Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Great Panama Canal Cruise - The Canal, Pt 2

Continuing the daily live blog of our big Panama Canal cruise, sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale with Princess Cruises.

The Panama Canal

Having completed our journey ‘up’ to Gatun Lake, we are riding at anchor, awaiting our turn to go back ‘down’ again, and enjoying the views around this amazing Lake – the largest man-made body of water in the world prior to the creation of the Hoover Dam.

Before we know it, it is our turn to pass through again and, this time, we take advantage of the full array of observation points around the ship to see everything from a different perspective; from the Splash Pool area on Deck 16; on the starboard side of Deck 15; down on the Promenade Deck (7), on both sides; and aft on Deck 16 behind the Center Court games area.

It ensures a thorough and well-rounded view of this absolute technological marvel, as well as a glimpse of the brand new channel and set of locks under construction parallel to the existing ones that will more than double the capacity of the Canal from 300,000,000 tons a year to in excess of 600,000,000. Like ‘Wow!’ and then ‘Double wow!’

It is warm and humid but far from uncomfortable – this is the ‘dry’ season, hence easy to bear; from late April to early December, the ‘rainy’ season kicks in with temperatures in the 90s and humidity at 98%, plus constant, heavy downpours that add up to an annual rainfall of more than 140 inches. #Megawet!

By 3.30pm we are in the port city of Colon on the Caribbean end of the Canal’s 50-mile transit, and able to walk off for a look around the small shopping area. We have also been able to watch the full documentary film on the making of the Canal, take lunch at the Bar & Grill and, more importantly, re-charge the camera battery. We already have more than 400 photos of the trip so far, and today will add at least 100 more.

This is a busy port city, with dozens of small frieghters lined up in the bay, while the docks are busy handling large container ships and several huge, box-like car transporters.
 
After a mini shopping expedition we are back on board and in need of a shower and freshen up. We have dinner at Sabatini’s at 7pm tonight, our first chance to sample Princess’s signature alternative restaurant, and we also want to catch comedian Steve Caouette.

Caouette is new on board, having just arrived via Costa Rica and is terrific fun, with a great running gag involving late arrivals to the show. We then head straight for Sabatini’s, and the best meal to date – an Italian extravaganza involving beautifully fresh antipasti, a heavenly mushroom tartlet, calamari, farfalle pasta with meatballs (immensely succulent and delicately flavoured), lobster and duck, then two heavenly desserts (don’t miss their Zabaglione) to finish with, all accompanied by an excellent chianti and service from our Romania waitress, Laura.

As you can immediately tell, that is WAY too much food for two, but, once again, we were suckered in by a fabulous array of tastes, and simply couldn’t help ourselves.

It only remained to waddle our way back to our stateroom and collapse in two distended heaps, with an in-room movie for comfort.

It had been an immense, utterly memorable day and we have already decided that we must return for a full Canal transit at some stage. This is too fascinating a part of the world not to want to see more, but we are equally happy we stayed on board and got the full locks experience both ways for our first visit.

The men who struggled to build the Canal back at the turn of the century deserved our full appreciation, and we would absolutely recommend this trip in a heartbeat.

Tomorrow – Costa Rica.

For more info and bookings – in the UK, call Princess Cruises on 0843 373 0333 or visit the expert cruise agents of The Cruise Line Limited on this link; in the US, call 1866 335 6379, or visit www.princess.com.