Panama Canal: By the Hours and By the Numbers

Every traveler that likes to experience interesting and unique adventures should set their sights on the Panama Canal. Transiting it by cruise ship is fascinating, watching the logistics of getting from Atlantic to Pacific. The ships sail through the locks and lakes, being raised and lowered as needed. And the scenery is lush and beautiful. Here is an account of transiting the Panama Canal this past Tuesday, Oct. 29, as well as interesting facts about this incredible man-made marvel.

An Encapsulated Glance at a Panama Canal Transit

5:30 a.m.: Up early, dress quickly to be on deck by 6 a.m. as our ship, ms Veendam, enters the Gatun Locks on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal to begin our transit to the Pacific side.


6 a.m.: We slide into some of the last spots on the rail on the ship’s bow. A brief rain squall sends some for cover inside. We get better spots at the rail and watch as the ship leaves the first chamber of the Gatun Locks and enters the second. Crew members serve Panama rolls, coffee and lemonade on the bow. We move to higher decks for a different view.



7:30 a.m.: As we are leaving the third and final chamber of Gatun Locks we head to the dining room for breakfast. Following a leisurely breakfast, we stop by Lido Deck for the sale of Canal t-shirts and other merchandise. Profits from the day’s sale go to a Panamanian charity.


9:30 a.m.: Back on deck, this time Lower Promenade, for scenic cruising in Gatun Lake. The temperature is heating up, and waiters come by with cool fresh fruit.


10:30 a.m.: Time for a break from the outside viewing. The ship’s captain has cautioned everyone not to stay outside in the hot and humid weather for long periods, so we return to our stateroom for a rest.

11:30 a.m.: We wander up to the Crow’s Nest to take in the sights from an indoor spot. This has been, and still is, the most popular place for Canal watching. Staff is serving lemonade in here.


11:45 a.m.: The most exciting moment of the day arrives as ms Westerdam, cruising to the Atlantic from the Pacific side, rounds a corner in a narrow section of the Canal near Gamboa and comes into view ahead of us. As the sister ships pass closely, horns on both ships sound a greeting and guests on both cheer and wave enthusiastically.


12:30 p.m.: We pass under Centennial Bridge and approach the first lock on the Pacific side of the Canal.

Julie Hinman captures her mom, Jan, in a pensive moment as they transit the Panama Canal.

Julie Hinman captures her mom, Jan, in a pensive moment as they transit the Panama Canal.

12:55 p.m.: We enter the Pedro Miguel Lock. On deck, crew members pass out chilled washcloths to anyone still braving the hot sun.


3 p.m.: We leave the second and final lock, the Miraflores Lock, and head toward the Pacific Ocean.

Entering Miraflores Locks.

Entering Miraflores Locks.

3:30 p.m.: We sail past Panama City and under the Bridge of the Americas and head for our next port of call, Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica.

Panama Canal By the Numbers

2 Oceans, the Atlantic and Pacific connected by the Canal
3 Massive sets of locks (Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores)
51 Miles the Canal reaches in length
52 Million gallons of freshwater necessary for each crossing
85 Feet – the height the locks raise ships from sea level to Gatun Lake
130 Million cubic meters of rock and soil dredged
$375 Million, the final cost – five times higher than the total cost of the Louisiana Territories, Florida, California, New Mexico, Alaska and the Philippines combined.
815,000 Number of ships that pass through the Panama Canal each year


Join the Discussion

One Comment

  1. Patricia Epperly February 9, 2014 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    Jan ~ Thank you for the great photos. I am getting more excited about my cruise in April 20014. My friend and I are traveling from Portland, OR & she from Indianapolis, IN to San Diego. This is my first cruise without my husband. Our husbands were Air Force Career buddies and have known them since 1953.
    What were your favorite things to do on board? What were your favorite Excursions? Did you or your daughter participate in on board dances? and if so how did that go?
    Thanks again ~ Pat

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