Panama Canal Cruise
April 3-16, 1999
Royal Caribbean's m/s Rhapsody of the Seas

Please Click a Link below to go right into the Photos
Canal Crossing Photos Cruise Cuisine (Food)
The Rhapsody Photos
Excursions and Ports
Bridge and Theatre Tour

Here are some interesting facts and information about our Panama Canal Cruise, the ship,
the canal itself the camera used and other stuff that you probably could care less about.

All of the Photographs on these pages are shot with our Agfa 1280 Digital Camera.
While I've had this camera for a few months, this was the first major event for it.

This camera was "retired" by a roller coaster.
I now shoot with an Olympus 3040.

Example ImageRhapsody of the Seas:

The current flagship for Royal Caribbean. 915 Feet Long. 105½ Feet Wide. 78,000 tonnes dry weight.
This was a repositioning cruise with Rhapsody moving to the Pacific for Alaska, with a side trip to Hawaii.
The menu was a special Panama Repositioning menu, and while the food was good, it was no where near what we had experienced on some of our other cruises. This was echoed by many others onboard also.
We had about 1850 passengers, almost 400 less than their last 7-day Caribbean cruise.
One cruiser won the grand prize at the Crown and Anchor Cocktail Party for his 46th Royal Caribbean cruise.
As appears to be traditional, Panama Canal cruises are an older group of cruisers, but we had some youngsters as it was Spring Vacation, and there were many in our (Boomer) age range, and there was never a problem finding a spot at the pool.
Capt Kjetil Gjerstad and his crew kept us on course and on time, and Hotel Director Bob Tavadia maintained an excellent staff.
The deck crew was busy keeping Rhapsody white, and they look to have been the first off the ship in Costa Rica to cover the marks that she had from some scrapes against the Canal in the Pedro Miguel locks.
Temporary fill-in Cruise Director was Dan (Dan-Dan the Party Man, formerly Dan-Dan the DJ Man) Whitney, who did an admirable job. He pointed out that his staff is just 5 or 6 people, and they are Extra Hard-Working, Fantastic and always coordinated in their attire. Entertainment included the Wave Revue Singers and Dancers (many of which we got to know from the Theatre Production classes, but set to go off the ship in May), Billy Prudhomme, Renato Pagliari, Victor and Diamond, Shirley Harmer and Beni Mason, Kelly Monteith, Russel Merlin, Maria Neglia, Alan and Shane, Naki Ataman, Tony Tillman and Joey Van. Big John did some Elvis at Karioki night, but he really excelled at the Belly Flop contest!

Example ImageRandom Information from Our Vacation:

Our cruise started in San Juan PR and ended in San Diego CA.
The total cruise was 4150 nautical miles, which is about 4770 statute miles. I don't have the total air mileage.
RCI's Travel Specialists had us fly from SFO to Chicago on an 11pm red-eye, then on to San Juan after an almost 3-hour layover. We were onboard Rhapsody at about 4pm, and there was no crowd as boarding started a few hours earlier. Almost everyone on our planes were on the cruise and we got to know many of them over the two weeks. Rumor had it that many of the LA cruisers had a direct charter, but those going through Dallas almost missed the ship due to weather problems.
We were in our stateroom, 4520 on the Main deck, and our bags were delivered within a reasonable amount of time
Our return flight had us in the San Diego Airport before 9am but the flights didn't depart until after 3pm. United didn't allow us to check in our bags early so we had to hang and wait. (We found a nice quiet spot to sit and crash, unused baggage waiting area past Gate 19 I believe)
The people just coming for their Rhapsody cruise to Hawaii reminded me of how excited we were when we landed in San Juan, walking past all those poor tired and hot people just leaving Rhapsody (or one of 4 others ships in port) and waiting to fly back to points unwanted.
Funny thing is that we disembarked Rhapsody in San Diego 13 days later, and these new cruisers were flying into the airport and could see their home for the next 10 days, but had to bus to Mexico as Rhapsody was departing to Hawaii from from Ensenada, Mexico.
Finding our baggage was easier than anticipated, but we were assisting two elderly sisters that were our table and Bingo mates, and it was tougher to find their baggage as we had minimal idea what to look for. Escaping Customs was a breeze, but then the dogs had made their rounds of the baggage earlier. (We weren't even close to the $400 limit and had no Cuban smokes or alcohol to declare)
The bus from Port of San Diego to the Airport is short and painless.
A group of us took 2nd place THREE TIMES in the Trivial Contests. This was unexpected to say the least. I hold a top prize from Trivia on RCCL Song of America 1993, and our other partners are ace players also. I think it was the What Color is Yak's Milk question that toppled us. The answer is Pink, we said Blue. At least we blew away Team 8!
We hold a collection of Silver medals, water wallets, key chains and other trinkets awarded from the Cruise Directors staff. (As for my dress, I consider "Smart Casual" anything that includes long pants and shoes that one should wear socks with. My trivia partners were seated directly next to the Captain's table, so they dressed slightly more upscale most nights.)
BOOZE ON SHIP? We stocked up on Beer, White Wine, Bottled Water and Soda right at the San Juan Port. No problem and a decent deal. We brought Red Wine packed in bags for the room that nearly made it for the entire cruise.
(As we knew the cabin was going to be fridge-less, I brought a 24-can foldable cooler that our room steward keep stocked with ice, and I kept stocked with beer and white wine.)
Purchases on Rhapsody were $3.75-$3.95 per glass of wine, we did inexpensive $17 bottles of Red at dinner that lasted 2 seatings, Beer was $3.50-$4.00, one Draft receipt is for $2.95, Margarita's were $3.95 or $4.95 for a larger glass, but Margarita's were on special quite often at $1 savings. Soda is $2.25-$2.95 if I remember. We're not mixed drink drinkers but some of our tablemates did Martini's and Pina Coladas at other gatherings, and I think they were $3.95. Daily specials, keep the glass specials, shooter specials are available always. One thing to be aware of is the 15% gratuity added to all drink purchases, even bottled water and soda. (You get the bill slipped under your door at the end of the cruise... we keep track on the laptop so we are not surprised)
As we were at Sea for 5 days or more, RCI offered us a chance to participate in their Academy at Sea. I picked the Photography and Theatre Production sessions. Others classes were Health and Fitness, Beauty, and Hospitality and Beverages. Classes were fun and full.
The Photo class, lead by Duncan MacBrayne, was as anticipated but the chance to go to the "0" deck and see the lab was enlightening. It was right at the front of the ship and we had to walk over support strutts to get into viewing position. We also saw Video checkout for the crew, and their workout room on that deck. (The crew has their own TV channel or two that offers movies that we don't get to see, They must also have VCRs in their cabins)
By far, the Theatre Production class was top in my book. The behind-the-scenes tour was good but the chance to participate in Sound, Lights or Backstage (I did lights under Pete Swoboda), and many actually participated in a musical number on stage that included umbrellas and little else.
Viking Crown Lounge is a great place to view just about everything, but you do notice the rocking of the ship.
The Solarium Pool under the Crystal Canopy was a popular place. The cafe back there serves Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, GREAT French Fries, and some of the worst Pizza known to exist. Soda is only available by the can, and you cannot find Iced Tea or Lemonade like is available at The Windjammer.
There were always places to be alone and with the exception of the last Bingo call (almost $13,000, and won by one person!) a seat was always available at most venues. (Bingo note -- Mitch's wife won Bingo... Mitch Gottleib, not me)
The Library was decently stocked, the Card Room was often busy, and the Explorer's Club and Crown & Anchor Study offered plush chairs and were usually available. On the 6th Deck is the Moonlight Bay Lounge, which is an open Lounge. It was full one special day when a WWII vet remembered his war experiences, as did others that same day.
Most all days on board were sunny and pleasant. Mornings had the ShipShape walkers on the Compass Deck earning their yellow dollars, daytime had a collection of cruisers at one of the two passenger pools, and evenings offered a star-gazers offering that included a special observation deck with some astro-navigator tools.
Our last full day at sea was chilly, never above 55 degrees and a 40-mile-an-hour head wind, so only the brave did their 10th deck laps. (4 laps equal about 1 mile) I don't think I went top-side that day. (Friday in San Diego ended up being nice)

Example ImagePorts of Call and Excursions:

We had Ports of Call in Curacao, Costa Rica, Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas. The Panama Canal is also considered a "Port of Call" but you don't stop.
By far, The Canal was the highlight of the trip.
Aruba might have been a nicer stop than Curacao, but we all enjoyed the island and were excited to watch the floating bridge. It was Easter Monday and that is a holiday, but many shops were open for the ships. Many of the businesses further back were closed. We just walked around the main part of town, and went by some Dutch warships that were holding an open ship, but we didn't go onboard but should have.
Costa Rica's stop was on the Pacific side, in Puntarenas. You have to travel 2 hours to do anything outside the port. We decided to do the River Rafting and we were not disappointed. Monkeys, birds, many iguanas including a 6 footer, and crocodiles. Decent lunch and cold beer, plus captive animals to check out including Toucans. We had a "splashless raft" which wasn't fun. What do I mean by "Splashless"? Anytime someone came near and asked us if we were hot, a man in the front yelled at them "I HAVE A VIDEO CAMERA! DON'T SPLASH US!" What a drag! (and I brought a waterproof point & shoot that didn't even get wet)
Acapulco was amazing! Beaches and Towers and Towers and Beaches. Old, New and Future as they call it. We did the city tour, walked around the Acapulco Princess hotel, then came back to old town to see the cliff divers. After returning to the ship for lunch we walked around Old Acapulco, purchased some trinkets, tried real hard to not be forced into going to the Flea Market or the Shopping Market, and came back to see TWO ships. Rhapsody's sister, Legend of the Seas, had come in. Slightly shorter and with a full miniature golf course on her aft deck, but very alike in looks. (These luck people were spending a wild night in Acapulco)
Of note, our ship's Doctor, Inge Matthieson-Hopkins, is married to the Security Officer on Legend. She got a few hours leave. Many of the two ships crew were at the aft (we were aft-to-aft) and were passing information to each other. "Hey Mon, Tell My Bro Yanni He Still Owe's Me $20!"
Cabo San Lucas was nice. A bit on the cool side but still shorts weather. We walked the town, did some shopping, had Shrimp Cocktail and Shrimp Salad at The Shrimp Factory, and came back to a long hot line waiting for the ship's tenders to take us back home. (We also saw a crew member being taken by ambulance... no real information was disclosed)
It was nice to see that someone left our Yacht there for us, you know the one with the helicopter on the Yacht... ya right! I did hear that OJ spends time in Cabo, maybe it was his?
We were reluctantly on our way at 2pm, hoisting beers on the verandah of stateroom 8570 as Cabo San Lucas' Arch passed from view. Next stop, San Diego.

Example ImageThe Digital Camera: AGFA ePhoto 1280.
The Agfa was replaced by an Olympus 2020
which has been replaced with an Olympus 3040
This Agfa did a great job. There are still many things I don't like, but overall, it performed very well.
We formed a small informal group of Digital Camera users on the ship, with the Afga, Sony Mavicas, Kodak 210+, Olympus 340, and probably some others I forgot about. (The ships Photo Dept had a Fuji 500 for sale) Bottom line -- We all like our digital cameras, but many users had 35mm cameras. (I didn't even bring a Point & Shoot except for the waterproof one for the River trip)
Much of what I like and dislike is pointed out on my Agfa Digital Cam Pages, so check that out if you want more info.
What do I have to add to that information? ISO is low. It is rated at 100 but I doubt if it's that. I sure wish it were true 200.
On Canal Day I shot about 200 pictures. I was on the 3rd set of batteries and they ran out while we were past the locks but in the Port of Balboa on the way to Bridge of Americas and into the Pacific. I had to go to the cabin and get the set in the charger to complete the crossing, and get that sunset shot at the end of Canal Day.
This high use of batteries is not unusual for the 1280, or other cameras, and is directly related to the LCD Viewfinder and lack of Optical Viewfinder. The user with the 210+ said he shot all day on one set of batteries, changing to another set at the end of the day (no Viewfinder use), and Sony users have longer lasting VCR batteries in their cameras.
I brought 3 sets of NiMH 1100 MaH batteries and a charger, 1-4mb and 2-8mb Smart Cards. I also had a laptop and FlashPath adapter. Total saved photos was about 800. It took 2-100mb ZIP's to save that data off the laptop.
My standard resolution was 780, rarely using 1280 or 307. I used both H and S modes, but getting +/- 70 shots per 8mb card, I probably shot more in the 780S mode.

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