When we booked our cruise to transit the Panama Canal on Celebrity Infinity those many, many months ago, we knew that one of the biggest days on the 17-day voyage would be when we actually got into the canal.
While we were "stuck" on the ship for the day, the Panama Canal transit is an adventure. The energy on the ship ratcheted up a bit even the night before as people discussed their plans for how they would spend their time the next day as we went through the canal.
Plans involved scoping out the best vantage points as we approached the locks and so forth.
You have to wake up early on the morning the ship queues up to enter the Panama Canal because all the top spots at the front of the ship go fast. The helicopter pad on Celebrity Infinity, opened only for the journey through, is a popular place to gather to view the first set of locks as they open. Our grand entrance represented the first cruise ship of the season passing west to east in the massive man-made waterway.
The Panama Canal is about 50 miles long, and it takes a cruise ship about eight or nine hours to transit. We entered from the Pacific Ocean side, meaning we would be actually traveling northwest to make our way to the Port of Colon on the eastern side of the canal. Strange, right? After passing the Bridge of the Americas at the Pacific approach to the Panama Canal, we enjoyed a close-up view of the old but still efficient 100-year-old lock system. After an eight-mile journey into the channel, our ship was raised up more than 50 feet in the two-stage Miraflores Locks. Then, we sailed through an artificial lake to the San Pedro Miguel lock to be lifted another 30-plus feet to the main level of the canal.
From there, we glided for a good portion of the day, at 85 feet above sea level, through the man-made Gatun Lake, which carried us for 15 miles across the isthmus and past islands and other ships in the lake. Gatun Lake is a top attraction itself, and cruisers can take excursions during their port day in Colon to explore Monkey Island or kayak in the lake (watch out for the crocodiles), which is home to an abundance of exotic birds and other wildlife.
I recommend that you get up fairly early on transit day and grab a good spot in front of your ship. If you are at the very front, you can have a cool view of when the gates open. But you will be trapped there for hours and often in the unforgiving heat and sun. I got a decent enough spot a couple decks higher than the helipad area, and this was fine for me.
I could leave and return at my leisure and not worry about missing too much.
It's also a cool view to see the gates of the lock closing behind the ship after you make it through. But if you are all the way up front, you can't quickly make it to the back of the ship in time. So, you have to pick a middle ground in order to get a shot and snapping pictures or video of both the opening and closing process.
Head to the decks at the side of the ship on the lower levels to find yourself at ground level, just feet away from the locomotive tracks and machines and workers handling the ropes and cables and easing your ship through the locks.
Also, I highly recommend booking a room with a balcony on a Panama Canal cruise. You get wonderful perspectives and a little privacy just leaning out over the edge and watching the lake and locks and canal workers and tugboats.
If you like history and engineering, you'll really enjoy transiting the Panama Canal on a cruise ship. I hope this helps you come up with a good strategy to enjoy your day as much as we did.
Thanks for reading,