Many guests aboard the Crystal Serenity were up and about by 6 AM on Saturday, January 24. The ship was awaiting its turn to enter the Gatun Locks and begin its journey through the Panama Canal from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Those in stateroom 7057 were not. Our alarm was not due to go off until 7:30. We’d been through the canal three times already and while it is always a treat, we weren’t going to get up early and worry about prime seating (or standing) for the best view.
Much to our chagrin, we could hear the canal commentator start up his talk just a little before seven even though it was only being piped to the outside decks and common areas. Our cabin is on the Promenade Deck so the speakers were right outside our window. We gave up and decided to start the day.
We could watch the progress on our room’s television as the ship neared the locks and the TV channel with the camera view also had the commentary running so it was almost like being outside only without the heat and humidity. The morning air wasn’t too bad yet so we ventured out on the back of the Lido Deck with our plates of food from the morning buffet. We had a prime view albeit from the back and not the front of the ship. Actually it is just as fascinating no matter what side you are on.
There are few places where gravity is truly appreciated. One of those is in the operation of the canal locks. We watched the locks close and saw the perspective of the landscape change as our ship was raised by the water that was gravity-fed into the lock where our ship was held in place by the “mules” on either side. The mules are mechanical train-like critters that hold the lines from the ship and move it from one lock to the other and finally out. There are several on each side of the ship and they follow a railroad track up and down the locks as the ship goes through each.
The Gatun Lake is 85 feet higher than the Caribbean or the Pacific so in order to cross the area ships need to be raised as they enter and then lowered as they exit. The area of Panama that is crossed while on the lake is a lush green jungle—a tribute to the challenges that were presented when the canal was originally built in the early 1900s. It is a fascinating story and well worth looking into if you are at all interested. Did you know that in the process they discovered how to get rid of malaria? And because of the way Panama is situated, to travel west to the Pacific you actually go southeast?
Once through the Gatun Locks, we went on about the business of enjoying the ship’s venues during the day including tea time in the Palm Court which was probably the best attended tea that there will be the rest of the voyage since the Palm Court was prime seating to view the passage through the canal.
Something we hadn't noticed on our other trips through the canal was that there is a one lane road attached to the outside of the lock somehow. We didn't see it coming in but wondered why all the buses and cars were lining up. When the doors had closed as we were into the second lock, we saw the traffic coming up from the opposite side as if they'd gone through a tunnel and then realized that somehow there was a road behind the lock doors. Ah, next time we'll be more observant.
One of the things we were most interested in was the progress being made on the new locks that will hold larger ships. We could see some new structures near the Gatun Locks and as we neared the Mariflores Locks at the Pacific end, we could see lots of construction vehicles moving back and forth in the distance. It was difficult to actually see what was there but the commentator said they expected the new locks to be done in 2016.
It is always amazing to pass the visitors’ center and see the hundreds of people on the outside balconies waving and cheering as you pass by. It never gets old. Once through the Mariflores Locks in late afternoon, we stayed in the Palm Court as others began ending their long day and returning to their staterooms to dress for the evening. Even though it was beginning to rain it was still spectacular to view the huge skyscrapers of Panama City in the distance and pass under the Bridge of the Americas. Once through, we too ended our Canal Day and returned to our stateroom to get ready for an evening of dining and entertainment. Ah, tough life but someone’s gotta do it. Right?
[Note: For you American Idol fans, our night’s entertainment was Lou Gazzara, one of the youngest contestants to make it to the TV finals. I think he said it was the second season. Wow! What a voice! Who beat him?]