Corinto, Nicaragua

January 22, 2019

Corinto is Nicaragua’s largest port and sits on an island connected to the mainland by bridges. It is also the largest country in Central America. And it is a very poor country compared with Costa Rica and other Latin American countries. In fact, we heard it is second only to Haiti in poverty.

Today we didn’t schedule an organized tour, choosing instead to explore the port town. Last visit we went to Colonial Leon and the bubbling mud pots.

There really isn’t much to do in this small port town but we had a good walk around and conversations with local friendly people. Most of them wanted to take us on the bike excursions and just could not understand why we wanted to walk! The farther we got from the port, the cheaper the bike transports became. The most was $10/hour, the least was $1/hour! But we still wanted to walk.

Here’s the view of the port as we arrived.

We were greeted by local dancers, some in traditional costumes. I especially loved the small children who were definitely budding dancers!

There is a small square, a church (which wasn’t open) and some friendly vendors. We do love strolling through the markets.

This is what the bike “taxis” look like, this one was part of the “roll patrol!”

Some pictures of the square and various statues.

Tomas Martinez Y Guerrero

Nicaraguan culture has strong folklore, music and religious traditions and is deeply influenced by both European and Amerindian sounds and flavors. Lots of music was playing in the square and outside the ship. It is quite a poor country but we saw no begging or apparent homeless people here.

Here are some of the market sights.

Salted meat to preserve it. No appeal for me!

Huge papayas!

On our way back to the ship we said hello to two of the dancers that performed for us this morning!

Why is this cat on a leash?

We now have 2 sea days before our next port of Manzanillo, Mexico. And we have two returning guest cocktail parties on the two sea days. We will get our Diamond pins as part of recognition in the Oceania Club. That also means we get another 14 day free cruise! Life is good.

Posted in Central America, January, World Cruise 3 | 4 Comments

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

January 21, 2019

Last night’s sunset was lovely – and they kept the lights on the top deck off so we could see the lunar eclipse/wolf blood moon. Unfortunately my iPhone didn’t capture the moon well (I am sure other will share photos with me) but here is the sunset.

This is our third visit to Costa Rica, and we find that there is always something new to explore. Today our tour is “A Walk in the Clouds”. We had a one hour, 45 minute bus trip to the Continental Divide, the Monteverde Biological Cloud Forest Reserve, where the warm air from the Pacific meets the cooler air from the Caribbean and it forms a cloud cover. The forest is lush and beautiful. Our guide was Jonathan, who lives in Puntarenas but spent 10 years in Summit NJ, so we shared a few NJ stories.

The trip was beautiful – lots of mountains – the country has many forests and it is illegal to cut down a tree here.

Jonathan provided us with a lot of information about his country. Puntarenas, where we docked, means Sandy Point. Costa Rica means rich coast, and the name came from Columbus when he explored this part of the world. It is a small country of only 20,000 square miles.

We traveled part of the way on the Pan American highway which stretches from Alaska to Argentina!

Costa Rica has not had an army since 1949. The money that was previously used for the army is now used for education. The population is well educated. Jonathan says it is the most expensive country in Latin America due to the high taxes. The population is 5 million and many have come from Nicaragua seeking a better life.

Tourism is their chief source of income.

There are 112 volcanoes here and 7 are active. They get 7000 earthquakes a year but only 100 can be felt. This is why there are no tall buildings.

All of the countries in this area of the world claim to grow the best coffee. We had some here and it was definitely good, but our guide in Colombia was so proud of their coffee that he gave us a gift pack to take home!

Once we reached the forest, we first went to an open hummingbird garden where many species of the fast moving birds were drinking the nectar in the feeders. They also love the bromeliads in the forest.

We hiked through the forest and over 4 suspended bridges that are up to 126 feet above the forest. They are between 95 and 253 feet long and gave a beautiful view of the flora and fauna, small waterfalls and streams that run through the forest.

We also visited a small butterfly farm, not too many to see but we did get a few pictures of them and some of the flowers.

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There is a high bridge for bungee jumpers (no thanks) and there is an extensive zip lining adventure too- we saw some of those brave people – who were screaming, by the way.

We had a delicious Costa Rican lunch and left for Le Jardin, a large craft market with a pretty garden in the back. We met up with Pam and Tom for some pictures.

The ship leaves at 4 for Nicaragua and we will have dinner at Toscana tonight with friends Marilyn and Charlie and Rodney and Candace.

Posted in Central America, January, World Cruise 3 | 2 Comments

Panama Canal

January 19, 2019

This is our third time in the Panama Canal and it never disappoints! We arrived at the Gatun Locks at 7:30 AM and the narration began. We had a local historian who kept us up to date all through the voyage.

Our ship with a commercial vessel going in the opposite direction

The canal stretches 50 miles from Colon on the Atlantic side to Panama City on the Pacific side. It provides passage for over 14,000 ocean going vessels per year. The American Society of Civil Engineers has named the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of the modern world. It is truly amazing that the engineering in 1914 has held until today. A new larger canal opened in June of 2016. It doubles the capacity of the canal to accommodate both larger vessels and increased demand for world trade.

The bridge in the background is one of three that we pass under. This one has never been completed!

Once we passed through the Gatun Locks, we were at anchor in Gatun Lake for three hours. This is because transit is tightly controlled. Most of the commercial vessels go through at night when it is less expensive. For cruise ships, the charge is dependent on the number of berths and it costs over $100,000 for our ship because we do it during the day so we can see the amazing operation of the locks where the ship is raised by 85 feet and then lowered again in the other set of locks. The water that is used to raise and lower the ships comes from Gatun Lake by gravity and is poured into the locks through a system of main culverts, which extend below the chambers of the locks from the sidewalls and center wall.

A couple of lighthouses along the way

We passed through the Culebra Cut, which is the narrowest part of the canal and it represents almost one fifth of the total length of the waterway. This segment was excavated through rock and limestone from the Central Mountain Range of the Isthmus of Panama. With the material excavated during the construction, 63 pyramids equal to those in Egypt could be constructed! It is amazing to think of this all happening back in the early 1900s.

At about 2:30, we passed through the second set of locks, the Pedro Miguel Locks. It takes about 30 – 60 minutes to pass through the locks.

The ships are attached by ropes to the “mule” you see in the picture. This keeps the ship in position through the lock. For our ship there are two on each side. By the way, there never were real mules doing this work!

The last set of locks before reaching the Pacific are the Miraflores Locks. We arrived there at 3:30, and once through, we reached Balboa at 6 and sailed for Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

Going through the Miraflores Locks, there there lots of people waving and cheering from this building. Don’t know what they were all doing there!

This is the Biomuseo Museum designed by Frank Gerry with Panama City in the background. photo credit – Assad Shilo.

Norm dons a Panama hat! And they are NOT made in Panama, they are made in Ecuador!

Posted in Central America, January, World Cruise 3 | 5 Comments

Cartagena, Colombia

January 18, 2019

Cartagena is on the northern coast of Colombia aand has a population of 1.2 million people. There is a colonial walled city and a very modern downtown. Many old mansions are in the older part of town and a lot of them are only used a few weeks a year as vacation sites. The fortress and walled city were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today we did a private tour with Marilyn and Charlie and Ginny and Joe. Our guide was Jhon and we were in a very comfortable large van which could have accomodated 6 more people. It was hot so it was nice to return to the air conditioned van in between stops.

The walk out to meet Jhon was beautiful – lots of flowers, flamingos, peacocks and parrots of all colors. We even saw a turtle and an aardvark!

Our first stop was at the Convento de la Popa. It is the highest point in the city . Build in 1607, this former convent has a beautiful courtyard with flowers everywhere. The best part is the view of the entire city.

Look at our baby ship next to the Coral Princess!

.The next stop was the Castillo Dan Felipe de Barajas, the fort of St. Philip. We had all visited here on previous trips, so we just had a quick photo stop.

We then went on to Old Town where we did some shopping and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city.

Ice cream vendor, old and new!

We then visited Museo Naval del Caribe. This historic building served as a school, hospital and military quarters. It contains ship models and other nautical displays that tell the history of Cartagena as an important port city.

We walked through the Old City, visiting a church, shops and a chocolate factory, yum!

The history of slaves coming from Africa, the Spanish Inquisition and the drug trade were all part of the discussion with Jhon in the van – fascinating history here, and their economy is still pretty good even with many Venezuelan refugees coming in. There is a part of town that is very poor and unsafe – we didn’t go there but Jhon pointed it out from up on the hill.

There are, of course, many beaches here and it is high tourist season, so they seemed very crowded. The windy side was very rough ocean but the protected bay had many swimmers.

There is a lot of interesting art here. This shot was taken by Joe – generously shared via air drop!

Because we are headed for the Panama Canal and all transit has a scheduled time to pass through the locks, our departure time today was 2 PM. We had to be on the ship by 1:30, so we had lunch on the ship and had a relaxing afternoon!

Posted in Excursions, January, South America, World Cruise 3 | 1 Comment

At Sea

January 16, 2019

It is our second day at sea after leaving Havana on our way to Cartagena. Yesterday there was a mimosa gathering at 9:30 AM for the Around the World (ATW) guests. We found out that there are 340 going around the world. On our first world cruise, there were 88 of us, so it has really grown. Some people have told me that my blog helped them make the decision to do it! The ship holds about 650 so more than half will be going around the world. The rest do segments. Some are getting off in Los Angeles when other ATW guests board, and others are doing segments along the way. We are looking forward to greeting Alice and Tom in Singapore.

We had delicious bagel delights – and mimosas. The chefs here never fail to disappoint! And lots of greetings to friends we have met on other trips. Nice reunion.

Here are pics of some of the goodies.

In the evening we had the Captain’s cocktail party. I didn’t realize how tall the Captain and the General Manager were till I saw this picture!

We had a wonderful time with friends from 2015, Rodney and Candace and Marilyn and Charlie.
The first of many adventures we will share on this trip.

There was the usual introduction of the senior staff and at these parties the drinks flow freely for several hours. Candace became famous on our last trip together by trying a different free cocktail at every party!

There are 404 crew members from 43 nations on board. And, they are all wonderful. A great start to our adventure.

Posted in At Sea, Caribbean, January, World Cruise 3 | Leave a comment

Havana, Cuba

January 15, 2019

For so many years, Americans could not visit Cuba, so we were really looking forward to exploring as much as we could in the one day we have here.  Maybe it will join the list of places we want to come back to.

Havana is the capital and largest city of Cuba which is located just 90 miles from Key West, Florida.  It was founded by the Spanish explorer, Diego de Velazquez on the southern coast but was relocated in 1519. It grew as one of the busiest and wealthiest commercial center in the Western  Hemisphere until the 1959 revolution. 

Today the city is home to about 2.5 million residents and remains much the way it was at the time of the revolution but now tourism is allowing some upgrades.

As we came into the port in the morning, on one side of the ship we could see a massive fort and on the other side, the city landscape.

Our tour was a walking tour of Old Havana. There is an interesting mix of architectural styles here and many of the buildings in the main squares have been or are in the process of being renovated. I took so many pictures and I will only include a few highlights since it takes so long to upload pictures here on the ship.

We started the tour with our guide, Vladimir. Yes, that’s right! He said when he was born in the 60’s it was common for people in Cuba to name their children Russian names.

The terminal building is right next to the first plaza we visited, the historic Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, created in the 16th century when the Spanish ships stopped on their passage to the Indies. It underwent full restoration in the late 1990s.

We walked through Old Havana to three more historic squares. The Plaza Nueva was originally used for military exercises but is now an open air marketplace where there are many bars, restaurants and cafes. One side of the square has an elementary school and many classes were having their phys ed classes in the square.

The city of Havana was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982 and a lot of the restoration was done since that time. Here are a few more shots of the city and its sites.

Of course, you know that we love statues and signs. Here are a few that we spotted during our wonderful walking tour.

Pat and Norm with Chopin. The statue was a gift from Poland.

It is supposed to be good luck to rub the hand and the beard!

The last one is a fake – one of the people that poses as a statue!

Our guide took us to a shop where we bought some rum – it is a must here!

We also visited a large craft market – many artists and a lot of booths selling everything from t-shirts to leather goods.

Havana is known for the old cars. You see all kinds in really great condition. There are also horse drawn carts here. In the afternoon we hired one of the drivers in an old 1955 Ford Fairlane. He took us outside of the historic area and really explained a lot of Cuban history. BC and AC, as they call it – before Castro and after Castro. The revolution in 1959 changed everything for the country. In face we passed under the overhead gate to Chinatown, where our guide, Homero, told us there are no Chinese people and no Chinese restaurants. When they knew the revolution was coming, they already understood Communism so they all left the country and never came back.

Our driver, Homero

Here are some of the other cars and carriages.

Havana is celebrating its 500 year anniversary this year and there will be many celebrations.

There are travel restrictions here and we were told that we needed their currency, but we found that many vendors gladly accepted American money. We booked this trip before June of 2017 when more restrictions were imposed, so we didn’t have to be concerned but they gave us many papers on the ship which explained what you could and could not do. There are no US products here – no Starbucks, McDonalds, etc. They do not sell guns here and crime is rare. All of the people we encountered were really friendly and helpful.

You can see that the building adjoining the terminal is in first stages of renovation.

Another sight is the 65 foot tall El Cristo de La Habana, only forty years old. It is made of white marble and stands 65 feet tall. It was inaugurated on December 25, 1958, just days before the revolution.

 We saw the bar that was the favorite of Hemingway when he lived here. There was also quite a mob presence, including Lansky. One of the Godfather movies was filmed in his hotel. Our driver also took us through the botanical garden, a kind of rain forest area and the Revolution Square.

Wonderful day – would really like to plan to come back and see more of the country.

Posted in Caribbean, Excursions, January, World Cruise 3 | 2 Comments

Miami, FL

January 14, 2019

Here’s the lovely sunrise we see from the ship. 

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We had two relaxing sea days on our way from New York to Miami.  We encountered slightly rolling seas and some rain, but the weather gradually got warmer on our way.

Today in Miami, we booked an Art Deco tour in Miami Beach.  Our tour guide was James and to our surprise we were the only people on the tour! James was really terrific.  We met him on the front porch of the Essex Hotel and he first shared the very interesting history of Miami Beach (which is not part of Miami, but a totally separate city). James is an author and very well informed about the city.

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From the early days of the wealthy people coming to Miami Beach to the evolution to today’s restored historic district, there were many times when the city was in disrepair and also during the war, many of the buildings were used for barracks for soldiers.

The first 20th-century neighborhood to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District is made up of 800+ buildings and structures built between 1923 and 1943.

When decades of neglect nearly caused Miami’s Art Deco scene to be demolished, a named Barbara Baer Capitman founded a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving, protecting and promoting the appearance and integrity of the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District.

It was through her hard work and perseverance that Art Deco in Miami gained national protection, motivating designers and developers to bring out the area’s Art Deco elements and restore its pastel-hued boutique hotels to their original style.

We really didn’t know anything about the elements of Art Deco style.  What we learned was that there are several elements that define the style.  Sleek geometric forms, metallic objects, groups of 3, decorative glass blocks, geometric shapes such as chevrons and ziggurats, and “eyebrows” that protrude out over the external windows.

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The Whopper Bar is one of only 6 Burger Kings that serve alcohol!

We walked down Ocean Drive which has the Atlantic Ocean on one side and many beautiful buildings on the other.  Marble was too expensive to use in most of these buildings (except the Mafia owned ones!) so they used coral which they colored with paints to make it look like marble.  Fascinating.

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The floors are beautiful, and whenever you see a diamond in the floor design, it is an indication that one of the illegal casinos was operating in that building. They are all gone now but the diamond designs remain.

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We also had the chance to see the Versace mansion.  It is now an exclusive hotel so only guests can go in, but even from the outside it was impressive.  He was shot right outside the mansion.

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It was a great day, and now we know to look for the art deco design in other cities that we will visit.  Shanghai has a lot of architecture for us to explore, for example.

Oh, and we found out that those beautiful flowers were a birthday gift from our friends, Pam and Tom, who boarded today and will travel with us to Los Angeles.  We never did get the card.  Thank you, Pam and Tom!

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Posted in World Cruise 3 | 1 Comment

On our way

January 11, 2019

We had a nice birthday breakfast with Adam and Mark. Saw them off at Grand Central where the have this awesome Apple store in the terminal.

And of course the rest of the place is beautiful

We then had brunch at the Plaza Hotel and were transported to the ship terminal. With all of us arriving at once, it was a bit of a zoo, but we made it on board and all our pre shipped luggage did too.

The new decor is beautiful.

These flowers were delivered with no card. We think we found out they are from the cruise line!

We had a great reunion with our friends Rodney and Candace from Australia. We had dinner together in Toscana.

Sailed under the Verrazano bridge and we are now on our way to Miami.

Posted in World Cruise 3 | 6 Comments

The adventure begins

January 11, 2019

We have spent the last 2 days at the Plaza Hotel in NYC enjoying the city before we leave on our next 6 month adventure. Let me start with the best part. Last night we went to see the play The Band’s Visit.

When we came out of the theater, we were so surprised to see our sons, who live in Massachusetts, waiting for us! They pulled off a total surprise as a bon voyage and a happy birthday.

We will have breakfast together before we leave for the ship. What a perfect sendoff!

Speaking of the ship, it has been delayed on its way to NY so Oceania is providing a brunch and a NY tour before they transport us us to the ship. Estimated time of arrival is 3 PM.

We have already met many people that will be sailing with us and many that we know from previous trips. It will be quite a reunion.

We always love New York. On Wednesday we saw the play Come From Away.

It is the true story of the 9/11 flights that were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland when the airspace was closed. Great story and wonderful acting.

Of course, we walked over 7 miles each day and took in many sights in the city, it never disappoints!

First, the Plaza Hotel. Visions of Home Alone haunt the halls and rooms here!. Gorgeous in every way.

We visited St Patrick’s where I lit candles in memory of mom and dad.

Here are some of the other city sights.

My next post will be from the ship. Here is the map of our amazing trip.

Now on to a birthday breakfast with our two wonderful sons!

Posted in World Cruise 3 | 7 Comments

December 15, 2018

Well, hard to believe we are 4 weeks away from our third world cruise on the Oceania Insignia. She has just had a head to toe refurbishment and is doing 2 short cruises to Cuba before we join in New York on January 11.

We will stay for 2 nights at the Plaza before we board for 6 months. We will see the Broadway show “The Band’s Visit” while there.

Let the packing begin! And stay tuned for our adventures around the world.

Posted in World Cruise 3 | 8 Comments