Vacation destination: Transiting the Panama Canal is a lock

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

I am going to ask for your indulgence as I write one more story about our recent cruise.

I am very aware that 99 percent of people aren’t really interested in other people’s travels. I know that sitting through a travelogue of pictures and comments about a trip you didn’t take is rarely anyone’s choice of how to spend valuable time. Maybe, just maybe, if you are going to the same place soon, it’s worth a listen/read. Other than that … not so much.

Having said that, I still want to tell you about our full-day journey through the Panama Canal. Stay with me. I was right there with you as we planned this trip. I kept calling it “Neville’s cruise.” I kept looking longingly at all the “other” places we might be going for the same dollars. I was downright sanctimonious in this sacrifice I was making for my dear husband.

Man, was I wrong. If anything, my ignorance and lack of research on this incredible passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans made my wonder at experiencing it even stronger. In the end, I think I enjoyed the passage through the canal more than my engineer husband. I was totally mystified.

The sheer scope of the whole passage was nothing like I imagined, probably because I hadn’t given it much thought at all. I was determined, however, to be a part of the whole experience. To that end, I set out the day before we reached the canal on a journey around the ship for the best place to sit for what was going to be an all-day experience.

Our captain told us we would start through Miraflores Locks, the first lock sailing from the Atlantic to the Pacific, at approximately 7 a.m. We would cruise into the Pacific Ocean, hopefully, by 5 p.m. the same day.

Neville and I determined that the best place to be was in the front of the ship at a table at the Windjammer Cafeteria.

The Windjammer opened at 6 a.m. I was second in line. Neville joined me at the prime table I had scored an hour later.

View from our table on Vision of the Seas as we start through the Miraflores Lock of the Panama Canal.

Going through the three locks took us two hours. We watched as the gates opened, the water flowed and the “mules,” which are small electric trains, did their jobs of keeping the ship in the center of the canal. That’s important because there isn’t much side clearance for these large cruise ships.

Traveling through the canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean required first raising our ship from sea level to Gatun Lake’s 85 feet.

The Miraflores Locks, our first one, raised our ship 52 feet. The Pedro Miguel Locks took us the rest of the way up to the level of Gatun Lake. Once on Gatun Lake, we cruised the length of the Panama Canal, taking the better part of the day. At the last lock, Gatun Locks, we were lowered back down 85 feet to sea level, then entered the Pacific Ocean.

I have so many other facts that I learned as we traveled through and the next day in Panama City when I saw an IMAX film on the canal at one of the lock museums. But I sense I am at that travelogue limit, so I’m closing.

The voyage through the canal is truly remarkable. While we did a full-transit, there are half-transits that don’t take as many days as our cruise. This engineering marvel isn’t just for engineers. I’m so glad I “sacrificed” and got to experience this adventure.

Put it on your bucket list.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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