Episode 152 – Panama from North to South by Ship, and Goodbye 2021!

December 31, 2021 87°F/31°C


The Panama canal took over 10 years and 75000 workers to build, funded by the U.S. and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after the French abandoned their 23 year-long attempt at building it in 1904. Like many huge infrastructure projects, it was as much about military strategy as economics. President Teddy Roosevelt felt the canal was essential to the efficient movement of the U.S. Navy between the two oceans.

The massive amounts of earth moved during the digging of the canal were used largely to create what is now Panama City. When the parallel mega canal, completed in 2016, was built to accommodate newer, bigger cargo ships, the earth from that project further enlarged Panama City’s landmass.

We transited through the original 110ft (33.5m) wide locks completed in 1914. Because the original canal is fairly narrow, we had a good view of both sides from Decks 2, 7, 8, and 9, as well as a view of the ships coming through the locks in the opposite direction.

One of the freighters under Panamanian flag coming through the Gatun lock in the other direction. They were just lowered – we’re about to be lifted!
Flocks of pelicans flew overhead – this one decided to stand along the canal to watch the passing ships.

Just before 8:00 a.m. we entered the channel leading to the Gatun Lock, the first of 3 we’ll transit today. Our Panama Canal Authority pilot came aboard overnight to help guide is through the canal. We’re were also assisted by electric “mules” on a funicular style mechanism (#156 & 198 on the starboard side of the ship, 2 others on the port side) to which we were tied, and a tugboat. We moved through under our own speed at a whopping 1 knot.

Our progress entering the Gatun Lake lock. Note the “mules” climbing the funicular to guide us toward the gates.
Our ship is relatively small at 28.8 m wide, yet you can see how close to the canal sides we were – just 2.5 metres available on each side.

At almost exactly 09:00 we cleared the gates, to be sealed into the lock within which we’d be lifted to the approximately 31 mile long Gatun Lake, the artificial lake built by damming the Chagres River bed to create an intermediary level between the 2 oceans. This first pair of gates is about 74 feet high. Inside the Gatun lock we were lifted 85 feet (29.5 m) in 3 steps.

From top to bottom:
Entering the lock, waiting as the water rises, and sailing out the other end.
Just a few of Gatun Lake’s lush islands.
Looking back from Gatun Lake, we had a clear view of the now empty locks through which we had passed, as well as the Puente Atlantico (Atlantic Bridge)

It sure is different from going through the locks on the Rhine!

Just before noon we passed the protected environmental area of Gamboa, and then through Calebra Cut, which is an artificial valley with manmade steps recalling the shape of Mayan ruins, but actually created to prevent landslides. From inside the cut we got a great view of the Puente Centenario (Centennial Bridge).

We entered the Pedro Miguel Locks just after 1 p.m. This single step lock drops 31 ft (9.4 metres) over a period of about 45 minutes.

Left: Entering the lock. Note the wider, higher waterway to the right. The mega-ships stay at the higher level until Miraflores.
Centre: nearing the lock entry gates.
Right: the exit gates opening.
From our balcony, it was really obvious how much higher the ship in the new canal lane was compared to ours. it looks as if it is sailing on a hill!

Our final lock before reaching the Pacific was the Miraflores, largest of the 3 through which we passed. We reached it so quickly that I very nearly had no photo. It is a 2-step lock which dropped us the final 43-64 feet (13-20 m), depending on the current Pacific tide. Miraflores has the tallest gates, at 82 feet, with each leaf weighing over 650 tons!

Once again we were accompanied by “mules” (just imagine the early years when it was ACTUAL mules!) which help to keep the ship centred in the lock, and our own tugboat.

Almost as soon as we were through the last lock, we were under the Bridge of the Americas, and then into the Pacific Ocean.

So what does it cost to go through the Panama Canal? Freighters pay a canal toll based on a combination of size and value of their cargo. Cruise ships pay a canal toll based on the number of passengers aboard; the Star’s toll today was in the order of $100,000 !!

After all that transcontinental travel, we were ready to party 2021 out of existence.

The NYE menu in the main restaurant featured chilled asparagus with an egg, caper, gherkin and parsley sauce, followed by lobster thermidor with jasmine rice, and capped off with a Grand Marnier soufflé with caramel crème anglaise.
Unexpected bonus: the gin martini I ordered arrived as a double!

To ring in 2022 at midnight, the Star’s entertainment team created a sparkling New Year’s Eve party under the stars, with the roof on Deck 7 open to the night sky and warm air, great live music, a juggling bartender (!) and champagne flowing absolutely non-stop.

Wishing all our friends and family health and happiness in 2022. Prospero Año Nuevo!


  1. Love following your blog! You’re doing a great job! Question: do you know how much it cost for the ship to go through the canal? We went through on a large NCL ship 4 years ago and we were told it cost something like $400,000!


  2. You look gorgeous!! Fun?? I am fascinated with locks. Interesting to see them when we were on the cruise. Love to have you see and write up the Peterborough lift locks Happy new year Xxxxxxxxxxxxxx



  3. Feliz Ano Nuevo from Costa Rica! My husband and I are met retired school administrators from Ontario and follow your blog with enthusiasm. We love to travel and would love to do as you and Ted have done.
    We have decided to spend 3 months in Guanacaste province and see what we decide next year.
    Thank you for you interesting and inspiring posts!!!

    Stacey and Dave


  4. Nicely written. See you on board some day I hope. Jim On Sat, Jan 1, 2022 at 9:39 AM Rose and Ted’s Excellent Adventure wrote:

    > Rose Brooks posted: ” December 31, 2021 87°F/31°C #myvikingstory The > Panama canal took over 10 years and 75000 workers to build, funded by the > U.S. and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after the French > abandoned their 23 year-long attempt at building it in 1904″ >


  5. Happy New Year to you both. Such a marvelous travel into this next year of adventure. Your year seems to have started on a high note – unlike us, here in Quebec, with a curfew (again…) and NO-one in your house! Enjoy those around you (not too near!) and celebrate happiness and the future.
    Hugs to you both.,


  6. Lovely to see the Panama Canal through your eyes and some of Ted’s photos. Not sure we’ll make it down there, so now I feel I’ve experienced that too.
    Happy New Year!


  7. Rose, Thanks so much. Have never seen the locks in person and never so well described and with pictures as you have done. Looking forward to meeting you in LA or later. Your posts are appreciated. Jim and Pam Landes


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