beautiful with an abundance of hibiscus, bamboo orchids, and ginger adding color
to the jungle that reaches right to the roads. Oh yes, and bananas—lots of bananas!
The 200 inches of rainfall a year nourishes the rainforest as well as the
flowers, bananas, coconuts, and papayas. From
our riverboat our guide pointed out monkeys, sloths, a crocodile, and dozens of
birds. Afterward, we had refreshments and listened to local
musicians by the riverside. A mama
sloth in a nearby tree watched us as we ohed and ahed over the baby she cradled
in her arms until it was time to depart for the land portion of our tour through
the countryside and town of Limon. We
chose to leave the bus just inside the pier to inspect the craft market.
Local artisans offered carved wooden boxes, jewelry, hand painted items,
and the inevitable t-shirts. Luckily
there was a complimentary shuttle to the ship as it began to rain just as we
finished shopping. My umbrella drew
envious glances—hey, this is a rainforest, after all.
Viewing the Panama Canal from the bridge
our entry into the Panama Canal, we awoke early and claimed a spot at the front
of “our” deck—a forward facing open area on Baja Deck.
Only accessible from the starboard side, its entrance baffled all but the
most determined passengers. With
coffee mugs, binoculars, and cameras in hand, we were enthralled with the engineering
marvel before us. For about 45
minutes we watched our approach and the lock operation to our right as a
container ship began her ascent. Then
we left for our balcony to get a closer look at the mules.
Finally, we hurried to the bridge where we joined Captain Poggi as the
Crown Princess entered the first lock until she cleared the final lock in just
under an hour. What a fascinating
in Gatun Lake we departed on our sightseeing boat for a leisurely cruise through
the rainforest. Unlike in Costa
Rica where the monkeys just lazed in the trees, the monkeys in Panama put on a
show—leaping and playing in the jungle. Once
again our guide was excellent, pointing out wildlife and the variety of plants
and trees that make up the rainforest. Then
we boarded buses and proceeded to the new viewing area 80 steps above Gatun
Locks where we had the unique perspective of seeing our cruise ship descend the
locks. Quite a spectacle to see her
depart without us! No problem—we
met her at Colon 2000 where she docked for the afternoon.
Not yet complete, the new pier side marketplace still had plenty of shops
(including an Internet Café) and street entertainments for a pleasant
afternoon. We walked a couple
blocks to the “duty free zone” but found it seedy with unattractive shops.
next port of call was a pleasant surprise. We heard so many horror stories about Cartagena, Colombia being unsafe
that we decided a ship’s excursion would be a good bet—and it was, but the
sights and shopping were also doable on your own.
We were particularly pleased with the tour.
Small, uncrowded busses took us to Fort San Filipe, the Dungeons, Pierino
Gallo Plaza—a shopping area on Boca Grande that can only be described as
“emerald city,” the La Popa monastery, and finally to the Cathedral and
Naval Museum in the Old City where we enjoyed refreshments and a show featuring
local songs and dances. The narrow
streets of the Old City are a charming maze with overhanging balconies ablaze
with flowers. We’d consider a
stroll through them a must if we ever make another trip to the city.
Vendors, vendors, vendors! Anyone
who thinks Jamaicans are aggressive has never been to Cartagena.
we were a couple hours late arriving in Cartagena, the sun was setting as we
departed to spend two lovely days enjoying our ship at sea.
Whoops… check that itinerary. What
happened to Aruba? The same strong
winds that delayed our arrival in Colombia, in concert with a “technical
difficulty,” meant canceling our port call in Aruba.
Pretty soon we were hearing that everyone on our vessel took the
cruise JUST to visit Aruba! Rumor
had it that a petition was circulating to DEMAND that we proceed there
immediately. Mutiny on the Crown
Princess? The document wasn’t
delivered (even though the ship’s photographers were reportedly on call to
immortalize its presentation) and life went on as we made our way to our
alternative port—Nassau. A lovely
elderly woman confided to me that she didn’t really care about Aruba but that
her nephew was to meet her at the dock. She
worried that he’d be upset when there was no sign of the ship on the appointed
day. The Purser assisted her with a
complimentary call to her nephew and she merrily made alternative plans to shop
in Nassau’s famous Straw Market for “stocking” stuffers.
slipped into her Nassau berth at Prince George Wharf between Royal Caribbean’s
Majesty of the Seas and Carnival’s Fantasy—two “regal” vessels and a
“Fun Ship.” Off at the end of
the quay, the Big Red Boat II squatted forlorn and forgotten, soon to be joined
for the day by the Ocean Breeze. With
their dark blue and bright red hulls and classic ocean liner lines, the pair
were quite a contrast to our brilliant, shiny white ships.
We’ve been to Nassau many times and were pleasantly surprised at its
spiffy appearance. Cleaned up
considerably in the past decade, it has become a charming port to explore and
Princess pulled out all the stops by printing maps and arranging last-minute
tours for Crown Princess passengers.
afternoon of packing precluded our last evening on board and the short hop back
to Fort Lauderdale. With a sense of
sadness at the end of our voyage, we wrapped up our last-minute details and
toasted the beginning of what we hope are many more Love Boat cruises.
cruise review would be complete without details about the ship and overall
Two takes a look at the Crown Princess.
© 2000 Linda Coffman
Photos--Princess Cruise Line & ©CruiseDiva.com
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