Seeing the Canal from on the water is a completely different experience than taking a tour and watching a ship or two be processed.
In short discussion – the Canal traverses Panama at above sea level, requiring the ships to be raised about 27 meters on the way in which is accomplished at the three stage Gatun locks on the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a cruise through the Gatun [man made lake], the Gaylor cut at the continental divide, down one stage at the Pedro Miguel Lock, across the small Miraflores Lake to the last pair of locks at Miraflores before exiting into salt water, passing under the Bridge of Americas and heading into the Pacific Ocean. Our transit was in the 0600-1800 time frame. Ships have to be lined up and checked in by a certain time in order to maintain their place in the queue. Payments are upfront by bank transfer unless you are small enough (under $1500) to pay in cash or by credit card. The lowest toll ever was by a swimmer who paid $0.36 (who had a rowboat and rifleman along with him in case of alligators) and the highest was a passenger ship spending more than $400k to avoid going around South America. The passenger ships are actually at PanaMax while the smallest ship was 36″ (remote controlled).
Just in case you don’t remember from my discussion last November, you sail South to go West and North to go East (the Isthmus is oriented North/South even tho you are crossing from East to West or vice versa).
I obviously took a lot of photos. I have included a number in the thumbnails and will create a page including more of the shots when I am somewhere that I have reasonable (not expensive) access to the Internet. If you want to watch ships go through – just google panama canal webcam, they are broadcasting from all three lock locations.
Asides, before I forget. Apparently the Coral Princess is on a Caribbean Cruise but she transits the first set of locks then anchors in Gatun lack. Her passengers then can tender in for tours in Panama. Given the cost of even a partial transit (and three locks in followed by three locks out is cost wise essentially a full transit) I can’t believe it is better than docking in Colon like we did on the Grandeur last year. The cost of a full transit for a large passenger ship can be over $300,000. I find it hard to believe than port costs would be that high.
We passed the old Ft Clayton which is now University complex as well as the hotel I stayed in last year followed by being able to see the Panama City Skyline. Along with the Bridge of Americas you could see the change in the water as the fresh water from the locks met the salt water of the Pacific Ocean.
I didn’t see either the whales or the dolphins as we sailed out into the ocean. Maybe another time.