Cruise Specialists Hosts Steve and Wendy Bodenheimer are currently aboard the Holland America Prinsendam on a circumnavigation of South America. They have graciously been providing us with updates of their travels along the way. Here are a few snippets of life on this grand voyage:
Panama Canal Transit:
It iss 6:30 AM. The sun is just coming up and we are already out on deck, approaching the entrance to the Panama Canal. We are part of a pack of four cruise ships getting ready to transit the Canal at the same time. We are joined by the Crystal Serenity, Azamara Quest and Celebrity Century – all much larger than the Prinsendam. The Captain told us that such a foursome is very unusual. It does make a beautiful sight.
Many of us have done this transit several times, but we are still out here to see it up close. Coffee and Panama rolls (addictive little danish-like pastries filled with yummy peach preserves) are being served on all the outer decks. A guest lecturer is broadcasting commentary about what we are seeing and providing some historical background. We’re trying to stay out of the blazing sun, but not miss the action going on all around us. We entered the first lock and watched the mechanical mules attach to us and shift us a bit from side to side, so we do not hit the sides of the locks. Larger ships only have a two foot clearance on each side. As we are a smaller ship, we have a bit more room. After a lock closes, we can watch the vehicular traffic crossing the Canal in front of us on a narrow bridge while we wait for the water levels to change. In the first lock, we reached the coordinates for the virtual geocache located inside the Canal. (Virtual means that you don’t actually find anything hidden. You just take pictures or answer questions about the location.)
We spent the entire day sailing through Gatun Lake, traversing two additional sets of locks and passing under the Freedom Bridge, the latter signifying the end of our transit. On our left was the beautiful skyline of Panama City, which we visited in November. The modern buildings are a stark contrast to the jungle-like surroundings of the Canal. We have also seen parts of the construction of the new locks, which will accommodate the passage of much larger ships. Our “little” ship paid $188,000 for the privilege of doing the Canal transit. We were told that the largest ships can pay up to $350,000 for the same transit. About 36 ships transit the Canal every day in the 24/7 operation, supported by over 5,000 Canal employees.
We arrived in Callao, Peru at around 11AM. Holland America’s Amsterdam had left Ft Lauderdale the day before the Prinsendam on the Grand World Voyage. She also made a stop in Callao and was happily berthed right next to us as we arrived. Let the party begin!!! Everyone knew someone on the other ship and it seemed like we were all out looking for our friends. There were many excited reunions, group pictures, and extensive hugs and kisses all around. We were greeted as we disembarked by Henk and Lucia, our counterpart hosts for Cruise Specialists on the Grand World and two of our favorite people. It was so nice to see them, as well as at least a half dozen other passengers we had sailed with before and were delighted to see. It was a great start to our three day stay in this port.
Callao is the port for Lima and also the jumping off point for those going to Machu Pichu. The journey to Machu Pichu is a three day overland excursion and six of our group made the trip. Those of us who stayed on board were kept very busy with all the things to do around Lima. On our first day, we took the free shuttle to Miraflores (about an hour away), the upscale district. It’s a beautiful area we have visited before, full of shops and restaurants and a fantastic seaside park that extends about 2 miles along the coast. The city has spared no expense to provide a peaceful and fun environment and they are continuing to work on a major extension of this greenspace which goes on for many more miles. We walked several miles along the coast and then through the city. We didn’t have a lot of time since we had to be back at the ship to meet our evening excursion.
On to Chile! Arica was the first of 7 stops we will make here, not including the spectacular scenic cruising of the Chilean Fjords. It was early Sunday morning and the streets were very quiet. We were off early to try and walk before it got too hot. This was a port we had visited before and we retraced some of our previous steps, but this time, we were in search of three geocaches hidden in the city. First stop was a steep hike up to the lookout at the top of the hill that dominates the skyline of the city. There is an interesting military museum at the top as well as a number of large statues and plazas. Then we headed up the coast for a few blocks past a nice local park and the local casino. Back down the coast are the beaches, which go on for quite a distance. We also discovered the high rent district which we had not seen before. Most of the center of town is filled with small shack-like residences. But here we saw larger, well kept properties lined up on the side of the hill. There was also a nice looking hotel on the water in this more affluent part of town. It’s hard not to notice a significant police prescence all over. Armed officers are casually patrolling on most streets. We did not feel in danger but one has to wonder what would happen if they were not there.
Our next two days were at sea, on the way to Coquimbo, Chile. As part of the immersion in local culture, there are a pair of Argentine Tango teachers who will be with us for the next few weeks. It is a very different dance for those of us used to American social dances. We had the first lesson, which was all about how to move. We struggled because it is almost the opposite of the way we have trained for the last dozen plus years. We don’t expect to get very far in a few lessons but it is a challenge for the mind as well as the body. There is also a bandoneon player with us. That’s the instrument that looks like a small accordion and is essential to Argentine Tango music. We listened to the first session of his playing and it is very soulful and perhaps a little depressing at times.
Our regular band that plays dance music every day is excellent and we have quite a few dancers who regularly come to the Ocean Bar for the dance sets. We’re trying not to burn ourselves out so we usually dance from 7 to 8 before dinner every night and then after dinner before the 10:00PM show.
Today was the Mariner Reception and Luncheon. For those of you who haven’t sailed with Holland America, a Mariner is anyone who has completed at least one cruise. There are various levels depending on the number of days you have, but everyone gets to go to the party as a small thank you for being loyal customers. Awards are given for reaching specific milestones such as 100, 300, or 500 days. Unbelieveably for us, we will be reaching the 700 hundred day mark on the next segment!
Watch for more updates soon!
Steve and Wendy