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A lot of folks (me included, until recently) labor under the impression that if you're going to take a Panama Canal cruise, well, you have to go through the entire canal, probably winding up on the opposite coast of the U.S.
Our recent cruise on Norwegian Jade showed that you can take in the engineering wonders of the canal with just a half-transit as well.
Our Western Caribbean sailing took us from Ft. Lauderdale to Colombia before we hit Panama and the rest of Central America. Just after daybreak, the ship entered the canal and nearly all passengers on board gathered around the top ship decks or in the forward observation lounge.
The experience is magical as you watch the ship navigate each of the three locks. The first chamber raises the ship 27 feet, while the second and third locks bring you up to Gatun Lake at 85 feet above sea level. Ships navigate ever so slowly through the canal while electronic "mules" keep them centered by attaching cables to each side. We disembarked for our shore excursion shortly after crossing the lake, while other ships passed us for the full eight-hour transit.
A representative of the Panama Canal Authority comes on board during the process and holds forth on the ship's PA system to explain the backstory and the engineering in play. While it's been a while since I took high school history, I had a little trouble agreeing with the thrust of his argumentative talk: "Columbus treated the Indians kindly" and "Balboa discovered the Pacific." Indigenous peoples might disagree.
Above are some highlights of the canal as well as aboard the ship.