Distance from Cartagena to the Panama Canal: 269 Nautical Miles
The Canal. The Panama Canal, built between 1904 to 1914, is 48 miles long and carries more than 15,000 ships a year. Ships are raised via a series of locks - Gatun (3 stages) to the level of 85 feet above sea level at Gatun lake. Two additional locks systems, Pedro Miguel (1 stage) (31 feet) and Miraflores (2 stages) (54 feet), bring ships back down to sea level. The new locks system was started in 2007 and will involve a third set of locks to handle the super panamax ships.
An overcast, warm, and almost drizzly day at the Panama Canal.
I got up early enough to have breakfast on the back deck and check out the queue for the Canal. The Pacific Princess no doubt received some priority going through the Canal.
Ships Queuing up
The ship entered the canal around 8 AM and we expect the transit to take until 6 PM.
Entering the Canal on the Atlantic Side
Because of the heat and humidity outside, we are going to view the transit from the cool environment of the Pacific Lounge (Deck 10 Forward). I expected many more people up here but the low numbers allowed us to get pretty good seats. The only drawback is the blue tinge associated with shooting pictures through the windows. Fortunately, there is an app on my phone that can remove the blue (neat).
Best Seats in the House for the Transit
There is another cruise ship – the huge Legend of the Seas – that is ahead of us and will be moving through the left hand side of the locks.
Entering Gatun Locks
Entering the Third Gatun Locks
Departing the Gatun Locks System
The ship then entered Gatun Lake, which is 85 feet above Sea Level. The Pacific Princess is probably doing 5 knots at this point. Several canal company boats pass by.
Gatun Lake (View from Aft Deck)
The ship will spend some time in Gatun Lake, so we went to the Panorama Buffet to get some lunch. One of the highlights of this lunch was the special “Panama Cake” baked just for the transit. The cake was very good.
Fortunately, we were able to keep our seats in the Pacific Lounge.
The next point of interest in the Canal is Gamboa, the operations center for the dredging activity. Titan – or as Bill Fall calls it “Herman the German” – a huge crane (purchased from the Nazis for $1 as I seem to recall) is the centerpiece of the Gamboa complex.
Gamboa and Titan
A railroad bridge used to bring materials and personnel to Gamboa is visible as we move along.
The ship then entered the narrowest portion of the Canal, the Culebra Cut. There is work ongoing to widen the Cut so super Panamax ships that will use the new locks will be able to make the turns needed to negotiate the waterway.
The Cut is home to the Continental Divide (the Divide is a mountainous division that determines the flow of rivers – West of the Divide, rivers flow into the Pacific Ocean and East of the Divide, they flow into the Atlantic).
On the East side of the Divide is “Gold Hill”. There is no gold here but the French, when they were trying to get workers for their attempt at building the canal, started the rumor that there was gold to be had here. Quel dommage.
Gold Hill – Continental Divide
On the other side of the Divide is “Contractor’s Hill” so named because of all of the contractors who worked on this section of the canal – what an original name.
Contractor’s Hill from Deck 10
After passing the Continental Divide, the Centennial Bridge could be seen in the distance. This bridge, the second spanning the canal, is named for the 1903 separation of Panama from Colombia.
The Pacific Princess then entered the Pedro Miguel Locks, which contains only a single stage. Also going along for the ride was a tug boat and two sailboats (see picture below). These locks started our downhill travel (31 feet) to sea level.
Pedro Miguel Locks
The final locks systems, the Miraflores Locks, has two stages, which will drop the ship 54 feet to sea level. The Legend of the Seas is still ahead of us in the left channel.
Miraflores Locks and the Legend of the Seas
Stage 2 – Miraflores Locks
From these locks, we could see the control buildings for the new locks system (below). The construction is still behind schedule.
Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian dictator, who was captured in an invasion, is housed in his own private prison along the Panama Canal.
Near the end of the canal, on the Amador Causeway, is the Museum of Biodiversity, a funky, colorful building designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry (this is his only work in Latin America). It opened in October 2014 and the design was a gift to the people of Panama (Frank Gehry’s wife is Panamanian).
Biomuseo – Museum of Biodiversity
The ship then passed under the Bridge of the Americas, which I shot from the back deck.
Just before entering the Pacific Ocean, I was able to get a glimpse of Panama City in the distance.
And another full transit of the Panama Canal was complete. We were able to see the canal narrator hop on her boat, while both vessels were moving. She was pretty nimble but I guess she has experience.
We had dinner in the Panorama Bistro – Cesar Salad and veggie pizza. Could not be yummier. Someone told us they weren’t going to have the Bistro set up anymore after this cruise. Too bad…I really liked it.
The headliner tonight is Heather Sullivan. She is a singer-songwriter, who wrote the end credits song for the movie “Autumn in New York” but the song was never used. She sang it tonight and it was a wonderful song, words and music. The theme of her show was “Great Female Singers of the 20th Century” and she did a great job. The audience and we really liked her performance.
It has been a long day – after a bit of piano music by David, we are back in our stateroom.