Cruising the Panama Canal – Canal Time!

Well this was the day we had been waiting for. The Panama Canal was upon us. The previous few days were spent to trying scout out the best position to view the canal from. Opinions on this were flying all over the ship. Discussions could be heard about whether to be in the front or whether to be in the back all over the decks and in the lounges.  We expected it to be very crowded regardless of where we ended up. However, the crowds were not all that bad (perhaps some were busy throwing their towels on chairs to hog them up for the day) and our fellow passengers, for the most part, were very good at sharing the space.

The big question of course was at what time should we be up on deck? Much like the best location rumours, the talk on this was running rampant as well. The suggestions ran anywhere from 4:30 am until 7:30 am. At one point, we actually discussed simply staying in a bar all night long to be the first to see the locks. I mean after all, this is what we had journyed the last 7 days to see. We did eventually come to our senses.  Although to be honest I am not sure how many senses we actually had left. By the way, I can tell you all the rumours about the spot to be and the best time to be there were well… wrong!  I had decided to get up on deck early as the rumours had suggested. Not wanting to miss a thing and of course being a bit like a kid on Christmas morning, I did in fact set my alarm for 5 am and was up on deck by 5:30 am. Yep… I am an idiot! The upper levels of the ship were like a deserted Island. Not a soul to be found anywhere. I think the guys on the bridge were even asleep! Now what to do…. I headed for the Oceanview Café for an early breakfast and then I went back to the room…. ever so careful not to wake up Vanda ..again… and hung around until about 7:15. We were scheduled to be at the first set of locks around 8 am.

All I saw at 5:30 am….

 notice the empty hallway outside my room….

After waiting around in my room we then made our way back up to Deck 11 and then to very front of the ship where there is a small deck one more flight up. We positioned ourselves right along the stairs, which provided us with a pretty good view, around the centre of the ship. We had been blessed with great weather the entire cruise…until today. The rain was falling very hard and the sky was grey. For a guy who loves to snap the pictures, I was a bit distraught as we started out.  A little bit of research tells me that this area of the world is often rainy.
We had brought our umbrella from our room  (I think its great that Celebrity provides an umbrella in each stateroom) so things seemed better.

The journey into the Canal had begun. As we started our cruise into the locks we said goodbye to the Pacific Ocean and in front of us we could see the Bridge of the America’s directly ahead.

Despite the rain it was very warm today. Somehow, the rain just doesn’t seem to matter as much when its warm (how’s that for positive thinking!).

Slowly we passed under the Bridge of the America’s.

 Ahead of us you could see the NCL’s Norwegian Star, which would be near us the entire day as we journeyed through the Canal. We then made our way toward the first set of locks and our exit from the Pacific Ocean would be complete.

 Getting ready to enter the first stage of the Miraflores Locks:

We then entered the Miraflores Locks and began a lift that would move the ship 16.5 metres (53 ft) higher then when we first entered and allow us to traverse Miraflores lake as we headed toward the second set of locks. We stayed at the front of the ship on Deck 11 for the first set of locks.

I will let the pictures tell the rest of this story:

After the rise up from the Pacific Ocean we entered Miraflores Lake and headed for the Pedro Migual Locks
Tracks the Train mules run along securing the ship within the lock:

Miraflores Lake with the New Millennium Bridge in the background and our cruise ship and the NCL side by side in the locks:

We then went down to deck 10 and went out to the aft area of the oceanview café. By the time we made our way back there the rain had slowed and was almost stopped. The Pedro Miguel Locks are the smallest locks along the Canal. They have one flight and raise the ship 10 metres (almost 33 ft). The aft view gave a different perspective as we pulled through the locks.
NCL Ship behind us now:

Above is a shot of the Miraflores locks from inside the Pedro Miguel Locks and below is the Control House:

We then moved from the second set of locks into the Culebra Cut.  Once in the Cut, it was pretty much Scenic cruising for the next few hours as we approached Gatun Lake. We had made our way through the first two sets of locks in just over two hours and as 10:30am approached we would continue cruising until around 1 pm before entering the lake. The cruise along the Cut was beautiful and very green.  Along the way you could see numerous natural water falls that flow into the canal and feed it with all the water it requires.

Millennium Bridge:

We continued to cruise down the 12.6 km Culebra cut toward Gatun Lake. As you cruise along this portion of the Canal you can’t help but feel the amazing engineering success that this Canal represents. It is said that the materials that came from the excavation of this Cut could have erected 63 pyramids the size of the existing ones in Egypt. I personally was awestruck at this incredible man made wonder of our great world!

More shots as we moved along the cut toward Gatun Lake:

Gatun lake is another engineering marvel of the Canal system. This lake stretches for 33km and is completely man made. It is in fact, the largest fresh water, man-made lake in the world. It is 85 ft above sea level. While in Gatun Lake, we dropped anchor and many of our fellow cruisers who had booked shore excursions would tender off the ship at this point. They would rejoin us in Colon. Now, we did not get off the ship as we wanted to experience the full transit on ship. Those that were off the ship did watch the ship go through the final locks at Gatun and I am sure they probably had a nice perspective from the viewing stands located at the locks.  The Lake was like a parking lot for ships, as we approached the locks. It was rather interesting to see these large ships all lined up waiting for their turn to enter the locks.

Below are some of the pictures as we were docked and waiting our turn to enter the Gatun Locks:

The Gatun Locks are a three stage set of locks that cover 1.9 km (1.2 miles). These locks would lower us to the sea level of the Atlantic or Caribbean Sea.

As a result of the weather improving, the Captain opened up the Heli pad on Deck 5 forward. I was lucky to be heading down to Deck 4 at the very moment this was announced and was able to make a quick turn and be one of the first on the pad. As a result, I was able to get a great view of our transit through these locks.

The weather was still overcast but it had not rained for a few hours. The result of the rain was extreme humidity. By the time we were through the locks the sweat was rolling down my face and my shirt was drenched. I was pleasantly surprised to see that when they opened the Heli pad they also opened a bar. Needless to say, an ice cold beer never tasted so good!

More shots from the Gatun locks:

 This shot gives a great perspective on how we are being lowered to the sea level of the Atlantic:

Vicki and Craig enjoy a drink on the Heli Pad and Craig perhaps a bit too much!

View of the track that the Train mule rides on. You can see the depth to the final lock on the eastbound trek:

 Guard at the Locks:

It had been a very long day..if you recall I pulled the dummy move and got up really early. We had just finished our transit through the Canal and were now on our way to Colon. We would stop in Colon until 11 pm. We did not bother to get off the ship because we had our dinner in the MDR at 8:30 and of course wanted to enjoy the evening festivities. Here are a few final shots from the Canal:

A view of the Gatun Locks from the Aft of the ship as we sail away from them:

 Heading to Colon:

After some sushi and pizza on Deck 10, we then headed off to clean up for the evening and try our best to make it to the 7 pm show. Tonight’s show featured Comedian Scott Wyler. Scott was very funny and his jokes were edgy and for 45 minutes disregarded the aspect of political correctness. Once again, Celebrity scored high on the entertainment front for me.  After the show, we met up with almost our entire dinner table for a few drinks and then made our way to the MDR.

After dinner, it was up to the Constellation Lounge where we have ended almost every day so far. Tonight, the lounge featured the Newlywed, Not so Newlywed game. Four couples were randomly selected and the game began. I have to say this was rather tame compared to some of the other times I have seen this or a similar show on a cruise. Of course, it did have its moments and was entertaining. After the game show, the party continued into the early hours with Celebrity DJ and some dancing.

So our day was coming to a close. I think I had been up about 20 hours by the time we headed back to our room. The cruise through the Canal had been all I had hoped it would be. It was a bit of a downer that the sun was seldom seen on this day, however that in no way put a damper on the day (well except for how wet we got in early morning rain). As I reflect on the day and the transit across the canal, I could not help but think about those who toiled to build this incredible piece of engineering. Many lives were lost and many workers suffered disease and other complications. During the American construction over 5000 men died. If you add that to the French attempts, this number would rise to over 25,000. Of course, the end result also had created enormous benefits for many as well.  It is a phenonminal accomplishment and as always the workers need to be recognized for their efforts in making this canal a possibility.

Tomorrow would be another sea day. I was looking forward to that. Cartagena was right around the corner as well. My plan for the next sea day was to try and get as many pictures of the many lounges and rooms on the ship. Stay tuned…. my nect entry will provide you with a tour of the ship and all it had to offer.

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