PANAMA CANAL CRUISE
We set sail on January 2nd on a 13 Night Panama Canal Cruise, the highlight of which was watching our huge Celebrity cruise ship, from an observation tower on shore, go through the Gatun Locks in Panama, the last set of locks a ship goes through heading eastbound. Words can't really describe it. It was truly incredible, unforgettable and amazing!!!
We went with two other couples, friends we have been camping with for almost 20 years and had a great trip! (L to R Nick, Karen Sue, Bill, Robin, Pete)
We had great weather, warm and sunny for most of the cruise. We hit some rough seas and high winds, with a little rain once we were heading to Fort Lauderdale, the last two nights and days of the cruise. We saw some beautiful sights: Cabo San Lucas (we ziplined here-even me the biggest scaredy cat of all!!); the coastline of Acapulco Bay and the famous cliff divers (they are crazy!! jumping from about 75 feet or higher; they dive blindly over the cliff's edge into a very narrow inland on the coast-they watch the tides); Huatulco, a small Mexican village; the rain forest near Puntarenas, Cost Rica; Panama; and the fortress and Inquisition Palace in Cartegena, Colombia.
As I mentioned before, the highlight of the cruise was going through the Panama Canal. [L: the canal and 1st lock our ship is going into] [R: Gatun Locks as our ship came into 1st lock]
There are actually two canals and the locks in each canal are 110 feet wide and the ship is 106 feet wide--not much room for error. The ship is guided in the canal by two locomotives that run along the sides of the canal. Cables are connected from the locomotive to the ship to merely help keep the ship centered in the canal (seen in picture on the right at the back of the ship). They do not pull the ship through in any way. The ship goes through 2 sets of 3 locks on its own power and with the gravity of the water to raise it up 85 feet above sea level on the Pacific Ocean west side, and then gravity lowers it 85 feet back to the sea level of the Caribbean Sea on the east side.
One of the most amazing facts about the Panama Canal is that approximately 150 million gallons of fresh water is lost every time a ship goes through the locks of the canal. Interesting enough, the salt water of the oceans never mixes with the fresh water in the locks. All the water used by the canal comes from rain, stored in the Gatun Lake which is in the middle area of the canal. Panama gets about 150 inches+ per year. There has always been enough water to support the use of the canal every day of the year. It costs about $275,000 for a cruise ship or cargo ship to go through the locks; cost is based on the weight of the freight and the length of the ship, and ships have to pay the passage fee in advance of their scheduled time to go through the canal.
Currently, the existing locks and canal are almost 100 years old, and they are in the process of building a third canal, north of the existing locks with an estimated finish date in 2014. The new canal will be wider to accommodate the new larger cruise ships and cargo ships. They have also changed the design and how the locks will work so that they will be able to save approximately 60% of the fresh water that is now lost to the oceans on either side of the canal.
The Panama Canal is definitely one of the Wonders of the World everyone should see. Pictures just can't do it justice!
We then spent 4 more days in South Florida, once we arrived at our final port of Fort Lauderdale. We had a beautiful view of the Intercoastal from our hotel room in South Miami, the Sunset Beaches area. From there we drove down to the Keys to Key West. We thought the drive would be about an 1 1/2 hours, but it was actually 4 1/2 hours. It's a two lane highway that is made of many bridges between the Keys (islands) with a speed limit of 45 mph! We stopped for lunch near Key Largo and eat overlooking the beautiful teal green waters of the gulf! We stayed a night in Key West and joined their big nightly celebration of the sunset on the gulf, a ritual for the locals and tourists alike. We walked around the picturesque town and took a trolley tour of the many historic sights, including the southernmost point of the USA which is about 90 miles north of Cuba and 150 miles from Miami!! We headed back to Miami and stayed near the Everglades where we took a airboat tour of the everglades at Safari Park. We saw hundreds of alligators--it was pretty amazing. We visited the Everglades National Park as well before flying home from Fort Lauderdale.
All our pictures of this trip can be seen on my flickr page: