It takes about 12 hours to transit the Panama Canal that involves moving through three sets of locks and a trip across Gatun Lake. We were in place for the first set of locks at 6:30 a.m., but the real motivation to get out of bed were the “Panama rolls” served on deck.
We arrived on deck in time to pass under the Bridge of the Americas which will allow traffic to cross over the canal rather than waiting to cross between ships. This bridge was not finished last year when we passed through the canal. However, even though the bridge is finished, it is still not open to traffic because the roads leading to the bridge are not yet complete.
The Gatun Locks raise the ship from sea level to the level of Gatun lake. The ships are moved inside the locks by small, heavy-duty rail cars called “mules”. The ship enters the lock, doors close behind the ship, and water rushes into the lock and the ship rises 85 feet. There are two of these locks to get to the level of Gatun Lake.
Our guide emphasized that maintaining the jungle and rainforest that borders the canal is essential because immense amounts of water are needed for each ship that transits the canal.
I also thought it was interesting to compare the number of passengers out on deck to view the ship entering the locks. On our ship, many people have traveled through the canal multiple times. On the cruise ship behind us, we could see deck after deck of passengers enjoying the transit.
Later today we will pass through two other sets of locks to lower us from lake level back to sea level and the Pacific Ocean.