Panama, Costa Rica, Cayman Islands

Caribbean, International

It’s all about dancing, Baby. And about new adventure. It’s a tradition that the two of us have participated in since 2002. A group of dance friends gather on a cruise ship and head out for a tour of some portion of the Caribbean each winter. Every time it’s a mix of regulars and new friends. This year the count is twenty-six. Four of us were on the first cruise, ten are new this year, and six of us who are truly “Frequent Floaters”! We dance every night and even more on days at sea, and in port we head off in search of adventure, often in groups.

This time we departed on Friday March 16th from Port of Tampa on Florida’s west coast aboard Carnival Pride. Small by today’s standards, accommodating just 2124 passengers, but that’s a necessary asset since the height of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge limits the size of ship that can pass under, mega ships don’t fit.

Tuesday 19 March 2024: After two Days at Sea, we arrived at our first destination, Puerto Limón, Costa Rica. For us it was a first foray into this second smallest Central American country. As a group, sixteen of us opted for a local tour, arranged by our intrepid organizer, dance instructor, and dear friend, Arleene. “Pura Vida”, that’s the greeting we got from Juan Carlos, our guide with Relax Day Tours as we boarded the bus before we headed out for a tour of the city of Limón, a boat ride in the canals of Tortuguero National Park, a visit to a banana plantation, and an option to shop in a local supermarket. Juan Carlos regaled us with commentary and local history and along with our bus driver and boat operator spotted an amazing array of wildlife. We saw lizards and iguanas including one species that can run on top of water, so many birds including the snowy egret that uses it’s fingers to catch fish, howler monkeys, a caiman – similar to but smaller than an alligator or crocodile, both two-toed and three-toed sloths. We learned so much about tropical fruits, coffee, and cacao agriculture especially organic practices and got to sample some of the products. Because of time constraints most of us opted to skip the chance to shop for banana vinegar, local coffee, and vanilla but stayed on the bus while a select few made a hurried stop. All in all it gave us a wonderful start to learning about this peaceful democratic country.

Wednesday 20 March 2024: The next day, at the suggestion of our captain, we joined many many of our fellow passengers aboard out on deck at dawn to witness our ship’s approach to the Panama Canal. All around us we could see dozens of ships at anchor awaiting an opportunity to make the passage as we were approaching the breakwater entrance to the canal. We watched the boats arrive to deliver the local personnel to guide us into port and through the lock. We had two pilots to guide us, twenty-two line handlers to keep us centered in the lock, and a local historian to narrate our passage. In the early hours, the two of us stood at the railing at starboard aft on Deck 9 watching our passage past the breakwater, under the Bridge of the Americas and into the Gatun Locks (here’s a webcam) on the Atlantic (Caribbean) side of the canal, near Colón City, named for Christopher Columbus. Each of us would at times walk to port side or to the bow to get different perspectives as our line handlers got us connected to the cog locomotives known as “mules” that would propel and guide us through the three sections of Gatun Lock on the Atlantic side of the canal. We were fascinated listening to the history of the canal as we passed through the various gates. Our ship was progressively lifted as the water level rose in each section of the lock. Then we headed out into Gatún Lake, one of the world’s largest manmade freshwater lakes. From there we headed inside for a Q&A session with the historian then to breakfast and a siesta. Then around two o’clock our ship had turned around and was heading back into the eastbound lane of the lock for our return passage. This time we posted ourselves at the bow on Deck 9 as we passed through the first two sets of gates. Besides lots of photos, we shot a time-lapse video condensing one hour forty-five minute segment of our passage into twenty-three seconds. You can view it here. When we were in the third lock we watched the transit from Deck 3 which put us at the top of the wall of the lock, almost close enough to touch it. You can see another time-lapse video here taken from right next to the canal wall. It is truly an amazing feat on engineering and we loved the entire experience!

Friday 22 March 2024: After another Day at Sea, our ship anchored just off the coast of George Town, Cayman Islands on Grand Cayman Island. This is a tender port. Today three cruise ships anchored in the harbor enabling perhaps eight thousand passengers to be ferried to the island of Grand Cayman for a few hours of adventure. Eighteen of our group tendered into town together but after the first stop at for refreshment at a gelato shop we split into two groups. Some walked to the museum. After downloading directions using the free wifi (We’ve never yet paid for wifi aboard a cruise ship.) at the gelato shop, nine of us trekked nearly a mile in the tropical sun to the Cayman Spirits Distillery for a fun rum tasting and distillery tour. The two of us came away with Seven Fathoms Rum on our shopping list for an at home purchase and a bottle of H.H.Hutching’s Amaretto representing 50% of our duty-free allotment. From the distillery four taxied back to the ship. One taxied to Seven Mile Beach and four of us walked back into George Town in search of more rum. We scored! We’ll also be coming home with a bottle of BBD Vanilla Rum. And we walked past the remains of Fort George and a coastal lookout station on the way back to the ship.

Aside from the Three Days of Adventure, we had four Days at Sea during which it really was All About Dancing! With so much opportunity – we’d get together twice during the day to learn more about the basic steps that comprise social dance and the structure of the music that we dance to, as well as the history of Lindy Hop and East Coast Swing, and the techniques and etiquette of Steal Dancing . In the evenings we were usually in the Red Frog Lounge dancing to the strains of Alter Idem. Sometimes they’d play familiar swing dance tunes and sometimes they’d challenge us to find the beat in songs we’d never before thought of as danceable. It was glorious to have the opportunity to dance with so many partners, some just getting a feel for social dancing and others quite accomplished. It’s been a glorious week, ending all too soon.

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