Guest lecturer Sandy Cares has been sharing her engaging lectures aboard Oceania Cruises voyages throughout the Caribbean and Central America since January 2014. Below, she shares her fascinating experience transiting the Panama Canal.

My most recent adventure started out from glamorous Regatta with a fantastic shore excursion to Gamboa where we boarded Islamorada for a half-transit through the Panama Canal, affording a unique eye-level perspective.

Panama CityWe cruised southward through the famous Gaillard Pass, regarded as the most difficult – and dangerous – stretch for excavators. At the canal’s completion, enough earth had been excavated to build a pyramid 4,200 feet high!

American engineers conceived a locks-and-lakes system for the passage through the extremely tough terrain compounded by endless rainfall.  A series of locks elevate ships 85 feet above sea level to a man-made lake across which the ships traverse to be lowered back to sea level on the other side. Simply put, it works like a water elevator.

entering lock chamber locks opening

The genius of the system is its simplicity. It harnesses what nature already provides in abundance: rainfall and gravity. Rain keeps the man-made Gatun Lake full, which provides water to fill the lock chambers. Ships are guided into position with Locomotive Mulepowerful locomotive “mules” on parallel rails and once in the chamber, the gates close and the lock fills up. It takes about ten minutes to fill or empty a chamber of 26 million gallons of water.

As our ferry nosed into a chamber, we saw one of 46 behemoth miter gates that close and open like bi-valves. Weighing up to 662 tons apiece, these hollow and watertight doors literally “float” requiring only a simple 40-horsepower outboard engine to work! Inside the lock, handlers tethered our boat to the wall as our guide propagated the local myth – couples who touch the canal walls together enjoy eternal marital bliss!

Bridge of the AmericasIn under ten minutes, we emerged from the Pedro Miguel lock, looking up at the Centennial Bridge, the monument marking the Panama Canal’s first hundred years: 1914 to 2014. Skimming the canal surface, we scanned the edges for lazy crocodiles while enjoying some local fruit including Panama-grown pineapple and those sweet Panama bananas!

Next, we dropped down the two “flights” at the Miraflores locks, and the stunning Bridge of the Americas dominated our view, spanning two great continents. We took in the misty watercolor scene of enormous container ships from every corner of the world waiting their turn through the 50-mile passage – saving them the 8,000-mile journey around South America. The lights of Panama City began to twinkle against the early evening sky, beckoning us to return to Regatta with unforgettable memories of our rare “inside view” of the Panama Canal.

Experience the Panama Canal with Oceania Cruises:

Sand, Sea & Stars | December 19, 2015
Bridge of the Americas | January 20, 2016
Picturesque Panama | June 15, 2016
Panama Canal Passage | August 31, 2016

For Sandy’s expanded history on the Panama Canal, visit

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