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Seek Timeless Treasures with Bill & Mary Ann - 2019 World Cruise -131 days


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Report #6   Fay at Sea   January 23, 2019   Wednesday   Partly cloudy, plenty windy & 68 degrees                              Part #1 Of 1      3  Pictures


Our first full day at sea was a gift in more ways than one.  Having slept well last night, we managed to secure our table on the railing for breakfast and lunch as well.  Since there is seldom a crush for the dining room breakfast, Phillip always cuts us a deal.  We are not alone, as many of our buddies have done the same.  Even better, the most fun waiter we had last year, was back again, but with a different assistant…..equally as nice.  Between the breakfast and lunch meals, they will see a lot of us and Barb too.  And the meal was perfect, just as we ordered. 


We recognized a couple of folks that sat behind us two years ago.  The wife had had a bad fall while on a tour, breaking her wrist, and she still is having problems with it.  Thinking they might not return, we were happy to see them back.  The bad thing about missing a year of the world cruise is that they lost their table to another couple of gals that took it over last year, also friends of ours. See it pays to come back year after year.


Almost forgot about the first Cruise Critic meeting, which began at 9:30am in the Crow’s Nest.  But first, we had to go on a search for our missing duffel that never arrived yesterday.  You think someone would have called to inform us that it had been set aside with 130 other pieces of luggage, since security spotted something they needed to see.  The duffel was locked and they are not allowed to open it without us being present.  Luckily we ran into Shiv, the head of housekeeping, who led us down to Deck A to find it.  As we expected, it was a small pouch with a few tools.  Instead of unloading it down there, they agreed to deliver it to our room, where we could open it there.  The security officer inspected the small assorted mini-screwdriver set, and decided all was OK for us to keep it.  Informing him that we have brought these on every HAL cruise and never had a problem, he apologized and left us to unpack the last of our stuff.  Later in the day, we heard of many people that had things confiscated such as plug strips, alcohol, and the like.  Annoying, but we suppose they are doing what they are hired to do.


So then, we were off to the meeting, where we found the Crow’s Nest loaded with people.  Nametags and envelopes with specially-made pens were gifted to all members.  Talking to the leaders, we found out that over 230 people were in this group.  Wow, that is impressive.  They did have a coffee and cookie table set up for the group, but there was no sign of any staff member or officers.  These days we understand there are so many groups that the staff has bowed out of attending any of them.  Seems that they have many activities planned, and more meetings coming up.  Good place to connect with old friends and meet new ones.  In addition, this seems to be the place to arrange group tours too, much to the dismay of the shore excursion folks onboard.  As long as they do it discreetly, it works better for some passengers.


The rest of the day was seriously unpacking, and setting up everything we needed to make it home.  Neat and functional we hope.  As much as we brought, there seemed to be plenty of room to store it, and mostly out-of-sight.  Perhaps we have finally paired everything down to “just enough”.  The final project will be adding the memory foam mattress to our bed.  But it will have to be tomorrow.


Taking a break for lunch, we waited for Barb, who went to the first game of Trivia.  She has the same partners, and we hope they will be masters of the game once again.  Not that you win anything big, you do gain respect from the competing crowd.  Did we mention the cruise director, Hamish, is not onboard?  Guess he had some medical issues, and has to be cleared from the doctor in order to return.  In the meantime, the person who stepped into Barbara H’s shoes as port lecturer, Ian, has taken on the job as temporary cruise director too.  He must be Superman!


Glad we mostly finished the room project, because the seas have been rough, with deep swells and high winds.  One of us began to feel the motion, so we took a walk outside, finding the sun peeking out between the clouds for some brief moments.  It was not cold, but very blustery.  The winds were picking up the pool water, soaking the decks.  Bet it will be a few days before we get some typical Caribbean weather….or not?   We were somewhere near Cuba today, and it was really rolling.  We could not see the island, since it was raining according to Captain Mercer.


We were invited to our first cocktail party in the Explorers Lounge this evening at 7pm.  Guests from the Pinnacle and Neptune Suites were mixed with the 50 or so President’s Club members onboard this trip.  Captain Mercer, Henk M, the hotel director, and Ian, the duel CD and port lecturer greeting us as we wandered into the lounge.  All great guys.


There is a special spot at a high table where we always gather with the same group of friends.  Barb, of course, Don MacD, and the two of us headed for that table.  None of us care to sit down in the lounge as we don’t like feeling trapped.  Drinks to order were served, while Phillip, our favorite former dining room manager, joined us.  For years, Peter, the purser, was our guest officer, but he has retired.  He was really missed by all of us.  Karen, the Captain’s wife, came last and stayed for most of the cocktail hour.  Since she knows all of us, we caught up on cruise news.  Seems that Captain Mercer has been asked to come back on the 2020 world cruise, and he gladly accepted the offer.  Good news to everyone.


Dinnertime arrived quickly, so off we went (carefully)….the ship was really rocking by now.  Or maybe it was the drinks?  Once again, we were served hot-hot-hot food and great entrees.  Has anyone mentioned that you can order Maine lobster for an added $20 in the main dining room?  We have heard of other cruise lines doing this years ago, but never thought it would happen here.  Must be popular, and we heard that the lobster is excellent.


By the way, the Captain mentioned to us that if these winds keep up, there may be a problem with docking at the first port of Santa Marta.  Sure hope not…..


Back in our room, we found the first gifts of the cruise, two black messenger bags, suitable for a computer bag among other things.  Along with a towel animal of a sting ray, there was the first good night note with a neat saying:  I would gladly live out of a suitcase if it meant I could see the world.  Anonymous.  So true.  But we have to remember to tell our room stewards we will pass on the animals, since we have seen them all and if it saves them precious time, they can pass us up.  Just don’t forget those pillow candies!


Bill & Mary Ann



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I never thought of asking my stewards to forego the towel animals.  What a great idea; thank you!  Having enjoyed and been inspired by your blog for several years, I look forward to meeting ya'll in person on the 2020 GVC.

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Report # 7   Day at Sea   January 24, 2019   Thursday   Partly sunny, fierce winds & 75 degrees


During the wee hours of the night, the seas felt like the swells and winds were increasing.  Especially when one of us woke up feeling a tad queasy.  Normally, the motion  never bothered either of us, but when you first begin a cruise, it is not unusual to get your “sea legs” slowly.  Locating the meds seemed to help a bit later in the day, but the most important thing we have learned is that you need to eat and drink a little all day.  Never go hungry.  Sounds strange, but it does help.  Recommended items are chicken noodle soup, crackers, apples, and even ginger.


On the positive side, one of us celebrated the start of a new decade today. Worrying about turning 50 really was a piece of cake, however, 20 years later, you think can that be right???  Time flies when you are having fun as the saying goes.  Several cards were already waiting outside the door, which is always a nice start to the day.  Later on, the bellboy delivered a card from Captain Mercer with a special chocolate candy bar attached to it.  Nice touch this year.  WE don’t have any special plans for dinner, since it will be the first gala evening, and we really don’t like dining in the Pinnacle on formal nights.  Hopefully it will be low-key, and this birthday girl will not be disappointed if the waiters don’t bring the cake and singers.  Always embarrassing.


We continued on with the room set-up, mostly with re-making the bed with the topper.  Worked perfectly.  Before we knew it, the time had arrived for lunch with Barb.  During breakfast, Ian, the CD, came on the speaker announcing that he will be arriving with a Kevlar vest at Team Trivia today.  Wonder what he meant by that?  We do know that this particular group is over-the-top competitive, and will not tolerate any errors by the host.  When Barb arrived, we asked her how things were going at the game.   Her answer was that with his British accent, Ian was a bit hard to understand.  But with a totally full Ocean Lounge of players, perhaps they are noisy as well.  Probably takes a week to straighten it all out.


Trying to take our morning walk outside was difficult.  The starboard side was completely wet with spray coming off of the waves.  Winds were peaking at 52 MPH we believe.  With soaked decks and the motion of the ship, we had better try this walk later or risk injury.  One thing for sure is that all of the folks in the new lanai rooms on that side of the ship would not be using their private lounges anytime too soon.  The lounges did have brand new pads, but they were dripping wet.  Later in the afternoon, one of us did walk on the promenade, while the other continued stashing stuff in the hanging shoe bag and sorting daily meds to last one month.


At 3pm, we took a walk to The Mainstage (formerly Queen’s Lounge) to listen to the guest speaker begin her series on boobies and frigates.  Of course we are interested in anything with animals and birds, so this was right up our alley.  The speaker, Gloeta Massie, was quite animated and interesting.   She had good photos and kept her talk amusing as well as informative.  There is a chance this will be repeated on the TV, we hope.  We checked later, and it was.


The Captain’s welcome onboard reception and Black and Gold dinner was the theme for this evening.  Since we always like to watch how people dress for the first occasion, we went to the two chairs we like on deck five to relax while the folks went into lounge.  We are happy to say that 99% of the early crowd dressed smartly for the occasion.  Most all of the gentlemen wore suits with ties, or tuxes.  Very few dressed more casual.  The ladies seem to be more into fashion for some unknown reason.  The trend here appears to be more relaxed without the spike heels, which we have seen in the past.  With the motion of the ship, who needs to suffer the fancy dress shoes???


Speaking of the seas, they continued to be rough as the ship cut through the pounding swells.  This strong wind must be throughout the entire Caribbean.  Hope it improves soon, and we have a chance to stretch our legs on land tomorrow in Santa Marta, Colombia.


Our turn was at 7pm, and the ceremony was as it always was.  Drinks served were wines and sparkling wine, unless you knew a bar staffer who could find you what you liked.  Since the open seating dining began, the most attended party has become 4:30pm.  The same seems to apply to the after dinner entertainment.  The second time around at 10pm has a scattering of passengers, as we would discover later.


Tonight we had the Black and Gold dinner, which meant we would have a host.  We could have invited some staff people we know, but we did not move quick enough this time.  Instead, Phillip sent the first engineer, a young fellow by the name of Daniel.  All of us enjoyed getting to know him, and with just the three of us, he was most comfortable.  Most of the usual suspects were on the menu such as escargots, turf and surf, pate, as well as a large ravioli or chef salads, which three of us ordered for entrees.  We exchanged sailing stories from the past, and also experiences we all remembered from recent world cruises where he was present.  Staying until 10pm, we bid good evening, then we were off to the show lounge to check it out. 


So the singer was new to us, from the Netherlands, by the name of Isabel Commandeur.  She described herself as the equivalent to the American Idol winner in the USA.  Sometimes the best talents arise from this group, and we would say she was one of them.  A versatile and unique singer, she mixed some humor with songs from the past to present.  We both agreed she reached notes we never knew could be reached.  The good thing about that was she had excellent control and did not burst our eardrums.  When she slowly took her wrap around skirt off, revealing a short sequined blue dress, she had the audience in her hand.  Great show.


And a nice way to spend the start of another decade!  Also, we had presents again tonight…..two Moleskine journals to keep track of our travels.


Bill & Mary Ann



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Report #8   Santa Marta, Colombia       January 25, 2019       Mostly sunny & 89 degrees      Part #1 Of 3       80  Pictures


Santa Marta is located on a small island off the coast of Colombia.  For centuries, it was home to the indiginos Tayrona people, until the Spanish conquistador, Rodrigo de Bastidas landed here in 1525.  He was responsible for starting the first Spanish settlement in Colombia.  However, this oldest surviving city became famous when Simon de Bolivar, the great revolutionary, led Colombia and several Latin America countries to independence from Spain. Bolivar died near here, and there is a monument to him today.


Today this entire area is the country’s top getaway for beautiful beaches, modern high rise hotels, and an exciting nightlife.  Nearby is Tayrona National Park full of long sandy beaches, snorkeling, diving, and wildlife.  On previous visits here, we have driven through the park to the San Pedro Villa and visited the Bolivar Monument, although he is no longer buried here we understand. 


Our plan for the day was to stay in town, strolling to the beach area, then downtown, and finally the two Catholic churches, and the Gold Museum.  To begin, we were lucky that the seas calmed down and we were able to dock here.  Shore excursions offered three tours today, so we went off by the time they all left for the buses.  That was about 10:30am, and the temps were already climbing to the mid 80’s.  Since we were docked in a working port with mountains of coal being stock-piled, it was required we all ride a bus to the port gate.  Maybe a three minute ride.


Once out the gate, there are a series of tables set up with the start of the souvenirs.  If you make it through the maze, then you can pick up a city map to chart your way.  From there, we hit the tents on the beach where, you guessed it….more treasures to buy.  By the way, their money is the Colombian peso, which was 3.140 pesos to the US dollar.  Outside the stores, the dollar is accepted.  Typical things that are sold here are woven purses, sun hats, colorful beaded jewelry, citrus fruits, and ice cream.  Vendors were willing to bargain, but not too deeply from what we saw and heard.  Most of the folks we know that have been to many of these places more than once, have no problem going back to the ship with photos and that’s all. 


Since today was a Friday, the sandy beach had few sunbathers or swimmers.  Visiting on a weekend, it is normally full of families out for the day. That will start tomorrow, long after the ship has left.  We walked all the way to the marina and the beginning of the Oceanside hotels and condos.  Many nice restaurants surround this more modern area, but obviously nothing was opened this early.    Tonight, it will be a different story.


Making our way uphill, we headed for the very busy shopping street, where nice stores are located.  On the sidewalks, are cart after cart of vendors with drinks, food, clothing, CD’s, sunglasses, and costume jewelry.  We did need a few things we forgot at home, but since US dollars were not taken in the stores, and we did not wish to use a credit card, we decided to wait for those purchases in Panama City.


Passing many folks we knew from the ship, we noticed one couple had purchased a wall map of the world.  Dieter said it even had all of world’s flags on it.  Now that would be a most useful item for our cabin.  We did bring a map to tape on the wall, but it is looking a bit shabby from many trips. For a mere $4, we had a new one.  The Santa Marta Cathedral was near here, so we popped inside to see the oldest basilica in Colombia.  Built in 1766, it once held the remains of Simon Bolivar.  This church has been well preserved.


Further up  a narrow street, we found the second Catholic church, St. Francis of Assisi, a smaller version, but ready for the start of mass.  We stayed for a few minutes, mostly because it was quiet and cooler than outside.  We were not alone with our thinking.  Right up the street from this church was the recently re-done shopping mall, which was under construction when we were here two years ago.  You can find everything here like appliances, TV’s, furniture, and clothing to name a few.


We made our way to the Gold Museum which houses artifacts from the ancient cultures of indigenous people.  The gold section is small, but interesting.  The best aspect here are the clean restrooms open to all.  And also, it was free for everyone.  Outside on the sidewalk, some of the nicer woven bags and purses were being sold at much better prices.  We purchased one the last time we were here. Across the street was one of the local banks, where locals line up, and are allowed inside one at a time by the armed guards.  We doubt there is much crime here, since everywhere we went, there is a definite presence of a police force.


There would be no lunch for us in town, since nothing was opened, except Juan Valdez Coffee shops.  This brought us back to the beach, and the way back to the ship.  Back onboard by 1:30pm, we grabbed a few sandwiches and a slice of tasty pizza in the Lido, before heading back to work on photos.  The ship was scheduled to depart around 5pm, but it was delayed for perhaps an hour.  Some deliveries were still not here yet.


The sail away was well attended, with waiters serving what they called a banana snack, which really was a plantain.  Our buddy Karen tried one, decided it was not banana, then choked it down.  One was enough.  Usually there is one type of snack which you either like or don’t.  Another problem is that the servers really don’t always know what they are offering, since they never eat them.  As for us, most times we pass on the food.  Now if it is chicken tenders or fried cheese sticks, then it is a go.  What is more fun is visiting with the many folks we know well.  One couple we have looked forward to seeing is Susie and Eddie, relatives of Randy and Rosie.  We sailed together a few years back, and have kept in touch ever since.  Maybe next time, Rosie and Randy will join them….hint, hint.


The sun was setting by the time we sailed, and the breeze was most welcomed.  Now we are on our way to a very unique part of the world…a place called the San Blas Islands.  More about that tomorrow.


Dinner for us was in the Pinnacle Grill.  Going at 8pm exactly,  we discovered we were the only ones in there.  Tina, the manager, said it has been pretty quiet the last few days, which surprised us.  Another couple did take a booth a half hour after us, so we were not alone.  This suited us just fine as it was quiet and the service was seamless.  We both had Caesar salad, shrimp cocktail, the 7 ounce filet mignon, baked potato, fries, and mushrooms.  Perfect.  Dessert was one scoop of orange sorbet and the berries with sauce.  Since we have several complimentary dinners here, we made the reservations for all of them now.  Especially the Sel de Mer and Tamarind evenings.  They will fill quickly, and will be limited due to the 15 Captain’s dinners that are planned for this Grand Voyage. 


With such a busy day, it was wonderful turning in tonight.  Good thing tomorrow’ port will not be until 12pm.


Bill & Mary Ann


PS    Konni…..we are still looking for Kirsten for your email.  We can tell you that ours is the same beginning, but gmail.com.  Give it a try!



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Wonderful report! I followed along last year, but it is more interesting this time around since we were on the Amsterdam for the Grand Asia Voyage. Ian has a great British sense of humor. Never had trouble understanding him. We often had breakfast and lunch in Gan's section of the dining room. He is a wonderful waiter. I don't recognize the other names, but we are not exclusive HAL cruisers and therefore don't know most people on board.

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Report #9  San Blas Islands, Panama    January 26, 2019   Saturday   Chance of rain & 81 degrees        Part #1 Of 2       80  Pictures


The day began with our usual dining room breakfast, but to our surprise, Barbie joined us.  Often she wears a baby blue sun hat, so we have graced her with the name, the Blue Hat Lady.  She always cracks up when she hears that.  Anyway, she had a tale about a huge water leak in her cabin, resulting in a flooded room all the way out into the hallway.  Good grief!  Besides dealing with the problem, they would have to dry out the room for a few days.  That meant she had to move temporarily into an empty cabin, and believe us, she is not a happy camper.  Don’t blame her….what luck to get the jinxed cabin.  Worse comes to worse, they can remove the old carpeting and padding, and re-install it new.  The good part was that we got to share the early morning with her.


The arrival to our second port would not be until noon, so we took care of some unfinished business.  A nice bouquet of flowers arrived, which should have been here on day one.  Then a case of Vitamin waters arrived to replace the booze.  While titling photos, a knock on the door presented our room steward with a newer tower fan.  Bill had informed Shiv about the wobbly one we had been given.  Within 5 minutes after Shiv made a phone call, the new one was here.  What a guy.  Busy morning for sure.


Today’s port of call was a quite unique one, which does not come to a surprise to us, since we have been here three times now. Many of the world cruisers have been.  The name of this place is the San Blas Islands, an autonomous province of Panama, and populated with a small number of indigenous Kuna Indians.  They have lived here since the 1800’s, migrating from the mainland along the Colombian and Panamanian coastline.  We have often wondered if this tribe came off shore to escape yellow fever or malaria in the old days, which would explain a lot.  Anyway, the women rule the roost, while the men fish and farm bananas, coconuts, and plantains.  Besides taking care of the family’s needs, the ladies sew “molas”.  These are fabric designs created from layers of fabrics, then cut into designs.  They are all done by hand, and some are quite beautiful.  And expensive these days.


Many years ago, we arrived here the first time while on a Princess ship.  The feeling was far different from what we found today.  At that time, molas and all of their by-products were reasonably priced.  The little children remained in the backround.  But today, we encountered the kids using props such as kittens, puppies, and birds to pose for photos, then asking for one dollar.  When the folks did not pay, the moms intimidated them to do so.  Really ruined the ambience for us, because they really don’t need to exploit the younger set that way, in our humble opinion.  We saw a spattering of this while in the Amazon, but nothing like we saw today. 


We joined some fellow friends to be the first in the newer tender boat for the short ride over to one of the larger islands.  The info in the tour book stated that there are 365 islands in this archipelago, but only 50 or so are inhabited.  We strolled among the thatched bamboo houses with attached outhouses on a spit.  They overhang the water, because there is no running water.  They do have a source of power since we saw many TV satellite dishes, as well as solar-powered outdoor lights.  We had been informed that there would be no ATM machines or WIFI. 


What they did have were alleyways full of the mola handicrafts.  Already owning too many, we just took photos today.  Inflation has hit this little itty bitty part of the Caribbean, even more so than elsewhere.  Selling these items were the Kuna ladies, dressed in native clothing, and be-decked with gold nose rings, metal bracelets, and beads wrapped around their wrists and ankles.  Only a few of the native men were visible, and some were drinking beers inside their huts.  In one public meeting area on this teenie weenie island, a few tables were set up containing beautifully painted feathers.  The subjects were mostly birds, but we did see insects and frogs too.  Most were mounted cleverly on covered cardboard, and signed by the artist.  Nice ones ran around $12 each, and we saw no one bargaining at all.  That was a fair price, since we have seen these sold in Costa Rica for much more.


It took about ½ hour to walk from one end to the other, then up another sandy alleyway.  A few young boys had a pig in a cage, and were charging money for folks to take a picture, of course.  We located the infirmary, a school house, a few small stores, and even a library of sorts.  It is possible a few natives stay here, but we feel that with the shoreline a mere two miles away, these natives are ferried back and forth when cruise ships come in.  The only supplies we spotted in a small shop were canned tuna with vegetables, canned milk, and cooking oil….lots of it.  Detergent was for sale too in little boxes.  The main shopping has to be on the mainland.


Purged with photos, we headed back when the island became flooded with passengers from the ship.  We were told that no crew members were allowed to come over here today.  Truthfully, they would find nothing here that they needed, which is usually internet and phone connections. 


Hungry by now, we went to the Lido, because the dining room had opened from 11:30 to 12:30pm for lunch and was closed.  Sharing a salad and sandwich, we were happy enough.  At 3pm, they called the last of the tender tickets for the ride over, and people were free to go down without them. 


All aboard was 5:30pm, but we watched from deck nine while the boats came back, and all were loaded around 5pm.  Interesting operation seeing how they are hooked up and lifted into place.  With such new and pricey tender boats, the sailors were most cautious.


Captain Mercer announced that we would be heading west for a mere 90 miles to park and wait for our transit through the Panama Canal early tomorrow morning.  Expecting it to rain any second, we lucked out and the skies remained dark and foreboding, but there had only been a few sprinkles today, we heard. 


Dinner was back at our table with Barb.  Each of us was gifted with a Panama hat to be used tomorrow in the pounding sun.  The labels claim these hats are made with paper straw, so now we wonder how they will hold up in a possible rain shower?  Must be a “green” thing. They will join our growing collection at home.


By the way, forgot to mention that the priority tender service was available to only the Pinnacle, Neptune, and President’s Club members, and will remain that way for the entire voyage.  We found it worked well to be among the first ones off.  That way we did not have to cut any existing line, which we do not prefer to do.  Neither do our buddies.  In addition, a list of do’s and do not’s were given to all to read regarding the tendering process.  Great idea to avoid accidents.


Bill & Mary Ann



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Report #10    Transit the Panama Canal & Fuerte Amador   January 27, 2019   Sunday   Partly sunny & 85 degrees    Part #1 Of 3      80 Pictures



Another transit through the famous Panama Canal was in store for all today.  A first for some, but repeat for many.  Doesn’t matter how many times we have done this journey, it never fails to intrigue us.  The history is so fascinating, especially after reading books describing the entire series of events that have led up to what we see today.


But first, beginning the day, it was a must to indulge with the special treat that is always served onboard…….that is the Panama Canal Rolls.  Traditionally, they are served at 6:30am on some outside decks, the Crow’s Nest, and the Atrium.  Since that is not starting time for us, we ask for them in the dining room.  Our waiters seem to be able to round some up from the kitchen, and today was no exception.  So far we have resisted the pastries, but these are so good, we had two……each. The next time we will see these should be in Sydney, disguised as Opera House Rolls.


The Amsterdam had arrived to Colon on the Caribbean side of the canal before 7:30am.  Captain Mercer announced we could not proceed until the third Panamanian pilot had joined the ship before we could advance through the first locks.  Only 15 minutes late, we were set to go into the first series  of locks at Gatun Locks, raising the ship to the level of Gatun Lake.  The actual difference in height is a bit over 88 feet.  The entire transit is 50 miles to the Pacific Ocean, and should take us until 5pm, give or take.


Something we noticed immediately, was the new bridge that spans across the entrance.  It was not complete when we sailed through the canal last May.  Now finished and operational, it resembles the Centennial Bridge the way it is constructed.  The narrator said it really made the Panamanian commuters quite happy.


The new locks on the Caribbean side, Agua Clara Locks, are not so visible, unless the Captain took the ship over that way.  On one of our transits, the Captain did wander over that way, and we did see the work in progress.


In simple terms, this is the world’s most famous “short cut”, saving a ship sailing from New York to San Francisco 8100 miles.  In the old days, the route required sailing around Cape Horn in South America, which was a 14,000 mile trip.  Using the short cut, the mileage was reduced to 5,900 miles.


The Canal expanded, beginning in 2007, doubling the capacity to meet the increasing demand of world trade.  Much of the massive work was out of sight at that time, but each year we transited, we eventually saw progress.  By 2016, the work was inaugurated, and the ships larger than the Panamax-sized vessels were able to fit through the new locks.  Panamax ships maxed out at 965 feet long and 106 feet wide.  They were under 90,000 gross tons.  Larger vessels can transit now, so it was worth the equivalent of $6.20 billion US dollars to be able to double the canal’s capacity.


Today’s weather co-operated with our transit.  We had mostly sunny skies with a mostly constant breeze.  That turned out to be deceiving, because one of us under-estimated the strength of the sun.  The best place to enjoy the transit for us is at the Seaview Pool, but this was really the first good day to begin some sun bathing.  Sure we used lots of sunscreen, but it didn’t last as long as we hoped.  Covering up with the towels came a little too late.  Will be more careful from here on out.


There was a commentator by the name of Antonio Grenald, who did give good narration during the day.  We did notice he spoke less than the usual fellows.  We’re not entirely sure, but he may have been located in the Crow’s Nest, and did take questions from the passengers there.  It would have helped if he shared the questions with everyone on the ship, since we heard his replies, but not the actual questions.


Another cruise ship followed us through the canal by the name of Artania, a Phoenix Reisen vessel.  A mid-size ship holding around 1200 passengers, she was formerly the Royal Princess built in 1984.  The vessel was sold to this cruise line in 2011, and is described as a ship for the mature-age cruisers.  Actually, the same is said about the passengers on the HAL (Holland America Line) ships as well.  And it is what it is……


The transit really did not begin until 11am, after a 2 hour wait in Gatun Lake.  This is normal.  Then when we approached the narrow section, the Gaillard Cut, we had to wait for a large ship going the opposite direction, or we would not fit.  We passed by the Chagres River, the famous prison that held Noriega, Gold Hill, and the Continental Divide on the way to the final set of locks at San Pedro and Miraflores.  Going under the Centennial Bridge was neat, especially viewed from the bow of the ship.  By the way, it was here that we saw the newly-painted logo for the 2019 Grand World Voyage.  It is always plastered on the wall below the deck six forward railing.


The best spot to see the waiting crowd of locals to cheer us onward is also on the bow.  That, of course, it when we pass the multi-level public building at the Miraflores set of locks.  Don’t know who has more fun…..the crowd onshore or the passengers on the passing cruise ships as they exchange waves and songs.


The new locks on the Pacific side, Cocoli Locks, were visible from our position.  Finally, we reached the Pacific Ocean after sailing under the Bridge of the Americas.  That’s where we saw the most bird life of the day.  There were frigates, pelicans, some gulls, and the ever-present vultures.  What we missed were the huge capybaras, the world’s largest rodents.  They were always in a certain area beyond the last bridge, but now there was so much new construction, these odd animals were gone.  Watching the behavior of those diving pelicans always keeps our attention.  There has to be a never-ending supply of seafood where the canal dumps into the ocean.


To keep us cool and hydrated, at 11am, iced water or lemonade and cold face towels were served on the outside decks.  This was repeated at 2pm, but tropical chilled soup was added.  We tried the pineapple-coconut treat and found it refreshing.  Missing were the diced fruit skewers this time around.  Then we had a nice visit with the hotel director, Henk M, who stopped by to catch up on personal news with our family and his.  It never fails to amuse us the span of time it takes before other nosy passengers move in to eavesdrop, then interrupt.  Usually takes 5 minutes.


Once out of the canal zone, we took a left turn, and dropped anchor close to the marina of Fuerte Amador, where we will spend the night.  Tomorrow we will have a full day to explore the Panama City area.


Barb invited one of the new dance hosts, Colin, to join us for dinner.  He was a pleasant fellow from England, and seemed to enjoy Barb’s company during our meal.  Prime rib, lasagna, and Barb’s favorite, liver and onions, were on the menu tonight.  Most of us are ordering half portions now, and it was more than enough.  Usually two courses that include soup or salad is quite sufficient with a small entrée.  We did cheat a bit…..sharing a small cream puff, which we call a chocolate éclair.


The strong breeze had stopped by 10pm, and the humidity was heavy while we took a stroll on the promenade deck.  A flock of a different type of seabird was working the waters under the bright lights of the ship.  Interesting how nature dictates the feeding habits, keeping these species alive and thriving.   Time for this species to turn in.


One of us will remember today well, especially with the extra warmth of the sunburn all night…..it can only get better.


Bill & Mary Ann



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3 hours ago, WCB said:

Another cruise ship followed us through the canal by the name of Artania, a Phoenix Reisen vessel.  A mid-size ship holding around 1200 passengers, she was formerly the Royal Princess built in 1984.  The vessel was sold to this cruise line in 2011, and is described as a ship for the mature-age cruisers.  Actually, the same is said about the passengers on the HAL (Holland America Line) ships as well.  And it is what it is……

Coincidentally, today's episode of the German reality TV program "Verrückt nach Meer" showed the Artania's transit from the the Pacific to the Atlantic last spring. Artania was on its world cruise. Most of Artania's passengers are on the senior side, although segments attract some younger cruisers. https://www.daserste.de/information/reportage-dokumentation/verrueckt-nach-meer/videos/verrueckt-nach-meer-folge-315-video-100.html

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Report #11  Fuerte Amador, Panama   January 28, 2019   Monday   Partly sunny & 89 degrees       Part #1 Of 3        80  Pictures


So here we are in Fuerte Amador, a very short distance to Panama City.  Actually, the four small islands just outside of the canal’s exit were connected to each other and the mainland with a causeway, using materials excavated from digging the canal.  This had a double purpose, but most importantly, the roadway kept the area from silting up the entrance.  Over the years, we have charted the progress with the locals developing the area with creating a 3 mile walking and biking path to the big city. 


At the furthest point lies Isla Flamenco with a beautiful marina full of shopping and restaurants.  This is the area that the tender boats drop us off.  As you make your way towards Panama City, this causeway has plants and trees lining the walkway, as well as frequent restrooms.  Benches are numerous for viewing the Bridge of the Americas and canal traffic, which is constant. 


Halfway is the quite unusual structure everyone says….what is that?  Multi-colored and put together like a Lego puzzle, is the Bridge of Life Museum of Biodiversity.  It is worth a visit if it happens to be included in a local tour, like we did years ago.


So, what did we do today?  Taking a tender over around 10am was easy, as we went in between calls for tender tickets.  That way we could go down to deck A without passing anyone in line.  Chairs were set up there, so we could wait for the boat to disembark passengers already coming back.  We were in bird heaven, watching the cormorants, pelicans, terns, gulls, and frigates work the waters.  We would soon discover what they were eating.


Once we pulled into the marina, we thought we saw white bird feathers floating on top of the water.  Nope….they were dead and dying fish.  Small ones 4 inches long.  There were thousands of them, explaining the presence of so many sea birds.  They were scooping them up fast as they could.  And they smelled bad.  Wonder what killed them?  And we hope the birds don’t die as well.


There was a free shuttle today, just like they had the last three years.  It went to the Albrook Mall, a 20 – 30 minute ride each way. With two other cruise ships anchored near us, we shared the bus ride with other passengers.  Last year, we were taken into the heart of downtown to a very large mall with highend stores.  Not a whole lot of practical shops that we all really need.    This mall had hundreds of stores like Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, Apple, etc.  However, there were no grocery stores or general retail stores like a Walmart.  At least not that we could locate.  Few local folks spoke English, and there was no map of the place.  Go figure.


The only shop where  every day drugs were sold were pharmacies.  Could not believe there was no aspirin to be found.  Everything but Bayer aspirin.  We did locate most all of the items we had forgotten at home, and the rest we know will be found in New Zealand.  And the good thing was that they accepted the US dollar, since that is their money as well.  Some of their coins are Panamanian, so they needed to be spent here.


This place is so big, lots of people we know said they needed to leave a crumb trail.  The best way we learned to locate what we needed was to ask fellow passengers as we passed them.  By noontime, this mall filled with locals, and by late afternoon, it would most likely be crowded.  With a visible military force of armed guards, it is unlikely there is ever any problems here.  They shoot first, ask questions later.


We walked 1 ½ hours, then found our way back to the bus stop. On the second floor in this area, was a place called “Do It”.  This turned out to be an Ace Hardware store, perfect for buying some larger plastic flower pots.  Guess what?  The sunflower seeds in the little Dollar Store pots have erupted, and are growing beautifully.  Needing to be transplanted soon, we even found a large bag of soil for less than $2.00.  We’ll have to tell Barb we have “dirt”, which she will expect juicy gossip.  No, it’s really dirt or soil.  She’ll be disappointed. 


A shuttle was waiting, and we made it back to the marina in 30 minutes.  Remembering a very good place for lunch, we went to Lenos and Carbon, an Argentinian steak house with a view of the marina.  It was a full house, but a table opened up within minutes, and we were seated.  Sharing nachos and mixed quesadillas, we sipped Panama beers before we split one slice of lemon pie (aka: key lime pie). 


We were back to the ship before 4pm, which was the time to catch the final tender boat.  As it turned out, when we went to the aft deck to watch the sail out of the area at 4:30pm, Captain Mercer announced that two HAL tour buses had been stuck in traffic due to a bad accident.  Our departure was delayed by an hour.  We highly suspect that if these buses had been independent tours, the ship would have left them behind. 


Our long time buddy, Eddie (without his wife, Lee) sought out our company for a while.  He has to be in his 90’s, and has traveled like forever.  We have had the pleasure of meeting one of his daughters and son-in-law on previous cruises, and it turns out they live very close to us in the Est Bay of San Francisco.  Small world.  If Verry and Bill are reading this, your dad and mom look great.


Well, that gave us an hour to work on reports and photos before it was time for dinner. Barb was waiting for us in the dining room, and as always, we had a great time visiting. She told us about the 5pm Sip and Savor $5 glass of wine and appetizers event on deck five.  Well attended, she said it was a great way to finally get a reasonably-priced glass of wine on this ship.  The going rate is $9 a glass.  Barb continued with treats with a dinner of appetizers, while we dined on salads and breaded veal….all small portions.  We are finding that passing on dessert is a good idea.  Tomorrow night, we will miss dinner with our favorite waiters, since the three of us and Don MacD have been invited to the very first Captain’s Dinner in the Pinnacle Grill.


Bill & Mary Ann



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Report #12   Day at Sea   January 29, 2019   Tuesday   Partly sunny & 75 degrees        Part # 1 of 1      11  Pictures


A day at sea was just what we needed this fine Tuesday.  A nice breakfast, then a walk around promenade deck was in order.  As we travel south in the Pacific Ocean, we noticed that the higher heat and humidity of Colombia and Panama had decreased ever so slightly.  That was fine with us.  The intensity of the sun?  Well that is another issue.  This evening, we will enter into the Southern Hemisphere when we cross the Equator.  The rays of the sun are the most intense here from what we have always understood.  Anyway, there will be no King Neptune Ceremony until we cross back over the line in March.  So we hope we are gracefully pardoned until we celebrate in the spring.


Today was also one of those “invites”, such as the Mariner Society sommelier suite package wine tasting in the Crow’s Nest at 1pm.  We really do not care for wine, so we seldom attend.  And if the sun is out, we are out with it.  Barb did go and enjoyed testing the varieties that are available.  With the invitation, it is free.  Without the invite, it was $25.


For those with January birthdays, there was another invite to attend a Merabella Luxury Boutique jewelry unveiling.  The draw was a complimentary glass of an unforgettable sparkling wine.  Nice, but we passed on that one too.


The highlight of the afternoon was the several sightings of dolphins.  If we were not on the lookout for them, we never would have seen the pods go by.  Luckily, we did think to take the small camera with us just in case.  The Captain was keeping the ship’s speed at 20 knots, and the dolphins were going the opposite way, so the display was brief, but so rewarding.


A Lido lunch included a Caesar salad and a shared roast beef sandwich.  We kept it simple and small, because the final invitation was for the Captain’s Dinner, which would begin at 6pm.  We did take the time to make a stop at the future cruise consultant’s desk to arrange a deposit on the 2021 Grand World Voyage, even though there is no itinerary out yet.  They have not even announced the ship that will be doing it, although, the vessel has been the Amsterdam for several years now.  However, the deposit is reasonable, possibly transferable or  refundable if we change our minds. A no brainer. There are two ladies taking over the job of bookings this year, and even though we had not signed the appointment book, one of them took us in between clients, taking 10 minutes to complete the simple form. The desk that used to be Barbara H’s, our port lecturer, has been made for two consultants now….more convenient for handling the guests quicker.


Had a minute left to pick up a library book, which does not require checking out anymore.  A sign on the desk says keep it, read it, and return it anytime.  Then we had to head back to our room to get ready for dinner.  We are masters at quick-change, and seldom spend much time deciding what to wear.  A gala night, the dress suggestion was black and silver for the Black and Silver Masked Ball in the Mainstage at 10pm tonight.  With our meal beginning after 6pm, most everyone will still be able to attend the first ball.


Back to the dinner, the best part of the evening has always been spending it with our buddies, Barb and Don.  Peter, the purser, a friend to all, was always the hosting officer of our table. Peter retired after last year’s voyage, and he is missed.  However, his replacement, a nice young lady from Romania was our hostess this evening.  She was quite talkative and at ease with us.  The biggest problem with having a crowd in the Pinnacle Grill is the noise.  Conversations get louder the more wine they serve, and soon, it is almost impossible to hear the people at your table. 


The menu was creative, but recognizable.  Textures of baby beets was the starter, perhaps three tiny bites.  Pretty, but meager.  A single dinner roll was placed at each setting.  Next was a roasted butternut squash puree, poured from teapots over a dollop of hazelnut puree.  It was tasty.  A small portion of marinated cured salmon was served next.  That also was good.  The main was a rolled strip of steak with prosciutto and some unknown herbs rolled in the middle.  Green mashed potatoes and a few baby vegetables accompanied the beef.  Dessert was a passion fruit mousse, covered with white chocolate, dotted with 2 meringue drops, sprinkled with ginger crumbles, and served with a scoop of orange sorbet.  It was so warm in the room, that no one at our table had coffee.


We were each gifted with a round box of dessert-sized plates….four of them with HAL designs.  They are nice, but not Delft.  A few years ago, we were given the same type of plates, so these will go well with them.  The meal was completed by 8pm, after Captain Mercer wished everyone a lovely evening, thanking the staff that prepared this special meal for all.  According to a reliable source, there will be 14 more of these occasions to accommodate all of the full world cruisers.  Lucky for the officers and staff that host each table, Tina, the manager, will change the menu often.


Since we took in a lot of sun today, waiting two hours for the ball was not on our list tonight.  Sometimes we peek our noses in the lounge, but we will surely hear all about it tomorrow.  Good enough for us.  And Slam, our waiter, promised to save us the masks that are given at the dining room tables at dinnertime.


Bill & Mary Ann  

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On ‎1‎/‎28‎/‎2019 at 1:16 PM, whogo said:

Coincidentally, today's episode of the German reality TV program "Verrückt nach Meer" showed the Artania's transit from the the Pacific to the Atlantic last spring. Artania was on its world cruise. Most of Artania's passengers are on the senior side, although segments attract some younger cruisers. https://www.daserste.de/information/reportage-dokumentation/verrueckt-nach-meer/videos/verrueckt-nach-meer-folge-315-video-100.html


Thanks for posting this. I didn't know about this ship.

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Report # 13   Day at Sea   January 30, 2019   Wednesday   Partly sunny & 75 degrees



Another nice day at sea was what we got this fine Wednesday.  Just as we remembered, the climate is tolerable as we head south towards Peru.  Breezy, not too hot or humid, and a comfortable 75 degrees.  We’ll enjoy it while it lasts.


What a treat we had while walking the lower promenade this morning…….numerous sightings of dolphins.  Even whales spouting in the distance.  Doesn’t get much better for the wildlife lovers among us.  It is a good indication that the ocean is healthy and thriving, at least in this part of the world.  And if memory serves us correctly, the Humbolt Current coming from Antarctica has a lot to do with the prolific sea life on the entire coastline of western South America.  Whatever the reason, the sightings of feeding dolphins continued all day long.


A funny thing happened at the Captain’s Dinner last night….the very first one of this grand voyage.  The centerpieces on each table were cylindrical glass tubes that resembled the actual stem of a rose, complete with thorns in various colors.  Each slender vase held one long-stemmed large red rose bud. Everyone at our table, as well as all around us, remarked on how nice they looked.  So of course, when it was time to depart the room after dinner, mostly the ladies assumed these single roses and vases were part of the “gifts”.  In fact, our hostess, Alina Marin, the Purser, suggested that these flowers “may” be intended as extra gifts for each lady at the tables. And knowing we would be gifted with a box of something, many of the guests had brought the blue HAL shopping bag to carry their gifts back to their rooms.  The roses just happened to fit in that bag too.  Jokingly, one of our buddies slipped the entire vase down the front of her dress, leaving the rose sticking out.  Some of the fellows stuck them in their inner jacket pockets.  Needless to say, we were laughing hysterically. 


Well, wouldn’t you know it, the wait staff was waiting for everyone at the exit (prior to passing by Captain Mercer) to separate the roses from the guests!  The message was relayed that these were decorations only, and if wished to buy them, we could contact the floral department.  The entire room of guests all said…just kidding…mostly to save the embarrassment of the mistake.  Better believe, that the next Captain’s Dinner will have notes on the tables saying “For Display Only”!  Where else could we have so much fun???  Oh yeah, the real gifts we received had a total of six plates, not four.


Did we tell you that Hamish, our cruise director, came back?  From what we understand, he had an injured knee, and needed to be cleared to re-join the ship in Colombia.  He has such a distinctive voice, we knew immediately that Ian was back to his regular job, since his accent is decidedly British.


The Shops Onboard have a totally different look, as we discovered yesterday. The shops have much more upscale merchandise, and naturally, more pricey.  They are run by a group of most friendly salespeople from Dufry.  One of the salesgirls explained how they happened to replace the other group.  Apparently, several of the ships of the Carnival group have been changed over to Dufry recently.  They are also working on getting onboard the Princess ships next.  For example, in the clothing shop, there are no more Grand World Voyage t-shirts with the itinerary printed on the back.  All that you can buy now are sweatshirts or jackets with the cruise date and year on it.  The jacket, although smart-looking, cost $210, and run on the small side.


A few days ago, we had requested for the air conditioning filter to be replaced in our room.  Ever since day one, we both have been sneezing.  Today we had a  call and a note delivered confirming the work had been done.  Somehow you never picture dust on a ship, but it is worse than at home.  The way you can tell is by keeping an eye on the computer screen.  If in two days you can write your name in the dust, then it is well past the time to have the filter replaced.


Another thing we asked about was the embarkation photo we had taken with Orlando Ashford and Gerald Bernhoft.  They only do this for a very small group of us, and without fail, we have always been gifted the photo within a day or two. Well, it never showed up, so we asked if they had dropped this perk.  Our girl Friday at the front desk, Barbara, said of course, we should have received it.  Expect it tomorrow.  It arrived this afternoon, and for a change, it came out nicely.  We asked Barbie if she got hers, and she said yes, thanking us for doing it.


A job we had for the afternoon was playing with dirt.  But with all the stories we had for today, we’ll save the dirt tale for tomorrow.


This evening we were invited to the first cocktail party hosted by our travel group.  It was well-attended, and why not?  The drinks of your choice flowed freely and the hors d’oeuvres were excellent.  Bitterballen, a Dutch favorite, coconut-crusted shrimp, and pot stickers were among the snacks.  They certainly put a dent into our dinner appetite.  The Captain and his wife Karen strolled into the gathering, and eventually ended up at our high top table we shared with Barb, Howard, Gyl, and Sue .  He told us he will have to get up at 2am to embark the Peruvian pilot tomorrow, since our docking time will be 3:30am.  The shore excursions onboard have a three day two night tour to Cuzco and Machu Picchu.  The silver tour runs about $2600 for one, while the gold version costs $3800 per person.  The more expensive one involves the train ride on the Hiram Bingham railway.  And perhaps a higher-priced hotel.  And at the time the tour booklet was printed, both of these excursions were sold out. And this is the reason the ship needs to dock so early to accommodate the early flight for these folks.  Many of our friends have arranged their own private tours, but were able to make flight arrangements at a much better time.  Even the Captain admitted he has never seen the famous site, but it may be on his bucket list once he retires.


The party broke up by 8pm, and the three of us went to dinner, happy to be back with our sweet waiters.  Guess what they did for us?  They had saved the black and silver masks for us that were given away last night.  On top of that, Don MacD had sent down three slices of his birthday carrot cake to our table the previous night.  We all must have left by then, and our waiters ate it all.  Soooo, Slam went to the kitchen tonight, and rounded up three generous slices of our favorite cake.  Pretty nice, we thought.  We are so enjoying our table this year.


Bill & Mary Ann


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