Things Change

If there were a mantra for living in Panama it would be “things change!”  In fact, if there were a mantra for life it would be “THINGS CHANGE!”  Living in Panama I’ve learned that you always have to be expecting change and to have a “Plan B” in mind.  In Panama, also  Plans C, D, E, F, etc.  But here, as everywhere else, the secret is to keep plugging and respond as positively as possible to the changes life throws at you, whether they are the gigantic life-altering changes, or the little “that’s interesting” changes.

It’s been almost a year-and-a-half since I was at sea, so wanting to get back in the swing of things I agreed to do several “one-off” cruises this fall, one for Celebrity and four for Silversea. While in the Canary Islands on Celebrity I experienced loss of vision in my one eye several times.  Once when attempting to start a talk, while an inexperienced AV guy tried to figure out PowerPoint, I was stalling by telling jokes I’ve used many times and in the middle of the joke I forgot the punch lines.  I ended up in the medical center with the ship’s doctor sending me to an ophthalmologist.  When the eye doc said there was nothing wrong with my eyes, the ship doctor, fearing a stroke, sent me back home to Seattle for a whole string of tests.  Tests which proved … drum roll! … I’m normal, much to the surprise of some of my friends.  But in the meantime, not to leave Silversea hanging at the last minute, I had to cancel my four scheduled cruises.

The silver lining was getting to spend some time with my daughter and her family in Seattle.  I’m now with my other daughter in Sonoma County working my way back to Panama.  And the other day … Princess called.  They want me back at sea, doing my favorite run through the Panama Canal on ISLAND PRINCESS … starting mid-November!

Island Princess in locks

Since 2014 is the 100th Anniversary of the Panama Canal, and with all the expansion construction going on, this is an exciting time to do the Canal run and be able to introduce a shipload of folks [1,970 passengers, 900 crew] to Panama.  Plus, no long-haul flights!  I start with a Canal transit from Los Angeles to Ft Lauderdale in less than a month, and then do the partial transits round trip from Ft Lauderdale.

New Picture (3)



Along The Way of St James

In the movie THE WAY, Martin Sheen plays Tom, an irascible American doctor who comes to France to deal with the tragic loss of his son (played by Emilio Estevez). Rather than return home, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage “The Way of St. James” to honor his son’s desire to finish the journey. What Tom doesn’t plan on is the profound impact this trip will have on him. Today 100,000 pilgrims a year still follow “The Way of St. James” from France into Spain and one of the highlights of their pilgrimage is to visit the magnificent cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, about 1.5 hours from the port of Vigo, Spain.

 In the middle ages anywhere from 500,000 to 2,000,000 visitors a year poured into northwestern Spain. Many who came were guided en route by what is considered to be the world’s first travel guidebook written in 1130 by a French monk. Not everyone could make the almost impossible pilgrimage to the Holy Land so for many Europeans the trip to Santiago was a possible alternative. The distinctive pilgrim garb was a simple hat and a shell. Visit Santiago de Compostela today and you will see, in addition to the tourists, pilgrims by the scores with their hiking shoes and backpacks who are walking “The Way of St James”.

 So, what’s the fuss? According to tradition (that marvelous word that covers a multitude of religious tourism sites around the world, and perhaps a multitude of related sins as well) Apostle James brought Christianity to the Iberian Peninsula then was beheaded in Jerusalem in 44 AD. Here’s where the legend gets interesting, and perhaps a bit dubious. The legend that the remains of the Apostle James were brought to Galicia for burial in an anonymous field. In 813, guided by a bright star no less, a shepherd found the burial of St. James at Santiago de Compestela The shepherd took the story and the bones to the Bishop, who recognized opportunity when it came knocking. The declared the bones to be the remains of the Apostle James and built a church. Reportedly miraculous events started occurred as a result of people praying to the bones of St. James.

 Pilgrims, religious tourists with money, started flocking to Santiago de Compestela and as many as 2 MILLION people a year hiked across Europe (without benefit of tour buses) to make a pilgrimage to the town. The present church constructed 1075-1128. The mystical attraction is to climb up above the high altar where there is a quirky-looking silver statue of St. James, place your hands on his shoulders, and make a prayer or a wish. I made mine, but if it happens it will be God above, not St. James or a silly-looking statue that gets the credit. (I go direct!) But anyhow the church is still a big tourist attraction for everyone from pilgrims to popes.

The inside of the church is impressive without a doubt! And I got to attend a service – standing room only by the way – with the music of the giant organ thundering and rolling through the stone arches. So how does any church, even a church with the relics of St. James, get a standing room only crowd of tourists and locals? Well, as the early churchmen discovered (and fellows like Robert Schuller tried to copy in more recent years) you’ve got to add some zing. Some flash! Some pizzazz! And they found it in Santiago de Compestela in the form of a giant incense burner which at the end of each service, “representing the prayers of Santiago de Compestela”, is filled with incense, set afire, hosted and then swung from the top of the cathedral back and forth soaring of the heads of the awe-struck congregation! It is impressive and quite a show!

Venice, Italy – Richard’s Quick Guide

I am busy preparing for my contract on RUBY PRINCESS and thought you might appreciate the following information if, and when, you visit Venice

Venice, Italy – Richard’s Quick Guide


  • Ship Tour – Cruise line does all the research and planning and you sit back and enjoy. The best way to see the most in a limited time and can be the most cost-effective. Ship does not leave until all ship tours are back.
  • You Do It All – “Independent.” – For people who like to do their own research & planning using travel guidebooks, Internet, etc. You do the work and you are independent. It is your responsibility to get back to the ship on time. [Independent group tours generally are best booked online in advance based on recommendations you trust.]


  • Richard’s Port Talks – Live and on cabin TV
  • Tourist Information Web site:
  • Cruise line-provided port map & guide delivered to your stateroom – depending on port of call may be more of a shopping information sheet on some cruise lines giving you step-by-step directions to “preferred” shops with whom the cruise line has a marketing agreement
  • There are many detained and interactive maps available online
  • 1 km = .6 mile


  • Italy is part of the Euro-zone and uses the Euro
  • Check Internet for current rates – of course anyone who changes money for you makes money by giving you slightly less than the going rate, but you knew that.
  • Tipping: If “service included” locals leave additional small coins up to 1 Euro, if not included 10-15% – Tour Guides: around $4-10 per person, depending on the length of tour, bus driver $1-4 per person, depending on length of tour. [Tour guides receive most of their income from tips and generally bus drivers and guides do not share tips.]

Getting Around

  • Vaporetto is Venice “city bus” – About 6.50 Euro for 60 minutes going in one direction – 12 “iMob” or tourist pass costs around 16 Euro – Buy tickets at ticket counter or pay conductor – You must validate tickets in yellow machine to avoid fines.
  • Gondolas haggle somewhere between $125 – 150 US for hour ride.
  • Water Taxis are very expensive – Within the old city can easily cost 30-50 EU or more.
  • 7 Traghetto [“ferry"] points on Grand Canal where old gondolas will take you across the canal for around a Euro.
  • “People Mover” that will take you from the port to the Piazza Roma where you can connect with the train, buses to other parts of Venice and the Vaporetto that will take you to St Mark’s. “People Mover” 1 Euro coin.
  • There is a yellow Water Shuttle that takes you right to St Mark’s Square.
  • Usually there will be a cruise line Shuttle boat that will take you to St Mark’s Square.
  • It is possible to walk from St. Mark’s Square to Piazza Roma using the People Mover to get between Piazza Roma and the ship. The route isn’t well marked but since the train station is by Piazza Roma, just follow the procession of people with roller board suitcases.

Helpful Hints

  • Venice can be mobbed at the height the season – Locals feel as if they are being crowded out by “Veniceland”.
  • If you are able, Venice is best explored on foot – you WILL get lost, but just ask directions.
  • Expect long lines if you are on your own at St Mark’s, Bell Tower, and Doges Palace, all at St Mark’s Square – Best way to avoid the lines, somewhat, is to take a tour. If you are the independent sort, pick the one you really want to see and be there first thing in the morning. If the ship isn’t arriving until afternoon either take the tour, or try to get in just before closing, and make a fast tour.
  • Dress respectfully for churches.
  • Watch out for pickpockets – crowds of tourists equal pickpockets at work – so be “street smart” and aware of your surroundings.
  • Watch where you walk!
  • Because of all the Canals bridges are often steep and few are “accessible” and those that are require a wheelchair occupant to also be an Olympic power lifter!
  • Gelato is less expensive away from St. Mark’s Square on the back streets.
  • Most Venice restaurants add in an extra fee just because you are sitting in their restaurant.
  • It isn’t so much about what you “see” as what you “experience”.
  • Shops open 9am-1pm, 3pm-7:30pm – “tourist shops” with “Chinese goods” more often open all day.


  • St Mark’s Square – the heart of Venice, shuttle boats and Vaporetto will let you off within what is for most people a short walking distance to the Square.
  • St Mark’s Cathedral – the center of the Square. Long lines anytime of year, but particularly in the summer. Best bet is to take the ships’s tour or arrive early in the morning.  The remains of St. Mark and the lions above the door were both stolen from Alexandria, Egypt.
  • St Mark’s Bell Tower – “One of the greatest erections of all time.” There will be a long, long line, particularly in summer to climb to the top. The view from the deck of the ship, if the ship sails in through St. Mark’s Canal and the Canal de Giudeca is just as good if not better.
  • Doge’s Palace – Residence of the Doge who was elected for life and the seat of government 1309-1424. Not to be missed. Long, long lines particularly in summer. If you are not on a tour the key is to be first in line in the morning. Open from 9am-6pm. approximately 15 Euro.
  • Grand Canal – Vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal is a great, and relatively inexpensive, way to view many of the Venetian Palaces on the Grand Canal. You can get the Vaporetto at Piazza Roma (where the People Mover takes you) or at the Vaporetto stop near St. Mark’s Square.
  • Rialto Bridge – Can be seen from the Vaporetto if you are taking the Vaporetto down the Grand Canal. There is a Vaporetto stop at the Rialto Bridge. You can walk to the Rialto Bridge from St. Mark’s Square or vice versa. There are some signs, or you can just ask or follow the crowd. There is a market on the opposite side of the Bridge from the Vaporetto stop and St. Mark’s. In the morning there is a vegetable and fish market there as well.
  • Rialto Market – On the opposite side of the Bridge from the Rialto Vaporetto stop and St. Mark’s. In the morning there is a vegetable and fish market there as well. Lots of Made in China souvenirs.
  • Guggenheim Museum – If you’ve been to Venice before the Guggenheim is in the former home of Peggy Guggenheim houses her collection of modern art, reputed to be one of the finest in any small museum. Vaporetto stop on the Grand Canal. 10am-6pm, closed Tuesday. 12 Euro.
  • Gallerie del Accademia – Venetian paintings from the 14th to 19th century. Open 8:30am-6:30pm, Tuesdays until 1pm. 8 Euro.
  • Murano is the island home of Venice’ famous glass. The real thing is expensive. The Made in China knock offs are inexpensive. Much of the glass currently being sold in souvenir shops is Made in China. Know what you are looking for, do some research, and buy the real thing if that’s what you want. If you just want something that looks something like Venetian glass go for the Chinese stuff. You can get there by Vaporetto or tour.
  • Burano is a small island which I think is more interesting than Murano. Brightly colored houses, canals, and lace making. You can get there by Vaporetto or tour.

Copyright 2012 RLD – May not be reprinted without permission. Information provided by local agents and believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.

What do you do?

One of the questions folks always ask me when I am home in Panama is what I do on board ship?  I always laugh when they ask if I’m the Captain!  I wish!  But because I’m “mature” I guess that seems like a logical assumption.  When I tell them I lecture on board they always want to know what I talk about.

So . . . in case you’ve wondered . . . here are a few clips I posted on YouTube that will give you an idea.  These are ship recordings that we replayed on cabin TV for our guests during the sailing.  Sometimes the quality leaves something to be desired, but you can get the idea.

I can’t embed these . . . but if you click on the link it will take you to YouTube . . .

“Holy Cities” - This is the first 15 minutes of a lecture on the “Holy Land” for ports in Israel. The entire port lecture was 6o minutes. This was recorded on PACIFIC PRINCESS to be run continuously on cabin TV. Unfortunately due to limited equipment the slides are recorded by a camera filming the projection screen (sometimes moving with the ship!) and not pulling directly from the computer so the quality leaves much to be desired.

“Enchanting Egypt” – This is a 15 minute clip from the middle of a talk for Port Said and Cairo for a series of Egypt cruises on Princess calling in Egypt 8 months after the 2011 February Revolution. The interesting thing about the first part of this clip, is that once I started asking people to check out the prices and quality of cartouches onboard before going off on tour to Egypt, the number of cartouches being sold in the jewelry shop on board zoomed from 2 or 3 per cruise to as many as 27 per cruise.

“Let The Adventure Begin”  – This is a clip from a video designed to be shown to guests on ZUIDERDAM on embarkation day.  Part of my assignment as Travel Guide was to soft sell shore excursions.  This section deals with Panama and a little part of Costa Rica.

“More Than Johnny Depp: The History of Piracy” – This is a 15 minute clip from a 55 minute talk on the history of piracy, tracing it from it’s beginnings right up through the present day.