The Traveling Steve's

Full Panama Canal Transit Thru The New Locks on The Caribbean Princess!

Steve (DOS) and I recently did a full transit thru the new Panama Canal locks aboard the Caribbean Princess on a 15 night cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to San Francisco. We had a wonderful time, and I’m just now getting around to posting this. As this is a very long post and has many photos and video segments, if it doesn’t load completely, wait for a few moments or refresh the page.

The Steve’s (UNO and DOS) aboard the Caribbean Princess
going thru the new Aqua Clara Locks of the Panama Canal.

It was our first time doing a full transit thru the new Panama Canal locks, although we had previously done a partial transit thru the new locks on the Emerald Princess in January, and a couple full transits of the Panama Canal via the old locks on Celebrity Cruises Infinity. On the Caribbean Princess we had a total of five port stops, along with several sea days which we really enjoyed.

The Steve’s at our first port stop in Cartagena, Columbia

Our first port-of-call, pre-Panama Canal transit was Cartagena, a popular stop for Panama Canal cruises as it’s one of the closest major ports to the Canal at 329 nautical miles (378 statute miles). I’ll post more pics of Cartagena in another post, along with the other ports on this 15 day repositioning cruise, but for now here are a couple photos of the ancient walled city of Cartagena.

Sailing away from Cartagena after our full day port visit there.

As I began this post, I was just going to display a Panama Canal photo gallery with pictures from our recent Caribbean Princess cruise. I thought I’d add a caption here and there, but the more I started researching dates, facts, history and trivia, however, I realized how important it was to post some background information about the Panama Canal along with my photos so as to provide some context about the post, and even educate myself a bit in the process. In short, this post became somewhat of a project for me! I also decided to include a few photos and video from my previous Panama Canal cruises, showing the new vs old locks, construction of the new Canal, and ultimately sailing thru it. By the time I was done with this post, I actually felt like I was writing a term paper in college, but this was a lot more fun! LOL!🤣

A quick bit of background on my Panama Canal experiences. This was my 6th sailing thru the Panama Canal, with a mixture of old and new ports, and partial and full transits. I first sailed thru a partial transit of the Panama Canal (old locks) as a solo cruiser back in 1988 on the now defunct M.V. Regent Star of Regency Cruise Lines, (not to be confused with the ultra-premium line of today, Regent Cruise Lines.) Caution: Do not laugh at this old photo of me from the M.V. Regent Star, taken when I was about 60 pounds and two chins lighter, and still had dark hair and a dark mustache!🤣)

A young Steve UNO in 1988 on my first partial Panama Canal transit
on Regency Cruise Line’s Regent Star. Note the “mule” in the right foreground.

I was so fascinated by the Panama Canal, I repeated the cruise again a couple years later (again solo), many years before I met Steve (DOS). Pictured below was one of the ship photos of the M.V. Regent Star going thru the old Panama Canal Locks I bought aboard back in 1990. Back then the ship photos were only $10 for an 8 x 10 copy (what a bargain compared to today!), and I’ve had this framed and on my wall at home for years.

The M.V. Regent Star sails thru the Panama Canal circa 1990. Note there are 2 pathways thru the old Canal. By contrast, the newer locks only have one pathway, but much larger locks.

Since I met Steve DOS in 2005, we’ve sailed on two full repositioning transits of the Panama Canal from South America back to Ft. Lauderdale (old locks) both on the Celebrity Infinity, a partial transit on the Emerald Princess in January 2022 (new locks) and just recently in March 2022, a full transit on the Caribbean Princess (new locks) from Ft. Lauderdale to San Francisco.

Steve (UNO) and Steve (DOS) transiting the Panama Canal (new locks)
on the Emerald Princess in January 2022.

The Panama Canal is one of those engineering marvel wonders that is even more amazing to see first hand vs reading or seeing photos or video of it. As there is so much information out there in web-land as well as books on the Panama Canal, I’ll be brief with just some highlights that I found interesting. This post is a quick summary of sorts on the Panama Canal without getting technical or wordy; rather interesting things I’m sharing from a cruise ship passenger perspective when sailing thru the Panama Canal.

New Agua Clara control tower overlooking the new Aqua Clara Locks.
Water towers, radio and cell towers, and huge light poles help to keep
the Panama Canal operational 24 hours a day
Transiting thru the new and larger Agua Clara Locks on the Emerald Princess.

Most people think of the “locks” when mentioning the Panama Canal. I always wondered why the ships couldn’t just go straight thru the Canal to the other side (some 50 miles across the width of Panama without the need for locks? Well, among other major issues such as the extreme differences in terrain, traversing swamp lands, construction expenses and labor challenges, and the unknown and misunderstood mosquito-borne diseases at that time, a key reason the Panama Canal can’t just go “straight thru” has to do with differences in elevations and tides from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans. Gatun Lake is actually 85 feet above sea level and sits between both the Atlantic and Pacific sets of locks. The locks raise the ships to the Gatun Lake level, and later lower the ships to the sea level of each ocean, as the Pacific Ocean side is especially subject to big fluctuations in tides, thus affecting its true sea level at any one time.

The Emerald Princess enters Gatun Lake, after passing thru the new Atlantic-side Agua Clara Locks , as seen in the far mid background. To the right of the locks, on the hill is the new Visitor Center.
Enormous man-made Gatun Lake was created during the construction of the original Panama Canal.
Cruise ship, freighters, and even pleasure craft (from both the old and new locks) can be spotted traversing and/or anchoring in Gatun Lake.

This diagram below, which I downloaded from Wikimedia Commons, gives an excellent visual of the path the Panama Canal takes from the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean, showing the locks, Gatun Lake, the Culebra (Gaillard) Cut, the 3 bridges spanning the Canal and more, all of which are mentioned later on in this post. This is a great reference point for following the ship’s progress, as it transits over 40 miles across the width of Panama, on its 10 hour or more journey thru the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal Map Attribution: Thomas Römer/OpenStreetMap data

Interestingly, when the Panama Canal construction was first being conceived in the late 1800s, it was thought that it could be a straight-thru canal like the Suez Canal that had been headed by the Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps (Links from Wikipedia.). Unfortunately the French hero (in his homeland of France after his Suez Canal success), Ferdinand de Lesseps, was not an actual engineer, (rather President of the newly formed Panama Canal corporation) and severely underestimated the different climates, mountainous terrain, disease, and changing seasons and environments of the Panama Canal (vs the straight-thru and mostly sandy-soil Suez Canal project which he had just lead and successfully opened in 1869). Ultimately the French contingent under de Lesseps leadership went bankrupt, with the Americans taking over the project in 1903, after some futile attempts by another French corporation of engineers and workers failed as well.

There is a treasure trove of information on the Panama Canal both from books and on-line, and it’s well worth reading some of them before you take a Panama Canal cruise. First and foremost, one of the most comprehensive and researched historical books on the Panama Canal I’ve read is, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of The Panama Canal 1879 – 1914″, by David McCullough, available on Amazon among other bookstores and libraries. (No, I don’t commercialize this blog or get a commission from Amazon or anything else I mention; I just really enjoy anything I discuss and am glad to offer a link to it.)

McCullough’s book painstakingly details the history of the Canal, in such a way that you feel like you are living a part of that turn-of-the-century era (1870 – 1914). By comparing that era with the politics of the time, compared to the present day, it really makes you think that politicians, corporations, and the media were just as bad and corrupt back then as they are today! And that was a century before the 24/7 cable news, internet, and technologies available now in the 21rst century. You have to wonder if the original Panama Canal could even be built today with all of the environmental regulations, activists, politicians, unions, and the 24/7 news media together causing major delays and outright work stoppages, that is if was ever allowed to break ground in the first place. The Path Between the Seas is a fascinating read, and includes many historic photos of the day.

I first read McCullough’s book years ago, and brought it with me on my second Panama Canal cruise, which was a wonderful tool to have as we sailed thru the Canal, coupled with the ship’s lecturer pointing things out along the way. I was especially intrigued by the importance of the train in helping to build the Canal for equipment deliveries, debris removal, labor transportation and so much more. In fact even before the Canal was built, the Panama Canal Railway (as it’s called now) was operating since 1855, and transported containers across the 50 mile width of land, as ships would arrive on one side of Panama Canal, (either the Atlantic or Pacific side), unload their cargo, and the train would railway it to the other side of Panama where another ship would retrieve it and sail on. On this trip, DOS and I took a shore excursion train trip from Panama, the day after we sailed thru the Panama Canal, which I’ll cover further in the next post.

As the book The Path Between the Seas was published in 1977, it doesn’t include the new locks and expanded Panama Canal, as the work on that did not begin until 2007, with an opening date of 2016. Below is a photo plaque from the new Agua Lakes Visitor Center that shows construction of the new locks.

Photo poster from the Agua Clara Visitor Center showing the new locks under construction.

Note: each set of both the new and old locks, has 3 connected locks arranged in a row allowing each lock to move the ship up or down via the water level that is added or drained; in effect like a sea ladder. When one lock opens in front of you, the other one behind you closes as you sail thru to the next connected lock.

NEW Locks: The new Agua Clara Locks on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal.
Each lock set is composed of 3 inter-connected locks arranged in one long row.
OLD Locks: This photo shows one set of the “old” or original Panama Canal Locks from our transit in
2015. In the top of the photo, another cruise ship is about to enter the next set of adjoining locks.

Most people are not aware that there is a newer set of locks, which is understandable: “aren’t all the locks at the Panama Canal the same”? Well actually, no they’re not! The old Panama Canal locks (i.e. the original locks from 1914) swing out like a double door opening and closing, while the new locks slide open and close like an elevator door. While the newer locks use newer energy efficient technology in their operation, both sets of locks accomplish the same thing of raising and lowering the ships to different water levels in order for the ships to transit the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal old locks (original locks) closing. The walls are 7 feet thick! Note the top of the locks has a walkway for workers to cross, but not a roadway like the new locks.
Here the Miraflores (old locks) are closed, and workers can walk across the top on the locks.
New Panama Canal locks showing the “elevator-like” door closing. Note the top of the lock door is much wider and allows vehicular traffic to cross over when it’s closed.
Photo of two of the huge new sliding lock doors (recessed into the wall)
of the Agua Clara Locks.
Another close-up view of one of the new lock doors in the open position; retracted back to allow the water flow out and the ship to pass thru.
In this photo, the new Agua Locks are in the closed position, with tour buses and vehicles driving across it while the water level is raised or lowered.

A quick bit of history on why the new locks were needed for the Panama Canal. In addition to the demand for increased traffic thru the Canal, a more obvious reason for building the new locks was the new generations of mega-ships which were too large to fit thru the old locks.

The Caribbean Princess we sailed on in March 2022, is a Neo-Panamax ship as it is too wide (at 156 foot width) to fit through the original locks, which max out for ships at 106 feet in width.

The original Panama Canal locks have a width of 110 feet and a length of 1,050 feet in length, although the practical dimensions for ships passing thru the locks are slightly smaller than this due to the side and length clearance required in the locks. This was more than adequate for the ships transiting the Panama Canal when it opened in 1914, and even until fairly recent years it was adequate, until ships started becoming mega-ships in size.

Ships that were built to fit thru the original Panama Canal locks are known as “Panamax ships”, and they must be no larger than 106 feet in width by 1,000 feet in length to fit thru the old locks, such as the Azamara Journey cruise ship shown below, going thru the old locks. The Azamara Journey is a smaller luxury ship that is 84 feet wide by 592 feet in length, and holds only 690 passengers, so it has plenty of room to fit thru the original locks.

Azamara Journey going thru the old set of locks in April 2015.

The Celebrity Infinity Cruise ship, by comparison, measures in at the absolute maximum end of the Panamax ship dimensions, at 105 feet wide by 964 feet long, with a passenger capacity of 2,170 passengers, shown here at one of our South American port stops prior to our March 2015 Panama Canal transit.

The Panamax built Celebrity Cruise Line’s Infinity, docked in one of the ports in South America prior to our Panama Canal cruise in March 2015 thru the old locks.

Our Infinity Cruise ship fit so snuggly into the old locks, that we could literally touch the sides of the lock, as shown in these 2015 photos aboard! The clearance on either side of the ship was a mere 2 feet; quite snug indeed! We sailed the Infinity twice on repositioning cruises from South America back to Florida, and to us it was an ideal size for a transit; not to big, not to small, but just right!

Many of the cruise ships built up until and thru the early Millennium years of 2,000 were Panamax in size, including some of the more well know cruise ships still sailing to US ports on this list on Wikipedia. There are also many other Panamax cruise ships still sailing that are not on the Wikipedia list, such as the four Celebrity Millennium Class (M-Class) ships: (Millennium, Infinity, Summit, and Constellation), which literally max out at the Panamax limit of 105 feet width and 964 feet in length.

The Celebrity Constellation, one of four M-Class ships by Celebrity
and a twin and sister ship to the Celebrity Infinity.

Below is another photo of the Azamara Journey going thru the Miraflores (old/original) Locks in April 2015. The old locks have 2 pathways for each set of locks (vs only 1 on the new locks), and can operate simultaneously in either or the same direction. Here we were on the Celebrity Infinity, and heading the same direction, yet slightly ahead of the Azamara Journey.

The Azamara Journey enters the Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal.
The Miraflores Locks as seen from the our balcony of the Celebrity Infinity in 2015, with a partial view of the Azamara Journey on the parallel (old set of locks) water pathway next to us.

Ironically, we saw Azamara’s twin sister ship, the Azamara Quest on our January 2022 partial transit on the Emerald Princess, although it was sailing thru the old locks, and we were sailing thru the new locks. We spotted it from a distance heading towards the old locks, and “met up with it” in Gatun Lake, as it was not far behind us! Same Azamara look and size, but a different ship.

The Azamara Quest as seen in Gatun Lake in January 2022 from the
Emerald Princess Cruise ship we were sailing.
Close-up photo of the Azamara Quest anchored in Gatun Lake in January 2022. The lifeboats are lowered most likely to tender passengers for land-based shore excursions.

On our last Panamax cruise in 2015 from Valpairaso, Chile to Ft. Lauderdale on the Celebrity Infinity, we transited the old locks from the Pacific to the Atlantic side, and then overnighted and anchored just outside Colon City. The next day DOS and I took a shore excursion, which drove us to both the older Miraflores Visitor Center overlooking the Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side and the new Agua Vista Visitor center on the Atlantic side, which was still being completed for it’s 2016 opening.

The Miraflores Visitor Center overlooks the Miraflores Locks (old locks) on the Pacific side.
The newer Agua Clara Visitor Center, which opened in 2016 and overlocks the new Agua Clara Locks on the Atlantic site of the Panama Canal.

One of the very special moments we enjoyed on our Infinity Cruise full Panama Canal transit in April 2015, was when we sailed past the Miraflores Visitor Center, which we would visit the next day on a shore excursion. As our Panamax ship slowly went thru the Miraflores Locks, there were dozens of people waving at our ship from the different decks of the Miraflores Visitor Center. We were told by our ship’s narration lecturer, that many times schools will let the students off to go the Visitor center when a cruise ship is sailing thru the locks, as part of a school trip. DOS and I use to bring flags from each country we visited, and at the Miraflores Visitor Center we waved our Panama Flags to the amazement and cheers of the local students!

Steve (UNO) waves the Panamanian Flag at the Miraflores Visitor Center guests.
DOS and I waving the flag at Miraflores Center in 2015 from the Celebrity Infinity.

Over at the Agua Clara Visitor Center on the Atlantic side, road and other construction was still being done in 2015 on our stop there. We did get a sneak preview of some of the testing being done on the locks while we were there, and locked with interest on the photo plaques explaining how the new locks were installed and would work when the expansion part of the Panama Canal would open the next year in 2016.

Road and other construction still being done at the new Agua Vista Visitor Center in 2015, the year before the expanded new Canal Locks and visitor center opened.

More construction photos as seen from the Agua Vista Visitor Center in 2015.

Moving back along to our present day Caribbean Princess transit in March 2022, our Panama Canal Day started early in the morning, as do all cruise ships sailing thru the Canal. At approximately 6:30am on Panama Canal day, a “pilot” boarded our ship, under whose control the ship was now commanded for the duration of the all day transit. The ship was attached by giant “tug boats” in the front of the ship and rear of the ship. We were escorted thru the Canal by the large tugboats which didn’t actually push the ship, but rather were connected via cables to keep the ship’s speed and tracking on course. This was especially important when we entered the locks.

Video of one of the tug boats which will aid in keeping our ship on course as we prepare to transit the Panama Canal. It’s around 6:45am on the Emerald Princess.

Note: The next few photos and video clips are a composite of pictures from the partial transit of the Emerald Princess in January 2022, and the full transit of the Caribbean Princess in March 2022. I point this out only as we appear in different clothes in some photos and there is also a one hour time difference from Standard time in January (Emerald Princess), to Daylight time in March (Caribbean Princess), and some have the sunrise while others do not, but both are taken from on our aft balcony on each ship. Tip: When sailing thru the Panama Canal, an aft balcony is really extra special for the views.

Also, on the Caribbean Princess, we were mostly in the Sanctuary in the front of the ship, however the Sanctuary was not open on the January 2022 sailing on the Emerald Princess cruise, so several of these photos are from our aft balcony as a result.

Good Morning from the aft of the Emerald Princess. This is one of the tug boats that will assist us thru our full day transit of the Panama Canal.
DOS on the aft balcony on the Emerald Princess, January 2022.
The Atlantic Bridge shortly before we crossed under it on the Emerald Princess,
with the sunrise as a backdrop.

Below is a view of the front of the ship as seen from the Sanctuary on the Caribbean Princess, as we headed towards the Atlantic Bridge .

The Atlantic Bridge as seen from the front of the ship in The Sanctuary on the Caribbean Princess. The Atlantic Bridge is the newest of the 3 bridges that span the Panama Canal and opened in 2019.
Going under the Atlantic Bridge as seen from the Emerald Princess in January 2022.
Video from our aft balcony as the Emerald Princess sails under the Atlantic Bridge.
The Steve’s on the Emerald Princess, after just passing under The Atlantic Bridge.
Another view of The Atlantic Bridge as seen from the aft on the Caribbean Princess in March 2022.
On the Caribbean Princess transit, I was still in my bathrobe when we went
under the Atlantic Bridge, shown in the background from our aft balcony around 7am.
Another video of the tug boat and Atlantic Bridge as seen from the aft.

One tip for passengers like me that aren’t early risers, is to turn on the TV to the ship’s channel which offers a view from the front of the ship, so you can see what’s coming up ahead, such as the first set of the new Agua Clara Locks shown here.

The large tug boats in the new Panama Canal locks replaced the “mule trains” that are still used in the old (original) locks. Actually DOS and I both agree that we liked the old locks a bit better because of the original history of the Canal, and especially the “mules”, which were unique for their time and still in use today. The “mules” are locomotives operating on an inclined rail track adjacent, located on the dock next to the ship. The “mules” move along the track, and help pull the ship thru the Panama Canal. Depending where you were on the ship, these “mules” were so close you could often see their driver! The old locks in the Panama Canal, actually operate more or less as they did when it opened in 1914. Here are a couple photos of the “mules” as we transit the old locks from our aft suite on the Celebrity Infinity Cruise of 2015. We had a huge wrap around balcony on that ship, and hosted a Panama Canal party that day, which you can see as part of the 9 minute full transit video I made, which is included at the end of this post.

Can you tell our shipboard friends are originally from Ohio? Sailing thru Gatun Lake on the Infinity.
View from our aft balcony as we enter a set of the old locks aboard the Infinity.
Here it looks like DOS and I are leaning against the lock wall, although we are lest than a foot and a half from it as the water level is lowered on the Infinity transit in 2015.
Above is an interesting photo perspective I took from our aft cabin on the Emerald Princess as we transit the new Agua Clara Locks. After the lock door closes, the water level will raise the ship up to the level on the dark-colored water stain shown on the lock. In the far background is the Atlantic Bridge, and to the left of the Bridge you can clearly make out a white (and smaller) cruise ship going thru the original (old) Gatun Locks.

In the photo poster below from the Agua Clara Visitor Center, you can see an aerial photo of this same area pictured above, which shows the old Canal on the left as being diagonal to the new Canal on the right.

This photo poster from the new Agua Clara Visitor Center shows the new locks on the right and the old (original) locks running diagonally thru on the left.

As we were doing our full transit thru the new locks on the Caribbean Princess, we would go thru only two sets of locks (vs three on the old canal), with one new set of locks on the Atlantic side, and one on the Pacific. Here is another article from Wikipedia, The Panama Canal Expansion Project, that explains in detail the expansion and building of the new Panama Canal locks, which opened in 2016, with an originally budgeted cost of 5.25 billion dollars, and took over over 10 years to build starting in 2007.

Below is a quick 18 second time-lapse video DOS took of the new Agua Clara Locks closing, actually which takes 3 or 4 minutes to close. If you look closely you can see cars driving over the other lock door which is closed in the far background In front of the Atlantic Bridge).

Time lapse of new Agua Clara Lock doors closing.

For the Panama Canal Day portion of our cruise, DOS and I had reserved a cabana for the full day in the Sanctuary section aboard the Caribbean Princess, as the Panama Canal transit is a full day event, starting around 6:30am or so. The Sanctuary on the Caribbean Princess is a premium venue in the very front of the ship, and offered unobstructed and less crowded views as we sailed thru the Canal. The adults only-area limits the number of other guests, making it like an exclusive “shore excursion” while onboard the ship. Food, drinks, fresh fruit, cold towels, and excellent service made for a wonderful day, starting with early morning coffee, continental breakfast, and even mimosas if you desired.

The full transit of the Panama Canal takes the better part of a day, (10 hours or more) and cruise ships pay a premium in fares for priority passage and preferred time due to their limited time and port sensitive itineraries. The full day transit even allowed for a late morning/pre-lunch nap in the cabana as we had gotten up early in the morning that day! 🤣

The fares to transit the Panama Canal vary widely, and for cruise ships depending on the number of berths both occupied or not (although currently a slightly less charge for unoccupied berths), size of the ship, premium preferential time slot etc. For our March 2022 Caribbean Princess voyage, the fare was around 1/2 million dollars for the transit, which is one reason the taxes and fees on Panama Canal Cruises are much higher than the standard port taxes on regular cruises; for curiosity, just look at your cruise fare to compare these port and other fees to other non-Panama Canal cruises. The Sanctuary waiters also delivered lunch, everything from a healthy spa lunch, to a pizza slice or two!

After transiting the Atlantic locks, the ship enters Gatun Lake, (article from Wikipedia). When Gatun Lake was built from 1907 to 1913 by damning the Chagress River, it was the largest man-made lake ever built. It is at Gatun Lake where the ships are at their highest point of 85 feet above sea level, and the lake occupies 21 miles of the Panama Canal transit.

Here ships from both the old and new locks can be seen in the huge lake as they transit and/or wait for clearance to proceed. As we waited for our turn for the Pacific locks to accommodate us, we admired the beautiful nature and scenery, as we slowly sailed across the lake towards the Chagress River, and ultimately the Pacific locks and finally the Pacific Ocean, seeing occasion cargo ships heading towards us in the opposite direction.

While our retreat in the Sanctuary was mostly covered, it still was hot as the ship was very slowly moving thru the 50 mile long canal with little breeze, so we cooled off a bit in the nearby spa area pool throughout the day.

The other main pool and the pool with the big movie screen were also used by passengers seeking to cool off from the hot and humid day, which got much hotter as the day progressed.

As the day moved on the decks cleared out considerably, and by early afternoon most passengers had gone indoors for lunch, a snooze, perhaps trivia or even bingo, but mostly to escape the heat.

The Panama Canal is obviously very hot due to its tropical location (approximately 625 miles north of the equator) and even with sunscreen and a cap, as the day passes on, it’s much better viewed indoors or from a shaded location outdoors. Drinking lots of water on the Panama Canal day is a given, while having the display on TV’s throughout the ship made coming inside a much more pleasant experience.

Fortunately the early morning hours of the Panama Canal transit are fairly comfortable and there is the added and shared passenger excitement of going thru the first set of locks.

One area that was surprisingly uncrowded and quite comfortable due to the shade provided by the overhead lifeboats, was the Promenade area on deck seven. DOS and I would walk their on our daily exercise walks (2.7 laps equals a mile), but it’s also a great place to see the Panama Canal at more or less (or even under) ground level as the ship moves up and down or as workers perform their duties nearby on the docks.

Further along on the transit of the Canal, the scenery drastically changes as we entered the Culebra Cut, (from Wikipedia) which is one of the most scenic, yet dangerous places that was built for the Canal. Construction of The Culebra Cut, (it was formerly called the Gaillard Cut, named after the American Engineer who was instrumental in his work on it, and was so named until the handover to Panama in 1999 when it’s name changed to the Culebra Cut). Here, unlike the enormous size of Gatun Lake, the Culebra Cut stretches an 8 mile course to the Pacific as the pathway narrows drastically, as the ship sails thru this former mountain range that was painstakingly cut and blasted to allow passage thru the Panama Canal.

The Culebra Cut was originally started, by the French in the late 1800s, but they failed in their work to complete the Canal due to disease, tropical conditions, mud slides, equipment and technologies of the times etc. The Americans continued the project in 1904, and ultimately the Panama Canal opened in 1914. It is estimated that over 25,000 men lost their lives building the Panama Canal, and many of those deaths were in this dangerous section of the Culebra Cut. It is believed that there were some 20,000 deaths under the French construction, and later nearly 6,000 when the American’s continued the construction of the Canal. The History Channel has an interesting article on this very unfortunate tragedy and the difficulties building the Canal if you want more information.

As we sailed thru the Culebra Cut, an announcement was made, and more people came back out on decks to see the quickly changing scenery. DOS and I took some photos as we approached the second bridge, the Centennial Bridge, (from Wikipedia).

The Centennial Bridge which was completed in 2004 to supplement the traffic from the Bridge of Americas, which we would sail under last at the end of our Panama Canal Transit. Here are some photos sailing towards the bridge, including a short time lapse video I made of it.

Time lapse video sailing towards the Centennial Bridge,
the 2nd of the 3 bridges spanning the Panama Canal.

After going under the Centennial Bridge, DOS and I went back to the Sanctuary and relaxed a bit before the afternoon tea was served at 3pm. We had a decent breeze now as the ship was moving a bit faster, and with the cold towels the waiters served us, we were quite comfortable just lounging around.

It may look silly, but the cold towels the waiters brought us really cooled my head and body off!
3pm Afternoon tea is served, along with scones and cream cake, cookies and mini sandwiches!

As we passed the Centennial Bridge and prepared to transit the new Cocolí Locks, we got our first glimpse of Panama City in the far distance on the Pacific Side, as well as a view of a large green-colored cargo ship going thru the old locks.

Around 4:30pm, as we were packing up from the Sanctuary to go back to our room, we listened as the onboard lecturer noted that the cargo ship going thru the new Cocolí Locks in front of us was taking a long time to go thru the last lock, and might have some sort of problem such as weight and balance perhaps.

The cargo ship was delayed a good half hour or so in the last lock, but eventually sailed out ok, to the delight of the lecturer! This delayed our transit thru the final lock as well, but fortunately the cargo ship wasn’t stuck, blocking the one way traffic to the Pacific. We also watched as the green-colored cargo ship we had seen go thru the old locks, exited as well.

As it was now after 5pm, DOS and I headed back to the room after saying bye for now to our new shipboard friend’s couple, who were celebrating a slightly delayed honeymoon for a year due to COVID travel restrictions.

Back in our room, we relaxed for a few minutes on our 9th floor aft-facing balcony. From the balcony we watched as the ship was now lowered in the locks to be at sea level with the Pacific Ocean, after having spent the better part of the day at 85 feet above sea level in Gatun Lake and later the Culebra Cut.

The earlier delay with the cargo ship was only half an hour or so, but it was long enough that we would miss going under the iconic Bridge of Americas, as we would be at dinner by then.

Sometime while we were at dinner, we crossed under The Bridge of the Americas. The Bridge of the Americas was actually the first of the three bridges built spanning the Panama Canal, and was completed and opened in 1962 at a cost of 20 million dollars. At this point in our journey we will have reached the end of our Panama Canal transit, and are now in the Pacific Ocean, while we enjoy our wonderful dinner in the Club Class Dining Room.

For reference purposes, I’m again re-attaching this map I downloaded from Wikimedia Commons, which shows the entire Panama Canal transit route, with the Bridge of Americas at the entrance to the Panama Canal on the Pacific side, which we just passed thru while dining on the Caribbean Princess.

Attribution: Thomas Römer/OpenStreetMap data

Contrary to popular belief (and by looking at the Wikipedia diagram above and below you will notice) the Panama Canal actually runs North to South thru the Atlantic Locks to Gatun Lake, and then south-easterly to the Pacific side, even though you are actually heading either East (to the Atlantic Ocean) or West (to the Pacific Ocean) depending on your destination. This second map below (also from Wikipedia) shows the Panama Canal from a zoomed diagram of Central America, showing what appears to be confusing with the Atlantic Ocean on the East, and the Pacific Ocean on the West, but the Atlantic ocean (Caribbean Sea for the Atlantic) and Pacific are North and South of each other, respectively!

Map source: Wikipedia Panama Canal Geography

I don’t have a photo of the Bridge of Americas taken aboard this March 2022 Caribbean Princess cruise, but I do have a screenshot photo of it taken from a video I made, aboard the Celebrity Infinity in April 2015. As the Infinity Cruise was a repositioning cruise from Valparaiso Chile back to Ft. Lauderdale, we did a reverse Panama Canal transit (i.e. Westbound to Eastbound), so we sailed under the Bridge of Americas early in the morning vs at dinner time on the Caribbean Princes sailing East to West.

Sailing under the Bridge of Americas in the early morning on Celebrity Infinity, April 2015.

Here we are waving our Panama flags as we sail under the Bridge of Americas in this video I made aboard the Celebrity Infinity in 2015.

Back to our current cruise, The Caribbean Princess anchored at some point during the night near Panama City, as the ship had a tendered port of call there the next day. The ship was very quiet that night, and seemed like many people had an early dinner judging by the nearly empty dining room when we arrived at 7:45pm. I think people were tired out from what felt like a busy “port day”, even though everyone was onboard this Panama Canal transit day. From getting up early in the morning, to being in the hot sun, to exploring the different decks for photo ops, to maybe even a bit to much Champagne or other beverages, it seemed most people aboard retired early for the night. Plus the fact there were shore excursions scheduled for the next morning made it an early-to-bed, early-to-rise night for some. Not us though!😀

DOS and I ventured a quick walk-about the ship after 9:30pm, and noticed a few people here and there in the piano lounge, but it definitely wasn’t party central.

We even went up to the 18th floor disco, mainly to ride the moving sidewalk which we hadn’t done yet on this cruise. By daytime the disco is a quiet observation lounge, and the moving sidewalk does not operate then. At nighttime, however, the moving sidewalk and entrance is all it up flashy, with 80s music blaring in the disco ahead. The disco had at the most a dozen people in there, but after a quick breeze thru, we too became those early-to-bed passengers. We did get to ride the moving sidewalk to the disco though!

The moving sidewalk at night on the 18th floor of The Caribbean Princess,
all lit up as the entrance to the Disco.

Final thoughts: We loved sailing thru the full Panama Canal transit via the new locks! Transiting The Panama Canal is one of those special cruises (like Alaska) that you can repeat multiple times, and every time see something new. If you’ve already transited the Panama Canal once, I highly recommend you do it again sometime and transit the other set of locks you didn’t go through (i.e. either the old or new locks, in a Panama or Neo-Panamax ship, respectively) for comparison and additional understanding and amazement of this truly incredible engineering marvel! I’ll end this post now with two final photos, and some links for further information. If you’d made it this far, thanks for reading this lengthy post!😀

And one last bit of trivia to go with the photos: The Panama Canal is the one place on earth where you can see a sunrise on the Atlantic Ocean, and a sunset on the Pacific Ocean, all in the same day!

Early view of Sunset on the Pacific Ocean going thru the new Pacific Concolli Locks
at the gateway to the Pacific Ocean.
Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean on the Colon City, Panama side.

The next post continues on the following day with a shore excursion on the Panama Canal Railroad.


Finally, if you are interested, here is a link to our Celebrity Infinity Panama Canal Cruise thru the old (original) locks in March 2015. This fun nine minute video focuses entirely on the transit thru the old locks on our Panamax-size Cruise ship. (This is a different video than the one linked earlier in the post with the Bridge of Americas photo, although it was the same cruise and features some of the ports in South America we visited before going thru the Panama Canal.)


Below are some additional resources on the Panama Canal if you’d like to further explore this engineering marvel:

Panama Canal website (Official Website of the Panama Canal Authority)

10 Fascinating Facts about The Panama Canal”, by Javiar Grazioso (By Prajyot Sinha)

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of The Panama Canal 1879 – 1914″, By David McCullough (Fantastic behind-the-scenes historical account of the Panama Canal, from it’s envisioning to it’s opening over the decades.)

The Land Divided, The World United: Building the Panama Canal A Linda Hall Library Exhibition. This amazing site offers a wealth of information and exhibits and trivia.

One thought on “Full Panama Canal Transit Thru The New Locks on The Caribbean Princess!

  1. Pingback: Train Excursion on The Panama Canal Railway! – The Traveling Steve's

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