The high point and the reason most guests choose this itinerary is the Panama Canal. Built in 1914, the original lock gates are still in use. The canal channel is 110 feet wide and the Zuiderdam has a clearance of 2.25 feet on either side.
It takes several hours for each ship to transit once we enter the locks. Gatun Lake waits on the other end where we all disembark for shore excursions. There is nothing at the Gatun Lake Yacht Club but a place to land the tenders. So much for a fancy name. You would think with some of the $300,000-plus the Zuiderdam pays to make each transit, some of it could be used to upgrade the yacht club!
The Zuiderdam makes the morning special with Panama rolls and drinks served all over the ship. The bow deck (pointy end of the ship) is opened to the public so they can get a front-row spot for the transit. Usually about 6:30 a.m. the ship comes alive with photographers of all kinds — small pocket Canons to digital SLRs with massive lenses set on tripods. You may gather from the photos that I have the former type of camera rather than the latter.
Every Panama port day we disembark over 1,000 guests who take shore excursions from 3.5 hours in Lake Gatun to 8 hours crossing Panama. My favorite so far is the Embera Indian Village.
Michael and I work with shorex on Panama mornings, helping to get everyone off on time. On time in Panama always varies depending on the ship traffic through the canal. Last cruise the Statendam preceded us through in the parallel channel. You can see her in the photo as she enters Gatun Lake ahead of us.
This feat of engineering is certainly worth coming to see. If you have any interest in history, engineering, anthropology or nature, make Panama a destination choice.
Joanne and Michael are future cruise consultants on Zuiderdam.