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Cruisin' With Quilters to the Panama Canal posted: 3/6/2005
by Mary Stori Printable Page
Category: General Method: All Series: On the Road
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By Mary Stori

Who would believe a quilting needle could turn into a magic carpet? Mine has! It’s taken me places I only dreamed about, and provided experiences I could never have imagined. At the time of my high school graduation, I’d seen only my home state of Wisconsin and one town in Michigan. Since then, my teaching duties in this country alone have taken me to all but seven states.

A recent survey suggests 48% of quilters travel. The internet has not only brought the world to our finger tips, it’s stimulated the yearning for first hand experiences. As host for quilting cruises/tours, I get lots of questions about what we actually do on these trips, here are some examples:

* Do we sew ? - YES
* Do you need to bring your own machine? - NO - when the project requires machines, Pfaff provides machines for me.
* Are the workshop fees included in the cruise cost? - YES
* When are classes held? - DAYS THAT WE ARE AT SEA, so you can even travel with a non-quilting partner and not miss any of the onshore activities.
* Formal dress? - NOT TO WORRY - There are usually two “formal” nights, which does not mean wearing a slinky cocktail dress or a tuxedo. (Though you can if you wish.) Dress styles vary a lot, wear the best outfit you might wear to a wedding or to church. Many ships now have flexible dining options, as well as the traditional fixed seating, so one can avoid dressing for formal night if desired. We usually choose to dine as a group, (though again, not mandatory) either first or second seating, which allows us more time to get acquainted outside of the classroom.

A group of over 60 happy and excited participants boarded the Coral Princess in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Oct. 21, 2004, for our 10-day cruise to the Panama Canal. My friend, and well-known U.K. quilt instructor Barbara Barber joined me to lead workshops. Due to the summer’s hurricanes, we weren’t able to do the scheduled stop in Grand Cayman. Our students were ecstatic to learn we would hold classes for a 5th day instead! That worked out to 2 1/2 days with each instructor. We were at sea the first two days, sewing like crazy, here are the results:

Classroom (aka the Wheelhouse Bar)

Mary’s class

Barbara’s class

Limon, stretching along the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica has just begun developing its tourism. The beauty of the country can be experienced by taking one of the numerous ship tours. Many of us signed up for a river boat excursion through the rainforest where we were thrilled by the exotic wildlife such as howler monkeys.

River Boat

Experiencing the grandeur of the Panama Canal is on the wish list of many travelers. It didn’t disappoint! We traveled toward the Pacific Ocean through the Gatun Locks where eight electric locomotives guide us safely through, with only 2 feet of clearance on each side of our ship. Our captain informed us the cost of our ship’s passage through the canal was $245,600, the highest toll paid by a cruise ship!

Passing through Gatun Locks, view from Mary’s balcony looking straight down at the trains.

We anchored in Gatun Lake and took tenders (small boats) to the dock where we boarded buses for the various tours. I visited old Panama City, which showed signs of a grander time. The area is undergoing a very badly needed revival, but fascinating none the less.

We were being rushed a bit by our tour guide, but some of our savvy quilt group managed to purchase Molas from these Kuna Indians who where selling their crafts along the ocean front. The quality of the workmanship varied a great deal, and the cost didn’t necessarily reflect the craftsmanship. We were shocked to notice some where totally machine stitched....they tried to convince us they were hand stitched...quilter’s can’t be fooled!!

Kuna Indians selling their Molas

Two more days at sea, then we visited Cozumel where turtle farms, spectacular coral formations, and a zillion jewelry stores can be experienced. Next, we headed to Belize for our final port of call. It’s located off the base of the Yucatan Peninsula, where you’ll find the world’s second largest barrier reef, offering some of the finest diving in the world. Along with many of our group, we spent the day touring. First, on an ecological river cruise where we were astounded by the variety of wildlife, even our guide exclaimed how lucky we were that day. Though my camera wasn’t as fast as the critters we saw, I assure you we saw dolphins, manatees, many huge crocodiles, monkeys, colorful iguanas (it was the mating season), and birds galore. As we headed from the sea into the river system, I realized we might have discovered a new fashion trend if you like the color orange. We visited Mayan ruins in the afternoon, and a final shopping stop where we raced to make our last purchases of the cruise.

Quilters lifeboat wearable art

Mayans ruins

Iguana on the front lawn of an estate

Our final day at sea allowed most of the students to complete or nearly complete their projects. Show and tell is always anticipated and no less so on our cruises. This quilt was shown by Virginia and her daughter, Cynthia Chin.

Sampler quilt at show & tell

Then it was time to say goodbye until our next “traveling quilt guild meeting”. There are many “repeaters” who travel with me and all are very welcoming and anxious to add more “members” to our group. I hope you consider this great way to meet other quilters, learn new techniques, and explore other cultures.

I’ll be traveling again Oct. 19, 2005, with my friends at Traveling Together - It’s an 8-day quilter's tour to Canada in conjunction with the Creative Sewing & Needlework show in Toronto, and to Kingston, and we'll conclude in Ottawa where we will meet with the Common Thread Quilters Guild. Visit the above website or contact me at for more information. These trips fill quickly, so make your plans now.

Mary Stori is an internationally recognized quiltmaker, fashion designer, instructor, lecturer, judge, author, and leader of quilting tours. Her most recent book is: “Beading Basics: Embellishment Techniques for Quilters”, (C & T Publishing, 2004). For more about Mary’s other books, workshops, and lecture information visit her website: or email her at:

©2004 Mary Stori
Author: "Beading Basics" - C & T
2004 Professional Teacher of the Year

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