Panama Canal Cruise
By Thea Bailey
In March 2016, my husband and I sailed on the Island Princess, on a 10 night partial transit through the Panama Canal. We departed from Fort Lauderdale and visited Aruba, Cartagena Columbia, partial Panama Canal, Colon Panama, Grand Cayman, then back to Fort Lauderdale.
Our stop in Aruba was the shortest stay, which was about 5 hours, so we took a cab to Palm Beach, which was right next door to The Riu Palace Aruba. Palm Beach is a public beach and offers various water sports and activities. Eagle Beach is another spot on the island, but a bit more remote.
In Cartagena Columbia, we toured the Castillo de San Felipe’. This fort was built by the Spanish between 1536 and 1657, for protection against the pirates while shipping gold to Europe. We had a great view of the city and the city wall also built by the Spanish, to keep out any invaders. We boarded a boat and viewed the fort and city wall by water. There is a sunken ship in the bay, and we could see the masts above the water line. The story told is, that there is still gold and treasure on the sunken ship. We did see an armed guard standing on the shore line.
Around 5:30 the next morning, we were greeted by the Panama Port Authority, to begin the route through the locks. Just to give a bit of history on the Panama Canal: the first effort to build an all water route through Panama, to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean began with the French in 1880. But financial troubles and disease stopped the process. After its independence in 1903, Panama negotiated an agreement with the United States for the construction of the Canal which the U.S. finished on Aug 15th 1914 and managed until 1999. At noon on Dec. 31st, 1999, Panama took over full operation of the canal. In 2007, construction began on a third set of locks, to allow the transit of larger ships with more cargo capacity. When doing the partial transit, we went through three locks, side by side with a huge vessel filled with gigantic equipment. The water used to raise and lower the vessels in each set of locks is obtained from Gatun Lake by gravity. The water is poured into the locks through a main culvert system that extends under the locks’ chambers for the sided walls and the center wall. The locks raise ships 87 feet above sea level. What an experience! Once we were through the three locks, we stopped in Gatun Lake where the excursions begin for passengers. We decided to stay on the ship and not to take a tour, so that we could experience the travel back through the locks. We then arrived at the port of Colon. All of the passengers that had taken a tour from Gatun Lake did not get to experience going back through the locks, they actually were taken to the Port of Colon to meet the ship after their Panama excursion.
We spent that night in the Colon port due to a medical emergency on board the ship. We did not make our next scheduled stop in the port of Limon’ Costa Rica, so we had a day at sea, sailing on to Grand Cayman. In Grand Cayman, we had a beach day at the Royal Palms Beach Club on Seven Mile Beach. You could rent beach chairs, umbrellas and purchase food and drink. The Royal Palms has restaurant and bar, sports rentals, showers, restrooms, changing rooms, etc. Grand Cayman has excursions to the turtle farm, the city of Hell, submarine ride, and Stingray City where you can snorkel with the cute stingray, to name a few. After some fun in the sun at the beach, we took a cab back to town by the pier for some much needed shopping! We had one more fun day at sea until we arrived back to Fort Lauderdale to return home.