Cruising through History on the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal — which transverses two oceans through the deep tropical jungles of Central America — is one of the world’s most incredible feats of modern engineering, and the only way to truly appreciate its grandeur is on a cruise ship.

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Cruising through the Panama Canal approaching the Centennial Bridge

The Panama Canal system is considered to be one of the manmade wonders of the world.Construction of the 82-kilometer waterway was begun by France in 1881.

But due to a series of engineering and logistical problems, as well as a high mortality rate of workers as a result of heat exhaustion and malaria, the project was halted three years later.

In 1904, the United States picked up where the French engineers has left off, and the arduous effort to build the conduit began again in earnest.

Ten years later, the magnificent canal opened for business.

A massive levy system was incorporated that crossed the Isthmus of Panama to raise and lower ships 85 feet above sea level.

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One of the massive seven foot thick gates slowly opens

This allowed ships to take advantage of Gatun Lake, a manmade lake constructed to shorten the excavation of the jungle and the monetary costs and the deaths associated with construction.

For 93 years, the Panama Canal system carried thousands of ships through its waters.

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Cargo ship traveling through the “old” canal

And in September 2007, a new project began to widen the canal.

When this work was completed in May 2016, the new construction allowed today’s supertankers to take advantage of the canal, which beforehand would have been impossible.

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A super tanker waits it’s turn to travel through the “new” canal

When traveling through the Panama Canal on a cruise ship, you can experience the sights and sounds of passing through the locks and witness the beautiful landscape of Panama.

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Panama’s jungle landscape after passing through the Gutan Locks, the first gates after entering from the Pacific Ocean.

From the vast surrounding jungle to the expansive Gatun Lake and thrill of passing under the Bridge of the Americas and the Centennial Bridge, it is an unforgettable journey.

Your ship will navigate its way across the Continental Divide by waterway, and you will be able to witness the entire process from the deck of your ship.

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Traveling under the Centennial Bridge on the Panama Canal

Your cruise ship journey will  start in one of the ports in Florida or in California, depending on your direction of travel. Along the way you will visit a number of ports, including those in the Caribbean, South America, Central American and Mexico.

If your cruise sets sale from Los Angeles, your first port of call will be in Mexico, at Cabo San Lucas, Baja California..

This once sleepy fishing village located at the end of the Baja peninsula, known as Lands’ End, has developed into a busy city and tourist destination.

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Arch Rock at Lands’ End, Cabo San Lucas Baja Mexico

A key stop for many cruise ships, Cabo has become known for its mild weather, beautiful white sand beaches that stretch for miles, world-class golf courses, hotels and resorts, and its premier sportfishing destinations.

From the myriad of shops filled with trinkets to authentic Cuban cigars to expensive jewelry and activities like fishing, whale watching, horseback riding along the beach, camel rides in the desert, you will never be at a loss for something to do in Cabo. And that does not take into account swimming with dolphins, glass bottom boat rides or scuba diving and snorkeling in the warm crystal clear waters.

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Whale watching offshore Cabo San Lucas, Baja Mexico

Depending on your itinerary, you may stop at any one of the countries in Central America. It could be Guatemala, where you can take an excursion to the colorful city of Antigua, which sits at the foot of a volcano. The little town’s streets are lined with colorful buildings, shops and restaurants.

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The colorful streets of Antigua, Guatemala with the Pacaya Volcano in the background.

Or maybe your ship will make a stop in Punta Arenas, Costa Rica, where you may find yourself in a small wooden boat navigating the crocodile, filled waters of the Tarcoles River as you travel through the jungle.

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American crocodile on the shore of the Tarcoles River one;y feet away from the boat.
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Great Blue Heron along the Tarcoles River.

Another frequent stop for cruise ships making this journey is Cartagena, Columbia.

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Inside the Walled City aka Old Town Cartagena, Columbia

With its rich history, a trip to the old town known as the Walled City or to the colorful Barrio Getsemaní, you’ll find yourself surrounded by numerous cafés and shops.

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Shopping the crowded streets of the Walled City aka Old Town Cartagena, Columbia

For those looking for jewelry, Cartagena is known for its quality and reasonably priced emeralds.

If you are not into crowds and prefer nature, try visiting the National Aviary of Colombia outside Cartagena, where you will be treated to over 135 different species and thousands of birds.

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Scarlet Macaws on the grounds of the National Aviary of Colombia

Rounding out your Los Angeles embarkation, you will visit the Caribbean and, depending on which ship and itinerary you have, it could be Aruba, Grand Cayman, Curacao or a private island owned by the cruise line.

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One of the main beaches of Gran Turk, this one a stones through from the ship.
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A remote beach on Barbados
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The colorful waterfront of Curacao

It is important when deciding on what ship or cruise line to choose that you make sure to research the ship’s itinerary and accommodations.

Your accommodations can range from the basic inside cabin to a spacious luxury suite, depending on your budget. You will also find specialty restaurants, various shops and five-star spa facilities, replete with a beauty salon, massage options and acupuncture services.

And when you consider that your travel, cabin, entertainment and meals are usually all included, the cost of witnessing this extraordinary feat of engineering can be very reasonable.

Ketchikan… The Deadliest Catch Crab Fishing Tour

ALEUTIAN BALLAD… THE DEADLIEST CATCH CRAB FISHING TOUR

If traveling northbound your first port of call will be Ketchikan. A small scenic town of 14,000 people and one of the rainiest North American cities averaging 160 inches per year. In the summer cruise season the temperature averages in the high sixties.

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Ketchikan, Alaska

Today I find myself once again in Ketchikan, Alaska as I hurry down the gangway heading for one of my very favorite tours in Alaska, The Deadliest Catch Crab Fishing Tour.

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Aleutian Ballad moored in Ketchikan, Alaska

The tour is given onboard the Aleutian Ballad of season two. It is probably most remembered as the boat the was hit broadside by a sixty foot rogue wave nearly capsizing the boat and throwing the crew into the frigid waters of the Bering Sea. However in it’s homeport of Ketchikan, Alaska this is not an issue as you are in the calm, protected waters just off the coast.

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Aleutian Ballad outside Ketchikan, Alaska

Captain/owner Dave Lethin and his crew of merry misfits are “old salts” and extremely knowledgeable and entertaining. One thing that I have noticed over the years I have taken this tour is that everyone is treated like family including the guests.

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Captain/Owner of the Aleutian Ballad Dave Lethin

You will feel right at home sitting in comfortable chairs of the boats amphitheater style seating so everyone has a great view. During cold weather you are heated from above and also sheltered if you encounter any rain, after all this is Alaska. Another huge plus is that the tour is wheelchair accessible so everyone has a chance to enjoy this excursion.

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Captain Dave sharing his vast knowledge of the crab fishing industry

The Aleutian Ballad Crab Fishing Tour is very unique and is a hands on experience. You will be able to hold live crab, shrimp and other sea creatures after listening to the crew sharing their knowledge of the ocean and it’s inhabitants.

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A young mans first encounter with a tanner crab
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A young girls first encounter with a box crab
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Wheelchair accessible enables everyone to get into the act. Here a guest views the custom designed Alaskan Red King Crab Tank

One of my favorite highlights is traveling to nearby Annette Island. Here 40-50 American Bald Eagles swarm out of the trees like mosquitos and diving only feet from the boat feeding on fish thrown into the water by the crew.

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Eagles on Annette Island waiting for the dinner bell to be rung
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American Bald Eagle – Annette Island, Alaska

Many times I have heard guests say “I’ve seen eagles before we have them at home” and then those same people say, “I’ve never seen anything like this, ever”. It’s truly a once in a lifetime adventure not to be missed.

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Bald Eagles responding to the crew throwing herring into the water
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Bald  Eagle zeros in on a herring
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Bald Eagle Scores
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Bald Eagle soaring above the Aleutian Ballad

They are going to tug on your heartstrings as well. You will hear stories of friends and family that have been lost at sea. One day I was in the wheelhouse and Terry Barkley one of the captains. Terry is usually a very gregarious man always with a joke on his the tip of his tongue. But on this day, at this moment he stopped short. His face grew solemn and his voice softened. He told me how his brother lost his life just a few months before working on another crab fishing vessel. After a few minutes of quiet reserve Terry once again was back to being a cheerful and telling tales of the sea he loves so well. Pushing the memory deep inside at least for now.

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Captain Terry Barkley in the wheelhouse of the Aleutian Ballad

I talk of this, as does Terry to the guests at times as a prelude to the Aleutian Ballad Crab Fisherman’s Memorial Fund. The fund was started to assist family members and proceeds of the fund are distributed to the families of those lost in the Bering Sea.

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Captains Andy Pittard, Dave Lethin and Terry Barkley (left to right) haul in the Aleutian Ballad Crab Fisherman’s Memorial Fund Crab Pot

The crew will haul a crab fishing pot from the cold depths adorned with tags having the names of loved one written on them. Anyone can and is encouraged to do so in remembrance of a friend or family member that they have lost.

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Captains Andy Pittard, Dave Lethin and Terry Barkley attach donation tags to the Aleutian Ballad Crab Fisherman’s Memorial Fund Crab Pot

I made a donation and wrote the name of my daughter-in-law, Stephanie Pannell that died the year before at the tender age of thirty-four. After the tags are tied onto the pot it is sent over the side back to Davey Jones. At the end of the season the tags are removed and sent to Oregon to be displayed on a wall at the memorial.

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Donations tags on the Aleutian Ballad Crab Fisherman’s Memorial Fund Crab Pot

To join the crew of the Aleutian Ballad and experience this exciting adventure contact your ships shore excursion desk. You can also contact them directly by contacting Shauna Lee, Chief Operations Officer of the Aleutian Ballad at alaskacrabtour.com, email at shauna@56degreesnorth.com or call 888-239-3816.

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Shauna Lee the Chief Operations Officer of the Aleutian Ballad
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Danene Lethin “The Admiral” as she is affectionately known, the owner of the Aleutian Ballad holding an Alaskan Red King Crabs
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Captain Andy Pittard holding a red octopus
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Crew member Stephanie Hall with an arm full of tanner crabs
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Crew member Crystal Henning mans the onboard ship store

If you have taken a tour on the Aleutian Ballad and would like a coffee table book of your trip or would like a more in depth look please note I have written of my experiences and photography taken while onboard. It is available through this blog site both in print and in eBook format.

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Next Stop…. Juneau Bear Viewing and Fly Fishing for Salmon, Grayling and Dolly Varden

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Kodiak Family Lunch… Bear Creek Outfitters – Juneau, Alaska

North to Alaska…

NORTH TO ALASKA… THE PROLOGUE

My Africa adventure is a time that I will never forget. Thank you again Liza, Greg and Gillian Parker for your invitation to visit you and go on safari. And thank you Emile Sprenger de Rover for your hospitality and serving as our private guide.

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Greg Parker, Liza Parker and Emile Sprenger de Rover                                                     at Emile’s cabin in Ingwelala Private Game Reserve, South Africa

It is now North to Alaska and though this will be my sixth summer traveling to Alaska and the Inside Passage I still cannot wait to get there. The pristine waters, lush rain forests, mountains that glide upward from the sea and the vast numbers of diverse wildlife that inhabits the area make it just that much more special. As John Muir said… “The Mountains Are Calling… I Must Go!”

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Flightseeing over Glacier Bay National Park

I’ve always loved the mountains ever since I was very young. I grew up with my grandfather in Merced, California in the San Joaquin Valley. It was only a stones throw from the mountains, which we spent nearly every weekend except in the dead of winter. He was part Native American and passed on his love of nature, the mountains and the wildlife that lived there.

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Half Dome in Yosemite Valley from a flooded Cooks Meadow

Because of these experiences I have a deep-seated love of the mountains. After he died I moved in with the rest of the family to Laguna Beach, California, which is also a very special place for me and close to my heart. Even with that said the mountains are where I feel the most at home. My son Christian said it best when he was 12 years old… “Dad you are a Mountain Man not a Beach Boy.” And so it was to be for I have lived in Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe and the Wood River Valley in Idaho the vast majority of my adult life.

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Laguna Beach, California from Heisler Park

For the next couple months I will be writing and posting of my experiences in Alaska. I will be traveling as I have before working as an Acupuncturist at Sea on a cruise ship. This time my home is the Coral Princess carrying 2,300 guests and a crew of approximately 1,000 from countries all around the world.

We will be visiting the historic ports of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. We will also make side trips to view a number of glaciers in Glacier Bay, College Fjord and Yakutat Bay the home of my favorite glacier the Hubbard Glacier. At the end of the season we will also visit Icy Strait and Kodiak Island as we cruise to Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Guam and Hawaii before heading back to Los Angeles.

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Ketchikan, Alaska
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Juneau, Alaska
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Skagway, Alaska

Each post I will select a different tour or shore excursion that has been a favorite and give you an insiders view of what you might expect if you travel to Alaska. It may not be by cruise ship as there are various ways to get here but cruising the Inside Passage to Alaska is by far the best way to go and offers you the best scenic views, chance of wildlife sightings. All of this from a luxury cruise ship filled with a variety of activities, wonderful restaurants and where you never to cook a meal or make a bed. And one thing that I have heard from numerous guests is… “we only have to unpack once”.

So get ready and lets travel North to Alaska…

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First Stop… Ketchikan… The Deadliest Catch Crab Fishing Tour