On 27 March 2012, a beautiful day in Port Everglades Pier 2 Terminal, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, we checked-in at the Coral Princess for a 14-day cruise to experience the engineering marvel, the Panama Canal.
After 2 days at sea the cruise ship docked at the first port of call in the southern Caribbean Sea, Oranjestad, the largest port and capital of Aruba. With its Dutch colonial architecture and cactus-strewn landscape, Aruba, “the happy island”, has natural wonders – the natural and baby natural bridges, Arikok national park, Ayo and Casibari rock formations, butterfly and ostrich farms, and white sandy beaches notably the Eagle and Palm beaches.
From Aruba it’s only 382 nautical miles to the next port of call, Cartagena, Colombia, the only South American state with coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
A vibrant city with magnificent skycrapers, Cartagena is a vivid reminder of Spanish colonial heritage quite similar to the Philippines. Points of interest include the UNESCO World Heritage Site old walled city (Las Murallas), San Felipe de Barajas Fortress built by the Spaniards during the 17th century, the famous Las Bovedas, and the Palacio de la Inquisicion museum depicting a history of misery and torture.
The Panama Canal transit, the cruise highlight, occurs on a hot humid April Fool’s day. We experienced the thrill of canal transit from the Atlantic Ocean side to the Pacific Ocean and the intricacy of the locks system first hand as the Princess is lifted over 85 feet above sea level from one body of water to the next at the Gatun Locks on the Atlantic side towards the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side and then passing under the Panama’s Bridge of the Americas and finally docking at Fuerte Amador, Panama.
An engineering feat which took 10 years to construct and completed in 1914, the Panama Canal is 82 kms. long that connects the Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean saving 8,000 miles from a journey around the southern tip of South America, the Cape Horn. Cruise ships like the Coral Princess pays to the Panama Canal Authority over US$100,000 to pass through it.
Fuerte Amador is the perfect jumping off point for exploring Panama City, the old and the new, where most of the residential streets have no names or may have three different names. Panama City has its archaeological ruins, narrow colonial streets, churches, and monuments that tell the story of its past.
The last port of call is Puntarenas, the capital and largest city in the province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica. We enjoyed a half-day bus tour with a stopover at Esparza, a town that boasts a central park, plaza and church. We were greeted in style by the young local folk dancers wearing traditional costumes and enthralled us with lively dance performances.
Five straight days at sea from Puntarenas to Los Angeles, California is quite a long voyage which we didn’t notice at all because we’re occupied with the so many activities and entertainment shows onboard the ship.