Amazing Cruise Sunsets

The sunsets we have seen on this cruise – from Aruba and Cartagena, through the Panama Canal, to Fuerte Amador and Costa Rica, and finally on to Los Angeles – have been incredible! I am a mixed-media artist and can’t wait to get back in the studio and figure out a way to use them.

I try not to spend more time on the computer “fixing” a photo than in the studio creating art. It can be hard to know when to stop. To keep editing to a minimum, I put each of these photos in Photoshop and just did three things. First, I adjusted the contrast. When shooting photos on the water, there is a haze that our eyes adjust for but the camera records. Adding a little contrast compensates for that haze. I also added a little bit of sharpening. Because of the ship’s vibration, photos without sharpening will look a bit too fuzzy. Finally I checked to make sure the horizon was level. I hope you enjoy!

Until next time –

Susan L Stewart

Bears Over the Pacific







Cartagena, Columbia


Cartagena Harbor

We were in Cartagena, Columbia, the morning after Aruba. I was awed by the harbor. I had no idea what to expect, but this dramatic skyline of white high rises was incredible. Somehow, I didn’t expect such a cosmopolitan city.

Cartagena is only a few degrees above the equator and normally experiences temperatures in the low 80s. This is the rainy season

Cartagena Balcony

and it was overcast with periodic rain. The rain was warm, though, so I didn’t carry my umbrella. I was more concerned with keeping my camera dry than myself. I brought a specially designed plastic bag to put my camera in. It’s open on one end and has a small hole in it that you’re supposed to position over the eyepiece. The hole was so small I couldn’t keep it in place so I took photos while looking through plastic. The photos came out well, despite the weather.

Cartagena Architecture

We took a four-hour tour in Cartagena. It was a good tour, very interesting.

Lee, our guide, had an interesting habit of repeating nearly everything he said. It was a four-hour tour but if he hadn’t repeated himself, it would have been a two-hour tour! Here’s how it went.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Cartagena has one million peoples. Ladies and gentlemen, there are one million peoples in Cartagena.”

Typical Street

Tourism is very important to my country. Tourists are very important to my country. Do you understand what I am saying?”

And so on and so on …

Beautiful purple wall

On the flip side, however, Lee was incredibly nice. I forgot my Dyazide – my water pill – and my ankles were swollen to the point where I didn’t have ankles any more. Normally I have very nice ankles. I asked the second tour guide if we were going to be near a pharmacy on the tour. She said she didn’t think so but she would ask Lee. I told her I didn’t want to disrupt the tour or keep anyone waiting.

We came to a stop at a jewelry store.

“Columbia is the world’s largest producer of emeralds. The world’s largest producer of

The Banana Lady

emeralds is Columbia. Do you understand what I am saying?” (Columbia exports 95% of the world’s emeralds.)

Yes, Lee, we understand.

Lee came over to me, very concerned that I was ill. I assured him I was only hot and tired like everyone else. Once he was sure I was OK, he took Tom to a pharmacy while everyone hung out at the jewelry store – no one bought an emerald and I don’t think anyone was even the slightest bit interested. However, the shop was air conditioned and they were handing out free passion

fruit drinks complete with ice so everyone was quite happy!

Tom and Lee returned a few minutes later with a diuretic.

Thank you, Lee; I’m sorry I was critical.

Simon Bolivar

When we visited a park with a statue of Simon Bolivar there was a woman walking around in a very colorful outfit with a bowl of bananas on her head. We saw women like this in several places on the tour. Lee explained that we were welcome to take a photo of her but it would cost $1.  As you can see, I took the photo through the crowd to avoid the $1 surcharge.

I was especially interested in the architecture of Cartagena. The buildings

I wonder how much these cost?

were beautiful and painted in more subdued colors than, say, in Mexico. The city holds a balcony contest and they were especially well done.

Cartagena was founded in 1533 by Don Pedro de Heredia and became part of the Spanish Empire. It was the shipping center for gold, silver and slaves between America and Spain. This made it a favorite target of pirates. A massive fortress, Castillo de Felipe de Barajas, was built between 1536 and 1657 to defend the city.

Walkway along the sea wall

A very long sea wall was built around the old city to defend it after the English

pirate Sir Francis Drake attacked it in 1586. Drake destroyed over 25% of its buildings including Cartagena Cathedral – which was rebuilt – and demanded a ransom of 107,000 Spanish Eight Reales, about $200 million today. Drake led one

Grassy area between the wall and the sea

of five pirate sieges. The city successfully defended itself when England attacked it with a force of 24,000 men and 186 ships.

Cartagena was also subjected to the Spanish Inquisition. The Palacio de la Inquisicion still stands and is now a museum displaying instruments of torture as well as pre-Columbia, colonial and independence-era art. Inside the old city are Las Bovedas, dungeons originally built for the military

Bird Sculpture

and to hold the victims of the Inquisition. We visited there and it is one very long building with small shops in each “cell.”

We enjoyed this tour very much. When you’re on a cruise you rarely have enough time to see everything you’d like to. Instead, you get a taste of the area so you can decide if you’d like to return. I’d like to see more of Cartagena someday.

Until next time,

Susan L. Stewart

A short stop in Aruba

The Aruba garden path

This was our first day off the ship. It took three days to get to Aruba from Fort Lauderdale. We only had four hours ashore before the ship set sail for Cartagena, Columbia. We signed up for a four-hour excursion of Aruba that took us around the

The highest part of Aruba

island to see the important landmarks. Aruba is six miles wide and 19.6 miles long so it doesn’t take long to stop and look at gardens, lizards and rocks – lots of rocks! – and the sea. It was a very quiet, uneventful, tour best described through photos.

The tour started with a visit to a peaceful garden with a very large rock formation you could climb to see the whole area laid out. Tom did the climb. For

The incredible colors of Aruba

some reason I left the ship in flip-flops – I just wasn’t thinking about how much walking I was going to have to do. While Tom was on top of the rock, I wandered around the garden. I saw this plaque at the entrance and loved the sentiment.

We learned later that a woman from our ship who was in a tour after ours collapsed and died of a heart attack in the garden. She was sailing with her adult daughter.

There used to be a large, natural, bridge across a portion of the sea but one night it

Baby Bridge

collapsed. The “Baby Bridge” is still standing although there are a lot of caution signs. A few people walked across it but it was not something I wanted to try.

Rock Sculptures

There are some very large, dark, rocks at the Baby Bridge. Tourists have erected dozens of small rock sculptures on them. Our tour guide said they mean nothing to the people of Aruba and he didn’t understand it. In my experience, people create these rock alters as part of a spiritual practice or meditation. Somehow, by nature of how many there are and by watching people set up their own pile of rocks, I don’t think spirituality has anything to do with these – at least not now. There were some interesting ones, though.

The worst part of the tour was a stop at a local “Home Depot” type of plant nursery. We did not understand this at all. A woman took us around the plants – many of them were ones we see in Colorado – while reciting a memorized script. I know it was memorized because I happen to be near the group that followed us and their guide started out with the exact same words. I did get a few good shots of some flowers.

All-in-all we gave the tour a grade of C. I don’t know that it was worth the money although we did get to see much of Aruba given our time constraints.

Until next time,

Susan L Stewart

Cruising the Panama Canal


Cruising is one of our favorite vacations. I was able to find a great deal on a two-week Panama Canal cruise on the Coral


Princess. We will start in Fort Lauderdale FL and stop in Aruba; Cartagena, Columbia; Fuerte Amador, Panama; and the Pacific side of Costa Rica before ending in Los Angeles CA.

My brother and his wife and two-year-old son live in Ft Lauderdale so we came out a couple of days early to spend some time with them. We don’t get to see them often and had a very nice

No Fear!

time. Our nephew, Tyler, is an amazing child. He is very bright and ahead for his age. He’s funny, inquisitive and knows no fear. He has a typical two-year-old attention span and temperament.

Leaving Miami

Cruise lines often discount their staterooms two to three weeks before departure so if you can be flexible as far as when you leave – and where you want to go or on which cruise line – you can take a great cruise for a very reasonable price. Sometimes, to get the best deal on a cruise, you have to be

Our first night moonlight on the water

flexible and able to go with just a few weeks notice. And, at least in my experience, airfare does not rise appreciably if you can book it at least two weeks in advance. It’s that last minute, have-to-fly-tomorrow, type of trip that becomes so expensive.

With only four ports of call, eight of our 14 days will be spent at sea. It’s important to match your vacation to your needs, and right now we need to relax, rest and de-stress.

Tom in our stateroom

This small itinerary might sound boring, but it isn’t. You’d have to work at being bored on a cruise ship – there are things to do from the 7 a.m. “Long Lean and Stretch” aerobics class on Deck 14, Aft, to the midnight “Late Night Party Hits” with a DJ playing requests in the Explorer’s Lounge, Deck 6, Aft.

Tom on our balcony

Coral Princess

We will be stopping in Aruba for four hours. I’m not sure why it’s such a short time, but we’ve booked a tour so we can see all the important sights in the time we have. Then we have six hours in Cartagena Columbia where we will be going on another tour.

The next day will be spent going through the Panama Canal locks. Then we will have ten hours to explore Fuerte Amador, Panama and, finally, 12 hours in Puntarenas, Costa Rica (the Pacific side of Costa Rica). The only thing I want to do in Costa Rica (I think) is lay on the beach. It’s our last chance to do that and since we have tours taking up our time on the other days, it will be good to be on our own.

Here are some things I have noticed:

  • This Princess ship has less “glitz” and more “glamour.” It’s a bit plainer with very little gold leaf or gold paint. It has a more “stately home” feeling than downtown Las Vegas.
  • The staff is friendly and helpful.
  • The ship is laid out in a manner similar to Norwegian so we are able to get around.

The passengers are a lot older. I mean a lot. I’m in my late 50s and Tom’s in his early 60s and I think we are the youngest people on the ship. I have never seen so many canes in one place – and walkers and wheelchairs. This

Coral Princess Atrium Steps

is way beyond any normal percentage of elderly in a population. Someone said it was because most working people or people with children can’t get away for two weeks so there are more retired people on a long cruise like this.

So far – just 24 hours into it – the food hasn’t been all that great. This could be more of a selection issue than quality. We will give it some time and see if it improves.

That’s it for now. I’ll post again after we have seen Aruba.

Until next time,

Susan L Stewart