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🎵Panama! 🎵 Vision of the Seas Oct. 30, 2019

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Hey Twangster. I swear it is so odd how your trips and path makes me relive and remember some of mine.


So I was on the Ovation in May of this year like you.  Also I almost booked the Empress out of Bayonne for next year but cancelled because of parking concerns.


Today I read your topic and I see you stayed on the Queen Mary.  I too did this back in the early 1990's.  it is a neat place and it has improved a lot since then.  your photos are great and thanks


Then I see you showed a picture of NCL Bliss and mentioned the Panama Canal.  Well I was on that first May 2018 cruise through the canal on the Bliss doing East to West.  She is a fun ship 


Next you mentioned going back to the canal for another ship.  I would recommend the NCL Bliss in spring of 2020 if you can.

But, I found the new passage to be just okay.  I like the older passage.  Now I would recommend HAL Zuiderdam or what other ship you can find that does a partial transit into Gatan Lake  and then do an excursion on a smaller boat in the older passage.

I got to touch the walls and see the locks up and down much better.  So think about this for the future.


And lastly, I just know you will one day be Pinnacle. So keep on going.  Otherwise you should be a professional photographer.



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Day 11 - Panama Canal


This is going to take a few posts, bear with me.  




In the early morning light you could see a virtual fleet of ships at anchor waiting their turn.






Panama City was becoming visible through the morning fog.






I was surprised by the number of high rise buildings.




We continued to glide through the flotilla of ships until we approached the Bridge of the Americas. 






This bridge is the lowest of three bridges that now span the canal.  This is the original and lowest of the three.  The NCL Bliss as the largest cruise ship to ever make the transit through the Panama Canal just squeaks under but only at low tide.




Vision was built within Panamax standards so there is no question we'll slide under quite nicely.




Once past the Bridge of the Americas our adventure really begins.



Edited by twangster

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I noted our seamen in the bow looked different.  That's because the ship crew who normally handles the lines got the day off.   When transiting the Panama Canal local seamen come on board to handle the lines.




In the last photo of my above post you can sort of see there is a split or fork in the channel.  


As we moved forward it became clearer the path to the left are the new locks for neo-Panamax larger vessels.  The fork to the right leads to the original locks for vessels meeting the original Panamax standard.


Here is a neo-Panamax ship being helped into position to enter the new locks.






An old locomotive possibly from the Panama railroad that used to run between the coasts.




The new locks on this side of the canal. 




Those pools of water in the foreground are part of the water conservation approach used by the new locks.






As we continue on towards the right and the original locks we can begin to see the Miraflores locks around the bend.



Edited by twangster

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A little bit about the Panama Canal.


In order to make it from one ocean to the other the ship needs to reach the man made Gatun Lake that lies in middle of Panama.  That involves three canal locks that are used to lift the ship a total of 85 feet (~26m) to reach the level of Gatun Lake.  Once across Gatun Lake another series of three steps in canal locks lower the ship back to sea level.


From West to East we will go through the Miraflores locks, across the small Miraflores Lake and then into the Pedro Miguel locks.  Once through those locks we will be at the level of Gatun Lake.  On the Atlantic side of Gatun Lake the Gatun Locks will lower us in three steps to the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. 


Miraflores Locks


There are two steps in these locks.






These tugs are an important part of the canal operation. Ships our size are assigned two tugs.




Two people in a row boat...




They bring "messenger" lines over to the ship that will be used to haul the steel cables from the locomotives over to the ship.  Ship lines are not used in the transit.




The crowds at the front of the ship do become somewhat thick.  An opportunity to meet new friends. 






The Miraflores locks will lift us two of the three steps required to reach the level of Gatun Lake.




The locomotives on each side will help guide the ship into the lock channel and keep the ship centered. These have been upgraded over the years but their function remains the same as it was in 1914 when the Panama Canal first opened.




The locomotives are nicknamed "mules" and operating under guidance from the control room,  the onboard seamen and the pilot they keep the ship moving centered in the lock chamber.  The ship uses it's own propulsion to move forward.




As the ship moves forward we approach the lock door that hold back massive volumes of water.  Behind us a set of lock doors will close creating a chamber for us to ride in.




Once the doors behind the ship close the lock is flooded with water.  The spray seen here is normal leakage, the chamber is actually filled from below. 




As the chamber fills we can sense we are gently rising.




It's a subtle rise that can be hard to notice.  The water line against the lock doors can be used to see how far the water has risen.  






With our first lift complete the lock doors in front of us open and we advance into the next lock chamber.




The ship before us is already moving into Miraflores Lake.




The orange ship in the new locks has already reach the level of Gatun Lake and is starting to move forward to continue the transit.  The Borinquen Dams separate the new Pacific access channel where this ship is from Miraflores Lake.






These Miraflores locks were originally completed in 1913. 




A visitors center allows people to view the locks (and us) in operation.




One more lift to go to reach the level of Miraflores Lake.




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If I remember correctly the "miracle" of the locks is there is no pumps. Everything is done by a gravity feed. 


In the early 80's I actually got to walk across the lock doors. One side the water is right there. The other side was a huge drop. I have seen more than one ship inside the locks at a time too. 

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As usual, twangster, another wonderful trip report and photos 😊


It will most likely never happen, but a canal transit cruise was always toward the top of my bucket list. Thanks so much for taking us there!  Fascinating 



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With the Miraflores Locks complete it was time to proceed.  The ship before us is already halfway across Miraflores Lake.




They begin to let the cables to the locomotives go as we slowly move forward.




As we make our way across Miraflores Lake that ship is nearly through the Pedro Miguel lock that comes next. 




Tugs at the ready to push us around.




Two people in a row boat...




Our narrator over the P.A. system informs us they had studies done to evaluate replacing the people in a row boat with various other ways to accomplish the same goal.  At the conclusion it was determined this remains the most flexible means to get the job done.  It simply works.




Looking at the countryside you get an idea of just what they had to deal with over one hundred years ago when they started building the canal.




At this point we could clearly see the Centennial Bridge, the next bridge we would pass under and channel forward into the Culebra cut.




As we approach the Pedro Miguel lock the doors begin to open



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Speaking of our announcer we are lucky to have Bill Benny on board.  He worked for the Panama Canal Company for 30 years.  Along our transit he provided a wealth of information that really made the experience a lot better. 

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At this point I decided to move down to deck 5 to get a closer look at the lock.






Down here you get a much better feeling for just how tight a fit we are.  This spot near the control tower for the Pedro Miguel lock is the narrowest part of the original canal.  While the lock chambers are 110 feet wide, this section is 109 feet wide.  Our commentator Bill's last position with the Panama Canal Company was working in the control room at this lock.  Earlier in his time at the canal he was also a mule driver, something many canal workers did back in the day.  




Looking straight down.




It was really great to see the operation from this very close perspective.




A lock gate in the opposite lock.  These are called miter gates.






Close up look at the lock walls.






On the other side of the ship you could clearly see we were nearly up to the level of new Pacific access channel.





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With that we were now up to the level of Gatun Lake.  Moving around the ship I wanted to see how it looked from different areas around the ship.  From the Viking Crown Lounge:






Looking back from where we came it was clear how the original locks were augmented with the Pacific access channel for the new locks to the right.  In the case of the new locks there are still three steps but they are all done in one lock complex so the Pacific access channel is used to bypass Miraflores Lake.




The Solarium roof was once again open.






Next we pass under the Centennial Bridge.  













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While creating the man made Gatun Lake solved the largest span between the oceans it didn't quite reach all the way to the Pacific.  The 8.75 mile gap required another solution - digging.  Enter the Culebra Cut, also known as Gaillard Cut.  The volume of earth removed from this section of the canal is staggering.  




At one of the narrowest spots you can see the terracing of Gold Hill and Contractor's Hill from the original days of canal construction.




This area was known for its landslides dumping massive amounts of earth back into channel of the canal as it was being excavated.




While the effort to construct the entire canal is impressive the amount of effort to create the Culebra Cut is mind blowing.  Spoils removed from the cut were hauled away in train cars used in other areas or dumped in the jungles.  The earthen Gatun dam that creates Gatun Lake was created from this excavation.   




Tugs are always at the ready in case a ship suffers a breakdown or mechanical issue that could be devastating to canal operations.  If a ship lost propulsion or ran aground and closed the canal that would cost a fortune in lost revenue.  Consequently tugs always escort ships through the Culebra Cut and they are ready to spring into action should a ship start to get into trouble.






The canal is quite deep to accommodate the draft of the biggest ships that can use the canal so you can imagine how landslides were an issue over a hundred years ago and even to this day in places.




Looking at the vegetation and how thick the jungle is you can imagine what it would have been like when workers first arrived to begin working on the cut.




Efforts continue to ensure run off from the rainy season is managed in a controlled fashion.



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Once through the Culebra cut we enter an arm of Gatun Lake where it begins to widen.  








A railway runs along the canal that in places is visible.




At this point we are roughly halfway across Panama.  Screen capture from the MarineTraffic.com app:



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Reaching Gatun Lake there was an opportunity for some ship activities.   


Bill Benny our guest commentator hosted a brief presentation followed by a question and answer session that lasted over 50 minutes.  This was invaluable and I learned so much during this event.  It's really quite something that Royal was able to find a resource like Bill to take the cruise with us.  One question was "How much does it cost for Vision of the Seas to use the Panama Canal?".  I'll get into that later in another post.




Anyone who has sailed across the international date line or the equator will know there are ceremonies that mark the occasion.  Our cruise director staff put together a spoof on this concept for our Panama Canal crossing.  




Basically 'court' was held and various crew members who were charged with various 'crimes' were handed down their sentence.  






On the far left is Enzo our Activities Manager.  Steve our Cruise Director took delight by ordering an extra pie for Enzo.




This progressed with the Staff Captain eventually being called before 'the court'.

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Our cruise across the Panama Canal continues as we sail through Gatun Lake.






A channel was created in sections of the lake.  The ship following behind us is seen here navigating the channel through the lake. 




It occurs to me before the lake was created this would have been the top of a hill that you could climb up, assuming you could make it through the dense jungle.




Through a clearing to starboard we could make out another bridge in the distance.




This section of the lake opens up and there were several ships at anchor waiting their turn to use the Gatun Locks around the corner.








Central America themed items for sale during the transit.



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On 11/11/2019 at 8:39 AM, twangster said:

Here is a timelapse up to this point:


Love the timelapse as it gives a sense of what it's really like.


Of course, it would be really fun if of it was that fast.


What is the total transit time in the canal?

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On ‎11‎/‎4‎/‎2019 at 9:54 AM, twangster said:

Itinerary for this 16 night cruise:


Panama Canal, Eastbound.  Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale.


Day 1 - San Pedro (Los Angeles) 

Day 2 - At Sea

Day 3 - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Day 4 - Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Day 5 - At Sea

Day 6 - At Sea

Day 7 - Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

Day 8 - At Sea

Day 9 - Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Day 10 - At Sea

Day 11 - Panama Canal Full Transit

Day 12 - Colon, Panama

Day 13 - Cartagena, Columbia

Day 14 - At Sea

Day 15 - Georgetown, Grand Cayman

Day 16 - At Sea

Day 17 - Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Love the looks of this cruise.  Very interested in hearing what you think of it...

Have a drink and a dessert for us!!


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On ‎11‎/‎4‎/‎2019 at 10:12 AM, twangster said:

You're gonna have to bear with me because I am about to go overboard with Queen Mary pictures.  I just love this old ship.


I'm loving all the pictures of the QM!!  Post more if you have any more.

How many people (on average) stays on the QM?

Yay me!!  I remembered to delete the pictures!

Have an amazing trip...

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On our left the Gatun Dam makes all of this possible.




The earthen dam is very wide.  It took a tremendous amount of earth removed from Culebra cut to build enough land over 90 feet tall to create the lake.  It is said that there is enough earth in the dam to build a wall 5 feet tall and 1 foot wide around the circumference of the planet at the equator.  




The concrete structure in the middle is simply the spillway that can be used to release excess water when required due to heavy rains.  




This is what keeps the lake at 85 feet above sea level.




To our right that orange ship we saw in the new locks on the Pacific side has reached the new locks here on the Atlantic side.




We will use the original Gatun locks. 






A Southbound tanker clears the locks and begins to make her way across Gatun Lake.



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Approaching the Gatun locks.




The men in a row boat get ready once again.




Bill Benny our commentator talks about the signal on the lock that was used in the days before radios.  It's still maintained and is in operation today. 


If the arrow is pointed straight up the lock is not ready, do not approach.  If the arrow is pointing towards the 2 o'clock position it means the locks are being prepared and should be ready in approximately 10 minutes.  If the arrow is horizontal and pointing to the right it means enter the right lock. In the position displayed here it means approach and tie up with the locomotives.  




Massive rubber wheels protect the corners of the locks.




To our right that orange tanker is progressing through the new locks.




We begin to move towards and line up with the lock wall.






Tugs push us towards the lock was so that locomotives on the port side can be connected.






With the locomotives connected on the port side and tugs pushing us on the starboard side we move forward.  The locomotives on the starboard side return from their last ship and get ready to send their cables to the ship.



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The canal has its own fire department.




A Southbound container ship is locking opposite us.








As we are getting ready to drop the container ship was being lifted. The high walls of the containers created a reference point so you could see just how quickly it was lifted.








Soon enough it was on its way while we were now closer to the level of lock.




From deck 5 you really feel the canal, like you can reach out and touch it.  











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A tanker ship is now opposite us locking in the Southbound direction.




Another benefit of being down on deck 5 is the ability to move around and experience different areas of the process. Having cleared the lock chamber the gates behind us close and we get ready to repeat the process again.





















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Pictures don't do it justice.  I've taken a series of video clips that I plan to stitch together that will hopefully capture the day. 


Until I get that video put together here is a clip that should give you a better idea of what it's like to move between the lock chambers, how close the ship is to the walls of the lock and an up close look at the locomotives.




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