Cruising Through The Panama Canal

**Another loooong post coming at you, seriously long with TONS of pictures. But I put a lot of history and information in this post, so I hope readers will find it interesting! Enjoy! **

The Panama Canal is likely the coolest cruising lane a ship might ever pass through. It is the largest and most costly human endeavor ever mounted to this day. 

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I was lucky enough to be able to experience the Panama Canal firsthand on the 4th  day of my cruise with the family. Bright and early in the morning, another captain boarded our vessel to take our ship through the canal and the locks.

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We started off through the canal and arrived at the first set of locks at 7:00 am.  The entire trip, through all 3 locks took around 10 hours. 

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The canal has operated around the clock since 1963, which is utterly amazing to me. It never sleeps!

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This passage has operated flawlessly for almost a century.  It is a 51-mile aquatic highway linking the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean through intricate locks and shimmering lakes surrounded by an environmental wonderland.

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The Canal’s  completion cut 10 days off the sea passage around Cape Horn and today ships of every shape and size transit through the canal 24/7.

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The first set of locks we went through were the Gatun Locks.

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It was really cool how this little bridge came across between the locks for cars to go by while the ships were waiting for the water levels to go up or down.

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With every ships passage, 52 million gallons of fresh water are flushed out to sea. The canal itself accounts for some 60% of Panama’s use of fresh water.

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The Canal extends from the city of Colon on the Caribbean Sea to Panama City on the Pacific Ocean.

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How The Canal Works

The entire system if powered by simply the flow of fresh water under the force of gravity. Water from the lakes fill the locks and raise the ships or water flows from one chamber to the next or to the sea-level channels and empties the locks and lowers the ships.

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Construction of the canal went on from 1906 to 1914 and cost 375 million dollars. 500 lives were lost per mile of the canal; 5,609 American lives were claimed and another 20,000 or so had died during the failed French effort of the canal.

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The locks are THICK!

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After we were in the first set of Gatun locks the water level rose us from the Caribbean Sea to the level of Gatun Lake.

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Each set of locks feature twin chambers side by side. Each chamber measures 1,000 feet long by 110 feet wide to accommodate the largest ships of the day.

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Mom, me and brother enjoying our first set of locks.

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So the orange ship in the background will enter the lock on the bottom right. The water from the left will fill the lock on the right and raise the ship up. Cool right?

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Doesn’t this look like some crazy ride at Disney?

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There were ships going through the canal the entire time. It sure was a busy waterway! Average daily traffic has increased from 38 to 43 ships.

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Here I am after we went through the Gatun Locks. Bright eyed and bushy tailed- awake at 7:00 am on vacation! 🙂

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More family pictures in the canal. 

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It was really cool to watch the ships behind us go through the canal. We got a totally different perspective.

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The Gatun Locks, the largest of the Panama Canal’s three sets of governing mechanisms that raise ships some 85 feet above sea level are the easiest to see in action. The ship was raised to the level of Gatun Lake.

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Once in the locks, the ship was tethered to electric locomotives called mules which work to keep the ship aligned.

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It was a beautiful day to sit out on the balcony & watch Panama go by

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Arriving at Gatun Lake level.

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All the mules all lined up ready to help the ships get through.

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Panama was very Green and lush. I wish I had been able to set foot on land during our trip. Next time!

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It was really amazing to see how the land around the locks and canals were constructed around the waterway.

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Apparently the land was cut back this way to prevent landslides, which caused many deaths during the creation of the canal.

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Here we are going under the Centennial Bridge

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I had to wear these sexy socks all day because I burned my shins the day before. Ow Ow!  panama canal 120 panama canal 121  Family photo op.

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I was drawn to this tree. Pretty right?

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The ship that was behind us at the Gatun Locks caught up to us!

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People stopped along the roadside to see us go by! It was weird, but I guess they don’t see many Panamax ships going by these days.

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Entering the Pedro Miguel Locks panama canal 140 panama canal 141panama canal 145panama canal 149panama canal 154 

Check out the mules hard at work.  panama canal 162 panama canal 163 panama canal 165 panama canal 167

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It wasn’t far from the Pedro Locks to the last set of locks.

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These boats bumped the ship on the side to get it on the right track when entering the locks.

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Entering the last set of locks – Miraflores

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While we were on the Mireflores locks we dropped A LOT! These were the most noticeable to me how much difference there was from the lake we were leaving to the Pacific Ocean. 

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Everyone was out on their balcony to see us go through the last set of locks. It was one big party at the back of the boat.

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I was pumped when I got a wave from the ACP (Panama Canal Authority) mule worker!

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This picture gives a better idea of the drop we made.

The Miraflores Locks  had a new visitors center built recently. The place was packed with those who wanted to see the cruise ship go through the Miraflores Locks. I kind of felt like a celebrity! 

Before the drop, I took the picture from this level.

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After the drop I was all the way down here.

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We were almost even with the mules!  panama canal 223

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These big cruise ships just barely squeeze by. Look at how much room we had! Hardly any!

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That’s a big ‘ol drop!

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Embracing the last locks of the day!

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Hark! I see civilization! panama canal 249After we went through the last set of locks we went under the Bridge of the Americas.     panama canal 263

This bad boy links the North and South American land masses.   panama canal 265 panama canal 266   panama canal 269panama canal 270 panama canal 271

More family photo ops.

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And then we started to enter the realm of the Pacific Ocean. 

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In the distance I saw Panama City.   panama canal 283

Panama City was much bigger than I ever imagined. I would love to check it out one day!

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And then we set sail for our next Port of Call…Costa Rica! Stay tuned!

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All in all it was an amazing day. I can’t believe I can now say that I have been through the Panama Canal. It seems very unreal.

Just to put things into crazy perspective, out ship paid $294,000 toll to go through the locks! Isn’t that insane??

Sorry for the really long post. I wanted to share with the world my Panama Canal experience. I think I took 300 pictures alone that day, so there was lots to choose from.

What are your thoughts on the canal?

Don’t forget to enter my aquaBling giveaway!

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  • Reply Texan Couture January 26, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Loved this post, I like hearing the history of places and learning new things like the way they cut the land to prevent landslides. Can't wait to read your Costa Rica post I have always wanted to visit the rainforests there!

  • Reply Olivia January 26, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Great post Leslie!! Really informative and fun at the same time. I always thought I knew how the canal worked, but I was wrong. Loved all the pictures as well!

  • Reply Cassie January 26, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    i had no idea it would take so long to get through the canal! this post was so informative… taking a cruise through the panama canal has always been on my "top ten things i'd like to do" list, and this mad me feel like i was there 🙂

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