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John and Diane's Lucky Number 7

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Monday, January 21, 2019 - 0 minus 1 day

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

 

Why in the world is it always cold when we fly to Ft. Lauderdale to board a world cruise?  I do realize that if you’re in the Northeast and it’s 10 below, you think the temperatures here (low of 45, high of 68) are balmy for January, but c’mon folks, that’s cold for us.  Of our seven world cruises, two have sailed from the West Coast, but five from Ft. Lauderdale and each and every one of them has been cold.  We always optimistically bring a swimsuit to lounge around the hotel pool, but we’ve never once been able to use  it.  One time we even came three days early to drive down to Key West for New Year’s Eve, thinking that since it was even further south that it would be warm.  Wrong!  One afternoon of sun and then two days of cold wind and rain.  I don’t know whether the Ft. Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce is stretching the truth about their winter temperatures or if it’s just us.  If it’s the latter, I hope we can board the ship before the C of C kicks us out of the city.

 

Our flight yesterday was fairly normal, except for a bit of turbulence at the beginning and the end of our 5-1/2 hours.  Fortunately, it was non-stop, so it was just sit down, eat pretzels, and wait for landing.  Our friend Bob Stimmel, a retired United Methodist minister, is also on our cruise with a group called Road Scholars, formerly Elderhostel, and we all came on the same flight.  We know we’ll be seeing him a lot on the cruise.

 

We didn’t arrive until about 9:30, and by the time we collected our luggage, flagged a taxi, and arrived at the hotel for check-in, it was after 10:00.  Fortunately, our friends Jane and Bill had told us to call them whenever we got in, so we all met with hugs and kisses and headed for the hotel bar, where we closed it down and then stayed until midnight just catching up.  

 

This morning was somewhat of a typical cruise day, except that we didn’t get up until 8:00 - incredibly late for us!  We headed for the gym, then to one of the restaurants for breakfast and then stayed and chatted with Bill and Mary Ann Barry before heading back to our room for showers and to get ready for a one-mile walk to the nearest Publix for a few last-minute items.  I understand that Publix is next to Total Wine, where in the old days we would have bought a couple of cases of wine to take on board, but now the rules have changed.  We may only take one bottle each on board; more than that and we’d have to pay an $18.00 corkage fee - probably more than the wine itself cost!  

 

We’re looking forward to a leisurely day, a long walk, catching up with Shannon, our cruise agent at Cruise and Travel Agents, and then a wonderful Italian dinner with all the rest of the C & TA group this evening.  Tomorrow’s boarding, and we can’t wait!

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Tuesday, January 22 - Day Zero

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

 

It’s here!  The day which has been driving us crazy for a couple of months has arrived and whatever we forgot or did wrong  - well, it’s just too late to worry about it.  We have a great two-day stay at the Pier 66 Hotel, and yesterday the sun actually came out for a couple of hours, so I guess I’ll have to apologize to the Ft.Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce.  We sat by the pool and enjoyed the weather until the black clouds came back and the temperature took a nose dive.  Today, however, it feels like Hawaii.  Right now (at 9:47 AM) it’s 71 degrees with a bit more wind than I’d like, but I do like the tropical feel of it.

 

One of the best things about beginning the WC is meeting with all our old cruise friends as they check into the hotel.  We hug and kiss and exchange information about what’s been going on and talk about how much we were all looking forward to the cruise.  Then last evening we had a wonderful gala dinner at Mezzaluna, not too far from the hotel.

The open bar was a popular place and the dinner choices were great.

 

This morning it was pretty busy, getting everything re-packed, getting checked out, and now waiting for the 10:30 bus to the ship.  Our luggage is taken care of and we’re really looking forward to getting everything put away in our cabin before the sailaway party begins and we get to see all our other cruise friends.  

 

So . . . this is a short post, but it’s my last chance to use free hotel internet.  Now we’re off to the ship.  See you soon.

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Following, so glad to see that you are doing the WC again.

 

Judy

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Tuesday, January 22 - Day Zero

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

 

It’s here!  The day which has been driving us crazy for a couple of months has arrived and whatever we forgot or did wrong  - well, it’s just too late to worry about it.  We have a great two-day stay at the Pier 66 Hotel, and yesterday the sun actually came out for a couple of hours, so I guess I’ll have to apologize to the Ft.Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce.  We sat by the pool and enjoyed the weather until the black clouds came back and the temperature took a nose dive.  Today, however, it feels like Hawaii.  Right now (at 9:47 AM) it’s 71 degrees with a bit more wind than I’d like, but I do like the tropical feel of it.

 

One of the best things about beginning the WC is meeting with all our old cruise friends as they check into the hotel.  We hug and kiss and exchange information about what’s been going on and talk about how much we were all looking forward to the cruise.  Then last evening we had a wonderful gala dinner at Mezzaluna, not too far from the hotel.

The open bar was a popular place and the dinner choices were great.

 

This morning it was pretty busy, getting everything re-packed, getting checked out, and now waiting for the 10:30 bus to the ship.  Our luggage is taken care of and we’re really looking forward to getting everything put away in our cabin before the sailaway party begins and we get to see all our other cruise friends.  

 

So . . . this is a short post, but it’s my last chance to use free hotel internet.  Now we’re off to the ship.  See you soon.

 

Thanks for checking in.

 

Glad you enjoyed a couple of days in Ft Lauderdale.

 

Bon Voyage!!

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Watched your ship come in this morning, hopefully I will be here for sail away. Bon Voyage fair winds & smooth seas.

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Wednesday, January 23

The Old Bahamas Strait between

   Cuba and The Bahamas

 

We’re on!  The adventure has begun and we’re so happy to be on board.  Yesterday flew by, from hurrying to get our luggage ready to be sent to the ship to the short drive there, and even waiting for almost an hour to check in.  The irony was that we were  divided into two groups:  1, 2, and 3 star Mariners on one side and 4 and 5 star Mariners on the other, with the idea of giving the 4 and 5 folks a faster check in.  Well, that didn’t work out.  The lower star area had shorter lines the entire time we waited.  Oh well, we were able to  greet cruise friends in line and chat about how we’d spent the last year.

 

Once on the ship, we headed to our room, hoping that our luggage would be there, ready to be opened and put away.  Sadly, that didn’t happen, so we just headed up to the Lido to have some lunch and stayed to enjoy the complimentary wine and Champagne being served around the Lido pool.  When we returned to our cabin, the two smaller bags with which we had flown to Ft. Lauderdale were waiting, so we unloaded them and put a few things away.  The four large (some would say huge) bags came, one at a time, throughout the afternoon and evening, the last one arriving about 6:30.  

 

We were scheduled to sail at 9:15, so the sailaway party was scheduled from 8:30 until 10:00 around the Lido pool, with music (the Station Band is great!) and open bars.  Unfortunately for those of us who dine at 8:00, we had two choices:  eat at the Lido instead of the dining room or skip the party.  Since it was our first night at our table, we decided to try to accomplish both a late dinner and a bit of a party.  We finished most of our meal by 9:20 or 9:30, so we skipped dessert and headed up to join the party.  It was a great time, and The Y.M.C.A. has never been so much fun to dance!  In addition, we were able to visit with friends we hadn’t seen earlier in the day, and a good time was had by all.

 

Today was fairly quiet and relaxing.  According to Captain Jonathan Mercer, we’re sailing through the edge of the storm hitting the southeast United States, so while it is about 78 degrees, the rain has been frequent and it’s been a perfect day to finish putting away our clothes and take a nap.  As is usual on the first few days of a WC, the gym was packed this morning, but we managed to find machines to make us sweat before breakfast.  In a few days, however, the crowds will give up on their New Year’s resolutions and we’ll have a much less crowded gym.

 

We also began playing Trivia today and for the first time ever, we began without a team.  Our usual team members aren’t sailing this year, so we just showed up and found ourselves a new team with people who will no doubt become new friends.  We had a decent score, but not the highest.  I do think we learned a bit more about how to work as a team, and I’m sure we’ll do even better tomorrow.  

 

We’re settled in and feeling right at home on our old friend, the Amsterdam.  Can’t wait to see what the next 113 days brings. 

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My husband and I were on the WC last year, but we did not have the opportunity to meet you. Since we can't cruise this year, I am looking forward to your blog and others, to travel vicariously through the reports. Trivia was one of my favorite activities during our cruise. I played with Sandy and Jack and sweet Anna. I hope you have a wonderful cruise and safe travels. Can't wait to hear more!

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

At Sea en route to Santa Marta, Colombia

 

Our weather has improved, but the rocking has increased.  If any aboard suffer from seasickness, I really feel for them.  My only concern was holding on while I was showering this morning, a difficult task when washing one’s hair.  

 

Last evening was another great meeting of friends at the Crow’s Nest and then at dinner.  Without even being asked, the powers that be have created a happy hour (two drinks for only $2.00 extra) from 6:30 to 7:30, so I must admit that we do show up a bit earlier than 7:00, our usual time.  As long as the second round is ordered before 7:30, it fits into the happy hour rules so everyone is, indeed, happy.  

 

Last evening was the first Queen’s Lounge show, even though I think they now call it “The Main Stage.”  I, however, will continue to refer to it as The Queen’s Lounge, as I’ve been doing since 2008.  The entertainer, Jeff Burghart,  was described as “As seen on Comedy Central and Star Search.”  He is a comedian and impersonator and while John was a bit hesitant about going (he always comments that comedians can be “iffy”), he went anyway and we laughed almost until we cried.  The guy was hysterical!  One thing we noticed, however, was that when he made jokes about TV shows or celebrities, they were people well known to those of us “of a certain age.”  The two young ladies sitting next to us who are ship’s dancers were a little puzzled by some of the references.  When John asked them afterward if they understood the reference to The Carol Burnett show, they said that the name was familiar but beyond that they were puzzled.  

 

Our tablemates are all friends from previous world (and other) cruises, and since I’ll be mentioning them from time to time, I think I should introduce them (and us).  John and I are from San Luis Obispo, California, retired teachers who love to travel (not a great surprise), stay fit, read, and, for John, play tennis.  Rich and Ginni live near Austin, Texas and are two people with whom we travel beautifully.  Rich is a retired Delta pilot and Ginni is a retired Delta flight attendant and safety instructor.  In literally hundreds of days of travel - world cruises, shorter cruises, safaris, Indian overlands, and visits to each other’s homes, we have never had a cross word.  What a rare friendship.  

 

Bill and Jane are originally from Syracuse, New York, and now live near Charlotte, North Carolina.  Bill was in retail and Jane is a retired nurse, and we’ve done world cruises as well as shorter ones with them.  Bill and I constantly harrass each other, and we’d have it no other way.  Jane’s nursing abilities have been called upon more than once, the most memorable being on an Indian airplane when, suffering from dehydration (even though I didn’t know it), I passed out, luckily straight back onto the aisle.  She woke me up and took care of me and I do love her for her care.

 

Leslie and Handler are also from Texas, just outside of San Antonio.  They’ve been cruising for years and it seems that they’re at sea about six months a year.  In fact, they’ll be installed into President’s Club on this cruise.  Leslie is one of the funniest people I know and, being from Texas, lives up to the stereotype by being a straight shooter.  If she’s angry with you, you’ll know it and know why!  Handler is a gentleman of the old school, and while his cane slows him down a bit now, he is such a kind and thoughtful man that everybody just loves him.

 

So there’s our table.  We’re very lucky to be friends with all these folks and look forward to lots of cruises with them in the future.

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would give us your blog title?   Please and thank you.

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1 hour ago, tennisbeforewine said:

T We’re very lucky to be friends with all these folks and look forward to lots of cruises with them in the future.

 

Thank you - nice to get a "face" on people mentioned on the blog!

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Santa Marta, Colombia

 

We’ve had a busy couple of days!  Last evening was our first gala night (previously called “formal” night) and the Captain’s welcome reception.  It’s always great fun and the complimentary drinks flow freely.  Now if they’d only put some alcohol in them!  

Captain Jonathan welcomed everyone, told us a bit about his background, and then introduced the main officers who are running the ship and taking care of us.  Although the reception for late seating was scheduled at 7:00, I think people began lining up at 6:30 so they can shake the captain’s hand and get a good seat in the Queen’s Lounge.  We already know the captain, so we snuck in the other door and just found an area for our table group to sit.  

 

Dinner was, as usual, at 8:00, and while we knew we’d get an officer, we didn’t know who it was until we arrived.  We were very pleased to welcome Henk Mensink to our table.  He’s the Hotel Manager for the world cruise and has been so for the last 14 of them.  He’s become a friend and all of us enjoy his company, so dinner was quite wonderful.  

 

Today was our first port, Santa Marta, Colombia.  This is the oldest city in Colombia and the second oldest in South America.   It was the city in which Simon Bolivar died in a villa which is now a national monument.  Because it sits on the Caribbean, the weather is wonderful and the sea is warm and beautiful.   Although it’s been quite a sleepy little city for many decades, in the last ten years it has had a resurgence of tourism because of its beautiful beaches and almost perfect weather.  

 

There was a shuttle taking us from the ship to the entrance of the port, and from there we were able to just walk and walk and walk.  According to the fitness app on our phones, we walked about three miles down the beach, through the town, out on the pier, and then back to the shuttle bus.  It’s a friendly place, and although there are many peddlers, there’s no one who’s overtly aggressive and they politely take “no” for an answer.  We walked from the port to the marina and then found our favorite thing:  a cafe with cappuccino and wi-fi.  That lasted about a half hour, and part way through we were joined by Jane and Bill who had Coca Cola “sin azucar” (without sugar).  Then it was time to continue, and after we walked to the center of town, Parque Bolivar, and the Cathedral (where Bolivar was originally interred), we found a nice little concrete quay with a rooftop cafe - a great place for lunch.  We shared a veggie-burger, had two beers (John) and a Coca Cola sin azucar (me) - all for the princely sum of $9.00.  Such a deal!

 

Then it was time to head back to the shuttle and out to the ship, where we found that a small shared veggie burger just wasn’t enough, so John added a salad to his lunch and I found creme caramel (yummmm) to top off our Colombian lunch.  We ran into Rich and Ginni, which resulted in John and Rich headed topside to play pickleball.  John loves playing tennis, so this was really his first introduction into the related sport.  He did say that Rich was a patient teacher, so all was well.  

 

Tomorrow we anchor off the San Blas islands and tender ashore at about noon.  We’ve been here once before and love the embroidered work they do with three pieces framed and hanging in our home.  It will be good to go back to see if the modern world has made many changes in this seemingly unchanging world.  

 

P. S.  While John reports and posts photos on Facebook, I’m just learning how to add photos to this blog.  I’m not sure it will work, but I think I’ll try it tomorrow, since the inhabitants of the San Blas islands are quite photogenic. BTW, the blog title is "John and Diane's Lucky Number 7."  I write the text here and John posts a short text with photos on Facebook at "dianeandjohn st john.  

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Looking forward to your review and photos.  I checked out your fb page and looks like a great time!

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We loved the San Blas islands when we there and did pick up a couple of embroidered pieces.

 

Hope you can post pictures -- I don't belong to Facebook.

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Saturday, January 26, 2019

San Blas Islands, Panama

 

If you want to visit a place where time stopped with the visits of Columbus, then the San Blas islands are the place to go.  The Kuna people who inhabit the islands are an indigenous group who are believed to have come from Colombia to these small islands around the time the Spanish arrived.  They live like they have for centuries:  fishing and collecting and selling coconuts on the mainland and traveling in dugout wooden boats and living in wooden structures surrounded by bamboo fences.   

 

This is a matriarchal society, and the women dress in their tradition clothing, including bright head scarves, gold jewelry (including nose rings) and beaded bracelets, wearing colorful blouses and skirts with embroidered mola on them.  The Kuna are best known for the mola, a form of reverse applique quilting by which layers of fabric are stitched together.  The designs may simply be geometric patterns or fish, turtles, birds, and other creatures.  When we were in these islands a few years ago, we purchased four mola, of which my favorite is the nativity scene appliqued in great detail.  Now framed, they hang  proudly in our home. 

 

The only sad part about the Kuna is that it’s possible to see the changes which are coming - after many hundreds of years.  The young people are more likely to dress in Western clothing than the traditional attire seen on the adults, communication “dishes” are on roofs, and the occasional young (or even older) person is seen with a cell phone.  If you want to see these islands as they have been, you’d better get here in a hurry!

We’ve read opinions of some Cruise Critic readers that the Kuna actually live on the mainland and only come to the island on cruise ship days (about once every two months), but we saw people’s houses and small shops, indicating that while some come to sell their wares, many of the Kuna do live on the island.  Actually, the garbage piles on the end of the island testify to the “lived in” aspect.

 

Today was officially a port day, but it was really a combination sea day and port day, since we didn’t arrive off the islands until noon, and then had to be back on the ship by 5:30 for a 6:00 sailing.  We had a leisurely lunch on board and didn’t take a tender to the island until about 2:00, returning at close to 3:30.  John and Rich almost immediately went topside to further John’s ability to play pickleball, and as I walked around the ship it seemed that everyone was either still on the island or taking a nap.  It’s pretty empty here.  

 

Tomorrow is our transit of the Panama Canal, always an adventure and fun to experience.  We’ll enter in the morning, go through three sets of locks, sail Gatun Lake, and exit the Canal in the late afternoon.  

 

Now for today’s excitement:  I’m going to try to upload five photos of today’s adventure.  Since I write this offline and then upload it to Cruise Critic, I won’t know until I try whether or not my efforts will bear fruit.  Hope so!

 

 

 

 

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We have also been to the San Blas islands.  Enjoyed the quick trip around one of the islands and picked up a couple of momentoes.

 

Your pictures turned out well.

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Bravo, Diane!

 

And thank you for your excellent writing style and now your pictures!

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Excellent pictures, done like a pro.

 

Judy

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Your pictures are wonderful...thanks so much for sharing....

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Great fun to read your blog and the pictures add a lot. Keep up the good work !!!

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Panama Canal

 

Did you know that the Panama Canal can be a palindrome? That’s a word or sentence which reads the same forward and backward, like “noon” or “Bob.”  One of my favorite palindromes is “A Man, A Plan, A Canal:  Panama.”  Isn’t that just the coolest thing?  

 

Anyway, today was the day that we went through the Panama Canal, truly an incredible accomplishment of engineering.  Apparently the Spaniards came up with the idea of bridging the Isthmus of Panama as early as the 16th Century, but it wasn’t attempted until the French tried in 1880.  Lack of funds and the high incidence of tropical disease put paid to that effort, but then the United States carried out the construction, completing it in 1914.  We were fortunate enough to transit the Canal in 2014 to celebrate its 100th anniversary.  If you have a chance to read about the huge numbers involved - the earth moved, the loss of human life (25,000), the concrete poured - you’ll be fascinated.  

 

We began the day with our first Sunday worship service and an introduction to the interdenominational pastor, Rev. Reid Cooke.  He’s a Canadian and led a well-attended service this morning.  Afterwards, we headed up the Lido to have some breakfast and watch the Canal go by.  

 

The transit is an all-day activity, involving three sets of locks between the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean.  Most people think that we sail from east to west, but it’s actually north to south (or south to north, depending on which direction you’re sailing).  The oceans are at the same level, but Gatun Lake, in the middle of the Isthmus, is 27 meters  higher, requiring the use of locks, first to raise the ship to the level of the lake and then later to lower it to the level of the Pacific or Caribbean.  When the Canal first opened, the ships were pulled along by mules harnessed to each vessel.  Now, of course, everything is mechanized, but the little machines that pull the ships are still called mules.    

 

We entered the Canal this morning at about 7:00 and soon entered Gatun Locks, leading us into Gatun Lake.  We sailed through the lake for hours, and loved the many tropical islands surrounding us.  At about 2:00 this afternoon we entered the Culebra Cut, the narrowest part of the Canal.  It does, however, represent about a fifth of the total length of the waterway.  This segment was excavated through rock and limestone from the Central Mountain Range of the Isthmus of Panama.  The amount of rock moved would, according the Canal information, make up 63 pryamids of Egypt.  The Culebra Cut looks a lot like terraced mountains, as I hope you can see in the photos I hope to include.  

 

After the Cut, we entered the Pedro Miguel Locks, followed quickly by the Miraflores Locks, and then we were very quickly into the Bay of Panama and the Pacific Ocean.  

One of the entertaining things about transiting the Canal is doing it with other ships, and today’s “partner” ship was from Germany and its passengers jammed every possible viewing area.  It was fun to wave back and forth.

 

In 2016, a new addition to the Canal was added to accommodate larger ships.  It has its own locks and, for the most part, is parallel to the original waterway.  

 

During much of this adventure, we were entertained by Rich and Ginni in their Deck 7 suite, both inside and then outside on their large deck.  The eight of us (our table group) managed to set up enough food to feed us for the rest of the week, and enough wine and soft drinks to make us skip The Crow’s Nest this evening.  One of the highlights of our get-together was when Jacques, the Cellar Master, joined us to demonstrate the art of “sabrage,” or removing the top of a bottle of Champagne with a sword.  If you’ve never seen it done, it truly is amazing, and it’s a trick that our friend Jacques loves to demonstrate.  Check it out on YouTube.

 

After we got everything cleaned up and put away, it was, of course, time for a nap, and since we’d all be skipping The Crow’s Nest, there was no hurry.  This evening we arrive at Fuerte Amador for Panama City, and tenders will begin shuttling folks into the city at about 8:00, with the last tender coming back to the ship at 1:00 AM.  The tenders begin operation again tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM (too early for us), and then will continue throughout the day until 4:30, with departure at 5:00.  We’re not quite sure what we’re doing during the day, but I’m sure it will involve a lot of walking, a couple of cappuccinos, and some free internet.  

 

It was a great day and such an adventure transiting the Canal.  We’ve done it before

(I think I counted that this was our ninth transit), but it’s always fascinating and we always see something new.  If you’ve never been, put it on your bucket list; it’s well worth it.  

 

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