It was a bit of a wait, but worth it. The ships just kept coming.
Dean and I visited the Miraflores Locks on Sunday. The idea was a quick trip, scope it out, be prepared for visitors. (We have our first guests coming mid-March, and we are very excited.) Friends had visited the locks and downplayed the facility. Others had ridden through the locks on cruise ships and loved it. It’s a good reminder that one person’s boredom is another person’s obsession (and everything in between).
Personally, the Panama Canal has been on my bucket list since my late teens. I’m not even sure I knew what a bucket list was then. I just knew I wanted to see this, travel through it, wonder at it. Opened in 1914 and it still works. New locks have been built to accommodate bigger ships, not because the original canal isn’t working. There is more than a small amount of American pride in this for me too.
It took about 3 minutes to drive there. I’m a little embarrassed we haven’t been before.
Parking was plentiful. Cost is $3 for residents (woohoo! All that paperwork paying off.) and $15 for visitors. There are several places to get a snack or a buffet lunch ($49 per person). We tried the outdoor area with a couple drinks and ceviche (the best ceviche I’ve tasted in Panama. $16 and worth every penny, and there may have been ice cream consumed.
Don’t laugh at me when I tell you I thought the canal was necessary because the oceans were different levels. Apparently, sea level means something. Practically speaking, sea level is the same most anywhere. That means in an oversimplified explanation, the canal locks are “lifting” ships over the Isthmus of Panama and depositing them in the opposite ocean.
On the day we visited, visitor center staff announced when the next ship was coming. We got there at 1 p.m. Next ship was due about 3 p.m. (not bad). We met people who had come in the morning and returned for the ship arrival.
The outdoor patios at every floor level get CROWDED. It was a great group of people from around the world. Lots of staff available, giving information in Spanish and English. We spent about 45 minutes waiting for the action to start, chatting with people who had been there before. Stories of cruise ship passengers doing the wave as they pass through. Ships scraping the side of the canal and the loud noise it makes. Personal stories of family or friends who had worked at the canal.
We saw two mega ships going through the new canal locks (You can see them behind the original locks from the visitor center. Look at the photo below. Tour boat in original locks in foreground. Middle of photo is a ship going through the new locks.), two ships and a tour boat go through the original locks, and more ships were coming.
Check out the photos. Look how close the ships come to the side of the canal. I loved the little “locomotives” that pull the ship through the canal.
It was fascinating. It was joyous. Cheering on the ships. Cheering on the visitor center balconies.
Everything a bucket list item should be.