Select Page

DAY 12: Panama Canal Transit

Panama Canal: First, the fueling tanker left the side our ship at 5p last night. It had been there all dang day! Never again will I complain about paying for 150 gallons of diesel for our RV.


Now, my report from Late Last Night - After our long day in Panama City, we had 8p dinner reservations at the French restaurant on this ship. Risky, but we went to the restaurant at 7p and were immediately seated. Oddly, when we booked this cruise, it seemed every single seat in every single “speciality” restaurant was booked solid. Not so. The French restaurant was ¾ booked (at best) tonight.

Our meals were good, and I snapped photos, but the lighting was not great for iPhone photography. Nice French Onion Soup – could not find a floating bread topper though. I had the most amazing salad. It was just a simple head of endive – somehow pried open enough to drizzle a lovely creamy vinaigrette between the tight leaves. Then the end of the endive head was sliced off, so it stood upright, and a ring of sweet onion was slid over the head of endive to hold it all together! This masterpiece was garnished with crumbled blue cheese and walnuts. So. Much. Fun.

Endive Salad

Dave ordered the veal chop and I can’t tell you how long it has been since we have enjoyed (we shared!) a veal chop so well-cooked and pleasantly seasoned. Truly delicious. Sorry the lighting was not more helpful for shooting our meals.

Veal Chop - the “fingers” are made of potato puff

Canal crossing: Rumors are flying around the ship as we were due to depart at 10p, but left the dock just after 6p – just after the fueling barge departed the port side of the ship.

Two issues: it costs money to dock at a pier. Second issue, this ship is so tall, it can’t pass under the America Bridge to enter the canal unless there is a low tide, and the low tide is around 1 o’clock tomorrow morning. The Norwegian Bliss has left the dock and will float around the bay – without anchor – with hundreds of other ships waiting their turn for either passage through any of the three locks, or fueling. Interesting fact: there are about 200 ships in the world too large to transit the Panama Canal.

We went to bed and didn’t wake until the ship had already passed under the American Bridge. Middle of the night. We were dozing on and off all night, popping out to the balcony to see what we could see. We entered the first Cocoli lock at 4:45a, and exited the third lock after dawn. The ship allowed passengers out on the front bow for the only time during this cruise. A narrator was speaking over the ship intercom, and it was also broadcasts on the ship bridge camera tv channel, so we could hear what was going on if we were in our room. I did not go out on the front deck because it was sooooo crowded (and I am to short to see over anyone). Here too many photos of our day, with captions.

Entering the lock at 4:26a

Ships are raised from sea level to ~85 feet - the elevation of Gatun Lake, then dropped down again to sea level at the second set of locks, Gatun Locks, on the Atlantic side.

Control Tower
Looking aft
The ponds where to water pumped in/out of the locks is stored
Taken from the bow of the ship as the Norwegian Bliss leaves the locks

Finally we entered the Culebra Cut (a thin man-made waterway) leading to Gatun Lake, which we traversed the remainder of the day, entering the set of locks in the Caribbean early afternoon. The lake is massive and the shores are covered with thick lush jungle. Beautiful.

Bridge built by Germany
Under the bridge
Dredge in the Culebra Cut
Gatun Lake

We were in the lake about five hours. When we reached the set of locks that would drop us into the Caribbean Sea, there was a lot of ship traffic.

Approaching the Gatun Locks
The Norwegian Jewel sailed past us in the opposite direction.
There was a lot of hootin’ and shouting between the ships! Very fun!
Automobile container vessel

The entire day was spent traversing the ship - up and down stairs, from fore to aft - to see what was visible on the starboard side, and trying to stay awake! The crew were very supportive and had set up chairs in strategic viewing points and provided stations with coffee, ice water and iced tea available.

The pool area is always busy - no matter if the ship is in the Panama Canal.

We did take a break for lunch before entering the Gatun Locks, and apparently FIFA didn’t care we were busy looking over the side of a ship, and started Argentina v Croatia on schedule. We felt a bit woozy all day, after being awake (on and off) since just after one o’clock in the morning.

This is photo taken from our cabin TV from the bridge cam.
The Bliss is in the first of three Gatun Locks.
The two long gates in the photo above slide out to close-off
the three section of the locks for filling or emptying.
Example of gate closing/opening
There was a tug helping the Norwegian Bliss today

And I made a little video! It took five minutes for this lock to close, so I condensed it to 46 seconds. The beeping continues the entire five minutes.

Then the water is drained from the lock - before and after:

As our ship exited the canal into the Caribbean Sea, the Ruby Princess entered the first lock, following us. Fun Fact: we sailed to Alaska with the kids BC (meaning before Covid) on the Ruby.

Ruby Princess
Happy people on Deck 8

Remember the Neptune Lines auto hauler from an above photo? It is a smaller ship, so could traverse the canal on the original sets of locks. We could see the ship from Deck 17.

View to the other sets of locks

It was a wonderful experience to go through the Panama Canal - what a feat of engineering! Think of all that math, all completed without a calculator or computer. The cost to go through the canal is over-whelming, but the savings on fuel to go around South America is also over-whelming. the usual quote is 80% cheaper to go through the canal.

We went back to our air conditioned cabin and caught most of the World Cup game. It is really fun to not have an allegiance - just the love of sport - and can be happy with either team winning. Then, as you can plainly see from my photo above, I had a haircut in the ship salon. With this humidity, I am just miserable with my curls. Much better now.

Again, cocktails in the Observation Lounge and dinner tonight in the ship’s steakhouse, Cagney’s. This was probably the best meal we have had so far… though I can’t wait to get back to our normal diet. I’ve eaten more red meat these past days than I usually do in months. But… when you are going to a steakhouse…

Tomato Salad
Caesar Salad
Petite Tenderloin with Bearnaise sauce, roasted tomato, and frites

It was a Big Day!

We lost Wi-Fi just after leaving the locks, so this report is coming to you (unedited) live from Cartagena, Columbia, where we are just getting ready to dock. Until my next update, no doubt about our day in Cartagena, I remain, your “I’ve been through the Panama Canal” correspondent.

Panama Canal information from Wikipedia
Panama Canal information from The History Channel
45 minute video about the canal from The History Channel
Fun Facts about the Panama Canal
Norwegian Bliss
Real-time ship tracking

One thought

Comments are closed.