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







Fuerte Amador, Panama

Fuerte Amador used to be a military fort in a suburb of Panama City. The US Armed forces pulled out of Panama by way of treaty on December 31, 1999. Fuerte Amador and three other forts are now abandoned.

The "Ghost Ship" at 5:30 a.m.

This was the port with the most rain on our cruise. I watched the dramatic and eerie Panama City skyline throughout our tour. It changed as the dark clouds moved over us. It reminded me of the stormy skyline scene at the end of Ghostbusters.

Our tour started out badly. When we signed up for it we were supposed to meet at 8:15 am to get on the bus. The afternoon before, we received a letter in our stateroom telling us that because the ship was able to get in to Fuerte Amador earlier than planned, we needed to meet at 6:45 am! I don’t get up that early when I’m home let alone on vacation.

We – along with many other cruisers – were certainly not

Old lamp post against modern city

happy about being up at 5:30 to get ready for a tour while on vacation. The thing is, the reason didn’t make any sense. We were in port around 10 – 11 pm the night before so getting in “early” shouldn’t have make a difference. The only thing I can think of is that the tour company changed the time for some reason. I really don’t think Princess would do something like that and piss off so many of their passengers.

It wasn’t raining hard; it was more like a wet mist. Still, most of the people on the tour were older and many of them didn’t want to get off the bus. We came to a square with an interesting building that looked like a church. It was the Plaza de la Independencia of Casco Viejo. We were supposed to get out there and walk around the square looking at historical “stuff.” No one moved to get off the bus.

Plaza de la Independencia

Finally I asked our guide if it would be OK to get off. He said that was fine. So, Tom and me, and one woman, got off. We walked over to some tents that people were in the process of taking down and took some photos.

I realized that: I don’t melt in the rain; the rain was warm, not cold, like it is at home; and if I didn’t take the initiative, I would be spending the day on the bus trying to take pictures through the raindrops on the bus’ windows.

We have seen a lot of poverty in our travels, especially in Mexico. The little bit of poverty we saw in Panama was as bad,

Downtown Panama City with the "Screw" building

or worse, than anything I’ve ever seen. A family with at least one young child was living in a building that was gutted, abandoned and clearly not intended for habitation. I saw a young child standing in an open door with a tipped over plastic trike nearby.

As we passed by, I took a quick glance inside and saw what looked like a trash dump. It was one room, maybe 20′ by 30′ deep. It was black inside – black walls and black ceiling – and at the other end of the room a small door

The Golden Alter

that let in the only light. I don’t understand why everything was black. Had someone painted the walls and ceiling that color? Had the building caught on fire at some point and people were living with the soot? The saddest part, though, was that despite the child looking as if he wasn’t getting enough to eat, someone had spent money on a large flat screen TV!

Our tour took us to the old city “La Viejo,” colonial city and the current,

modern, city with all of its traffic, rushing around and frenetic pace. I found very little beauty in any of them. Granted, this is their rainy season and no

city looks good in the rain, but there was very little color evident in buildings, and very few parks. We didn’t have time to go out into the countryside but, given the amount of rain they receive, I imagine that is very beautiful.

It seemed like many of the buildings in the old city and colonial city were

gutted. The colonial city has very old buildings that looked like they were functional, but several of the churches we drove past were empty shells. We stopped at the Church of San José in the San Felipe district to see the golden alter.

The church with the golden alter is so plain on the outside that it would be

A standing wall at the ruins

very easy to walk right past it. Back in the 1670s, Henry Morgan, an English pirate, attacked and burned down Old Panama. The Jesuit monks painted the alter black

to hide the gold and the pirates left it alone. When the siege was over, the Jesuits moved the alter to a new church where it resides today. The church is dimly lit with many candles so it is difficult to take photos of it.

Doing the Vulture Dance!

Our tour guide said that while most of the people were Catholics, they had a large number of Baptists, Jewish, Muslim and other religions as well. The Spanish first occupied the city; the French started the work in the Canal; and then the United States came in to finish it. All of this makes for a city – and country – of great diversity.

My favorite part of the tour came at the end when we

Part of the ruins

visited the beautiful ruins of the old city that Henry Morgan destroyed. On one end of the vast space is a four-story bell tower marking one side of the church.

One wall of the church is still standing although many of the stones have fallen over. Behind the wall are smaller pieces of the other sides. The stones have beautiful moss on them.

Orange Flowers on Stone Wall

We were looking around when a woman asked our guide, “What kind of birds are up there?” I looked to where she was pointing and saw vultures! There were two of them and they were dancing around each other. Our guide said it was mating season. Vultures mate for life so I don’t imagine the male had to work that hard – unless the female wasn’t in the mood in front of all these people watching them!

We really enjoy cruising, but one of the negatives to this kind of travel is the limited amount of time you have to explore a port of call. Occasionally you’ll find an itinerary with a two-day stay in a port. You can easily get a “taste” of many cities and countries on a cruise. Then we use that experience to decide where we would like to return and spend more time.

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