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







Costa Rica

Costa Rica spans the isthmus of Latin America. Its major port/city on the east side of the country is Limon on the Caribbean Sea. The west side of the country is on the Pacific Ocean and has two large ports: Puerto Caldera, a major commercial shipping port, and Puntarenas where we docked.

We weren’t going to take a tour in Costa Rica. After three tours on three ports of call, we were just going to chill and hang out on the beach. Then we went to the meeting the Cruise Director does before each port where he talks about the country and what to see and do. The beach on the Pacific side of Costa Rica has black sand and murky water. He showed a photo of it and there weren’t any beach chairs or shade.

Several tours were still available. We signed up for a river cruise and had a great time. Actually, it was the best tour we took. I have learned that the quality of a tour is dependent on the quality of the guide. Throughout the cruise, we had a guide or two who seemed to be guessing about what we were seeing as we went along. This guide, Porfirio, knew his flora and fauna.

We started by taking a 1-1/2 hour bus ride into the center of the country. It was a beautiful drive up into the mountains, and we were in a comfortable bus, so the time passed quickly. We finally stopped at a small building with beautiful landscaping. This was our opportunity to stretch our legs and use the bathroom.

There was a variety of fruit laid out on a long table and water, iced tea and beer. For entertainment, there were two men playing a beautiful xylophone. I think it was made from teak wood. I haven’t seen or heard a xylophone since I was a young child in music class. I had my good camera and zeroed in on the keys. I took 48 photos and found three that were good – that’s the way it goes with photography.

After our snack, we boarded a large pontoon boat and started out. The point of the trip was not a leisurely float down a pretty river. No, we were on an intense search mission looking for Scarlet Macaws and any other wildlife. We saw white-faced monkeys, Scarlet Macaws, a lizard, a tiny red and black crab, egrets, hundreds of unidentified birds and a lot of crocodiles.

Scarlet Macaws mate for life. From what we saw, it seems like they roost very high up in the trees. We never saw them close enough to take a photo. They are on the endangered species list. Porfirio belongs to a group that works to protect them and help increase their numbers. This group made nesting boxes out of large, blue plastic trash cans. They didn’t do a count last year, but the year before they found 40 new Macaws.

Banana Flowers

Porfirio gave us a very long lecture about the cultivation and growth characteristics of bananas. I didn’t understand most of it, and most of what I did understand I have now forgotten. What I do remember is that there are more than 100 kinds of bananas. The purple flower on the end of the bunch of bananas has something to do with the growth cycle. On banana plantations, they put plastic bags over the cluster at a certain time to ripen them.

“Ugly bananas” – those with a dark spot(s) on the skin – are not exported because they know people won’t buy them. Costa Ricans know that the color of the skin is not necessarily an indication of the state of the banana within. Blemished bananas remain in Costa Rica and are used to eat, for baby food, animal feed and fertilizers.

Baby Croc

Apparently, it is unusual to see more than a couple of crocodiles on a trip. On our trip, every crocodile and his cousin showed up. They were often hard to see. We were in a rain forest during the rainy season and the gray crocodiles were the same color as the gray muddy banks. This is due, in part, because they have a lot of mud on them. As you can see here, they do have a sinister smile. The first crocodile we saw was a baby. He looked like a strange lizard. The last crocodile was full grown and huge.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country and much more than the white sand beaches on the

Sinister Croc Smile

Caribbean side. The interior is both beautiful and interesting. The terrain rises from sea level to 13,000 feet. Its rivers are quiet and calm like the one we were on, and wild and exciting for white water rafting.

The better to eat you with, my dear

The forests provide a variety of activities. Zip lining through the forest treetops is something Costa Rica is known for. The Rainforest Aerial Tram offers a ride above the treetops and past incredible waterfalls.

The Poas Volcano sits at 8,500 feet above sea level and is known for its geyser-like eruptions of gas and ash. We spoke with a couple who took the tour to the volcano. The day was overcast and rainy but they said when they got there the fog lifted and they were able to see it. Beautiful.

The Arenal volcano is one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world. Lake Arenal is near there. The area is also know for its natural mineral hot springs.

I would say Costa Rica has more things to see and do than any of the other places where we stopped. If I had to pick one place to return to I’d pick Costa Rica, hands down. I could see many types of vacations in Costa Rica. From “laying around on the beach” to exploring the interesting interior, it would take quite a few trips before you would feel like you had seen it all.

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