January 20th 2018


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The Panama Canal The Panama Canal The Panama Canal The Panama Canal The Panama Canal The Panama Canal The Panama Canal


Continent: South America. Country: Panama. City: Panama.

The Panama Canal

By Stuart Carlson

Back in February 2012 my wife and I spent 11 nights on Celebrity Equinox cruising round the Western Caribbean taking in Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia and not forgetting the highlight for me of Colon Panama for the Panama Canal. There are a number of options to see this man made phenomenon, and decided for us a day trip from Colon to go along the canal  was better  than taking a cruise from Florida to California or vice versa through the canal.

So as a port Colon Panama does not appear to have a massive amount going for it; well on Sunday 19th February 2012 about 80% of the passengers on Celebrity Equinox were in the Theatre trying to get away on an excursion of 1 kind or another, with approximately 450 people travelling to canal to do the same excursion as us. Which was first by coach, and there were 10 of them, taken to the Dredging division of the Canal just before the start of the Gailard Cut. Then onto a small tourist boat for a passage through the Pedro Migel and Miraflores locks to the Pacific Ocean, before returning to Colon and the ship by coach, a good 6 or 7 hours away from the ship!

With so many people we were on 2 smaller trip boats, we got the best of the 2, early 20th Century boat with about 75 people on board - the Isalmorada.  A bit of history, she was once owned by Al Capone and used to run alcohol from Cuba in the prohibition!

Not only was the boat excellent, so was our guide, Uncle Marty, a Panamanian with a smooth American accent who was a mine of useful information about the boat, the canal and many other things during the day. In fact did you know, that the original plans were for smaller locks but were changed to allow 2 boats then being built to get through, an American warship, the Pennsylvania and an early cruise ship that never actually made it, the Titanic!

So if you have been on a canal or even a river cruise the locks work in the same way to change the level of water and raise or lower the ship it is just the size which is so different. One interesting thing, as the last door opens saltwater from the Pacific meets freshwater from the canal and this is an excellent feeding place for Pelicans. We spotted 2 Pelicans sat on the quay waiting for the gates to open and get their rich pickings!

It takes about 7 or 8 hours for a ship to transit the canal, and it is strange to see an Ocean going cargo ship moving through the landscape! The canal has been operating for nearly 100 years, and ships that can transit the canal are termed Panamax. These are ships that can fit into the canal's lock chambers, each of which is 110 ft (33.53 m) wide by 1,050 ft (320.04 m) long, and 41.2 ft (12.56 m) deep. 

The canal was opened in 1914 after many years of work, and Panama is currently spending circa US$5 billion constructing new locks so that larger ships will be able to do the transit. The new works will be finished when the canal celebrates its 100 years in operation.

So was it worth it? I think so and the bonus for me was that being on a small boat we got to see the locks and see some of the feats of engineering that brought this place to life. An excellent excursion and one I would do again.


Stuart Carlson

Cruise Consultant

Barrhead Travel Group/Cruise Direct


01527 550838