In This Issue
- Cruising The Caribbean – An Introduction
- Cruising Through The Panama Canal
- Curacao – A Blend Of Two World
Cruising the Caribbean – An Introduction
Cruising the Caribbean and visiting its ports is a fun experience. If you’re new to cruising this is a great place to start. The cruise ships are like an all-inclusive resort with the advantage of moving to a new island every day. Each ship is a combination of theme restaurants, fine dining rooms, theater entertainment, night clubs, spa experiences, pools with hot tubs, casino gambling, kids summer camp, shopping and much more. The ports of call are just icing on the cruise cake.
There are many options in cruising into the Caribbean from selecting a cruise line, deciding on an embarkation port, picking the cruise length and the itinerary. Generally the available cruises range from three days to fourteen and the available embarkation ports include Galveston, New Orleans, Tampa, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, New Jersey and San Juan. Most of the major cruise lines are in this market including Disney, Holland America, Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean and MSC with a couple of new arrivals. Ship sizes range from under 2,000 passengers to above 5,000 with new RCL Carnival ships. Depending on the cabin choice and cruise line selected, prices per person range from just over $100 to a few thousands of dollars.
Two of the most popular lines in the Caribbean are Royal Caribbean and Carnival but if you haven’t picked your preferred cruise line take the time to explore all your options. Travel agents are a good resource to help you select the right line and there is no additional cost for using an agent.
Over the years, cruise loyalty programs and their benefits make it natural to settle on just one or two lines. The benefits of those loyalty programs can include free internet, laundry, drink packages along with parties, loyalty lounges, priority boarding and more.
Royal Caribbean and Disney are famous for great kids programs as well as family activities. Carnival is the price leader and generally in the Caribbean their passengers are younger singles and couples that tend to party all day and into the night. Celebrity and Holland cater more to people looking for longer cruises to more locations and represent a notch up in level of service. Royal and Carnival are both in the Caribbean year while lines often sail the Caribbean only in the winter season.
In deciding which cruise to select there are common elements to all of them. Your are going to be served good food, provided a selection of excellent entertainment venues and visit some exotic places with great beaches. After that the choice is based on time available, budget and what your interests are.
Before actually booking it’s recommended to get to know a local travel agent that you can work with going forward. Unlike the cruise companies they will get to really know you. In the future they will be aware of your budgets, your preference in staterooms and what itineraries your interested in. The costs are the same and working with an agent can actually save you money.
One very popular cruise itinerary is transiting the Panama Canal. Cruises generally cover three categories. West to east normally starting in a California port and ending in Florida. The reverse, east to west and Caribbean cruises that go part way through the canal and return to the Caribbean.
The best way to experience the canal is on a cruise ship. Generally these cruises start from major cruise ports of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. They usually include a number of itinerary stops that can include Grand Cayman, Cartagena, Columbia, Colon in Panama, ports in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico but the star of the trip is the Canal.
In 1880 the French tackled what was to be one of the biggest engineering projects ever. The intent was to dig a canal from the Caribbean across Panama to the Pacific Ocean. They were defeated by some mountains but mostly by a mosquito and the single celled organism that causes malaria.
In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States took on the responsibility of getting done a long-term United States goal, completing the trans-isthmian canal. In order to get the U.S. authority a number of treaties were attempted and finally the U.S. backed a revolutionary movement that gained Panama independence from Columbia and granted the U.S. ownership of the property.
The new canal projects success was partly the result of healthcare advances made during the construction, led by William Gorgas, an expert in controlling tropical diseases including yellow fever and malaria. Gorgas was one of the first to recognize the role of mosquitoes in the spread of these diseases, and by focusing on controlling the mosquitoes he greatly improved worker safety and health.
The American engineers abandoned the French plan of a sea level cut and went to a design using locks to lift the ships up to the level of Gatún Lake and back down again. One of the biggest projects was the Culebra Cut through the roughest terrain on the route and remains one of the largest earth –moving projects ever tackled.
Later in the construction it was decided there would not be enough water reserves to operate the locks. Several dams were built with one being a dam at Pedro Miguel which encloses the south end of the Culebra Cut (actually an arm of Gatún Lake). The Gatun Dam is the main dam blocking the original course of the Chagres River, and resulted in creating Gatún Lake. Additionally two dams were built at Miraflores that enlarged Miraflores Lake.
You’ll be enthralled by the transit thru the locks and lakes of this remarkable place. Ships are pushed and pulled by tugs and canal rail engines called “mules” into locks with only inches of clearance. Water roars out of exhaust ports and massive ships rise and drop effortlessly within the locks.
Cruising across Lake Gatún is like a journey thru a primitive and beautiful rain forest with numerous islets. Dozens of ships glide along nearby as they line up to re-enter the locks. Transiting the Culebra Cut with its walls towering above leaves you overwhelmed by the shear tonnage of dirt that had to be excavated and hauled away.
Many cruises stop at Cristobal Pier near Colon where locals offer crafts and wares for sale with usually Kuna Indians from the San Blas Islands among the merchants. Many of the cruise ships require a quick paint touch-up at the exit dock to cover up numerous rubs and scrapes from rubbing the locks walls.
Up until recently the canal could only accommodate ships designated Panamax. Those original locks are 1,050 ft (320.04 m) in length, 110 ft (33.53 m) in width, and 41.2 ft (12.56 m) in depth. These limits have influenced the ship building industry to build Panamax vessels for the past hundred plus years
On September 7, 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed the Panama Canal Treaty and Neutrality Treaty promising to give control of the canal to the Panamanians in the year 2000. After Panama took control the Panama Canal Company started an expansion project. The expansion project started construction in 2007 and opened for commercial operation on 26 June 2016. The new locks allow transit of larger Post-Panamax and New Panamax ships, which have a greater cargo capacity than the original locks could accommodate. New Panamax ships will have a dimension of 1,200 ft (366 m) in length, 160.7 ft (49 m) in width and 49.9 ft (15.2 m) in depth. Unfortunately many of the cruise industries new mega-ships still cannot cruise the canal because they are too tall to cruise under the bridge at the Pacific end of the canal.
All-in-all this is a fascinating cruise and one of the three or four world’s best itineraries. The ports-of-call offer an opportunity to visit a number of Central American countries and get some insight into this interesting region.
Curacao, A Beautiful Blend of Two Worlds
Wouldn’t it be great if we could move tropical seas, palm trees and great beaches to Northern Europe? It’s not going to happen, but the next best thing is to move the Netherlands into the Caribbean. Welcome to Curacao.
There are a number of European influenced islands in the Caribbean but no place expresses it as well as this little Dutch island. While Aruba has succumbed to run-away Americanization you can still stroll the streets of Willemstad, sit in a café for a Cappuccino or stop in a small bistro for lunch and it isn’t hard to think you are in Amsterdam. Add to that the great beaches and resorts, balmy weather and turquoise seas and you have Curacao.
We’ve been visiting Curacao for over twenty-five years and while we have seen explosive growth in upscale resorts and residential neighborhoods, the old world charm has remained intact. Over that period of time there was a huge migration in of Dutch retirees, much to the consternation of the locals, and that drove up the cost of living, but it didn’t negatively impact that sense of old world charm.
In the center of Willemstad is a channel that is part of St. Anna Bay and the primary way to cross is the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge. The bridge opens by breaking its connection on one side while an outboard motor pushes it out of the channel. It’s anchored by a large hinge at one end. Fun to watch and fun to ride.
On the northwest side of town is a neighborhood that has been restored and turned into a resort, visitor center and museum known as the Museum Kurá Hulanda & Sonesta Kura Hulanda Village & Spa. You can stroll cobblestone streets, visit cafes and shops and explore the museum exhibits. There is also a floating market in town where boats come over from Venezuela, only 70 miles away, to sell produce (current conditions in Venezuela have probably made this business difficult). The island also boasts the Curacao Sea Aquarium and Dolphin Academy Curacao both worth a visit.
If you like to dive, snorkel or just relax on the beach, you have come to the right place. There are dive shops everywhere and great resorts around every turn. The currency is the Netherlands Antillean guilder and the language is Papiamentu which is a blending of Dutch, Spanish and local Indian. Greetings are Bon dia – Good morning. Bon tardi – Good Afternoon. Bon nochi – Good Evening/Good Night and Danki – Thank you, Di nada – Your welcome.