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Park Springs Members Enjoy Cruise to Panama Canal in March

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Trip Report by David Thirsk

It was early Monday morning, March 18, when out of the mist of morning, attired in his jogging clothes, Jason Cronk appeared to bid our Park Springs CCRC’s travel group “Godspeed” on our trip to the Panama Canal. After this surprise “Bon Voyage” the private coach rented by Dream Away Tours whisked us to the Atlanta airport to board a flight to Fort Lauderdale to meet our ship, The MS Zeiderdam.

Now one would think that a group of 31seniors, with ten people needing wheelchair assistance, arriving at the country’s busiest airport, would result in confusion and long delays. But no, the service provided by Air Tran was quick and efficient and we were able to get on our flight with an absolute minimum number of problems. Our experience in Fort Lauderdale mirrored that in Atlanta and all of us were soon in our staterooms with a chilled bottle of champagne, courtesy of Dream Away Tours, ready for our voyage to the Panama Canal.

We agreed to meet at four o’clock on our first day, after boarding the ship and before putting to sea, in order to count noses and to be sure that any problems that might have arisen were addressed. Thankfully all was well!

Between our first stop at Holland America’s private island on March 19 and the whole day at Aruba on March 21 there was a day at sea that was highlighted by a cocktail party for us hosted by Ken Humphries. This gathering was held on the highest point on the ship aptly named The Crows Nest. With this party The Crows Nest became the official daily gathering place at 4 PM. (A seagoing Pub but unlike the Pub it was all business and it wasn’t a place where everybody knows your name.)

Aruba and Curacao, both Dutch possessions, are traditional tourist ports of call with brightly painted houses ringing the waterfront, and with high rise hotels and local merchants vying for the tourist dollar. But unseen and unknown by many they are becoming centers of commerce with the advent of container ships for goods and automobiles. The staging areas for receipt and shipping of these are marvels of efficiency.
Cartagena, a beautiful large harbor with high rise buildings ringing its shores was a long-ago favorite rendezvous for the pirates of the Caribbean. But now it is a busy commercial harbor filled with cruise and merchant ships.

We arrived at the entrance to the Panama Canal early on the morning of March 26 and entered the Gatun Locks in the darkness to proceed to Gatun Lake. As we passed through the locks there was commentary about where we were and the size of the locks allowing, in some cases, for only inches of clearance on each side of ships passing through. We were told of the ongoing updating of facilities and equipment to operate the canal – much of which had been in place since 1914 when the United States completed construction of the canal.

At Gatun Lake some members left the ship to proceed by tender to buses, ferry to and train further explore the Pacific section of the Canal and the adjacent territory. These members rejoined the ship when it docked in Colon, Panama later that day.

The last port of call was Puerto Limon, Costa Rica where members enjoyed the scenery, the flora and the fauna and the ever-present monkeys and had their last chance to buy from port vendors. And then we were at sea for two days.

These two days were spent enjoying the ship, trying to win at Trivia and The Liars’ Club, dining at the special venues, and a few with “gambling fever” tried their luck in the casino. While no official tally of wins and losses is available one unlucky soul reported a loss of twenty seven cents playing penny slots. Of course most of the last day was spent packing and getting ready to head back to Park Springs.

On Thursday, March 28th our last night aboard, Holland America offered a spectacular international dinner offering menu choices from around the world served by uniformed dining room staff and ending with a parade of staff bearing Baked Alaska as a dessert. Truly a remarkable dinner ending with cheers by passengers.

We were informed that our departure from the ship might be delayed because of TSA budget cuts and a local labor problem in Fort Lauderdale. This did not turn out to be the case and before noon we were at the Air Tran terminal getting boarding passes for the 2:39 flight to Atlanta.

Was the trip perfect in every respect? No, but the few “glitches” that did come up were solved quickly by Ken Humphries and Tim Mounts of Dream Away Tours and our own Lisa Kiely. Carolyn Voke was accompanied on the trip by her children, Mark and Bethany, who in addition to being wonderful ship board companions were always ready to lend a helping hand when needed!

Comments

  1. Thanks for the great “journal” of the cruise to the Panama Canal. For those of us who kept things going at Park Springs you have given us reason to think seriously about being on board for the next cruise.
    Welcome Home.

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