CARIBBEAN CIRCLE & PANAMA CANAL
Friday 12th January 2018 – leaving UK.
Our taxi arrives promptly just before 0900. A straightforward transfer to Heathrow sees us arrive at terminal 3 at 1005.
We are booked on British Airways flight BA209 from London Heathrow to Miami with a scheduled departure time of 1415.
In fact, we take off around 1440 for our flight – scheduled for around 9 hours – which should put us on the ground in Miami at around 1900 local time.
After a second approach, we actually land at Miami reaching the stand a little late at 1915. With customs cleared inside 40 minutes, we then seem to wait an eternity for our second case from the plane’s hold to reach the baggage claim carousel.
Once through into arrivals, we see the usual Princess meet and greet staff, and we’re provided with a 50+ seater coach for the transfer to Fort Lauderdale. Just six of us have no shortage of space! Our hotel is the third, or last, drop off so its 2220 by the time we reach room 2126 at the Hilton Marina hotel.
Saturday 13th January 2018 – Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades), Florida, USA
Opening the curtains in our room our first sight is of the rear of Caribbean Princess. This lady is to be our home for the next 25 days.
The hotel name lives up to its billing. We are right in the heart of the marina with some very expensive water craft moored alongside. The first of these is Cayman Island registered. A reminder of one of our stops in around three weeks’ time.
We both enjoy the wide choice of breakfast from an unlimited buffet for the fixed price of around $22. By the time 1100 comes round our Princess lady has arrived and, although we’re not on her transfer list, we are soon on the short coach transfer to our ship.
Impressively, this was one of the fastest and smoothest check-ins we’ve experienced and by 1300 we’ve dropped off our hand luggage in B (Baha) 417, our stateroom for the duration.
Its around 70 degrees with a noticeable breeze and partially cloudy skies.
We’re through the General Emergency Assembly by 1530 and shortly after 1600 we slip away from our mooring and head out to open waters. 4 other cruise ships are in today, including Nieuw Amsterdam, Costa Deliziosa and Harmony of the Seas.
Pressure on dining room around 1745 but we are fed in time to take part in the ‘Welcome aboard’ trivia, before heading to the Princess Theatre for the ‘Welcome Showtime’ which gave a taste of comedian Eric Lyden.
Port Everglades to Princess Cays – 278 nautical miles.
Sunday 14th January 2018 – Princess Cays, Eleuthera, Bahamas
The swell gives some cause for concern but, after the ship runs a trial tender run, we get the go ahead to commence the 20 minute, and a little rocky, transfer to this little private paradise.
Its mid 70’s and the sun soon burns off the remaining cloud to give two to three hours of almost continuous sunshine. The sea is its usual warm inviting self, once over the initial shock of the body’s immersion!
We both remember that this is the spot where one J proposed to the other J and 2J’s World of Adventure was truly born.
A leisurely couple of hours on our sun loungers and then it’s back to the tender. A wise choice as the weather soon closes in and we see late afternoon rain with the island now shrouded in a covering of mist. Sail-away is around 1700.
Smart casual again tonight with pressure on the Anytime Dining area around 1800. So, we’re lucky to find a couple of seats in the Princess Theatre after dining. Just as well as we found Eric Lyden, the show’s main attraction, highly entertaining.
Princess Cays to St Thomas – 733 nautical miles.
Monday, 15th January 2018 – At sea.
A day of doing nothing. And a day of seeing nothing – no ships, no birds, just open water as far as the eye can see and a little movement at times.
Less cloud today and the temperature climbs to high 70’s with rain arriving a few hours after dark.
Formal night tonight – long queues for dining room – overcome by a cocktail in the bar.
Too late for first show, and too old for second, so it’s the voice of Tommy McPhee in our beloved Crooners Bar before retiring,
Tuesday, 16th January 2018 – Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI.
It’s 1030 as we get our first glimpse of the Virgin Islands. Carnival Magic seems to be racing us to port. It’s a race that we were destined to win as the Carnival cruise ship docks behind us a few minutes later.
We’re at West Indies Company pier (WICO) next to Havensight shopping mall about 1 and ½ miles from downtown Charlotte Amalie.
Some missing roofs and a boat or two, now abandoned, that were washed ashore – the evidence of the recent hurricane damage.
Other than that, this little capital is very much open for business. Three cruise ships in today – a Royal Caribbean as well as the 2 of us in WICO.
Most of the shops are open as we approach the centre of town on our safari bus style taxi from the ship. ($4 per person each way).
We stop for a coke at the Side Street pub – offering free wifi and we eventually skype to the UK. Our browsing in and out of the shops and market stalls is interrupted by a couple of short but heavy showers – typical Caribbean. Within minutes its scorching sunshine again and approaching 80 degrees.
Back on board, the restaurant system seems to have changed. No queue for a table tonight and no sign of any beepers. But, we seem to wait for ages to be served and its an hour and a quarter later tonight that we attempt to get a seat in the theatre, at around 1945.
A few seats still available and its worth the effort. Our piano entertainer, Craig Dahn, is out of the top drawer. It seems he was discovered by the late, great Liberace and proud of it.
His act included tributes to Gershwin, Rossini and, more recently, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elton John and Adele.
Tommy McPhee is wowing them in at Crooners as per usual so no chance of a seat tonight. We eventually abandon hope and head for a drink In the Club Fusion, where the Voice of the Ocean auditioning is taking place. Our vote went to number 1 for her version of ‘Crazy’.
St. Thomas to St. Maarten – 107 nautical miles.
Wednesday 17th January 2018 – Philipsburg, St Maarten.
It’s the Dutch side of this divided island today. There’s a bit more evidence of the recent hurricane damage here, particularly along the Boardwalk.
We decide to head for the beach on Great Bay taking advantage of the water taxi service at $7 each for the day. Add to this our hire of 2 loungers and a parasol, complete with cans of coke, at a further $25 all in. Quite an economic way of enjoying this island’s beach experience.
It’s only when you get up close to the town’s buildings that you realise the repair work going on – or properties obviously waiting for the appropriate materials.
Early dinner tonight and its back to the ‘beeper’ system. That doesn’t prevent us from reaching a full theatre with over an hour to go to the start of the performance. Worse, we have to wait a while for a seat in the Explorer’s Bar (live streaming) and even that is full and standing before it has started. Carlos Oscar is the performer and he has a brand of humour that appealed to both of us.
St. Maarten to St. Kitts – 147 nautical miles.
Thursday, 18th January 2018 – Basseterre, St. Kitts.
We’ve had the trip on the St Kitts Scenic Railway booked for some months now and it’ll be worth the early start to enjoy this ride again.
P & O’s Ventura is already here and, shortly afterwards, Marella Discovery arrives. We are scheduled to tender so it’s a 0750 meet to board it.
Our guide, Eustace, drops us at the start of the railway journey and will meet us at the other end for the road trip back to our tender.
This former sugar cane railway is about to celebrate 15 years in its new role as a tourist attraction. The 18-mile journey will take around 1 and ½ hours and travel through parts of the island not possible to see by road, as well as giving views of sister island, Nevis, and the neighbouring Dutch islands of St Eustasius and Saba.
Whilst the railway gives glimpses of the Atlantic side of the island, our return coach trip is via the Caribbean – or western – side of the island.
We pass through villages which are home to the plantations and great houses of the days of the sugar cane. We also pass the impressive Brimstone Hill Fortress. This military installation is the largest in the Caribbean and known as the ‘Gibraltar of the West Indies’. It is now a national park and a UNESCO world heritage site.
Back on board, time for supper……. we are escorted to the Palm Dining Room shortly after being given the ‘beeper’. Our table for 2 put us next to, and rather close to, a Canadian couple with whom we swapped world stories of our cruising holidays and plans, etc. And then, after listening to Tommy an early night.
St. Kitts to Martinique – 189 nautical miles.
Friday, 19th January 2018 – Fort de France, Martinique.
Another day with temperatures starting around 75 degrees (at 0730). We are docked at Pointe Simon terminal in this little French corner of the EU. It’s euros as well as US dollars today. We’re joined, across in the industrial port, by a P & O and a Costa cruise ship.
We’ve opted for a 4 x 4 half day trip to the island’s interior and we’re soon leaving town in our six- seater land cruiser with Gladys as our guide/driver.
Our tour is to centre on the area around the town of Saint Joseph and a chance to see a very different part of the island. Winding roads, crossed by rivers in many places, and a steady climb to the more mountainous interior.
We stop at a river beauty spot before heading deeper into the rain forest itself. At the riverside, we witness an interesting stand off between a cockerel and a cat.
Interestingly, the cockerel won!
Martinique is known as ‘the island of flowers’ and it doesn’t disappoint. Amongst our particular favourites on show all around are hibiscus and bird of paradise. And trees, too, including ferns with huge leaves.
Our trip’s return leg takes us via a banana plantation, 3,000 tons are exported to France every Friday.
Bananas have no season so that’s a regular despatch, 52 weeks a year. (Maybe missing one week when the island seems to have 5 days off to celebrate carnival time and party!)
Then it’s on to the Habitation St. Etienne, one of the 11 rum distilleries still in operation on the island. Black Sheriff seems to be one of their most popular brands.
Soon after leaving here, we hit the traffic! There are few other places in the Caribbean that can boast a 6-lane highway linking Le Lamentin (where the airport is located) and the capital, Fort de France but it’s still very busy.
What’s more, the island has constructed, with a little help from the EU, a tramway linking the two towns. The infrastructure appears to be in place, but that tramway is still not open for business. It’s promised ‘any day now’.
We also learn that last night’s theatre entertainment, a comedic magician from Queensland, is one of our fellow trippers.
There’s a lovely warm breeze as Caribbean Princess sails away from its pier around 1700 and further south in the Lesser Antilles.
Just a slight delay in getting a table for dinner tonight. After that, Tommy McPhee’s on good form in Crooners.
Martinique to Barbados – 166 nautical miles.
Saturday, 20th January 2018 – Bridgetown, Barbados
We dock here around 0630. Several ships here today – P & O’s Britannia, Royal Caribbean’s Serenity of the Seas and Cruise Maritime’s Columbus. There’s also Royal Clipper (from Star Clippers) and Wind Surf. So, that makes around 15,000 cruise passengers on the island today. We’re in the Container Dock area but that’s not a problem as it’s Saturday and there’s a free shuttle for the ride to the Cruise Terminal – all of 3 minutes away.
We’ve decided on a DIY day today – and we pick on Thomas for an island tour. Three hours for US$25 each = about half that of Princess’s own tour.
So, ten of us set off in Thomas’s minibus taxi – he’s neither talkative or informative but here goes….
We start our tour by passing Kensington Oval, the famous Barbados Test Cricket stadium complete with the statue of the island hero, Sir Garfield Sobers. Soon afterwards, it’s fame from a different era as we head down Rihanna Drive and stop outside the home of her childhood.
Our tour continues to some of the most exclusive names on the island, Sandy Lane with its golf club, hotel and estate. Tiger Woods married at the Golf Club clubhouse but did not divorce there! Properties here allegedly start at US$ 10,000,000. But there’s also the Colony Club, the Plantation Beach and the Royal Westmoreland. In between, we call in at the oldest church on Barbados but can’t enter because there’s a wedding in progress – and a stretch white limo waiting in the churchyard.
Next stop is at the Highlands Centre, the highest point on Barbados, with a view over the Atlantic Ocean side of the island. After a short stop we pass the Gun Hill Signal Station and the Emancipation Statue (abolition of slavery) as we head back into Bridgetown.
A brief stop at Independence Square, by the Houses of Parliament, to drop off some of our fellow passengers before Thomas returns us to the Cruise Terminal.
Wifi attempt is unsuccessful but the T shirt hunt has more success. We return to our ship for a late lunch but not before a torrential downpour just before leaving the dry sanctuary of the cruise terminal.
At around 1645, Caribbean Princess is ready to sail. Warm sunshine accompanies us as we head south in the Caribbean Sea. It gleams off the sides of the cruise ships that we’ve left behind in port. And soon, we’re away into open waters as we set a course for Port of Spain, Trinidad, accompanied by the reggae sounds of our sail-away entertainment, Pinnacle.
Once again, we’re allocated a table in fixed dining room for dinner but still unable to see the Princess team in the Theatre. It is full by 1915, and no live stream tonight. So, an early seat reservation in Crooners waiting for Tommy McPhee at 2100.
Barbados to Trinidad – 203 nautical miles.
Sunday, 21st January 2018 – Port of Spain, Trinidad.
We approach the port at 0700 and are safely alongside by 0740. It’s cloudy, humid and damping with rain on our arrival. But 78 degrees already.
And we’ve had a few heavy showers by the time we step ashore into the cruise terminal. A chance to buy a T-shirt and take advantage of the free wifi available within the building.
It turns out that we will be dodging the heavy showers throughout the day today. This despite it being the so-called dry season. Climate change!
Our tour is off at 1230 and we meander through the quieter than usual city roads, well it’s Sunday of course, with various buildings of note being pointed out by our guide, including Brian Lara Promenade.
Our first stop is alongside the Queen’s Park Savannah with a brief glimpse in the Botanical Gardens. Its good to see parrots on the wing for the first time since we were in India last year.
Then its onwards for a short stop at Lady Young’s lookout with a view of our ship in port. The second vantage stop is at Maracas lookout after a winding climb through the vast Santa Cruz valley.
Finally, it’s beach time and a chance to see the Trini’s at play. A lovely mix of locals and tourists here all enjoying the white-sand and gentle rollers of Maracas Beach.
All too soon 1530 comes round and we return to our ship. Our last building glimpsed in Port of Spain is of the famous Queen’s Park Oval cricket ground.
Sail-away is around 1705 – we’ve already been seated for dinner. This time it’s a table in Coral. We’re earlier than usual because we missed lunch!
It does mean we’re at the front of the theatre queue tonight for the Voice of the Ocean finale. Our combined judging talents are mirrored by the audience as a whole. 67% of them agreed with our choice. Joh from Kamloops in British Colombia, Canada was the worthy winner with her version of Cher’s ‘If I could turn back time’.
We also get a seat in Crooners for an hour of David Juneau followed by an hour of Tommy McPhee.
Just time to see the starry sky from Lido Deck before retiring.
Trinidad to Bonaire – 435 nautical miles.
Monday, 22nd January 2018 – At sea.
Early morning, the ship passed close to Islas Margherita (an island off the mainland) and for the remainder of the day we’ll be heading westward around 100km from the coast of Venezuela, until turning north west during late evening/early morning.
Nothing at all in sight except a couple of gulls for company under partially cloudy skies. Still, temperature is around 80 degrees with a warm breeze.
A trip to the laundromat and the internet café – succeed in slowly uploading a few photos to flickr and facebook, as well as having clean clothes for the next few days !!
A later turn out for our dinner table tonight – we don’t want to see the ventriloquist so no time constraints. Instead, we bag our seats for Crooners and once again Tommy’s on particularly good form tonight.
Tuesday, 23rd January 2018 – Kralendijk, Bonaire.
A lie-in this morning. Well, we did arrive at 0630 and dock round 0700. So, we make use of some of our complimentary wifi and head for breakfast around 0930.
And it’s warm – around 82 degrees – and dry. A warm breeze is welcoming but its intermittent. We are alongside Norwegian Dawn, the first NCL ship we’ve encountered so far on this cruise.
This tiny capital – the island’s population is only around 15,000 – is therefore home to around 5,000 guests today. There are still no amenities on the beach at Klein Bonaire so, tempting as it looks, we give it a miss….. too old not to have a sun-lounger !!
A stroll in to town to pick up water shoes/aqua shores is successful even if we have to go posh and get Jenny’s pair at Buddy Dive (US$35)……. not certain the fashion will catch on but a requirement for an excursion later on ….
Then its T shirt time and a drink at the Barrel Café with free internet so a chance to skype home.
Sail-away is just after 1700 following a quite complex rope release by the pilot and staff. And we slip away leaving Norwegian Dawn basking in the late afternoon sunshine. It’s a long haul northwards towards Grand Turk in a couple of days’ time.
Tommy McPhee gets a deserved chance in Explorer’s tonight. So we arrive just as he’d opened his first set, We remained here for the rest of the evening taking in the live feed of comedian Steve Caouette, complete with his sound effects, in between Tommy’s 2 shows.
Bonaire to Grand Turk – 676 nautical miles.
Wednesday, 24th January 2018 – At sea.
A lazy day at sea today. We skirt the coast of the Dominican Republic for some of it with the gulls as company for several hours. The cloud had been burnt off by late morning and it was wall to wall sunshine and blue sky then for the rest of the day.
As light fades, we pass between here and Puerto Rico heading for the Turks and Caicos Islands. It was to be a day of ‘doing nothing’.
There are 3 shows in the Princess Theatre tonight and we plan our evening around the 2045 performance. Only a short wait for a table tonight. Lobster tail and king prawns on the menu tonight – albeit a small lobster!
The Theatre dancers are performing ‘Bravo’ tonight, with a special appearance of Heather Hill from Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera. Just a few seats were unoccupied for this performance. Tommy is on later tonight in Crooners, so we manage to get a seat for his 2130 to 2220 slot.
And so to bed.
Thursday, 25th January 2018 – Grand Turk.
We are on new ground today – our first visit to Turks and Caicos Islands. The ship arrived at 0700 but we didn’t reach top deck until 0930. We were rewarded by a spectacular sight with our ship being as near as ‘on the beach’ as you can get. The contrast in sea colours is striking, ranging from a deep blue a few hundred yards out to a stunning turquoise closer to the shoreline. We are at the southern end of the island.
We were later to learn that the land falls away dramatically below the sea – and only 300 yards out it plunges to a depth of 7,000 feet!
Our plan was to take the island tram tour from just outside the cruise terminal. It turned out to be $25 each for a tour lasting 1 and ¾ hours and cover most of this tiny island. Next tour off at 1115 so we spend a few minutes on our sun loungers watching Carnival Glory arrive and berth next to us. That’s more cruise ship passengers than islanders here now. The Grand Turk population is just 4,800.
Our tour takes us past John Glenn Drive recognising that the astronaut landed close to the island on his return from space. The capsule was ‘Friendship 7’ and the date, 20th February 1962.
Then its on past Governor’s Beach. The house is nearby but the beach is not his/hers. Like all beaches on the island it is a public beach.
We soon reach the narrow streets of the little capital, Cockburn Town, stopping for 20 minutes to enjoy the surroundings (and pick up a T-shirt). Worth noting that the luxury hotels are on the Caicos islands and Grand Turk is chiefly B & B and lesser class hotels only. The Osprey Beach hotel did look rater tempting! It does have a local airstrip offering inter island flight options.
Next stop is at the very northern tip and Grand Turk Historic Lighthouse. From the lighthouse you can see our ship (and from the ship you can see the lighthouse, meaning you can see virtually the whole island in between).
The semi-wild donkeys are a joy to watch as they drink ice cold water straight from the bottle! They’d happily get on the tram bus if they were allowed.
Then it’s time to head back to the ship. In fact. any journey from anywhere between two points on the island takes ‘about 15 minutes’.
After lunch on the ship, we head out again to sample the clear waters of the Atlantic. We have never swum as close to our cruise ship as this.
So, that’s another island that’s been badly hit by September’s hurricane. But, once again, the resolve is to repair, rebuild and move on. They lost their cable TV station during the storm and now everyone’s signing up for satellite TV!
We wait barely a few minutes for our restaurant table with our Indonesia – ‘Siti’ and Serbian – ‘Igor’, combination of servers tonight. In fact, we finish our meal just too late for 1915 in the theatre but just in time to see our slightly delayed sail-away into the night.
So, we head for the Whitney Houston tribute show (by Cheaza) at 2045 followed by a few minutes in the Wheelhouse listening to Inner Soul duo.
Grand Turk to Port Everglades – 587 nautical miles.
Friday, 26th January 2018 – At sea.
We can feel some rocking this morning as the ship heads north towards Florida. Over breakfast, the sun tries to breakthrough but the sea is as rough as we’ve seen it in the last fortnight. Everyone – or almost everyone – is, of course, preparing for the end of the cruise. We collect our photos from the gallery, complete with digital images on our Princess Cruises memory stick.
The choppy sea and strong breeze is to remain with us all day. We skip the Princess Theatre entertainment (a guitarist/vocalist) in order to get seats in Crooners for Tommy McPhee’s last night of the cruise performance – a storming finale. It’s around midnight when we turn in – but the clocks go back an hour tonight so that’s some compensation.
Saturday, 27th January 2018 – Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
After 3,521 nautical miles, Caribbean Princess arrives back in Port Everglades. Weather is changeable. Some sunny spells through the wind and rain.
There are 6 cruise ships in port today. We’re joined by two of Royal Caribbean’s fleet – Harmony and Independence of the Seas, two Holland America’s – Zuiderdam and Nieuw Amsterdam – and Celebrity Summit.
Most passengers are disembarking whilst we are 2, of just over 100 or so, ‘passengers in transit’. Processing us for the next cruise is hampered only by the ship’s necessity to find about 10 ‘missing’ passengers who failed to follow the simple clearance procedures.
By 1100 we are back on board having posed, once again, for our embarkation photos. A couple of hours followed where the sun breaking through altered the weather dramatically. An early lunch and a chance to ‘people watch’ as our next cruise passengers start to arrive. Seems a much higher percentage of US residents this cruise.
Muster station assembly is at 1515 with ‘sailaway’ a little under an hour later at 1605. The weather remains dry for the on-board party as we head out into the Florida Straits.
We’ve already established our dining arrangement in the Island Restaurant – 1830 for a table in Siti’s station area – and Igor, the assistant. And it works as we jump the substantial queue/line and are shown straight to our table. Will this be the end of ‘beepers’ for us? We shall see….
We meet up with 3 US cruisers for the ‘welcome aboard trivia’ quiz – and manage 16/20 to come 3rdish. We both contribute to the team answer sheet so leave with our pride intact.
We should have known that the country with the longest shoreline is Canada not Australia. We’d forgotten that Princess Cruises was established in 1965 and that Columbus reached the Bahamas in 1492 not 1493. We were foxed by the fact that there have been 5 films in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Never mind.
We learn shortly afterwards that we are to turn back towards Florida to rendezvous with a helicopter despatched from shore to airlift a passenger requiring urgent medical treatment. This, combining with a strong, 45 mph wind to contend with, is going to delay our progress to the Bahamas Cays.
We head off to Crooners after the quiz. Tommy McPhee has to contend with his ‘newbies’ tonight but he soon attracts an attentive audience. He deserves to.
Port Everglades to Princess Cays – 279 nautical miles.
Sunday, 28th January 2018 – Princess Cays, Eleuthera, Bahamas.
We have had a rocking and rolling night. And any doubt that we’d be able to get in to Princess Cays is dispelled by our Captain. Shortly after 1000, he announces that last night’s medical evacuation together with the poor weather has delayed our arrival, but only until around 1130.
Sure enough, at a little after 1140, the tendering process has commenced. Our turn to go ashore comes at 1310 and, just fifteen minutes later, we’re on the beach.
Our newly acquired water shoes make it an easier choice as where to go in the sea – we chose to enter ‘our’ own space in this little paradise.
Around two hours later, we return to the ship for a (very) late lunch. Dinner follows – calamari and Szechuan shrimps tonight for both of us and the coffee ice cream is back on the dessert menu!
We find 4 willing Americans to join us for the evening quiz which is based on world city skylines. Collectively, we manage 19/21. Our team mates failed to recognise Seattle (we chose Toronto) & Dallas (we went for Portland). 4 teams managed a maximum but we didn’t feel disgraced,
That means we’re relegated to back row seats for Tommy McPhee – and it takes almost an hour to get anywhere near our usual ones.
We stay for his second part tonight, and he gives Marlon a couple of songs. So, we retire around 2345.
Princess Cays to Cartagena – 906 nautical miles.
Monday, 29th January 2018 – At sea.
Some movement again overnight – and we wake around 0715. We have gale force winds this morning and likely to remain so until we reach the shelter of the Caribbean Sea around 1300.
So, a strong warm breeze greets us as we venture onto deck mid-morning (Jen via the laundromat….. clean clothes once again required and delivered…shes got in the swing of it now). Pinnacle entertain us for an hour or so up on sun deck. It’s around this time that the ship passes between Cuba and Hispaniola.
After an afternoon siesta, it’s time to prepare for the first formal night of this part of our cruise. Showtime is a repeat of the ‘Bravo’ performance so we skip it and settle for a seat in Crooners. Tommy delivers a particularly good two-part set tonight.
Tuesday, 30th January 2018 – At sea.
A late start for us on this, the second successive sea day. Breakfast around 1045 and then soaking up the 84-degree sunshine as the Caribbean Princess continues on a southerly course for Cartagena, Colombia.
At 12 noon, the officer of the watch advises we are around 150 miles from the nearest land – the tip of Colombia. We’ve absolutely nothing for company – no ships, no sea creatures and not even the occasional gull today.
So, we enjoy the on-deck sounds of Pinnacle before heading for lunch. An afternoon siesta is followed by a pre-dinner drink, We take our table around 1845 – beef satay to start and, for main course, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding,
We’ve an early start tomorrow so we watch Tommy’s first set only in Crooners tonight.
Wednesday, 31st January 2018 – Cartagena, Colombia.
It is an early start today. Our stay in port is short – around 6 hours only with our arrival at 0630. A warm start to the day as we head for breakfast at 0645 and await our tour in the Island Dining Room for 0730. The tour buses are waiting alongside the gangway as we board ours at 0725. This is a trip to the National Aviary of Colombia on the island of Baru. It is a 50 minute coach drive and our guide, Sergio, does an excellent job providing an insight as to how this country has changed in so many ways over the last 50 years. Cartagena is now attracting around 4 million tourists per year as a result.
Around 200 species of birds call the aviary their homes. Some are caged but most are free to come and go should they choose. Their wings are not clipped but they stay because they know when they have a safe environment with prime food etc.
As soon as we step inside, we see a variety of differently coloured macaws on the wing. They also have pheasants, flamingos, herons, eagles, condors, emus, swans – far too many to list here. We also spot a number of iguanas enjoying the sunshine. There are around 20 themed enclosures housing the various species and it’s hot and sticky!
After spending a couple of hours walking round here, our tour bus returns us to port.
The Holland America ship, Westerdam, has just arrived as we reach our Caribbean Princess.
A spectacular hour or so follows our sailaway (to the accompaniment of Pinnacle once again). The size of the port and harbour becomes evident as we head to open waters passing the skyscraper skyline that is home to 1 million + people.
We also catch a glimpse of the old city which is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
An avocado and scallop starter for dinner, and that’s followed by Asian duck breast. It’s a thirty minute wait for ‘Born to be wild’ but at least we’ve got seats for an 8.45 performance that’s full with 20 minutes still to go. Worth the wait with a host of songs revolving around a pink Cadillac, route 66 and the opener from Steppenwolf.
Tommy is in Scottish mode when we arrive at Crooners – some compatriots from the West Coast are giving him encouragement. Songs featuring Dundee, Aberdeen and Loch Lomond feature in his little medley. He’s in quite chatty mood by the end of his set at 2345.
Cartagena to Panama Canal – 273 miles.
Thursday, 1st February 2018 – Panama Canal and Cristobal.
An early start – it’s before daybreak as Caribbean Princess reaches the ‘new locks’ to head to Gatun Lake. These new locks cater for larger ships such as ours. The canal has been open since 1914 and takes 20 days and 7800 miles off the journey from New York to Los Angeles.
Our three locks each see us rise 28 feet giving a total ‘difference’ of 85 feet between Atlantic and Pacific.
Our passage takes around 2 and ¼ hours and sees the tendering for shore excursion passengers get underway at 1030ish.
Most cargo ships are using the old locks and there’s a constant procession of tankers and container ships in particular.
We spend around an hour and a half anchored in Gatun Lake before our pilot comes aboard for the return transit.
A similar timeframe on the descent and we’re through around 1330.
After lunch, our ship pulls alongside in the container port of Cristobal. Other than picking up our returning tour passengers, there’s not a lot else to do here. We do pop ashore to pick up a Panama T-shirt.
Surf and turf for dinner – king prawns not lobster tails. Tommy’s on early tonight (1930 – 2115) because it’s Panama party time at 2130. Clocks go back an hour, too, so a chance to catch up on some sleep.
Panama Canal to Limon – 192 nautical miles.
Friday, 2nd February 2018 – Limon, Costa Rica.
We arrive at the port entrance around 0700 and our pilot meets us and escorts us to our berth. Just a container ship for company on our arrival. Our tour is off at 0830 from the end of the pier. And we can soon see how close this town is to the Costa Rican rainforest which can be seen all around us.
We’re soon aboard our bus and receiving a warm greeting from out tour guide, Maria (she claims to talk a lot, and is true to her word!). Our first stop is to transfer to our covered boat for a 45 minute cruise on the Tortoguero Canals. And, what an experience. Within a few minutes of boarding we’ve seen two toed sloths, howler monkeys and a variety of water birds.
This gentle meander along the waterway is about as authentic a wildlife hide-and-seek as it gets.
We soon board our bus and continue past the huge building project that will, hopefully, deliver a new cruise terminal and container port in 2 years’ time.
Our next stop is to board the 2-coach open air train for a different type of rainforest experience.
The loco dates from the 1950’s and the carriages from the 1930’s. The train originally carried the coffee product – and workers – to/from the plantations to the coast. Our driver is ready and willing to stop for any wildlife sightings. We soon see an adult female sloth hanging from a lineside fence. A little further, and a baby sloth is hanging from the tree branch literally right over the train itself! Howler monkeys can be seen and heard all around us – some of them rolled up in a ball, asleep, and oblivious to our presence.
Back on board our bus, there’s one final stop at a tourist shop before passing the basic airstrip here on our return to the ship. Costa Rica is an enchanting country.
Sail-away is at 1700 and we set our north/north easterly course for the journey of just under 600 nautical miles to Grand Cayman.
It’s Italian night in Island Dining Room tonight and we both opt for the veal.
Marlon joins Tommy during part of his second set and it’s a late end to the day particularly as the clocks go forward by an hour tonight.
Limon to George Town – 571 nautical miles.
Saturday, 3rd February 2018 – At sea.
We wake around 0830. It’s a sea day and nothing as far as the eye can see in any direction. The captain updates us at 12 noon, as is customary. We have travelled just over half the distance between our last port and the next one in the Cayman Islands. It is now just under 280 nautical miles to go to reach George Town. Our arrival offshore is scheduled for 0700 tomorrow. It’s a tender transfer into the port as expected.
Snails (Jen) and Seafood Tian (John) followed by lobster tails and king prawns (both) for dinner. We observe the movie bites quiz in Club Fusion at 2045 (we got 3 out of 15) but didn’t embarrass ourselves by completing an answer paper! Well, 2 teams got the full 15 right!!
No Tommy tonight – just the balloon drop at 2300 so an early night.
Sunday, 4th February 2018 – George Town, Grand Cayman, BWI.
It’s 0645 and we’re anchored just off George Town. MSC’s Armonia is already anchored alongside. The tours’ customers all meet in Princess Theatre and we’re soon heading down to our tender. In fact, we’re on the quay by 0845. It is relatively quiet on the island – Sunday morning of course.
Our taxi bus drops us at the Dolphin/Turtle Centre approx. 20 minutes later. We have an unguided tour of the Turtle Centre first – and Jen gets a chance to be photo’d handling one of the youngsters. We also see a green iguana and a couple of monitor lizards here.
Then it’s across the road for the Dolphin Experience – and a chance to get in the water with these delightful creatures. We’re given a brief briefing and then into the water we go as far as our waists, or slightly higher in Jen’s case. We get a chance to get up close to 30 year old Alma – a 6 foot lady with a fine set of teeth. Oh, and we dance, pet and kiss! What an experience.
Soon, it’s back to reality and the tender back to Caribbean Princess for lunch. The last one is due to leave shore at 1400ish. It will be an early departure as we wind our way north towards Florida.
It’s scallops (John) and Southern fried chicken (Jen) in the Island Dining Room. We learn that both Siti and Igor (our dream team) are heading homeward on Tuesday, to Indonesia and Serbia respectively, and they’re excited (more than we are). Still, it’s only 104 days till we meet Princess again in the Mediterranean!
It’s the final, for this Panama Cruise, of the ‘Voice of the Ocean’ tonight and this time we’ve not heard any of this evening’s performers in their heats – or so we thought. Ron, who sang on the last cruise, is back with his version of ’Suspicious Minds’ and this time he gets our vote. And he, deservedly, wins the contest and the trophy tonight.
We give Tommy a ‘thank you’ envelope for entertaining us so splendidly over the last 20+ days – he performs our requested ‘Wind beneath my wings’. The bonus tonight – Tulissa, one of the ship’s singers/dancers, joins Tommy for a couple of songs. Good value!
George Town – Port Everglades – 678 nautical miles.
Monday, 5th February 2018 – At sea.
We wake shortly after 0900. A warm breeze and a temperature of around 80 degrees s we ahead up top.
A bit more sea traffic around today. We pass Carnival Vista around 1145 and a couple of other commercial ships in the early afternoon.
At 12 noon, the Officer of the Watch advises that we are now heading on a north easterly course through The Gulf of Mexico with Cuba around 17 miles away on our starboard side, Since leaving George Town, we have travelled 382 nautical miles and should reach the Florida Straits around 1700.
We have 300 or so nautical miles to go to reach Port Everglades and, at our current speed of 19 knots, we should reach Port Everglades in the early hours of tomorrow morning.
Jen works wonders performing the art of suitcase packing. It’s all done, boarding passes printed and we’re good to go. Here’s to enjoying our last evening aboard.
A thank you to Siti and Igor – and a photo to remember them by. We learn that Dave and Maureen are also on our BA flight tomorrow, after they come off their tour in Port Everglades.
Tommy does a late set starting at 2145. We say our thank yous and farewells, and then it’s time for bed.
Tuesday, 6th February 2018 – Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Safely alongside as we wake at 0630. A smooth transfer to quayside means we’re on our coach for journey to Miami International Airport by 0945.
Unfortunately, once at Miami Airport, we drop the American Airline passengers at North Terminal and then head for the South Terminal for our British Airways drop off. I say ‘unfortunately’ because the BA check in is back at North Terminal – next to American Airlines’ check in!
Worse, we make the trek to BA’s bag drop reaching there by 1050 only to be tols the check in opens at 1205. The duty manager eventually offers an apology for our wait, ‘we didn’t know any Princess passengers were coming today’ so our main staff team come on at 1400 with just a small team (of 2) on from 12 noon. Oh well….
We are told that flight BA206 should leave on time at 1715. We had an A380 coming out – we have a 747 going back. Seats 37A and B are our allocation – we’re on the section back row with 3 seats to ourselves. And we are expected to be ahead of schedule into London with a flight time of 7hrs 31mins.
Wednesday, 7th February 2018 – Heathrow/Bedford, UK.
Sure enough, by 0600 we are approaching Heathrow only to be told that we will be circling for a few minutes because of a change in wind direction. Nevertheless, we still reach our stand in terminal 3 on schedule at 0635.
So, after 26 days and over 16,000 miles we are back in the UK. This distance is made up of almost 9,000 miles courtesy of British Airways, 3521 nautical miles on Caribbean Princess’ 14 day Circle Caribbean followed by a further 2899 nautical miles aboard on her 10 day Panama Canal cruise.
By 0715, we’re waiting for our pick up outside Airport Arrivals and heading for the M25 soon afterwards.
Our adventure for Jenny’s ‘Retirement Cruise’ reaches its journey’s end back home in Bedford shortly before 0900 and a temperature of 35 degrees (Fahrenheit of course).