Seventeen KE Alums, families and friends had a wonderful time on the 8th biennial cruise through the Panama Canal. We departed from San Diego in late January, stopping at Cabo and Puerto Vallerta, Mexico; Costa Rica; Guatemala; Panama; and Columbia, South America, arriving in Ft. Lauderdale in 16 days later.
The highlight of our trip was the Canal, which was celebrating its 100th year in operation. Amazingly, there have been very few changes made in the mechanics/technology of the canal’s operation. All the water used to move ships through the locks, is gravity fed into the locks from Gatun Lake and ultimately pushing 52 million gallons into both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans for each ship that goes through the canal. We learn this and much more from attending presentations provided onboard prior to the big day.
On Canal day, we were all up and on deck at 5:30am, staking our claim for space by the front deck rails. It’s just about dawn and we realize we are in a waiting area along with at least 50 other ships waiting to go through the canal. The good news is, cruise ships have priority going through due to the higher fees paid with passengers onboard.
We entered the canal shortly after 7am and cruise under the Bridge of the Americas and are at the first of five locks within the canal. When you’re looking at the lock from the front of the ship, you just know we’re not going to fit – but with 1 foot to spare on either side of the ship, we were safely secure and began our adventure. As we are being risen in the first lock, another ship is being brought into the lock next to us, and you swear you could jump between the two vessels since they are so close.
There is an 80-foot difference in water levels between the Pacific Ocean and Gatun Lake, and we go through 3 locks over the course of 2 hours. Then we cruise through the Culebra Cut, where the canal was cut through the Rocky Mountains, and thousands lost their lifes building the canal. The early afternoon finds us cruising Gatun Lake, a lake created by the damming of the Chagres river. By late afternoon, we enter the first of two locks which will take us down 45 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. When we gather for dinner, all we can talk about is our amazing day and the amazing history of the canal.
Although the canal was the highlight, members of our group enjoyed many other activities, from swimming with the dolphins to zip-lining through the rain forest. There were bus tours of inland villages and major cities throughout Central America, and rides on historic trains. Some went on nature walks, while others went searching for monkeys. And as always happens on our cruises, a lot of shopping was done by all.
As the trip came to an end, we had to say good-bye to the new friends we made throughout our incredible journey. With our KE sisters, we vowed to see each other again at the 2015 Convention, where we begin making our plans for our 9th biennial KE Alumnae cruise. Hope you’ll consider joining us in 2016.