Top 6 Most Memorable Moments about Our Panama Canal Cruise

There are so many unforgettable moments throughout our 14 day cruise, but I narrowed them down to six.


6. Palo As many of you saw in my blog posts, we went to Palo three times during this cruise. Disney service is already excellent, but Palo service is the epitome of excellence. I rarely splurge on 6-course meals back home so this was definitely a treat.


5. The Broadway-style Entertainment We went to almost every show that they offered on the cruise including Toy Story The Musical, Dreams, and the Golden Mickey’s. The concert featuring Susan Egan with a guest appearance from Jeanne Lehman (the original Belle and Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast on Broadway) to sing Beauty and the Beast together was a “lump-in-throat” moment. Hearing their stories re-confirmed my passion for theatre. The comedians, magicians and even the crew staff had some amazing talents that kept us highly entertained.

The Cruise Staff Showcasing their Talents at Pub Night


4. The Old City in Cartagena, Colombia and Puerto Vallarta We love architecture, old buildings and history. The old city in Cartegena had all of that and more. Puerto Vallarta was simply beautiful. We could definitely go back to these places again to spend more time.


3. A Number of Firsts: This was the first time I learned how to make towel origami, went horseback riding in Cabo San Lucas, kayaked in Costa Maya, crossed the Panama Canal, visited Mexico and South America, and participated in Disney Cruise’s line’s first ever flash mob. All in 14 days. What a journey!

Towel Origami (Can you tell which one is mine and which one is the host’s?)


2. Crossing the Panama Canal This was the climax of the trip. Disney prepped us nicely by providing the retired pilot captain to tell us what to expect as well as a narrator during the canal crossing. It was exciting to see how man took this mountain range, turned it into a lake and created these enormous locks for huge ships to cross from one ocean to another. Amazing.

Retired Pilot Captain Puckett and his wife


1. Being on a beach and doing absolutely nothing in Costa Maya at Maya Chan This was the highlight of our vacation. I can look at the ocean for hours. Yes, I had an oceanview from my private verandah, but at Maya Chan, the hosts served us like royalty. We had all-inclusive drinks, buffet lunch, and a spectacular view of the ocean. I could definitely go back there again.


Final Thoughts
Melvin and I agree that we could definitely do this cruise again. We met quite a few friends that we plan on staying in touch with for a long time. I will miss having my room cleaned twice a day, not having to cook or think, hard, about what to eat, and relaxing. I did miss my boys a lot so it’s good to be home.

Me and our great Cruise Director, Christiaan


Two of Our Great Tablemates


Our next cruising journeys include the Mediterranean and the West Caribbean in 2013. Stay tuned for those in addition to a few land getaways here and there.

Hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures. Thanks for cruising with us.


Our last night

Last night was our last night at Palo. We went to Palo three times during this cruise. Photos cost a fortune so this is the only pic we bought on the ship.


Tonight is the last night on the cruise. We are packing now. I went to a towel origami class and learned to make a dog, chicken, bear, swan and elephant. Tonight there is Susan Egan in concert. She created the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway.

More thoughts about my entire cruise coming later.

Costa Maya: If you’re reading this on 12/21/12, then somebody was wrong

Today we are in Costa Maya, Mexico. Ironic that we are in a Mayan area on the very day the world is supposed to end according to the Mayan calendar. A lot of people went to the Mayan ruins as part of the Disney excursions to commemorate this experience, but Melvin and I chose a private beach resort called Maya Chan that was highly recommended on trip advisor. It’s literally off the beaten (and I mean literally beaten) path but well worth the loose fillings for that bumpy ride. It costs $45 a person and we paid through paypal. The hosts were very nice and accommodating.


It is a quaint little all-inclusive resort. Don’t think plush hotel rooms, carpet and the like. There’s a bar in the middle with small palapas (mini grass huts) with hammocks, lounge chairs and bali beds. They offer 1/2 hour massages on the beach for $25 and 1 hr for $45. They also have free wifi!


Drinks are included so we’ve already had a pineapple express (pineapple, mango and rum) welcome drink and a mango colada. A buffet lunch is also included: grilled skirt steak, chicken, fish, cochinita pibil (pork wrapped in banana leaves cooked w/ annato and sour oranges), charro beans, queso manchego, pico de gallo, salsa verde and other goodies. If you don’t like this stuff, they can make you a hot dog or taco (at least that’s what they’re offering the kids).


Kayaking and snorkeling are included as well so we are no longer kayak virgins! The boat had a glass bottom so it was cool to see the underneath us. The water is warm and calm today so I just drifted a lot. It was so nice to float on the Atlantic Ocean. So peaceful but I got a heck of an upper body workout with all that paddling.

Kayaking for the first time (i’m in the green kayak)



There are also floaty chairs with umbrellas in the water (family that came with us)


Melvin in our palapa


We’ll be here for a few more hours so there’s a webcam if you wanna see us!

Adios amigos!


ODB: Overdose on Breakfast and Brunch

Today is a sea day, so we are taking it easy. There is a Pixar trivia and Movie Quote trivia session as well as a Disney Vacation Club mixer later on. A woman showed me how to play shuffleboard this morning during my 2 mile walk. There is a magic workshop today as well as the crew talent show tonight. I may check out Monsters Inc in 3D at the movies, but enough about my relaxing day…

Melvin and I went to Palo for brunch earlier this morning. Their brunch is absolutely positively out of this world. First, let me share the regular awesome breakfast buffet that you get in either Beach Blanket Buffet or Parrot Cay. My pictures don’t do it justice but you get the idea.

Cheeses, Smoked Salmon




Toppings for Hot Cereals or Yogurt


Sausage, Bacon, Potatoes, Eggs, Pancakes

There is also an omelet station with Mickey waffles as well as oatmeal and cream of wheat area.

A Palo Brunch
A Palo brunch is an additional $20 per person. It is adults-only and no jeans, shorts or flip flops ar allowed. The manager assigned our server, Toni, from dinner the other night. The chef personally welcomed us back as well as the other servers who remembered us from the other night.

When we had our first Palo brunch a few years ago, we were totally overwhelmed. There is an abundance of choices that the your server walks you through a tour of each station. Brunch comes with a complimentary glass of champagne or mimosa.

Station #1: hot sticky buns, breakfast type sweets and breads


Station #2: cheeses, crackers, nuts, grapes, breads (blue cheese and walnut bread was excellent!)


Station #3: antipasti, tomato/mozzarella, mini bloody marys


Station #4: shrimp cocktail, crab legs, salmon mousse, caviar

Pizzas: you can order a personal sized pizza after you eat all of the above. The choices include a grape/blue cheese, margherita, spicy sausage and another one. Toni will bring it to you plated. You can order half and half if you feel you can’t eat a whole one.
Breakfast Hot Dishes: If you want a hot breakfast, in additional to all of the above, you can order eggs florentine, frittata, pancakes. This is also plated for you.
Lunch Hot Dishes: If you want lunch, in addition to all of the above, you can order chicken parmesan, veal, tilapia and something else. Again, plated.


The head chef at Palo (very nice and warm guy)


Station #5: Desserts


Palo is on deck 10 at the back of the ship (aft) with a beautiful panoramic view of the ocean. It’s a luxury that’s worth every bite. We are going there to dinner again tomorrow night.

Ice Sculpture


Captain Black Sparrow and his wench

Last night was pirate night on the ship. People go all out and dress up like pirates. Even Melvin. We skipped our regular 8:15 dinner and saw Wreck-It Ralph in 3D. Then we partied at the Pirates of the Caribbean Deck Party on the top deck. They shot fireworks off of the ship at the end of the party. Disney is the only cruise ship allowed to shoot fireworks. They had an elaborate buffet after the party until 11:15pm. Fruit, tacos, giant turkey legs, honey glazed ham, and two dessert stations including a crepes bar! They say folks average about 5 lbs on a cruise. Now do you see why?

Pirates IN the Caribbean Deck Party


Captain Black Sparrow


Pirate Night Buffet










The Captain and his wench


Today is a sea day so we’re going to Palo for brunch. I will share pictures of the brunch buffet as well as the regular restaurant’s breakfast buffet later.

Banged in Cartagena then found the dark side of the Holy Ghost

Today we were in Cartagena, Colombia, South America.

Cartagena Skyline


This was the first time we did a private tour instead of a Disney excursion. We went on a city tour guided by Marelvy Pena-Hall who has been touring since the 1990s. She’s Colombiana and her husband is an artist from Pittsburgh. There were 18 of us and it was $55 a person. The tour was worth it even though it was a sunny and humid 82 degrees today. (My hair actually held up!)

Marelvy with Cartagena in the distance


When we got off the ship, we were welcomed by the locals. The women in the beautiful dresses are from the only culture in Colombia that speaks a mixture of African and Spanish. In the old city, if you take their picture, they charge a dollar. They have an abundance of emeralds and flowers. Also 15% of the biodiversity (different types of species -I had to ask Melvin what that meant) of the earth is in Colombia. They export oil and import gas because they don’t have refineries. Gas was $6.00 a gallon!

Our Welcome to Cartegena


The african/spanish ladies


Banged in Cartagena
We started in Manga which is an island within the city of Cartagena de Indias (Cartagena for short). Went to the top of a hill to La Popa which used to be a monastery for a perfect lookout over the city. On the way up the windy road, our van got banged by another van. Nobody was hurt but our driver was pretty upset. There were a lot of motorbikes along the way known as mototaxis. They pick up a person and they pay a fare just like taxis. They are working on a road that will have bus stops. Folks are used to catch buses like we catch a taxi in the U.S. They get on where they are and get off when they need to get off. Marelvy said that folks will not be happy with bus stops.

Mototaxis (cannot work on every other Friday)


Pictures Inside La Popa (pays homage to the Virgin de Candle Mass…she looks over the entire city)






The Old City
This place was the best part of the tour for me. I loved the spanish colonial architecture. The folks paint their houses every year before Christmas because the rainy season lasts from April to November.

Church of San Pedro Claver (patron of the slaves)


San Pedro Claver, a slave and Melvin


Pictures around the Old City









House of the richest man in Cartegena (he works in radio/tv)


Hotel where the celebrities stay; used to be a monestary


Espiritu Santo (Holy Ghost)
Marelvy took us to where the locals go for lunch called Espiritu Santo which translates to the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost. Melvin and I shared a ribeye steak platter with plantains, coconut rice and salad for $10. They didn’t speak english so we ordered through Marelvy. It was a nice clean restaurant with air conditioning…until the electricity went out so we had to move to the front where we could see what we were eating. Good thing they cooked with gas.



I enjoyed Cartagena but didn't like the pushiness of the vendors. They would hold stuff up in your face until you walked away or said "no gracias". They would even knock on the windows of the van to try to sell you their stuff. It was very annoying at times.

Melvin said he could come back because he liked the history, pretty buildings and architecture. He said there was a lot of life here. I could come back but not as a tourist and just "be" in the culture with the locals. If you're in Cartagena, check out Marelvy.

Marelvy and us


We’re pushing off now and heading to Costa Maya. After two sea days, we will be there on the day the world ends 12.21.12 (according to the Mayan calendar). I asked the cruise director if there would be t-shirts. He said that since some people take it very seriously, so Disney wouldn’t be celebrating it. Shucks.

By the way, the ship scraped the side of one of the Panama Canal locks yesterday. It scraped rocks into one of the porthole windows. By the time, we got outside, they had repainted the side of the ship.

Tonight is Pirate night so we’ll be going to the Pirates of the Caribbean party and the late night buffet. Will share pix of that later.

Have a great night mateys!

Fancy dinner at Palo on the Disney Wonder

As I told you in an earlier blog, Melvin and I went to Palo restaurant the other night. It is an adult-exclusive restaurant featuring northern Italian cuisine. We had about six courses. I had a huge “food baby” afterwords. Our server, Toni, was featured in World Traveler magazine for excellent service. He’s a 6’5″ nice guy from Croatia. He was very knowledgeable about the dishes and how each dish was prepared. Working in Palo is a promotion from the rotational restaurants so you have to be top notch to work here. All of his recommendations were spot on.


We started with antipasti from the antipasti table. The 400-day aged parmesan cheese along with the 8 year old aged balsamic vinegar was a great start. For appetizer, I had the northern bean soup with prosciutto. Smooth and smoky. Melvin had a shrimp dish. For entree, I couldn’t decide on the lasagna or the lobster & mascarpone ravioli. Toni recommended that we get a small pasta dish such as the lasagna and get a meat entree for our main course. So we both got a small lasagna and lobster ravioli. Lemon sorbet to cleanse the palate. Next was the beef tenderloin w/ gorgonzola cheese. Melvin had the sea bass in parchment paper. Palo is known for their chocolate souffle which they pre-order for you. Toni recommended a light panna cotta with delicious berries at the bottom. And they give you a small lemoncello mixed with lemon sorbet to finish the night. Bon appetit!

White Bean Soup with Prosciutto, Red Cabbage & Radishes


Lobster & Mascarpone Ravioli


Mini Portion of Lasagna


Beef Tenderloin with Gorgonzola Cheese


Lemon Sorbet to cleanse the palate


Vanilla Panna Cotta with Berries at Bottom and Biscotti Bites


Tiramisu (check out the cookie spoon)


THE Chocolate Soufflé with Chocolate and Vanilla Sauces and Vanilla Ice Cream


We are going back for brunch and another dinner later this week. The brunch is absolutely out of this world!

We are now in Cartagena Colombia. Will share pix of our city tour tomorrow. Then its’s two more sea days before Costa Maya. Have a great day!

Cruising the Panama Canal right now!

I was up before the sun. Excited. Giddy. We started at 6:30 am and won’t finish until about 5:30pm. We’re finally back on East Coast time. Ugh. Disney is offering a Panama stamp for our passports as we go through. Right not, we are anchored to refuel. Outside our verandah, we saw about 7 cargo ships waiting to go through. The Panama City skyline in the distance (skyskrapers for about 3 million people). I saw the pilot tugboat come alongside the ship for the pilot to climb aboard. Exciting.

They are narrating what we’re seeing on the top decks. It is hot and humid outside and i just got my hair done yesterday so my time out is limited. lol There is a channel in our stateroom that has a view of front that will also have narration. They also reserved a deck for folks in wheelchairs. Nice.

They have warned us that at times we will be in arms length to people and not to pass or receive anything or the ship will be fined. dang.

There is a live feed of the Panama Canal. It is a webcam of the Miraflores Locks and the Gatun Locks. We approached Miraflores around 800am (took about an hour to go thru) and Gatun Locks around 1:45pm (could take about 2 hours). We’re the black, red, white and yellow ship with the mouse on the smokestacks. 🙂 Our ship is not called the Disney Wonder; it’s N17Zulu. N for going north; 17 for being the 9th ship (they go in odd #s) and then Zulu for being a passenger ship. Lemme know if you see us!

Here’s the canal transit schedule for today:


The narrator said that cruise ships make up 2% of the canal transit. Their best customers are cargos, tankers, container ships, etc. Cool. I’m on a 2% ship!

Here’s photos of the Bridge of the Americas (connects Central and South America) :




Passing another ship along the way


As of 12:00pm…..
Here are more photos as we went through the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks. In the first locks, there were three chambers that raised us 27 feet in each chamber. In the second set, we were raised 52 feet in one chamber. An analogy is like a water elevator.

Miraflores Locks (the webcam is in the red/white building on left)


Going thru canal. Silver locomotive is one of 8 that are connected to our ship via lines that keep us centered in the canal; our ship has 2 feet to spare in the locks)


My Panama passport stamp!


Centennial Bridge


A terraced mountain to deter mudslides


The jail that holds General Manuel Noriega, former dictator of Panama (remember him from 1989?)


Palm trees that live 80 years, bloom, then die


Now we’re cruising Gatun Lake and are set to arrive at the Gatun locks around 1:45pm. It’s time for the ship’s international barbecue lunch and a nap til then.

As of 4:24pm
We just finished going through the last of the canal locks called the Gatun locks. We went down in three locks. (Went up in the Miraflores) If any of ya’ll were watching on the webcam at Gatun, Melvin and I were in the exact back of the ship on a friend’s handicapped-accessible HUGE deck. (Got a tan while we were out there too.) We had an awesome view of the lock gates, water filling up and leaving out of the lock, and the ship rising and falling. People passing us on other ships and even the canal workers were just as excited seeing us as we were seeing them. They were taking pictures of us like we were of them. Like I said, only 2% are cruise ships that go through yearly, and Disney goes through about 2x a year if that. Mickey was on deck and waved to the people on a container ship. They went ballistic!! It was such a joy to see their faces.

Here are some pictures of the Gatun locks:
Me and Mel in front of a lock


One of the steps in the Gatun lock


Another step down in the Gatun lock (check out ship behind us in the first step)


Look how massive this lock gate is!


Seeing the canal made the entire cruise worth it. I would absolutely do this cruise again. Perhaps going westbound from Miami to LA.

Now we are heading to Cartagena, Colombia for our port stop tomorrow morning. It will be our first time in South America. Will be doing a city tour with a group that we found off of Trip Advisor. I am exhausted from being up since 5am and out in the sun. (oh the life of a cruiser! lol) I’ll share last night’s fine dining experience in Palo with y’all tomorrow. Later!

Disney Wonder and I are no longer flash mob virgins

Our first flash mob together
I am no longer a flash mob virgin! Today, I was in Disney Cruise line’s first ever flash mob! No other Disney ship has done it before. The crowd didn’t know when we were doing it. It was during the Farewell to the Pacific party. We just had rehearsal last night for about an hour and boy was it a workout! There were at least 100 of us. Songs included the Jackson’s ABC, Single Ladies, Walk this Way, Beat It, Dynamite, What is Love?/No More (with the head bop from SNL). I’ll have to upload the video when I get back shoreside cuz these minutes are astronomical at sea. (I’m wearing yellow and sunshades under the deck and by the jacuzzi.)

Deck 9 at Goofy Pool before flash mob

Deck 9 at Goofy Pool before flash mob

Natural Hair Chronicles
Got my hair done by Cornel, a Romanian guy who lives in England now. He said it was such a pleasure doing my hair and wished I could have left it in its curly state. He said African Americans rarely come to get their hair done in the salon. I told him that I couldn’t have gone two weeks without someone putting their hands in it. He got it really straight and it only cost $48…cheaper than my mani/pedi! He originally blocked an hour for my appointment, but when he started washing it, he said, “um, I’m going to go block some extra time.” lol

Fine Dining
Tonight, Melvin and I are going to Palo, the upscale Italian restaurant that’s outside of the three rotational restaurants. You have to dress up and pay an additional $20 for this place and it’s adults only. The service in the restaurants is outstanding, but the level of fine dining service in Palo is beyond amazing. If you can’t decide between entrees, they will give you both. I’ll share pix in a later blog.

Palo (Italian fine dining)

Palo (Italian fine dining)

Venetian masks in entrance of Palo

Venetian masks in entrance of Palo

Elevator lobby to Palo (the elevators are flanked by poles that gondolas in Venice are tied to)

Elevator lobby to Palo (the elevators are flanked by poles that gondolas in Venice are tied to)

Tomorrow, we cross the Panama Canal! They are going to narrate on tv what we’re seeing as well as put in the navigator certain milestones to look out for. We have a balcony and will look from there as well as go to the top deck to see both sides. One couple has invited us to their cabin as they have a handicapped-accessible room and their verandah is about 5-10 times larger than ours, so we’ll be having a canal watching party there.

See ya real soon!

Sea Day #5: Secrets of the Canal and Art of the Show Tour

Secrets of the Canal…stuff that I learned in the lecture series

Today, I jogged two miles, saw Wreck-It Ralph in the movie theatre (cute little movie!) and had breakfast and lunch watching the sea go by. I also attended the third lecture about the Panama Canal. The retired pilot captain told us how pilots come aboard via tugboat and skimpy ladder to take over navigational control of the ship. During our crossing of the canal, we will have three pilots because our ship is so huge. He said that in order to become a Panama Canal pilot you have to pilot the canal at least 165 times and then you take a test where you have to draw the canal from memory: all the buoys, markers, locks, etc.

A picture showing a set of the canal locks


The tolls that the ships have to pay when they cross are based on cargo. We, the passengers, are cargo, so it’s $132 per berth. There are about 1900 of us on board. Then there are empty cabins; they get charged $108 per berth. Ship can hold 2700. Then they are charged for the weight of the ship. So in essence, the Disney Wonder has paid over $330,000. Money has to be in the bank before crossing and ship’s have to be on time or they get delayed. There are about 45 ships that go through a day. It’s like a two lane highway.

The retired pilot captain said that 46,000 people died building the French canal. I’m reading Path Between the Seas which discusses the history of the first path, railroad and canals before the current one now. It says that it only counted white laborers who died when building the railroad between the continents. It is said that one person died for every railroad tie on the railroad and there are over 72,000 ties. There were many Chinese, Jamaicans, and other persons of color or ethnicity that they just didn’t count.

The continental divide that we are crossing is a lake that took seven years to flood so the land that we see while we’re crossing are the tops of mountains. Wow. We will be crossing from the Pacific to the Atlantic and between South America and Central America. Cool!

Map of our 14-day journey


A map showing the ship’s current position


We cross the canal on Monday. It will take an entire day for us to cross starting at 6:30am. I’ll share more details and pictures then.

Art of the Show Tour
We took an “Art of the Show” tour. The tour guide knew his stuff. He majored in Theatre Performance and his thesis was, “From Disney Parks to Broadway”. His hypothesis was that most child’s first introduction to the stage is usually at a Disney theme park. For example, when you walk into a park, under a proscenium, there are “curtains” that hide the main attraction being the Magic Kingdom. The curtains are the other buildings throughout the park. People who work for Disney are called cast members or crew and we are their guests. On the cruise, whenever a Disney person is in the hall, in the dining room, or out in front of guests, they are considered “onstage” so they are always on. When they go behind the crew doors, they are considered “backstage”.

The tour guide showed us all the intentional details that went into designing the Wonder. They didn’t want to overwhelm guests with Disney everything but they wanted to maintain a feel of the classic ships from days of the Titanic. Little things like the men and women bathroom signs have Ladies and Gentlemen on them. There is an elegant woman an gentlemen dressed up from the early 1900s. The carpets that have animals are the guests areas and those with anchors are for entertainment. There are also marble floors in some areas. There are over 100+ different types of carpet on board. Even the artwork on each floor represents what type of floor it is.

The floor with the children’s nursery and kids’ clubs has a lower ceiling so that kids can feel taller and in control. The theatres have rich red curtains in front of the screen and the stage. Attention to detail is evident here. Now, since I have time, I’m noticing everything.

Here are some pictures from around the ship. The Disney Wonder (art deco) and Disney Magic (art nouveau) are sister ships so they practically have the same elements but are designed differently. Enjoy!

Animator’s Palate restaurant where the wall characters change colors during dinner (one of the 3 rotational restaurants)


Triton’s French Restaurant


Route 66: The area with all the adult clubs and lounges


The carpet goes along Route 66 from Chicago to LA


Cadillac Lounge. They have Martini & Music nights for adults only.


Mickey Mouse cartoon storyboard in the hall


Christmas Tree in the grand lobby


The lobby chandelier modeled after the one in the Bellagio in Vegas