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Earlier this year we were in a quandary. Our business had taken us to Florida for two separate travel adventures and we simply didn’t want to return home by plane. Flying is one of our least favorite things about travelling, and we have been known to go to great lengths to avoid getting on an airplane. This time was no different. We chose the path of least resistance: a cruise through the Panama Canal from Fort Lauderdale to Seattle. We would rather spend 22 glorious days getting home via a ship than one long tedious day in the air.
Holland America Cruise Line had served us well in the past, and we relied on them to get us home from our latest adventures. The fact that we would sail through the Panama Canal was without question, the proverbial icing on the cake. We both had always wanted to experience a passage through the Panama Canal and we were so excited that the time had arrived.
The American Society of Civil Engineers included the Panama Canal in their 1994 list of Seven Wonders of the Modern World, noting the “greatest civil engineering achievements of the 20th century”. This modern marvel is truly worth experiencing if you have any interest in man’s determination to overcome tremendous obstacles and create something with staying power resulting in a positive economic impact for the transportation of goods and people (think pleasure boats and cruise ships).
As early as the sixteenth century, the idea of a canal had taken root. First it was the Spanish who had grand ideas, then a British plan failed, followed by several years of actual construction activity by the French leading up to the United States taking control and building this marvel over the course of ten arduous years. The Panama Canal was completed on August 15, 1914. The U.S. managed the waterway until noon on December 31, 1999 at which time it was handed over to Panama to operate, administer and maintain.
Holland America’s Amsterdam with approximately 1942 souls (1327 pax + 615 crew) aboard began our transit of “The Ditch” around 5:30AM on May 5, 2016. This 50-mile or so waterway connects the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean by means of man-made lakes and a series of three sets of locks (Gatun, Pedro Miguel, Miraflores). Our Panama Canal passage required twelve hours of travel time. We were aboard the Amsterdam throughout the day and walked our dogs off taking in this remarkable feat from every angle.
This cruise itinerary took us to 14 ports in 8 countries (USA, Bahamas, Columbia, Costa Rica, Nigaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Canada), with many of the destinations new to us both.
Weather and smoke… If you are not a fan of hot and humid weather, this cruise itinerary might not be for you. All the way from Florida to Puerta Vallarta the temperatures were in the 80’s to 90’s and the humidity levels averaged 74%+. We like some humidity because it makes our skin look wonderful (much more youthful), but dripping with sweat after walking a block is not for everyone. Also, we learned that April and May is when the cane fields and other agricultural field burning happens. From the moment we approached Costa Rica until we departed Mexico, the air was thick with smoke – some days it was so bad it was difficult to see very far. If smoke is a problem for you, make sure to take a cruise at another time of the year.
With every cruise itinerary comes the possibility of changes being made before and/or during the sailing. Often times this can be due to weather or out of safety concerns. The ms Amsterdam had just completed a 4-month world cruise the same day we embarked in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for our Panama Canal journey, and at some point a problem had arisen with the tender docking doors – they were broken and would not be fixed during our cruise. So it was necessary for Holland America to make some port changes where tenders would be used. We ended up missing two ports on the schedule – Cabo San Lucas in Mexico and Santa Barbara in California – but were pleasantly surprised with the addition of a day in San Francisco. It turned out that sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco was another highlight of the cruise.
The flagship of Holland America Line’s fleet is ms Amsterdam, the third ship to bear the name in the company’s 143-year history.
The ms Amsterdam is a sister ship to ms Rotterdam that we sailed aboard for 7 weeks in 2014 from Rotterdam to Cape Town. So although the ships have somewhat different décor, the layout is almost exactly the same – which made it very easy for us to find our way around. This medium-size ship is very stable in rough weather (we hit some good swells in the Pacific between San Francisco and Victoria), has a wonderful crew of various nationalities (Europe, Indonesia, Philippines, India, etc.), sails exciting itineraries (just check out her Grand Voyages and world cruises), has a variety of dining venues (Main Dining Room, Canaletto, Pinnacle Grill, Lido Restaurant, Dive-In at the Terrace Grill), and provides passengers with a wide assortment of onboard lectures, classes, and entertainment.
When asked what we enjoyed most during the entire cruise, each time we have answered that it was the day spent transiting the Panama Canal. In fact, even though we love long cruises and enjoy visiting new destinations, the one day that was the biggest highlight was the transit day. We definitely encourage anyone that has the slightest desire to see this wonder of the modern world for themselves, to take a Holland America Line Panama Canal cruise… Just go do it!
WAVEJourney joined Holland America Line for their 22-day Panama Canal cruise on ms Amsterdam from Fort Lauderdale to Seattle – April 30 to May 22, 2016.