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Cruise Through the Panama Canal


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There’s nothing like a near-death experience to make you reconsider your life. That’s what happened to us in July 2012.

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There’s nothing like a near-death experience to make you reconsider your life. That’s what happened to us in July 2012.


While we waited at a red light just outside of Napa, California, a texting driver slammed full speed (60 mph) into us totaling both cars and propelling us into a summer of doctor, pharmacy and physical therapy visits, wrangling with insurance companies and trying to get back to normal.


Thankfully we weren’t killed, but the wreck made us realize how quickly our lives or our health could be snatched away. That realization made us determine to start doing some of the things we’d always dreamed of doing.


My husband, Al, a retired engineer, has always dreamed of visiting the Panama Canal. So we made that our first bucket-list goal, found a reasonably priced Canal cruise, and signed up.


Our 17-day Holland America cruise began in San Francisco. The first thrill was passing under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge as our ship (the MS Zuiderdam) headed out to the Pacific.


But it was only the first of many wonderful surprises.


Although we chose the least expensive stateroom – an inside room – it came with the  comforts of full-length robes, fluffy towels and washcloths, fancy bed linens, and plenty of closet and storage space. We also had the standard TV & DVD player, a mini-fridge, makeup table (which Al turned into our computer center) and bedside tables for our books and other items.


We loved the pace of this cruise – a day at sea and then a port-of-call, a day at sea and then a port-of-call.  The stops included San Diego, three Mexican stops: Cabo San Lucas, Zihuatanejo and Huatulco, a day in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, Cartagena, Colombia, and a final stop at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.


We found the food outstanding. During the cruise I interviewed the executive chef, and learned what it takes to keep 1,900 passengers satisfied. I learned that for our cruise, he had ordered 5,000 pounds of beef tenderloin, 2,500 pounds of prime rib, 4,500 pounds of strip-loin, 3,500 pounds of fresh-caught Alaskan salmon, and about 10,000 pounds of chicken.


But don’t think meat’s the only option. He’d also ordered 412,500 pounds of fresh vegetables and about 22,250 pounds of potatoes.


And that doesn’t begin to tell about the beautiful presentation of each dish…or the pounds of sugar, flour, chocolate, butter, eggs and other ingredients that went into our spectacular desserts.


But there was much more to do than merely eat. We took computer classes, a cooking class, and could have taken dancing classes. We attended interesting lectures on the history of our various ports of call, and (of course) we went through the Panama Canal.


We’d read books and articles in preparation for seeing the Canal, which by the way is celebrating this year the 100th anniversary of its official opening. But the lectures, complete with slides and video, were fascinating and fun.


The Canal amazed us. It took about eight hours to transit from Pacific to Atlantic. During that time, our 82,000 ton ship (which was 935-feet long and 106-feet wide) was lifted 85 feet from the Pacific at the start of the canal, made its way through the Gaillard Cut (a 9-mile stretch through the Continental Divide), steamed 23-miles across Gatun Lake and then was lowered 85 feet to Limon Bay in the Atlantic.


And all six of the Panama Canal locks – three chambers at each end – are filled and emptied by gravity with water flowing through a series of 18-feet in diameter tunnels. It takes about 10 minutes to fill and empty each chamber.


If that doesn’t blow your mind, nothing will.


Our cruise had some not-so-great moments, including harassing street-vendors in Colombia and finding bugs in our room, but the overall experience was so wonderful, such a dream-come-true that we actually wrote a book about it.


Al is a well-respected photographer and I’ve made my living as a writer, so we knew we could do it.  


We turned something very bad – our car wreck –- into something really good that we could share with others: Cruising Panama’s Canal, savoring 5,000 nautical miles and 500,000 decadent calories.


Here’s the link to our paperback at Amazon.com:  http://www.amazon.com/Cruising-Panamas-Canal-Al-Lockwood/dp/0615927084/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393433475&sr=8-1&keywords=cruising+panama%27s+canal



Al & Sunny Lockwood


Match 21, 2014


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