Vancouver to Fort Lauderdale
17-Day Cruise; 27 September, 2006
Fisherman at the mouth of the Capilano River in West Vancouver
This was our eighth cruise on Holland America (HAL), a repositioning cruise through the Panama Canal. Although HAL is working to broaden its appeal with improved facilities for children (Club HAL) and teenagers (Oasis), it remains very much an old folks' line with a preponderance of grey heads and many wheelchairs.
We found that the evening entertainment was much improved over past cruises, with fewer noisy song and dance routines from the ship's staff, and more family oriented comedy and solo instrumentalists.
As always, the service by the Filipino and Indonesian crew was exemplary, and the food was excellent. The weather was fine and the seas calm. Only near Huatulco did we experience a brief and predictable storm force wind that blew through a narrow gap in the mountains.
Our cabin was a comfortable veranda cabin on deck 7, the navigation deck. We looked forward to sleeping with the door open as we had in the past but found it too cold near Vancouver (14C) and then too hot and humid south of San Diego (30C & 70%RH). However, our starboard-side veranda provided excellent views in the various ports and through the Panama Canal. (More often than not, HAL ships dock starboard side on, providing more interesting views from that side.)
As in the past, your scribe avoided the use of elevators for the entire cruise, and it's a long climb from the "A" deck to deck 7.
Most port shopping from cruise ships is disappointing because of the sameness of the goods, the poor quality and high prices. Puntarenas in Costa Rica was different in that we found genuine local handicraft items of good quality at reasonable prices.
Away from the dockside flea market however, Puntarenas was a disappointingly dirty city that assaulted our nostrils.
We take fewer shore excursions now than we did on our early cruises. We particularly avoid long trips. In Puntarenas, almost all excursions exceeded 5 hours and some were 10 hours so we settled for a walking tour of the nearby area. However, we did take tours in San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, Huatulco, and a bicycle tour in Halfmoon Cay in the Bahamas.
Volendam moored in Huatulco
Approach to the Miraflores locks from the Pacific
One of the tugs that accompanied the ship
Just two feet of clearance on each side of the ship
Six "Mules" provided guidance through the locks
Cruise ships reserve daylight passage through the 80 km. canal. Entrance to the Miraflores locks came before 0800 and exit from the Gatun locks on the Atlantic side was just after 1700 hours. The ships power their way through the locks at a reasonable speed but the fresh water moves between the locks by gravity, so there is a significant wait for the levels to equalize.
We attended four lectures on the construction and history of the Canal as we headed South. The best question from the audience was; "Which ocean is higher, the Atlantic or the Pacific?"
The largest source of traffic for the Panama Canal is container ships. Global growth in this traffic is phenomenal. You can see containers stacked in almost every port. Some container ships are too large for the canal, so they offload on one coast, move the containers across the Panama Isthmus by rail, and reload a similar ship on the other coast.
For more information on the Panama Canal and web cam views, go to www.pancanal.com
Stingray at Halfmoon Cay in the Bahamas.
Two of the offered tours centered on swimming with the Stingrays in an enclosed area. We were on a bicycle tour but listened to the introductory instructions about how they were to be fed.
About 0100 one morning when we were 100's of kilometers from land, Eleanor poked me awake to report "something" on our veranda. This is what I found and he wasn't disturbed by the flash.
0700, 14 Oct 06, entrance to Fort Lauderdale Harbour and the end of an enjoyable cruise