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🎵Panama! 🎵 Vision of the Seas Oct. 30, 2019

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I can't get that song out of my head.  You know, the song by Van Halen? Even though it has nothing to do with the Panama Canal.  


I thought about titling this "The cruise that almost wasn't".  Let me explain.  


My plan was to fly in the day before and stay on the Queen Mary.  I was almost as excited about the Queen Mary (now a hotel in Long Beach, CA) as I was about the Panama Canal.  Good ole mother nature had a surprise for me.


Snow! Lots of it.




At 5am I opened Lyft and Uber to compare prices and... no cars available.  Rut Roh.  Let's try again.  Nope.  Hmmm.  A little bit of panic was starting to set it.  A 3rd time.  Ding!  A car is on the way.  I went out to my usual pick up spot in the falling snow.  I wasn't going to let the driver get cold feet and bolt.  By the time he arrived I had an inch of snow on my suitcase. 


It had snowed the day before but this is Denver so no shocker.  However at this early hour the snow on top of the black ice from yesterday's melt made for very treacherous driving conditions.  Cars were in ditches, accidents were seen all over.  It was early in the season so people new to snow were learning the hard way how not to drive in the snow.


It took almost 75 minutes for the normal 30 minute ride to the airport.  My driver kept asking "Do you want to go back?.  No flights leaving today".  Then a text from Southwest - "SWA Flight 750 is cancelled".  Odd, the inbound flight was on time, my plane was landing in Denver but the ongoing leg to California was cancelled.  


I wasn't about to miss my cruise, onward to the airport, even if I had to sleep there tonight I was determined to make it out of Denver on the first flight that I could.  


Southwest wanted to rebook me on the next flight out scheduled at noon that was delayed until 5pm.   By this time I was at the airport.  Delta had a 9:15am flight to Salt Lake.  I stopped by the Delta ticket counter and asked if the 9:15am was actually going.  Yep.  Book it.  On the spot I booked a one way to Long Beach on Delta.  I've played this game with Southwest before and they tend to eventually cancel everything so I put my faith in Delta and for $500 I was on my way.  Or so I thought.




At the gate I discovered our flight and cabin crew were missing.  They had overnighted in local hotels but they were stuck in the now worse traffic and accidents heading to the airport.  We were delayed.  Eventually they made it and we boarded.  With 3 inches of snow on the plane we had to de-ice.  Another delay.  Finally we took off 75 minutes late.  Late enough that I would miss my connection in Salt Lake.  So much for getting into Long Beach in the afternoon.  I was rebooked on a 5pm flight from Salt Lake to Long Beach.   Salt Lake also had light snowfall.  I heard the pilots talking as the plane boarded in Salt Lake - "We're de-icing".  Another delay.  


After a 14 hour travel day I made it to the Queen Mary in California.  Phew.  



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Itinerary for this 16 night cruise:


Panama Canal, Eastbound.  Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale.


Day 1 - San Pedro (Los Angeles) 

Day 2 - At Sea

Day 3 - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Day 4 - Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Day 5 - At Sea

Day 6 - At Sea

Day 7 - Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

Day 8 - At Sea

Day 9 - Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Day 10 - At Sea

Day 11 - Panama Canal Full Transit

Day 12 - Colon, Panama

Day 13 - Cartagena, Columbia

Day 14 - At Sea

Day 15 - Georgetown, Grand Cayman

Day 16 - At Sea

Day 17 - Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

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I'm cheating a bit here.  It's day 6 of the cruise as I post this so I'm going to play catch up for a bit before switching to live mode.

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I'm going to post a few pictures in this thread.  Please don't include my pictures if you quote me - it makes for a very long thread and since I'm on a ship it makes it harder to keep this thread up.  Thanks.

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I can't start into the actual cruise until I mention the Queen Mary.  As a cruise geek this is the ultimate way to kick off any cruise.  




The Queen Mary is an ocean liner that began service in 1936.  She was built with one mission in mind - sailing the North Atlantic between Southampton and New York.  Before the days of airplanes flying between the continents there was only one way to make the journey - by sea.  She isn't a cruise ship exactly, she just had two destinations repeated week after week. 


However you can see where many of the things we have come to enjoy on modern cruise ships have evolved from the days of ocean liners. 


The Queen Mary ended service in 1967 and was sailed for the last time to the harbor in Long Beach California.  The City of Long Beach bought the Queen Mary outbidding a Chinese scrapyard and so the QM lives on now as a museum and hotel.  I've stayed here before since Carnival sails from Long Beach right next door, within walking distance of the QM.  






On this occasion I booked a Deluxe King room for $129 per night plus local taxes.  This is pretty competitive with local hotels so given the opportunity to stay on this historic old ship I'll do it every time.


The QM isn't a small ship.  In dimensions she approaches Voyager class and she was too big for the Panama Canal the day she was built.  




This cabin was considered first class in the day but the decor is more modern compared to what a guest in 1936 would have experienced.  While not a suite it was a large step up above third class.  In 1936 a one way first class fare was $1,074.  








As a means to conserve limited fresh water supplies, guests could choose hot salt water, cold salt water, hot fresh water or cold fresh water.  Those aren't functional today, the modern shower control above and to the left controls the water now.






Several vents that double as thermostats.  Want it warmer?  Slide to left.  Want cool air?  Slide to the right.  These are not operational today, modern thermostats are used but it's cool to see how guests would have warmed their cabins in the cold North Atlantic.




Working portholes!  No balconies on ships in those days, these portholes were a luxury.






The flat panel TV's were added during a renovation to meet modern expectations for a hotel room.



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Following!  I love Twangster reviews... Glad you made it through the weather nightmare.

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You're gonna have to bear with me because I am about to go overboard with Queen Mary pictures.  I just love this old ship.


Arriving later than expected once settled in my cabin I made my way to the Observation Bar for a drink and a bite to eat.




Walking around the ship you feel a deep sense of history.
















Not a bad place to catch the end of game six of the World Series with the city lights of Long Beach across the bay.








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Day 1




But first, more Queen Mary pictures in daylight.




The Queen Mary was a fast ship.  Faster than today's cruise ships of this size or larger.  She routinely cruised at over 28 knots and during sea trials she reached just over 32 knots.














This enclosed promenade deck would have been popular on those cold North Atlantic winter crossings.






The Verandah Grill towards the aft of the ship was an extra cost restaurant.  In other words the concept of specialty dining started decades before modern cruise lines embraced the idea.




During World War II the Queen Mary was put into service as a troop carrier bringing troops back and forth between the US. and Britain.   She was painted grey and earned the name the Grey Ghost.  Her top speeds allowed her to elude german u-boats. 


On one crossing she carried a staggering 15,740 service personnel with a crew of 943 for a total of 16,683 souls on board.  That remains the highest count ever carried by any vessel, a record that is unlikely to ever be broken.   




During this time they removed all the fine china and crystal and converted every square inch to the goal of maximizing space for the troops.  Gone were the cabin class 1st class accommodations, it was all about squeezing troops on board.  During the war when she was a troop carrier he was fitted with anti aircraft guns.




A lego model has been constructed and is on display in a room called the shipyard.






Sir Winston Churchill would routinely sail her during the war to coordinate efforts with the allies. In this photo he is sitting by this very fireplace.




How about these lifeboats?






The bridge:
















The Captain's quarters have been preserved in their original condition.








She even had a fitness center back in the day with modern exercise equipment.








If you ever get the chance I highly recommend a stay on the Queen Mary.





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Day 1 - Los Angeles (San Pedro)


Finally on with the cruise!


The Lyft ride from the Queen Mary to the cruise terminal was $12.




I arrived later than normal because I wanted to take pictures of the QM in daylight.  As it turns out I was still early and it was prior to boarding.  This cruise terminal is a little different.  My expedited boarding worked well with a quick scan of my SetSail pass and passport but security occurs after check in as they call groups for boarding.



Finally boarding commenced closer to 12:45pm.  Apparently CBP was really slow processing the ship.  Talking with some B2B guests they were cleared just after noon time.    




The port area is industrial with numerous docks setup for container ships.




A Princess ship was also boarding today.




A special welcome aboard cake - Panama Canal edition was waiting for us in the Windjammer.




Time for muster.




Finally sail away.






The battleship Iowa is on display here in San Pedro.




Onward towards the Pacific!



Edited by twangster

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Cabin Tour!


Ocean view deck 3 forward.








The dreaded shower curtain.




The bathrooms have been updated.  They are similar in style to the bathrooms being installed when a ship receives new cabins.  






On deck plans certain cabins appear larger in the forward section of the ship.  The livable cabin space remains the same however there is a ledge in front of the windows.  It's quite large, almost enough to put a mattress in there but it does push the windows out away so they are less accessible.  




Beds separated for better use of the space.



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Sunset not long after sail away as we sailed past Catalina in the distance.






The ship was decorated for Halloween.






Somehow my SeaPass card was invalid.  It worked on my cabin door but when swiped on board it had an invalid folio attached that didn't exist in the system.  This required a stop by guest services to get a new card.  She was baffled why the folio printed on the card and in the system didn't actually exist.  Oh well, easily fixed with a new card.

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Day 2 - Sea Day


Our progress as we make our way down the coast.




Formal night.


Due to the high number of top elite the entire "Some Enchanted Evening Lounge" is reserved for the Diamond Happy Hour event.  The Viking Crown Lounge and Concierge Club is Pinnacles and Suites only on this sailing.  This actually works well because the Diamond Club is tiny on this ship.   




Spur of the moment decision to use my Diamond Plus BOGO for Giovanni's and Chops.  The letter in my cabin stated I could use my BOGO on day one through three.  I had a $50 OBC and with prepaid gratuity I figured why not?  Table with a view.




Bread service.




Antipasti for one.




Filet.  Yumm.




Risotto for a side.




A very nice dinner experience.

Edited by twangster

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Day 3 - Cabo San Lucas


Our arrival was scheduled for 11am. 




Approaching land coming from the North we could begin to see the beaches along the shore.




Well North of Cabo there were some pretty big resorts.






The famous Cabo arch as seen from the sea. 




Coming around the corner of the arch we discovered the NCL Bliss was already at anchor.




Today we would be using the ship tenders - four specially designed lifeboats that do double duty as tenders.




Cabo tip - take pictures of the arch in the morning.  When the sun comes around in the afternoon it reflects off the water so lighting isn't as good compared to the morning. 






From the ship we could see the wide and long beaches of Cabo.








We had to wait from local officials to visit the ship to clear it.  Soon enough the tenders began.






These tenders feature two levels so some guests can sit upstairs in the open air.




With four boats each carrying ~100 guests it would take some time to get everyone to shore.



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Down in my cabin getting ready I spotted the arch through the porthole.




The tender ride was ~15 minutes given that the Bliss had arrived earlier and secured the closer anchorage.






The tender dock in the Cabo marina.




The Cabo marina is lined with bars and restaurants, pharmacies and tourist shops.






Cabo is the self proclaimed sports fishing capital of the world.  






A happy fisherman back with his conquest.




It was hot so a nice cold margarita sounded pretty good.







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Walking around the marina in almost a full circle you come to that beach we could see from the ship.











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Time for the ride back to the ship.




This time I managed to get on the upper deck of the lifeboat/tender.






Local water taxis are very popular to reach remote beaches like Lovers Beach and Divorce Beach.




The NCL Bliss is the largest cruise ship to ever do the full transit through the Panama Canal.  She is just ever so smaller than Quantum class.




Here she is washing her anchor chain as she slowly raises it and gets ready to leave.






Onward towards Vision of the Seas.





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Day 3 - Dinner


Dinner tonight in Chops the other half of my BOGO.










The 16 oz. bone-in Ribeye cooked perfectly.




As we waited for the tender boats to be recovered day turned to night and it was very special sitting by the window to take in the lights of Cabo.




Finally dessert.




Another great dinner experience.


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Day 4 - Puerto Vallarta


As a kid who grew up watching The Love Boat (and having a serious crush on Julie) sailing to Puerto Vallarta was a staple of my weekly TV experience.  So it is always something special to cruise to this beautiful Mexican port.  


Puerto Vallarta is set at the end of a wide bay that on this morning was buried in a morning sea mist.




As we approached the beautiful beaches of Puerto Vallarta unveiled themselves. 






My last visit here was in 2013 and I have to ask myself why haven't I come back.  Seriously.  The cruise harbor has three docks and is very convenient to a shopping mall as well as Sam's Club and Walmart literally across the street.  The crew love coming to this port since it's so easy to stock up on everything they want.  



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Thank you so much for the pics of the Queen Mary - so fascinating! Would love to check it out sometime. Looking forward to the rest of this review!


Also, a few of the pics in post 15 are showing as unavailable, at least to me.

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Today's excursion was a half day coastal sail with sightseeing.  We met in the theater and soon after we began the 10 minute walk over to the sailboats.  




Lifejackets were required to leave the harbor area.  Once at sea we were free to set them aside.   








Like Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta is a tourist destination.  Peak season is Christmas and Easter.  The large cities of Guadalajara and Mexico City are close enough that Puerto Vallarta is their vacation destination of choice.    






Beaches and resorts go on and on for many miles.  




With the mountains as a backdrop is really is quite stunning and these pictures don't nearly do it justice.




Our sailboat comes with beer, Margaritas and Piña Coladas.  On this hot day a Margarita was just about perfect.








Near the city center we came along a pole set in the beach with some people climbing up.  Today was Day of the Dead in Mexico.  Consequently there were many parades and festivities including, apparently, this display. 






One by one four people climbed to the top of the tower.




Finally the fourth made their way to the top.




Then all of a sudden they began spinning down, upside down, while playing music on something like a flute.




It was quite something to see. Here is video:



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1 hour ago, twangster said:

I can't get that song out of my head.  You know, the song by Van Halen? Even though it has nothing to do with the Panama Canal.   

Now I'm going to be singing this for the rest of the day. How lucky can one girl get, a @John&LaLa sail-along on the President's Cruise and a @twangster Panama sail-along?

Y'all spoil us. ❤️ 

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10 minutes ago, lisa6191 said:

Thank you so much for the pics of the Queen Mary - so fascinating! Would love to check it out sometime. Looking forward to the rest of this review!


Also, a few of the pics in post 15 are showing as unavailable, at least to me.


Thanks or the heads up.  For some reason that hosting provider deletes some pictures from time to time.  Unfortunately I can't go back and fix them on Cruise Critic so it is what it is.

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Our coastal sail continued. 


In the downtown area this old Catholic church is well known. 







This is clearly a tourist destination but unlike some Mexican ports in the Caribbean the tourists here are largely Mexican.






As we continue down the coast we come across some rock formations.






I'm not exactly sure what was going on here but apparently I picked the wrong boat to sail on today.  




There were three choices for beer onboard.  Corona, Corona or Corona.  When the guide jokingly handed me a big bottle of beer I quickly took a sip and kept the bottle.  Challenge accepted.  Hey, I'm on vacation.  










This is a popular snorkeling spot.




With that we turned around and made our way back along the coast to the cruise ship harbor.




A local was making a meal of some grass.





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Day 5/6 - Sea Day


Two sea days now on our way to Guatemala.  Flat seas and warm.  Beautiful cruising weather.




Day by day my Crown and Anchor selections have been arriving.  Drink package?  Who needs a drink package?




Our progress...


Looking at the map it makes you appreciate how far North we started, relatively speaking.  





Edited by twangster

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