Panama Canal Cruise

We just returned from perhaps our most unique and adventurous trip to date. We previously had a cruise through the Panama Canal on our bucket list and decided to do one this year as a way to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary later in December. Since these cruises tend to book up very early, we actually had to book it about a year before the cruise. The only cruise that met these parameters and that had a desirable mixture of ports and sea days was Celebrity Cruises on the Celebrity Infinity. So, we tried them for the first time and it was outstanding.

  • 11/19/2015 – San Diego: We flew out a day early since the cruise would be starting on the west coast to mitigate any risk of travel delay on the outbound flights. It also gave us the opportunity to see San Diego. We used points to stay for free at a nice downtown hotel within walking distance of everything. After dropping our stuff off at the hotel, we explored the marina waterfront area. We saw the Unconditional Surrender statue before heading over to the USS Midway Museum. It is an aircraft carrier turned into a naval and aviation museum. We spent some time enjoying the exhibits there and then went to do some shopping areas near the hotel.
  • 11/20/2015 – Board ship & Depart San Diego: We headed over to the cruise terminal to start our cruise. When we got there we noticed that every single person was pretty old. After a while we did notice some people our age or younger, but it ended up being a slim minority. In fact, we overheard that there were only 16 kids on the ship that cruise and my best guesstimate is maybe 25-50 people our age. This is interesting considering the ship was fully booked and has a listed passenger capacity of 2,170. The boarding process took us about 2-2.5 hours, the whole time waiting in lines. I don’t know if that is an attribute of the Celebrity boarding process or the cruise terminal in San Diego, but it was mildly annoying as our previous cruises did not require that much waiting in lines to board larger ships.
  • 11/21/2015 – At Sea: Since we didn’t actually board until later in the day the previous day, after sleeping in we explored the ship. It was mostly a lazy day playing trivia and visiting the indoor hot tub & thalassotherapy pool. Before this cruise, I noticed that Celebrity seems to have well regarded dining (winner of Cruise Critics 2015 Editors’ Pick for best dining). This really started to show this night as I had a filet mignon that was maybe the second best I’ve had anywhere.
  • 11/22/2015 – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico: While approaching Cabo, we spotted maybe 20-30 dolphins from our balcony, which was neat to experience. After tendering (luckily the only port that required it), we found our local tour. They showed us around Cabo a little bit on the way to boarding a boat to take us to El Arco (also known as Land’s End). It’s basically a rock formation and arch on southernmost tip of the Baja California peninsula. This tour also included a stop at Playa del Amor (Lover’s Beach), but sea conditions were pretty rough near the beach and Kara wasn’t sure she would be able to get back in the boat (no dock available there at the beach). So, we omitted that stop. Bummer.
  • 11/23/2015 – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: Here we went to the beach at Playa de Oro and rented a jet ski. For some reason, Kara preferred not to participate. So, I rode a jet ski for the first time (which was fun) while Kara enjoyed the beach. After I finished with the jet ski, we both went to a nearby resort pool that was included with the jet ski rental.
  • 11/24/2015 – At Sea: One of the things we enjoyed (mostly me) were the lectures that were available periodically. This is something I don’t remember being available on cruises we have taken in the past. In the morning on this sea day, we went to a lecture about the Panama Canal, where we learned the following interesting facts: Passenger vessels are charged by number of available berths regardless of passengers currently on board; Our ship would be charged approximately half a million dollars for the transit; There is still concrete in the canal locks that hasn’t yet completely dried. We played another round of trivia before I went to a lecture about plate tectonics, volcanoes, & glaciers. That night, we went to one of the specialty restaurants (Tuscan Grille). I thought it was good, although not as good as the other one we went to later. My favorite part of the meal was the spumoni donuts dessert. After the meal, we went to watch a battle of the sexes competition.
  • 11/25/2015 – At Sea: After a late breakfast, we played a couple rounds of trivia. Then, I went to a lecture about sea mammals. The other thing of note for this day was that a hurricane developed about 1,000 miles away from our position heading in the direction of Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. Hurricane Sandra later become the latest forming category 4 Pacific hurricane and the most intense November hurricane by pressure ever recorded in the eastern Pacific. So, we lucked out that it didn’t cause us any issues.
  • 11/26/2015 – Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala: There is not much of anything to do in Puerto Quetzal, which is why we chose to visit Antigua, a former Spanish colony and the former capital of Guatemala. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains a lot of Spanish Baroque architecture. It takes about 90 minutes each way to get from the port to Antigua, but during the ride you do have some good views of the three 12,000 to 13,000 foot volcanoes surrounding Antigua (Fuego, Agua, & Acatenango). We booked a self guided tour, so they dropped us off with a map and told us when to meet back at the bus for the return to the ship. We explored the city and enjoyed the interesting architecture. We later found out that a day or two after we left this port that Fuego began erupting.
  • 11/27/2015 – At Sea: In the morning, while I was watching some birds hunt for fish I saw a sea turtle from our balcony. Neat. We played some trivia and then went to another Panama Canal lecture. After lunch, we went to another trivia game and then relaxed in our cabin.
  • 11/28/2015 – Puntarenas, Costa Rica: While watching our arrival in port from the balcony, I saw some kind of sting ray or manta ray. We got off the ship and did a canopy tour. Apparently, canopy zip line tours originated in Costa Rica, so we thought it would be fun to do one where it started. We did 11 lines with the longest one at about 1,000 feet long. After we enjoyed that, they took anyone that wished to a nearby river bank where you could see about 10-20 crocodiles on the other side of the river. When we got back to the port and back on the ship, I noticed that there was a small air show with a couple airplanes doing a routine nearby. Not sure whether that is a regular thing or if we just happened to be there for an annual event, but it was fun to watch. After dinner, we went to a magic show by Trigg Watson.
  • 11/29/2015 – At Sea: After breakfast, we went to the outside pools. We played another trivia game and then I went to another canal lecture. For dinner, we went to Qsine, another of the specialty restaurants. This is what we had: Lava crab (Alaskan King crab, scallions, lobster sauce), Lobster escargot (lobster and escargot fritter with parsley garlic butter sauce), Taco royale (black Angus sirloin steak, caramelized onion, guacamole), Chitini (orange chicken, Kung pao shrimp, beef, sweet and sour pork, sticky rice), Chocolate covered strawberries. Then, Kara had cheesecake and I had a chocolate tombstone. It looks like a lot of food (and it was), but the portions are not huge so that you have an opportunity to try a lot of things. Before the dessert course, they ask you if you are still hungry to try even more stuff! We really enjoyed it, although I was not able to get Kara to try the escargot with me.
  • 11/30/2015 – Panama Canal Transit: This day was the reason we chose this cruise. We got up early in the morning to ensure we wouldn’t miss anything. For cruise ships that have a helipad, they normally don’t allow passengers in that area. However, the day we went through the canal they opened up that area so that everyone could observe the canal transit from there, if desired. So, we watched the transit of the Miraflores Locks from the helipad. We then moved to the aft of the ship to see that view when we went through the Pedro Miguel Locks. After we left Pedro Miguel and traveled through the Culebra Cut, we mostly went inside to watch from deck 11. Soon after leaving the cut and entering Gatun Lake, we went to lunch. And finallly, while we went through the Gatun Locks we watched mostly from starboard side of deck 4. Overall, it was an outstanding experience.
  • 12/01/2015 – Colon, Panama: We got off the ship and found our tour to the locks. We went first to the Gatun Dam, which dammed up the Chagres River creating the lake in the canal. After that, we went to the Gatun Locks Visitor Center to watch ships go through the locks. Next, we went to the Canal Expansion Observation Center. There we could see the huge site of the new Atlantic locks currently under construction. After some time there, our guide drove us around Colon showing us points of interest before returning us to the ship.
  • 12/02/2015 – Cartagena, Colombia: Here we took a tour of the city starting at La Popa Monastery, which is perched on a hill above Cartagena. That provided a wonderful panoramic view of the city. We made a stop at Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, which is fortress built by the Spanish in the 1500’s. We spent most of the balance of our time in the old walled city of Cartagena, which due to the Spanish influence looks similar to a European walled city. We were shown and explored various landmarks there. We returned to the ship and later that night went to a comedy show.
  • 12/03/2015 – At Sea: We went to various trivia games and lectures and otherwise relaxed around the ship. That night was the final formal dining night, where we had maybe the largest lobster tail I’ve eaten. It was so large that Kara couldn’t finish all of hers.
  • 12/04/2015 – At Sea: We went to various trivia games and lectures and otherwise relaxed around the ship. One of the lectures was given by the captain and was all about how they navigate and sail the ship from port to port. It was very interesting. Then, for dinner we returned to the Qsine specialty restaurant. This time we we had the Lava crab and the Taco royale that we had last time along with trying these two for the first time: Disco shrimp (bouillon poached tiger shrimp, avocado, aioli & crunchy topping served above a “disco” light), & Persian Kebab (skewered chicken garlic & spices veggies & yellow rice pilaf, which was served on a big knife that the waiter called a “sword”). For desert, I had gelato and Kara had build it yourself cupcakes. Like the first time in Qsine, the food was excellent.
  • 12/05/2015 – Disembark & Return Home: We arrived in Fort Lauderdale, where we debarked the ship and flew back home.

It was a wonderful cruise. We visited four new countries and our first in South America. I’ve posted the pictures to my Flickr in the collection titled Panama Canal Cruise 2015, which contains the following albums:

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