Panama Canal a bigger version of Ballard Locks

I am currently on board the Norwegian Sun, cruising from Tampa to Vancouver. I thought this would be my last trip through the Panama Canal, but it is definitely not. We were still in the original canal, and so I want to do another cruise once they open the new canal. You will just have to wait and find out when tht will be.
But I get ahead of myself. You want to hear about the whole thing.
Our group of 23 flew to Tampa, Fla. for an overnight before boarding the ship. We cruised for three days before finally hitting land at Cartagena, Columbia. Oh, how things have changed since I was there last. The city, as happens, has grown and expanded, but the old is still there and very interesting. The fort of San Felipe de Barajas, built in the 17th century, still has a commanding presence. It is the largest and most important work of Spanish military engineering in South America. The old town with cobblestone streets and alleys that make you think of New Orleans is a mecca for shopping. The seawall protects the city from water dangers and provides an area for pleasure on the beach. I think everyone found trinkets to bring back, and most picked up local coffee beans.
The next day was what we had come for. Everyone was up very early in the morning to see all the ships lined up waiting for their turn to enter the canal. As dawn breaks, you see for miles ships waiting with their lights on, being patient while the cruise ships move on past and into this marvel of man.
The Panama Canal is approximately 80 kilometers long between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. There are 3 locks in the series, each named for the townsite where they were built (Gatun on the Atlantic side and Pedro Miguel and Miraflores on the Pacific side). They raise the ships up 26 meters to the level of Gatun Lake and then back down on the other side. The canal is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Some 14,000 vessels transit every year. The workforce numbers in excess of 9,000 employees.
The day was perfect weatherwise, so everyone could be out on the decks to watch the “mules” pull the ship into the locks and then watch the doors close, etc. – a much larger version of our own Ballard Locks. It took a full 12 hours from the time we picked up the pilots (there is one for the first half and another for the second) until we went under the Bridge of Americas and were out into the Pacific. An absolutely amazing day, and one I do look forward to doing that one last time when the new canal is open and the larger ships will be going through. As you may be aware, we will see an impact of this with our own ports as the truly large ships will no longer need to drop off in our ports with trucks and trains taking product across the U.S. Time will tell what happens to the Port of Tacoma.
We had many at-sea days between ports, which is always nice. It gives you time to unwind a bit, explore the ship and participate in all the fun games, trivia and shows that are on board. And of course, there is always the never-ending food. We are all trying very hard to not eat everything in sight, but it is not an easy task.
We are very well taken care of and have been adopted by several of the crew. They have learned our likes and dislikes, call us by name and recognize us as they move around the ship. There is music everywhere, from quiet time to rock and roll. Shows every night and time as a group to play a few games of our own.
This is just the beginning of the story. You will need to wait another month before hearing about the rest of the trip. We visited Costa Rica and several ports in Mexico before heading up the California coast.
Future trips include a two-night stay in Leavenworth in June, and don’t forget Israel in October. We are hoping to have a great group for that. Reservations need to be made now, but you can take out insurance that will let you cancel for any reason at any time and get money back. Call me at 253-927-8207 or e-mail me at

Pete and Rose Neff joined a Panamian dancer on deck as the Norwegian Sun passes through the Panama Canal.
Pete and Rose Neff joined a Panamian dancer on deck as the Norwegian Sun passes through the Panama Canal.