Our Travels to
New York City, South and Central America
Neil and Marsha Robin
March 2013
Revised: Nov. 17, 2013


This trip was planned a year in advance.  We wanted to spend a few days in New York City (NYC), Manhattan in particular and then we needed a way to get home. We found Carnival Cruises has a number of trips that leave out of the NYC cruise ship dock so we said, why not?  Carnival has hit some hard times and it makes it attractive for travelers as they lower the rates to attract them.  The particular trip selected was a relocation voyage positioning the Carnival Miracle to the west coast for the summer with trips to the Mexican Riviera, Alaska and Hawaii.  It passed through the Panama Canal which we've never experienced before.  The following is a review of that trip.

Because of the many incompatibilities with different browsers, playing sound bites can be troublesome.  This solution seems to work fine with Internet Explorer and Mozilla but may not work with Google Chrome as they keep finding bugs. You still need to have a plug-in that plays .WAV files which run in the background and you must have Javascript enabled. Some tablet devices do not support Javascript.

New York City, Manhattan

We allowed ourselves three days in Manhattan.  Our base was Times Square at the Holiday Inn Express on 39th Street.  The biggest shock people have visiting NYC is the cost of everything.  The best I could come up with for an acceptable hotel was $215/night which included a nice breakfast.  This was within walking distance of famous Times Square and a subway station.  Probably the most I've ever paid for a hotel on a pleasure trip.  Marsha had never been to NYC before so it was new to her.  The last time I'd been there was 11 years ago on a business trip.  Needless to say we only saw a fraction of the things we wanted to do.  A week would have been a better choice if you can afford it?  Weather during our visit was poor with 30 degree days and wind.  New Yorkers don't seem to mind but us northwesterners were not use to the cold and most of our clothes were intended for the tropics.  We had the sense to bring one set of warm clothes as we knew NYC can be unpredictable.  Two things stand out, it is a very noisy city and "J" walking is common with associated accidents.  We both agree, a great place to visit, but we would never want to live there.

We took an all day Gray Line tour, walked around Times Square, rode the subway to the Museum of Natural History and added Central Park.  We at least passed all the major attractions Manhatten has to offer.  Marsha was planning on going to a broadway show but when she found out how much they wanted for "Lion King"; just under $200, she decided she didn't need to go that bad.  It cost me a trip to the world's biggest Macy's store in return.   She can see "Lion King" in Seattle for far less.

Looking north from Rockerfellow ctr.
Looking S. from Rock center
World Trade Center #1
Looking North from "Top of the Rock".  Open area: Central Park
South from "Top of the Rock".  Empire State building left center
Stormy day, World Trade Center #1 under construction
times Sq. 5th Ave. Taxi's Twin Towers before 9-11
Evening lights of Times Square
Taxi's on 5th avenue
Twin Towers about 6 months before 9-11.  Previous business trip


cruise mapThe map shows our planned sea route.  The day before embarkation we learned of an illness outbreak on Grand Turk Island which was on our itinerary.  The ships company decided to avoid the stop as it would put passengers and crew at risk.  They decided we would pass the island and head directly for Cartagena for our first landfall.

Cartagena is the fifth largest city in Columbia.  Its position on the Caribbean Sea is important being the busiest port in Columbia.  It was really put on the map around 1533 when the Spanish started settling the area.  Gold and silver was the attraction and it brought many others including French, British and a few Americans.  In time, those infamous "Pirates of the Caribbean" took notice.  At one time it was known as the "pirate capital of the world". In the 1600's the Spanish decided to build a wall around the city, 11 km in total length, and it still exists today.

It was an important trading port that included metals from Peru and slaves.  The city has a new and old section as found in many latin American cities.  "New Town" real estate prices rival NYC. Columbia is rapidly improving its image and becoming an important power in South America.  The main business is petroleum based manufactured products and export of flowers but its growing in other fields as well.  70% of imported cut flowers in the U.S. come from Columbia. It still has a large illegal export, Cocaine, but numbers are very unreliable. More on Columbia and drugs

A popular vacation spot for people of South America, rarely does it have hurricanes like other locations in the Caribbean.  It often has cooling winds so it doesn't always have stifling heat common in the tropics.

Further information on Cartagena

skyline Cartagena New town home Boat in harbor
Skyline of newtown Cartagena Modern home in a nice neighborhood
Tourist sailboat
Neil at walled fort outwardly armed citizen City University
Me, better get on that diet!  Background: fortress around city Open pistol carry, he owned the jewelry store Local University

Panama Canal

Considered the highlight of out trip was the passage of our ship through the Panama Canal.  This is an all day affair as the ship is raised by three locks then it travels across Gatun Lake, which is about 85 feet higher than the ocean.  It then passes a total of three more locks to reach the Pacific.  The last three are broken by Miraflores Lake.  See attached map below:

Panama canal map

The canal is celebrating its 100 year anniversary.  The story of building this system is quite interesting but it has been determined to be inadequate for modern ships.  A new set of locks are under construction that will allow bigger ships to pass.  Oil tankers have not been able to use it because of their beam exceeding the width of the current locks.  That should all change in a few years but construction has been lagging.

ship in lock corral princess, Gatun locks Electric mule
Our ship in Gatun locks, 2 feet to spare each side
Coral Princess in Gatun locks, note lack of clearance on side
Electric mule which pulls the ships along by cables

Listen to a local guide from the ships bridge during transit

new canal construction
San Mugel locks Panama City
New canal under construction near Pedro Miguel locks
Entering Pedro Miguel locks
Panama City in the distance

One of the big challenges was the climate and diseases such as Malaria.  Panama sits in the tropics with a very dense rain forest.  This is a breeding ground for a number of diseases and dangerous critters. The Darien National Park region to the Southeast is so wild that no roads even go through it.  One of the wildest tropical regions in the Western hemisphere.

On the Pacific side sits Panama City which has turned into an international banking center.  Many people keep cash there to protect from local governments and taxes.  It's a modern city but many poor people live in the outlying areas.  A big difference between the rich and poor can be seen as you travel along the shore.

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is known as the most ecological  friendly and stable government in Central America.  It's promoted its natural resources as an attraction for tourism.  We spent our limited time in the local rainforest and then down to the river to see other wildlife and crocodiles.  Plenty were found.

Their rainforest is a little different then ours being dryer this time of year and then a definite rainy period beginning in April. It should be referred to as a rainforest rather than a jungle.  A jungle has heavy growth on the floor where a rainforest does not according to our guide.  It makes travel easier but their is still the danger of nasty critters such as the poisonous Fer de Lance found in dryer lowlands hiding under leaf litter.  A nice side excursion was to observe the wild crocodiles .

rain forest lunch Neil & Marsha, Costa Rica
Rain Forest walk
Lunch time in rain forest
Neil & Marsha in the highlands
croc croc beach
Crocodile Black sand beach

Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

Moving north, most of our time was spent visiting the central highlands of  Antigua and the nearby coffee plantation. Antigua was once the capitol but due to the volcanoes, the city was finally moved to Guatemala City.  This is culturally a very rich section being more tourist friendly then the current capitol.  It sits between three volcanoes which have forced the town to be moved several times.  It has a rich history with the catholic church playing a big role and many old structures of the same can be seen.  An important region for coffee production is being threatened by a fungus which is found in much of Central America.  Some are considering replanting in support of the "Cacao" tree which is the source of chocolate.  More money can be made from Cacao.


old village replica coffee
Dockside marimba band Old Guatemala village replica Coffee beans, red=ripe
coffee packing cultural center hotel grounds
Small coffee packaging business   Cultural center in Antigua 5 star Hotel Casa Santo Domingo

Cabo San Lucas,Mexico

Our second visit to Cabo.  We spent nearly all our time out in the desert on a dune buggy.  What fun! I must say the city continues to grow by leaps and bounds and becoming a serious playground for people from all over the world but mostly the Western US.

Oldies having fun: Neil and Marsha --- Bandidos de estados unidos de Amèrica.  Using Mexican dust mask, a bandana!

marsha parasailing tender
Lost in the desert
Parasailing now popular
Tendering after a fun day
flowers east Cabo port flying bridge
Massive construction underway Heading for home, from flying bridge