Unlocking Hearts on a Cruise through the Panama Canal

Back in the Panama Canal 41 years later
Back in the Panama Canal 41 years later

My first cruise vacation was the beginning of a summer European adventure when I was 18.  At the time, it just seemed like a fun way to get to the continent, but little was I to know that the real life-changing part of this trip was to come 35 years later.

It was 1969, and I was sailing on a 26-day trip down the coast from Vancouver to Southampton traveling through the Panama Canal and across the Atlantic. It was an exciting time, made especially fun because there was a group of young people like myself aboard, heading to Europe and beyond for continuing travels. When we docked in Southampton, I was sorry to say goodbye to all the friends I’d made.

Decades after those carefree days, I was divorced and living alone. I found myself wondering about that cast of characters I’d had so much fun with on that cruise. I brought out my pictures and memorabilia to reminisce about that time. As I looked at them, for some strange reason, I decided to see if I could contact some of the people I had met on that cruise so many years ago.

I knew one of the guys on the cruise whose family had operated a restaurant nearby, so I made that one call just to see what would happen. He actually remembered me after all those years, and gave me the phone number of another man who he thought would enjoy sharing some stories.

This is how I first contacted Keith.  I phoned, and while he did not remember me, he did have great memories of that trip, and was happy to get together and reminisce.

Through this meeting we discovered we had more in common than just this cruise from 35 years earlier. To make a long story short, three years later we were married. We decided to go back to sea for our honeymoon and boarded Emerald Princess for a Mediterranean cruise from Venice to Rome. It seemed like an appropriate place to celebrate a relationship that began with a cruise. Emerald Princess was beyond our expectations. The ambience, itinerary, shore excursions and The Sanctuary made it a romantic honeymoon to remember.

On Keith’s 60th birthday, I put out the word to our friends and a few of the people I had connected with from our original cruise that I’d love any pictures and mementos of their times with Keith, so I could make him a scrapbook.

In the mail came an envelope with a picture that stopped us short. Neither of us remembers it being taken, but there we are, side by side, Keith perched on a deck railing with me close beside him as we sailed through the Panama Canal.

How amazing it was to see a moment between us, forgotten by time, when our futures together were unfathomable and decades to come.

More recently, for old time’s sake, Keith and I set sail again on a Panama Canal cruise, retracing the first part of our original voyage. This time we were aboard the cruise ship, Coral Princess, and we couldn’t resist posing for another snapshot.  Once again we’re nestled together on deck, holding a poster that says:  “Hi from Panama, Keith & Leslie. 41 years later!”

Yes, that first cruise many years ago turned out to be a life-changing experience in more ways than one.

Leslie and Keith live in British Columbia. They have both recently retired and are looking forward to creating some new adventures at sea.