The main reason for selecting this particular cruise itinerary was that it included going through the Panama Canal. With its fascinating history, we were curious to see this crossing on the narrowest bit of land between Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
And finally, after almost a week of cruising south, we were entering the Panama Canal around 8 AM. Many people on board got up very early in the morning so that they wouldn’t miss a thing.
There were many decks and a good view on either side so we found ourselves going up and down, from starboard to port side all day long so that we always had a good idea of what was happening.
There are three sets of locks between Pacific and Atlantic, bringing the ship up a total of 26 meters in elevation.
The canal was built over many, many years. It took tens of thousands of people, many different countries. It required the creation of a new country and claimed countless lives. It truly felt like a sail through history and we were left in awe of the power of the human will to cut across a continent.
A wonderful narrator came on board. He explained the entire process in details, clearly and with lots of anecdotes. This made the whole crossing pleasant and understandable even for someone like me who’s not too technical about locks, construction, etc. He even alerted us to the fact that a crocodile was sunning on the bank.
From the Pacific Ocean, we first sailed under the tall Bridge of the Americas. We passed through three sets of locks: the Miraflores Locks, the Pedro Miguel Locks. Then we crossed the bulk of Panama through Gatun Lake, entering the Gatun Locks before reaching the Atlantic and sailing into the Caribbean Sea.
It took about 10 hours to cross the continent at this narrowest section. What really amazed me was that it take about 1.5 hours by train to travel from the Pacific to the Atlantic here. In Canada that would take about 5 days! Our ship’s itinerary did not include a land stop in Panama so we continued on.
If you are really interested in the mechanics, it’s a good idea to also take a land tour of the locks. It was really weird to see how our huge ship fit into Locks that seems much narrower than the ship itself. We did only have inches, probably less than a foot, on either side. The little trains you see in my photos keep the ship from bumping into the sides.
This is a wonderful video of the history of the Panama Canal. As far as I know it is quite accurate. Just listen closely, the narration is very fast:
If you can’t go in person, there are web cams that allow for a virtual trek through the Panama Canal. The first link is to the Canal’s web cams on shore. The second link it to a site with links to different ships, using their bow web cams.