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Panama Canal


A number of fellow cruisers arrived at our hotel Monday afternoon and evening. They, like us, were gathered together in the hotel lobby awaiting the Princess staff and bus to take us to our "sea home." Like clockwork the bus arrived at its appointed time and we began our journey.

We expected to see the Queen Mary docked near our ship, the Coral Princess, but she was nowhere to be seen. Yesterday, when Crystal and Lynn had lunch aboard the Queen Mary there was a Carnival cruise ship docked nearby. We assumed our ship would be at the same dock. We were wrong. The harbor and dock facilities are much larger than we thought.

For us, this was the fastest boarding procedure that we have ever encountered. Part of the reason was that, this time, we were "Platinum" card holders meaning that we had sailed with Princess more than five times. (This would be our sixth cruise with Princess.) As soon as we arrived at the entry gate we were escorted past a long line of awaiting passengers to the boarding desk. We were issued our boarding cards that also act as a room key and again escorted directly to the ship. We were used to having to stand in lines for about an hour on previous cruises. This time we were aboard in about twenty minutes.

From what we could remember, from landmarks we saw the previous day, we suspect the Queen Mary is in a distant harbor at the other end of the bridge. The nearest ship tied to the dock near us was this little navy boat of sorts. (The photos above and following are taken on deck 14 of the Coral Princess.) Since it was around 1:00pm we went to the Horizon Court for lunch and took a brief walk around the ship to acquaint ourselves with where things were.

The first two photos are on the Lido Deck (deck 14). We noticed that there were a number of passengers already aboard lounging about on the decks, hot tubs and pools. We later learned that the Coral Princess originated the Panama Canal cruise from Vancouver. She had been cruising in Alaska for some months.

A large group came aboard from Canada at Vancouver. Most departed the ship while in Los Angeles to travel by bus to Las Vegas.

Because of security concerns, all of the Canadian passengers were required to leave the ship in Los Angeles, get cleared by immigration and security personnel and then get back aboard. While at breakfast one morning we were sitting with a couple who were quite miffed that they had to go through this procedure. They were a bit surprised when we told them that Canada doesn't have the security restrictions for terrorists like the U.S. They felt better about it after realizing that what they were asked to go through was for their own protection.

We began our journey departing Los Angeles at 5:00pm on September 16, 2003 toward our first stop -- Cabo San Lucas, Mexico -- 815 nautical miles away.

The yellow lines on the map illustrate the path of our 14 day  journey and the locations of each port of call along the way (circled).

There was quite a bit of discussion about Hurricane Isabel that would be hitting the east coast in a couple of days. Our TV's were always tuned into CNN to keep up on the news each day.

One of the things we did each day was to check our e-mail. The ship has an Internet Cafe available with 14 computers. The satellite connection was slow as compared to the digital cable that we are used to at home but it was adequate.  The cost to use them was 35 cents a minute. Although we didn't spend a lot of time with e-mail our bill for the Internet connection totaled to over 100 dollars. Because of our Platinum card status there was no cost to use the computers and the charges were automatically deleted from our "onboard charges."

The following two photos were sent to us via e-mail. They were taken by a sailor aboard a tanker in the Atlantic Ocean of Hurricane Isabel as it was approaching the U.S..

Cabo san Lucas, Mexico

We spent a leisurely day at sea traveling at an average of 20.80 Knots to cover the 815 Nautical miles to our first port of call -- Cabo san Lucas. ( A nautical mile is 1.15 Statue Miles. Thus 815 Nautical Miles equates to 938 Statute Miles.)

The harbor is quite shallow and there are no docking facilities for our ship. So, for the passengers who wanted to go ashore the ship's shuttle service went into action.

In the photo to the left Crystal is standing in a main street leading into the city. In reality, it is a drainage channel to carry water to the ocean during heavy rainfall. It is paved with stone so the waters won't carve it deeper.

In the next photo you will notice a building in the distance behind Crystal. It is a leather shop that we found that had really good merchandise at reasonable prices. 

Crystal was looking for a purse. It was the first shop that we stopped at and her eye spotted it as soon as we got in the store. We had the proprietor hold it for us because we didn't want to carry packages around town. The temperature was about 87 degrees with really high humidity--a sweat box.

In the photos with the red flowers in the foreground you can see our ship in the distance. Its at the left 1/3 quadrant on the horizon.


We walked to the end of the town to a shopping mall. We were told that there was a Harley Davidson shop in the mall and Lynn wanted to get a souvenir badge for his daughter Renee who collects them. It took about 45 minutes to get to the mall. When we found the shop we learned that they didn't sell badges and had no idea that other countries sell them. So we walked back to the leather shop we found to pick up Crystal's purse.

We learned an interesting thing about credit cards. When traveling out of the U.S. it is necessary to contact the credit card company and give them instructions to activate it for purchases out of the country. The shop owner was nice enough to make a phone call to the card company and have Crystal give the authorization. He was also a good salesman. While in the shop he showed her a new style leather coat that she also fell in love with. Since she would be celebrating her birthday in a couple of days it became "Happy Birthday" time in the store.

Around 6:30pm we set sail for Acapulco. As we left the area we sailed past the spectacular arched rocks of Los Arcos located where the Pacific waters merge with the Sea of Cortez. It was a highlight for some passengers who elected to go snorkeling or take a trip on a glass bottom boat to look at the sea life below.

We spent the next day at sea and enjoyed lazing around and reading on the balcony of our stateroom.

The day was a bit overcast and there were occasional showers that we would see in the distance. This was the one day that the Internet Cafe was shut down because the roughness of the sea made it difficult to maintain a satellite connection. Some people thought the seas were really rough but we enjoyed them. After sailing across the Tasman Sea we knew what rough meant. These seas were mild.

Acapulco, Mexico

 Cabo san Lucas--Acapulco = 678 Nautical Miles


With its rugged headlands, Acapulco's blue waters welcome an average of 3.5 million visitors each year. There are over 40 white sand beaches from which to choose.

The La Quebrada cliff divers are world renowned for their jumping from rock formations 130 feet above the sea.

We decided to take a tour of the area to see the sights and most of all, the cliff divers. 

Acapulco is a natural harbor, with high mountains and hills surrounding the bay giving considerable shelter from prevailing winds. It is one of the reasons Acapulco grew to be the main port on the Western Mexican coastline.

We travel by bus up a mountain. Our ship lies hidden behind the pink building of the photo at the left.

There are many hotels from which to choose. Most rent for about $200 - $300 per day plus meals. There are also hotels that are far more luxurious and expensive. The series of photos below are one these hotels renting for $350 - $500 per day plus meals.

This hotel was located about 10 miles outside of the city. It has its own golf course and breathes luxury at every corner.

One of the services the hotel does is to provide refuge for sea turtles. When the turtle come ashore and lay their eggs in the sand an environmental crew will dig up the eggs and rebury them to a safe place to keep intruders from getting them.

When the eggs hatch the same crew will gather them and take them to the sea to keep the birds from having a feast.

We were intrigued by the yellow hibiscus bushes that seemed to just grow wild at every turn.

Our next and final stop would be to watch the cliff divers.

They begin by diving into the sea from the rocky shore to the left, swim across the surf, grab onto the rock and begin the climb upwards. Can you find the diver climbing the wall in the first picture?

As the waves from the ocean roll in to shore, the depth of the water they dive into varies from 12 to 29 feet. Obviously, they are trying to time their dive in order to have the deepest water possible.

 Not wanting to walk down the flight of stairs to the ledge below we elected to watch the divers from vantage points surrounding the site. In the photo above the highest elevation above the sea is 130 feet -- they are holding a banner in the picture. Below the banner notice another diver at another ledge about 20 feet below.

There are five divers who perform each day. Each show is scheduled two hours apart for a total of four dives daily. Since our ship was a special event for them they scheduled an additional dive to accommodate our tour schedule.


Our stop at the dive site would be about 1 1/2 hours. Following the divers show we looked through some gift stores and returned to the Coral Princess for a late lunch.

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Acapulco - Puntarenas = 1008 Nautical Miles

Puntarenas is known as the "Switzerland of Central America." Located in Costa Rica was once the main shipping port for the country. In the 1980's the rise of container shipping caused the port to be relocated to Puerto Caldera, about five miles away. The Port of Puntarenas now primarily deals with passenger and bulk cargo vessels.

Costa Rica is lush with tall mountains, tropical rain forest and lush vegetation. Peaks rise as high as 13,000 feet above sea level.

Costa Rica is uniquely situated between two oceans and two continents, bordering the Atlantic to the east and the Pacific to the west, Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the southeast. Puntarenas serves as the gateway to the country's capital, San Jose. Rumors of vast gold treasures that never materialized led to the country's name, that means "rich coast." We elected to take a day long tour to the capital city.

Our first stop after traveling about 20 miles through the mountains was at a tourist trap. For some reason that we never learned, there is quite an interest in painted carts and furniture.

We didn't find many things of interest in the tourist trap but did enjoy the things that were not for sale. This statue of Christ we found to be quite different from what we find at home.

Notice the flowers behind the statue. They seemed to grow at abandon all over the countryside.

 We don't know what the type of flower is on the left but the one that Crystal is holding is a flower pod of a banana tree.

The pod is actually a small bunch of banana that will emerge with the next crop.

As we walked around the grounds we were captivated by the number of butterflies that were swarming about feeding on the flowers of coffee bean plants. Ironically, we had a number of butterflies flying alongside our ship all the way to the Panama Canal. It occurred to us that we were in the midst of a migration of butterflies.

We next traveled into the capital, San Jose. While there we stopped at their performance theater where that is one of their countries treasures. It was built almost 100 years ago. While we didn't find the theater portion of the building to be very interesting we did find the ceiling paintings in one of the main halls to be intriguing. They reminded us of Blenheim Palace in England.

Imagine our surprise when we learned that these painting were done on canvas by an artist in France. They were transported to Costa Rica and applied to the ceiling during the construction of the building.

Imagine our further surprise when we were told the artist had no interest in looking at the finished product. How pompous can one be to think that their artwork is so great that he wouldn't be interested in looking at it where it would remain for centuries?

The theater is used not only for theatrical performances but inaugurations of government officials and other significant governmental events as well.

We next went to Costa Rica's museum.

Except for the stone statues the other three works of art above are carved from a single piece of volcanic rock.

It was a bit difficult photographing the archives as they were surrounded with glass and flash was not allowed.

We found the tropical plants outside the museum to be more interesting. In the bottom photo it shows a number of round stones. They were found some time ago but their significance is unknown. The largest is about six feet in diameter while the smaller ones are about two feet in diameter.

The cannons were recovered by treasure hunter divers off the coast of Costa Rica. During days at sea Princess provided speakers on a number of topics. One was a treasure hunter who actually discovered a number of shipwrecks off the coast of Costa Rica. He retrieved millions of dollars of treasure -- cannons, gold and silver coins, bottles, porcelain, religious relics and more. One day he was invited to dinner with a pianist who collected similar treasure. He was both shocked and surprised to learn that he had bought his finding from the museum for about $1,000. His comment, "Just think about it. I spend two years diving for this treasure worth millions just to have some jerk give it away for a couple of bucks."

The last photo was taken at a hotel where we stopped for lunch.

Through most of the day the skies were sunny. As our tour ended we could see the skies darkening and rain clouds moving through the mountains. As we were boarding the bus to return to our ship the skies opened up and we drove through quite a rainstorm. The ditches and ravines that were dry when we drove into San Jose were now overflowing with water.

Panama Canal, Panama

Puntarenas - Panama Canal = 466 Nautical Miles 

In 1534, Charles I of Spain ordered the first survey of a proposed canal route through the Isthmus of Panama. More than three centuries pass before the first construction was started. The French labored 20 years, beginning in 1880, but diseases and financial and engineering problems defeated them. In 1903 Panama gained its independence from Columbia. Shortly thereafter, Panama and the United States signed a treaty in which the United States guaranteed Panama's Independence and paid her ten million dollars. The U.S. was also given ownership by the government of Panama forever for their work of building the canal.

On May 4, 1904 the United States purchased the French Canal Company right and properties for $40 million and began construction. The project was completed in 1914 at a cost of approximately $387 million. During President Carter's reign of incompetence he gave the canal away to Panama with the understanding that the U.S. Military would continue to protect it forever.

We entered the entrance to the canal, Miraflores Locks, at 5:42am. These locks consist of two flights of chambers that raise the ship from sea level to Miraflores lake. The ship is guided and kept in position through the locks by eight electric locomotives weighing 55 tons each. The locks are 120 feet wide x 1,000 feet long. The Coral Princess is 964 feet long x 106 feet (narrowest) to 126 feet wide (wings). The ship cleared the locks by approximately 18 inches on each side as we passed through as the ship is approximately 117 feet wide at that point.

At this point we have just cleared the first two locks that have raised us about 17 feet. The depth of each lock chamber is 70 feet with a minimum depth of 40 feet.

We are now sailing toward the Pedro Miguel Locks to be raised another 17 feet.

The skies were quite overcast at we went through. The approximate time at this juncture of photos is 7:30am.

It will take about 3/4 of an hour to reach the next series of locks. Each time we pass through a set of locks we will use 82 million gallons of water passing through 18 foot diameter culvert to fill the lock chambers.

In order to attach the guide cables to the ship a boat is rowed alongside to pull their cable to our ship so that it can be attached. To date this has been the most efficient way.


Notice the date 1913 on the control house wall. The Canal was completed and ready for operation in 1913 but a landslide / washout required additional dredging work to be performed. The Canal went into operation in 1914.

Each gate is is 7 inches thick x 60 feet wide x 47 - 82 feet high and weigh 390 - 730 tons. They are hollow. As the water fills the lock they tend to want to float thus making them "lighter." This allows them to be opened using a 40 hp motor.

As we travel into the lock chamber we pass markers indicating the distance to each end of the chamber.

At this point we are exiting the Pedro Miguel Locks and entering the Gaillard Cut on our way to Gatun Lake. Notice how the hill is terraced. It is to keep the soil from eroding into the canal, a constant maintenance problem.

As we travel along we pass a bridge under construction that will allow road traffic to pass over the canal. There were numerous dredges digging muck from the bottom of the cut to maintain adequate depth for boat traffic. The shallowest it is allowed to get is 29 feet.

The entire stretch of water filling the Gaillard Cut and Gatun Lake that we are approaching is fresh water from a rain forest north of the canal.

The views along our way through Gatun Lake reminded us of a recent trip we took of the Thousand Lakes above Kingston, Ontario in the St. Lawrence River.

This is another dredging operation. In this instance, they are vacuuming the silt and mud from the bottom of the cut and depositing it on land so that it can be disposed of.

This barge was anchored out of the cut. Apparently, it has been there for quite some time as grass is growing out of the soil contained on the barge.

We saw the edges of the rain forest all along the way. We didn't see many occasions where housing was present but they did poke their heads out of the shoreline every once in a while. The traffic of dredges and barges for maintenance was constant. We are now about 2/3 of the 50 mile journey through Gatun Lake.


As we reach the eastern end of the lake we begin to see a number of ships at anchor.

A freighter slips slowly past us. The rule for passage on the canal is that passenger ships get priority and travel during the daytime. Freighter travel through the locks during the evening. Apparently, there were not many passenger ships as our was the only one we saw.

We will lay at anchor in this position for two hours. In the distance we can see the Gatun Dam (upper left) that was constructed to hold the water for the lake. It supplies all of the electrical energy for the operations of the canal. The upper right photo is the entrance to the Gatun Locks. As we lay anchor we noticed a tugboat that stayed by our side for the duration of our two hour stay. We suspected it might also be there for security purposes as the ship side thrusters negated the need for a tugboat.

We enter the Gatun Locks with a freighter following closely behind. While some of the freighters are small enough for two to fit within a single lock chamber, it won't be possible as our ship only allows for 20 feet of clearance on each end.

The Gatun Locks are similar yet decidedly different that the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks at the Pacific end of the canal. The big wheel shown in the right photo is actually a handle to close a valve manually if the need should arise. Today, the valves are controlled via an operator and computer in a control house.

As we exited the Gatun Locks, having been lowered 37 feet, we were greeted with a school of fish.

We are now officially in the Atlantic Ocean and heading for a short port stop at a little town called Cristobal. It is now approximately 4:00 in the afternoon.

As we leave Cristobal at 8:00pm we can see 20 - 30 ships at anchor awaiting their turn to enter and traverse the canal. The city of Panama is in the right photo.

An average vessel transiting the Canal pays approximately $47,000 in tolls. The cheapest toll was paid by Richard Halliburton in 1928. He paid 38 cents. Tolls are based on tonnage. He swam the canal taking 10 days from August 14th to August 23, to complete the journey.

The toll for the Coral Princess to traverse the Canal was approximately $228,000 dollars (not a typo).


We felt really fortunate to have been joined for dinner each evening with some great tablemates. Crystal and Lynn both commented that this was a friendly close knit group--better than any we have dined together with before.

Seated left to right: Lynn & Crystal (Michigan), Sharon & Larry (Arizona),  John & Ann (Canada). Those in white jackets standing behind are our waiters Omar (Mexico) and Livia (Romania). The third waiter just happened to get in the photo. Omar and Livia became engaged while working on the Princess and are planning to get married when their 10 month contracts expire. Their hopes are to work aboard the new Diamond Princess when it is put into service next year.

In the evening following the theater productions there were always onboard activities to do. We tended to simply go to bed as we had little desire to stay up into the wee hours of the morning. Toward the end of the voyage they had a Midnight Buffet with entertainment and the works. We stopped in for a few minutes and then turned in for the night. We are always amazed with what a chef can do to a piece of ice or a watermelon.



Cristobal, Panama - Aruba = 617 Nautical Miles

We arrive in Aruba around 8:00am. The weather is overcast most of the day with temperatures hovering around 84 degrees. Since we had toured this island a couple of years ago we decided to do something different. Crystal went horseback riding while Lynn went for a dive on a submarine.

From our balcony we can see a small cruise ship that arrived earlier. We suspect the capacity of that ship to be about 600 - 800 persons plus crew. The Coral Princess has 16 decks, 11 passenger decks (housing), 2,392 passengers plus 981 crew members.

About a block away we can see a pink building that is a gift shop of sorts. It is only a short distance from the casino located near the center of the town. We found it humorous to see McDonald's snuggled up to the casino.


This photo is of a foyer entering a shopping mall.

Lynn's journey aboard the submarine begins on a 30 minute boat shuttle to the awaiting submarine. The sub in the photo cost $3,000,000 when it was purchased ten years ago. We will dive to a depth ranging from 150 - 180 feet and explore along a reef and a couple of shipwrecks.


There was a bit of joking about the number of tire sharks laying on the bottom. An item of interest was how colors change as the depth varies. For example, our guide held a red and white flag above her head to illustrate when we were at a 180 foot depth. When the interior light were turned off and only the light from the sea was allowed to enter via the viewing ports the flag turned to black and a shade of blue.

We were below the sea for about an hour. As we leave our underwater home a shuttle is arriving to assist the sub back to its port. Crystal returns aboard the Coral Princess around 5:30pm just in time to take a quick shower and go to dinner. She had a great time with her horseback riding excursion.

We leave Aruba around 6:00pm and begin our return journey to the United States 1099 nautical miles away. As we approached Cuba we set our course to stay about 10 miles off the eastern coast. It was interesting to see a lonely lighthouse sitting in the middle of the ocean with no visible land surrounding it. It was built on reef along the Bahama Channel. 

When we depart from the Coral Princess we will have traveled a total of 4,683 Nautical Miles (5,385 Statute Miles) since we left Los Angeles.

Tomorrow we would be docking at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where we will be shuttled to the airport and return to our home that evening. The next day Crystal will have to work in Frankenmuth while Lynn gets their dog out of jail and entertains at a nursing home in the afternoon.

Where are we going next? While onboard we booked a Mediterranean Cruise to beginning in Rome and end in Venice. We are counting the days.



Coral Princess Vital Statistics

91,627 Gross Tonnage
203.4 Feet High Above Keel
Beam: 122 Feet (Including Bridge Wing)
2,392 Passenger Capacity plus 981 Crew Members
964.3 Feet Long
Total Height above Keel: 203.4 Feet -- 27 Foot Draft with 176 Feet above water.
16 Decks -- 11 Passenger Decks
987 Passenger Staterooms (89% Outside)
Pools: 3 plus children's splash pool. -- Whirlpools/Spas: 5
Cruising Speed: 21.5 Knots -- Maximum Speed: 23.4 Knots

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Last modified:    April 2013