After we made reservations for a February Viking Ocean cruise including the Panama Canal, we got quite a bit of flak from friends and relatives.

“Aren’t you afraid of travelling with this Covid spike,” they all asked.

They didn’t need to worry. We were tested for Covid before we got on the trip and everyone was vaccinated and boosted. We were tested for Covid every morning on the ship and wore a tracking lanyard so if there was contact we could be isolated.

Masks were worn by everyone all the time when we were out of our room, unless we were eating or swimming.

It’s likely that we were safer from Covid on the cruise than if we had stayed at home.

Our journey began with a flight to Los Angeles and five days in California where we enjoyed a day at the Getty Villa. It is a museum built in the style of a Roman villa by oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. It was amazing to see the collection he had gathered of Greek and Roman art, jewelry and sculpture from as early as 750 BC.

We visited Dr. Gary Hawes near San Diego who is a friend of Allen’s from dental school. They live close to a small town that is feeling growth of population and business.

We found that California residents aren’t particularly concerned about the inflated gas prices. Their attitude seemed to be, “oh well, we’ve been through this before with our state having the highest prices at the gas pump.”

We also enjoyed stopping by Allen’s high school, Venice High where the movie “Grease” was filmed, then spent the afternoon at Venice beach. The last day we visited the mission at San Juan Capistrano, one of 21 Catholic missions on the California coast established in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra. The mission has been lovingly restored and is a gem with its ancient bells, stone buildings and chapel.

The cruise

After a negative Covid test, we boarded the Viking ship Orion at Port of San Pedro and headed into the Pacific Ocean with the first stop at Cabo San Lucas.

Maria, our tour guide in Cabo shared her stories and history of the area with pride. She spoke of the many changes in Cabo over 25 years from a sleepy village to a major tourist attraction.

Because she spoke English, she worked with several companies as a guide since she was 12 years old. She originally had a goal of being in management, but got bored sitting behind a desk. She believes it is her calling to work with tourists and be an ambassador for her country.

Our tour guide in Costa Rica was Carlos who spoke with pride of his country’s green forests and parks. He said the country was badly hurt by the pandemic when unemployment spiked to 20 percent and has now dropped to 14 percent, with the hope it will return to pre-pandemic 8-10 percent unemployment.

He said they pay high taxes, but they know it is to pay for schools and healthcare because they did away with Costa Rica’s army and that money now goes to education and medical needs.

As a child from a large family, Carlos said he sometimes went for three days without eating. He and his wife both work now with the goal for a better life for their two children.

Through the Panama Canal

Our ship spent eight hours going through the 51 mile long Panama Canal, which is a wonder of engineering, excavation and modern technology.

We heard speakers tell about how the canal was built from 1904 to 1914 with 43,000 workers. France began the canal, but they abandoned the project after a lack of funding and 20,000 workers died due to tropical diseases like yellow fever and malaria.

The United States completed the canal with Teddy Roosevelt’s backing. Engineering, technology and improvements in equipment helped the project go forward with Roosevelt’s shrewd maneuvers.

Almost everyone on board spent much of the day glued to the rail of the upper deck watching the progress of the ship through the first locks, river and lakes before entering the last locks and entering the Caribbean Sea.

We visited the bustling cities of Colon in Panama and Cartagena in Columbia before heading up the coast to Cozumel in Mexico.

The contrasts in the cities we visited were striking as our buses rolled through the streets. We passed derelict, run down hovels with piles of trash strewn around and a few blocks later passed luxury, hi-rise apartments.

Our last visit on the cruise was the Mayan ruins at San Gervasio on the island of Cozumel off the coast of Mexico. Our guide gave the sad history of the island people who built the roads and buildings from 600 AD to 1200 AD. They were almost entirely wiped out in 1520 when the Spaniard conquistadors brought small pox to the island.


The cruise ship was a delight. We became friends with Orion’s restaurant manager Zrinka Kardum who is from Croatia. We enjoyed hearing about life in Croatia since we travelled there five years ago. She supervises the ships five restaurants and is very appreciative of how much Viking values its employees.

The ship’s captain, Richard Svardmark, a Norwegian, said 40 countries are represented on the ship’s crew.

Viking cruises are somewhat more casual than other cruise lines. Dress is casual with dinner clothes “dress casual” or “casual elegant.” Art and music are important aspects of Viking entertainment with daily concerts and art throughout the ship.

We also enjoyed craft sessions and daily trivia contests. The thermal spa and sauna are Viking favorites along with swimming and sunbathing, a great exercise center and walking decks. An astronomy professor gave evening talks on the stars at the top deck.

The food is too good with special menus from around the world as well as classic American fare.

Florida homecoming

We arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to complete the month of February in sunny weather.

Favorite stops the last week were the Stranahan House which was the 1901 home of the founder of the city. We also enjoyed the Discovery and Science Museum and Butterfly Garden.

It is mind-boggling to think of the development of Florida in just over 120 years when there was little more than scrub pine and swampland.

The Bonnet House and Birch Taylor Park are surrounded by the remains of wild and protected parkland amid 20 story apartment buildings. It is the only property left undeveloped on Florida’s east coast.

After a flight back to Columbus, we’re home feeling revived and ready to plunge into activities in Morrow County.

Before our trip, our granddaughter Julie asked, “Why do you travel so much, grandma?”

We like to travel. Maybe it’s because we look through our eyes at our home with new appreciation, but also see the wonder and pride others feel for their home, whether it is on the sea, a California city or a small town in Costa Rica. courtesy of Aberta Stojkovic courtesy of Aberta Stojkovic

Special entertainment is provided in Esparza, Costa Rica, performed by school children who were excused from classes for the occasion. entertainment is provided in Esparza, Costa Rica, performed by school children who were excused from classes for the occasion. Photo courtesy of Aberta Stojkovic courtesy of Aberta Stojkovic courtesy of Aberta Stojkovic

By Alberta Stojkovic

for The Morrow County Sentinel