The weight of this day was heavy, and hotly anticipated by everyone. After all, the cruise IS called The Grand Panama Cruise, so today was billed as a mini-modern marvel. It did not disappoint!
In addition to a narrative of the journey, I’ve thrown in a few facts about the Canal completely FREE OF CHARGE, so go ahead, kick back and soak it up.
The Canal Journey
The Panama Canal project was originally started by the French in 1880, but after 20 years they gave up due to disease and financial strains. In 1903 Panama attained it’s independence from Colombia, and forged a treaty with the United States for ten million dollars basically for protection. The next year the US bought the rights to develop the Canal and spent $387 million on this huge project. The Panama Canal officially opened for trade in 1914, allowing ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific.
Since the sea level is lower than the land mass, the Canal has a series of “locks” which gradually raise ships up 85 feet above sea level. It is a really cool sight to see. It took the Sun Princess about two hours to clear the three Gatun locks, where we entered the Gatun Lake. The lake was created when the low lying areas were flooded with fresh water. In order to complete a passage to the Pacific, they had to cut out sections through the high elevations, known as the Culebra Cut. We floated across the Gatun Lake, winding our way down for about four hours.
We were surrounded by a lush rainforest, with interesting wildlife, including crocodiles and exotic birds.
The Panama Canal Authority is currently dredging sections to widen the Canal for increased capacity, which will take 8 years to complete. As I watched the workers dredge the lake bed and move earth mass, I realized how difficult this task must have been a hundred years ago prior to modern machinery and technology.
When we entered the Culebra Cut, we could see the 100 year old excavation marks to create the passage. This section took another hour to pass, where we then came to the final two sets of locks: Pedro Miguel and Miraflores. For the next two hours our ship was gradually lowered back down to sea level.
A group of tourists and locals were at the final locks watching and waving goodbye to our magnificent ship. I realized that passenger cruise ships only go through the entire Panama Canal twice per year, as they reposition for the change in seasons. This explained the cheering-squad as our ship was lowered into the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
As we entered the Port of Rodman, we passed below the Bridge of the Americas, and sailed into the Pacific Ocean. We weighed anchor just off of Puerto Amador, where passengers “tendered” to the shore in Princess boats. As night fell, there were stunning views of Panama City, with many tall buildings not unlike many large cities in the US. Although it was a lazy day, I felt like so much happened, perhaps because there was so much new and exciting sights to see. It was a memorable day, surely one of the highlights of the cruise.