Now it’s finally time for the long-awaited post that I have been putting off for a while: the journey through the Panama Canal. The voyage through the canal was the highlight of the cruise as it was the reason why many of us had chosen that cruise line in the first place.
A few facts about the Panama Canal to boost your IQ (you can thank me later):
- There are 3 sets of locks: Miraflores, Pedro Miguel, and Gatun. If you go on a full transit cruise through the canal, you pass through all 3 locks. If you do a half transit, I think you only go through 1 set of locks. (Gatun)
- Miraflores has 2 steps, Pedro Miguel has 1 step, and Gatun is composed of 3 steps.
- It first opened on August 15th, 1914. The very first ship to make the transit was the SS Ancon.
- Work on the canal, however, began in 1881 by the French, however, they had to abandon the project due to high mortality as a result of diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.
- The Panama Canal spans a total distance of 48 miles (about 77 kilometres)
- It connects the Atlantic ocean (via the Caribbean sea) to the Pacific ocean. The main reason why the Panama Canal is so popular and so one-of-a-kind is because it saves so much travel time for ships. They can just go through the canal instead of having to travel around the tip of South America and back up again.
- Each lock displaces 52 million gallons of water each time.
- The largest ship that can go through the locks is called a “panamax” ship. The ship that I was on- the Island Princess- was one of them. The current locks are only 33.5 metres (110 feet) wide. We barely squished through haha.
- Gatun Lake connects the Pedro Miguel locks and the Gatun Locks. At the time it was made, Gatun Lake was the largest man made lake in existence.
- Originally owned and operated by the United States, Panam finally took over full operation, administration and maintenance of the Canal on December 31st, 1999.
- There is current, on-going construction to expand the Panama Canal by adding in a new “lane of traffic” and this is set to open later this year, in 2016.
As you can see, there is a TON of history with the Panama Canal and the struggles and hardships people had to overcome to complete the construction. Our ship started to enter the first set of locks at around 8:45 in the morning. (I was up at around 6, ready to take pictures. I got to see the ship pass under the Bridge of the Americas and pass by Panama City in the distance.
After the Pedro Miguel Locks, the ship entered Gatun Lake and the Culebra Cut during the early afternoon. As you can see in the pictures below, the water was a lot more blue as we left the Pacific Ocean and started to get closer and closer to the Caribbean sea; it wasn’t that murky yellow colour anymore.
Then, we made our way to the Gatun Locks at around 3:15 in the afternooon and we began our descent back to sea level. We finally entered the Caribbean Sea at around 4:45 to 5 pm. As you can see, from 6 in the morning to around 5 pm, the Panama Canal is an entire day of excitement, adventure, and pictures. I even participated in the sign flip that was captured by one of the photographers in the helicopter!
Here are some pictures that the professional photographers took on board and up in the skies of our ship going through the canal.
Fun Fact: All ships have to pay tolls when they go through the canal and for cruise ships, it is based on the number of berths, which is the number of passengers that can be accommodated in permanent beds. Since January 1, 2011, the fee has been $108 for unoccupied berths and $134 for occupied berths. To go through the canal, our ship, the Island Princess, had to pay a total fee of $257,000. The most expensive toll was paid by the Norwegian Pearl in 2010, totalling to $375,600! No wonder the Panama Canal is vital to Panama’s economy- it’s a huge revenue stream for them. On the other hand, the cheapest toll was paid in 1928 by Richard Halliburton, who paid only 36 cents because he swam the canal!
I’m super happy that I got to cross off the Panama Canal trip on my bucket list. It was amazing just going through the locks and marvelling at the blood, sweat, and tears that were put into this massive project. To think that what was once nothing is now a full-functioning canal attending to over 14,000 ships a year is absolutely astonishing. If you haven’t made the trip yet, I definitely recommend scheduling it sometime soon, especially after 2016 or 2017 so you can see the new sets of locks that are wider! Hope you all enjoyed the pictures and the facts! Happy travels!