It started as all great things do, with food.
So we wouldn’t miss a second of passing through The Panama Canal, the Uncruise crew set up a dinner buffet on the bow of the ship.
The food was tasty, especially the sliders. Even dessert, an ice cream sundae bar, was set up al fresco.
The first of many interesting things about cruising through the Panama Canal, is that each ship’s crew must step down to allow a special canal crew to board and take control of the ship.
They want to ensure that no one crashes a ship into the walls. I also assume it helps to ensure that no one is up to any shenanigans.
The excitement rose as we pulled into the Gatun Locks.
Gatun has three locks.
Since we were a small ship, we had to buddy up with a larger ship.
Each lock brought a flurry of activity. Lines were attached, orders were shouted. It was fascinating to watch the engineering ballet take place. It’s mind boggling to think about how many ships pass through The Panama Canal on a daily basis, each ship requiring the same level of activity and attention.
Gatun Lock Time Lapse
Gatun Lock Gate Closing
Gatun Lock Real Time
As with the food, there was a table stocked with bottles of wine outside, on the top deck, so you could pour yourself a glass without missing a second of the canal magic.
Watching the water rise against the gate, while casually sipping a glass of wine, felt surreal.
As we passed through the locks, we spotted ships passing in the opposite direction. One of the coolest was a ship transporting wind turbine blades.
Now you may be asking, it looks like you’re going through the canal at night, weren’t you disappointed that you didn’t see it during the day?
My answer is, no. There were advantages to going through the canal at night.
First, I could sit out on the open deck without worrying about burning to a crisp. Next, there were amazing views of the moon shining over the canal.
Finally, there was the peace of riding across the lake. The longest part of The Panama Canal transit isn’t going through the locks, it’s traversing Gatun Lake. The water was calm, and with very little light pollution, our surroundings were blanketed in darkness. The lighted markers on the shore, looked like multicolored fireflies. Void of scenery to gawk at, I enjoyed the quiet stillness as the breeze caressed my face. I think it will remain one of my most peaceful travel memories.
The Canal crew is only allowed to work a certain number of hours. While we cruised across Gatun Lake, a boat approached. The timed out crew members hopped off, and the new canal crew hopped on to finish the rest of our journey.
We re-entered civilization, and lights, at the Pedro Miguel Locks.
Pedro Miguel has one lock.
We watched as canal staff in a row boat, furiously worked to get the lines to our ship. That probably would not be my favorite job.
Being one of the “mule” drivers however, looked like a lot of fun. I assume if you did it day in and day out, the novelty would eventually wear off.
Panama Canal Mule
An interesting addition to the lock, was a bridge that allowed workers to cross the canal.
It takes around 8 – 10 hours to fully transverse The Panama Canal.
As we made our way out of the Pedro Miguel locks, and towards the final lock, we were starting to get sleepy. We were committed though. We assumed we would probably only cruise through The Panama Canal once in our lives, so we vowed to stay up at least until we finished going through the final lock.
Miraflores is the most well known Panama Canal lock, as it is the lock that contains the visitors’ center. Thousands of people show up everyday hoping to get a glimpse of a ship going through The Panama Canal. We visited Miraflores when we were in Panama ten years ago.
It was fun visiting back then, but the experience paled in comparison to the experience of being inside of the Miraflores Lock.
Aside from the great food, outdoor wine table, and crew who were always willing to answer our canal questions, one of the best parts about going through the canal with Uncruise, was the small ship. For the Miraflores Lock, the lock is drained, so you sink down. By the time we were finished, I was astounded. Being in a small ship, the lock and its gate towered over us at a deliciously menacing height. I felt like I was a character in The Lord of the Rings, gazing up at the gates of Mordor. I imagine if you are on a mega-sized ship, you never get to truly feel what it’s like to be completely enveloped by The Panama Canal.
At 1:30 am, after completing The Miraflores Lock, we called it a night. It was a long, indescribable day of adventure, and we were ready for bed (kudos to Carol and Ken who I believe stayed up until our ship was officially out to sea).
Cruising through The Panama Canal is on many a travelers’ bucket list. To be honest, no pictures or words could ever do this awesome experience justice. So do what the travelers do. Prioritize, save your money, and cruise through The Panama Canal.
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