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Panama Canal Cruise Trip Report by Jim Bates

25 Nov 2017 2:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
Eighteen Chattanooga Ski Club members flew or drove to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (a city famous for Spring Breakers and beach vacations) a day or two before our adventure cruise began so they could enjoy the beauty of Florida as well as this wonderful city.  Some went sightseeing before the cruise, while others took excursions, such as an airboat ride through the Everglades, at the conclusion of the cruise.

On Saturday, October 21, we boarded the beautiful Caribbean Princess and left the port of Ft. Lauderdale.  Members used this time to explore our ship and discover the many amenities it had to offer as well as enjoy their favorite beverages.
  Sandy, our travel agent, delighted and surprised all of us with a coupon for a free bottle of wine waiting for us in each of our staterooms.Sunday was a day for beaching at Princess Cays.  Cruisers were tendered (taken by boat) to the private beach to enjoy many beach activities, favorite beverages, beautiful clear water, and food cooked by the ship’s crew right on the beach.

Monday and Tuesday were sea days as we headed to Cartagena, Columbia.  Everyone had a great time at the private cocktail party that the Princess sponsored for the Chattanooga Ski Club on Monday afternoon.  Other popular activities on these days were eating, sunning, exercising, reading, listening to one of the many music performances, or participating in the many family games and activities offered on board the ship (not to mention gambling in the casino).  After dinner, it became a custom for almost everyone to head to the Princess Theater, where we were treated to the most lavish, professional, and enjoyable productions I have ever seen on a ship.  We soon learned to get there early because the theater filled up every night.

On Wednesday, we woke up docked in Cartagena, Columbia.  This vibrant City harbors a fascinating and colorful past, which can be seen along its cobblestone streets, in its Spanish colonial homes with wood-beamed balconies and stone towers, and its impressive salt-bleached stone walls.  Our members enjoyed many excursions, most of which highlighted the “Old City”, the history of the area, and the Fortress.  Economic fact: 95% of the world’s emeralds come from Columbia.

Thursday was our day to go through the Panama Canal, sometimes called the eighth man-made wonder of the world.  We didn’t realize it when we booked this cruise, or even when we boarded the ship, but this cruise was a big deal to the people of Panama and to Princess Cruise Lines.  Our ship was the largest passenger ship to date to go through the NEW locks, and the first ship of Princess Cruise Lines to do so.  As we passed through the new locks we observed news media and photographers documenting this newsworthy event as the mayor of Panama gave speeches and posed proudly.  The passage through the locks was an experience we will always remember and talk about.

On Friday, our ship docked at Limon, Costa Rica.  Our members enjoyed many of the excursions that were available in Limon, most focusing around the rain forest, Tortuguero Canals, local culture, local animal life, banana and coffee farms, and zip lines through the forests.

Saturday was a scheduled sea day.

Sunday was supposed to be our day to visit. Grand Cayman, in the Cayman Islands, but the wind and waves were such that it would have been unsafe to try to load and unload the tender boats. For the safety of the passengers, we had to forego our visit to Grand Cayman.  We regretted missing our visit to this beautiful port, but we appreciate Princess Cruise Lines for making our safety their paramount concern.

As a result of the cancellation of the Grand Cayman stop, both Sunday and Monday were sea days.

Every night of the cruise we were seated together for dinner (three tables of six).  This was a special time for sharing of the day’s activities, laughing, and eating too much.  Our group contained a mixture of members from various parts of Tennessee and Georgia.  We also had a member of the Nashville Ski Club who became a member of our Club in order to join us on this adventure.  Some cruisers knew some others before the cruise, but we all regarded everyone as friends at the end of the cruise.  On the second evening we started a random rotation of our seating at dinner so everyone got to know and enjoy each other better.  The quality and presentation of the food and the service at dinner every night exceeded everyone’s expectations.  Our group consisted of first time cruisers to very experienced.  They all liked the fact that, although this was a group trip, each person or couple individualized the experience and activities to their own desires.

We woke up Tuesday (Halloween) at the Ft. Lauderdale dock, disembarked the ship, and flew (or drove) home with many lifetime memories of our fun together on this adventurous cruise.