I am sure many will have better information that I can offer, but we did the canal on the Amsterdam in 2006. It was an awesome cruise and a great cruise line. The cabins are good sized, food good and service great. I don't think I would ever choose to eat in the PG again. It wasn't worth $30 per person we didn't think.
If you like to have a drink before dinner you may want to order a bar set up prior to cruising. The price isn't bad and it is great having a sip or two in your cabin. You can also bring wine on board, but if you take it to your table there is a $15 corkage fee.
Be sure a check out the library, just to see it. HAL has the best at sea and go to the lectures about the canal. It helps you appreciate the wonder of it all.
First thing you need to know Ken is that you are going to love it I promise you that. (Unless of course you hate tropical sunsets, warm sea breezes exotic ports and stuff like that) We have been on the Volendam and it's a great ship. I don't know whether you are doing a full transit or half transit, but it doesn't make any difference. What is the length of the cruise and where do you embark and disembark?
The food is great, the HAL crews are second to none. Navigation crew is European, Most of the service crew members waiters, room stewards etc are Indonesian and the bar staff are Filipino.
The ship will remind you of a real ship, dark wood great decor, real teak decking throughout. Like all HAL ships it has a complete walk around promenade which a lot of ship don't have these days.
the canal is still after all these years an engineering marvel and a tribute to American ingenuity.
If you get a chance get a copy of David McCullough's "the Path Between the Seas" a great history of the canal and its construction.
Take lots of film (or memory) because the transit itself if very fascinating. Be prepared to move from the front to the back of the ship and visa versa to see the operation of the locks.
Relax and enjoy
Landlocked in Denver, but cruisin every chance we get.
Polynesia, Carib. '86
Cr. Odyssey, Scandinavia, '91, 30 Day S Pac. 2002
Crystal Harm, Aust., N.Z., '94
Royal Odyssey, AK,'96
Old Cr. Pr. Canal, '97
RCCL, Carib, 1998
Volendam, Car, 2000
Ryndam, 35 day S. Am., Antarctica, '03
Is. Pr., Canal, 2004
Statendam, 34 day China, Japan, AK '06
Cr.Pr., Carib. 08
Eurodam, Atlantic, Med. '10
And don't forget the suncreen & a hat, 'cause it's bloody hot going through the Canal.
We've done the full transit twice from LA to FLL and partial transit a couple of times.
Volendam is one of our favourite ships. If you have a balcony it will be a perfect spot to view the Canal, but to get the full effect make sure you are outside at the bow/front of the ship for part of the time.
Don't go wandering off on your own in Colon. One of the Canal trips we did they wouldn't let anyone off the ship, but I understand that they do now. Just be careful.
It's been ages since I've been to Limon but the town hear where the ship docked then was pretty seedy.
I am sure the Shorex dept. talks will tell you what and where you should not go in these 2 ports.
Dee Dee, you are so right. When we did the 1/2 transit about 18 months ago we were advised not to wander off. If we wanted a tour, booke though the ship. We did get off the ship and wander around the cute shopping mall right at the port. We bought a few souveniors and our liquor.
you can do tours in Aruba and Curacao by checking on line for ideas or just book when you get off the ship unless you want to do one with the cruise line. Costa Rica is awesome. I wish I could remember the name of the company we used for our tour.
I like the idea of the plastic bag for dirty clothes. What we do, is stand one of our pieces of luggage up in our closet, leave it unzipped at the top and it becomes our cloths hamper.
We don't bring the power strip, but many say it is a great idea.
All in all, I hope you have a wonderful trip. We have cruised over 20 times and at the top of our list (between 1 and 3) is the 1/2 canal cruise on HAL>
Ken - just stop worrying, lay back and be happy! You'll be fussed over and indulged by all the SMILING Indonesians - who genuinely want you to be happy. My experience with HAL is that the food is great. Regarding formal nights, no you dont have to wear a tuxedo (or Monkey Suit as my father called them). A dark suit and tie, and for the ladies just a smart dress or pants suit is fine - you're not going to a wedding!
Excursions offered off the ship are much cheaper. However allow an extra hour for return. Once you dock you will see all the vendors hustling to book you on tours. It isnt always safe to wander around by yourselves.
Pay with credit card whenever possible. Hope this helps. 8)