The Panama Canal crossing was definitely something on my bucket list and it lived up to all the hype. We enjoyed a great day of viewing and I wanted to share with you my comprehensive guide to help you have a memorable experience.
Best spots on the ship
The whole process will take about 8 hours including going through three different sets of locks (Miraflores, Pedro Miguel, Gatun). With the size of a typical cruise ship, there are a lot of places for viewing. Follow these tips to get the most out of your day.
• Bow of the Ship - Helipad
If your captain allows guests to enter the helipad area for viewing the locks, it’s definitely an experience being at the bow of the ship. It will be a novelty to be able to view the process from the helipad, so expect big crowds early on. You should wait until the next set of locks when it clears out a little. Wear closed-toed shoes, preferably sneakers, since the deck can be slippery and you don’t want to risk getting turned away and missing the locks.
• Stern of the Ship
This was my favorite place for viewing as we enjoyed seeing the doors close behind the ship. Being on a high floor allowed us to see over the massive lock doors to the different steps of the locks.
Once finished with the last of the locks (Gatun locks) on the Pacific to Atlantic crossing, the back of the ship offers one of the best picture taking opportunities as you can see the narrow passage with the different “steps”, which the ship just went through.
• Port or Starboard Sides
Each side will offer a different view, depending on the lane that the ship gets put into. There are two lanes for each lock and there will likely be additional ships going through the locks in the other lane. Check out the side where you can see the other ship as it gives you a fascinating perspective on what’s happening along with seeing the massive volume of water moving in or out of the locks.
Port Side (Pacific to Atlantic crossing)
If you want a good view of the new canal by the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks being built, pick a veranda on the port side when going through the canal. It’s an incredible sight to see the construction process and the massive amount of soil being transported.
• Stateroom Veranda
We enjoyed sitting on our veranda as we went through Gatun Lake. The scenery was beautiful and it was the perfect spot to relax and be away from the crowds. I’d recommend enjoying lunch or a snack as you cruise through Gatun Lake being that it is normally towards the middle of the day.
• Forward Lounge
If you don’t want to be outside for the crossing or are limited physically, I would suggest waking up early and securing a spot in the forward lounge, if your ship has one. On the Celebrity Millennium, Cosmos offered a great viewing spot in a comfortable setting. Arrive early to save your seat for the day so you can just relax and enjoy the view.
• Staying in the same spot
Many people were up first thing to secure a spot for the whole day. With so much going on when transiting the locks, you’re missing out if you’re not moving around and seeing it from different angles. Unless you’re physically unable to move around the ship, get out and walk around, go from side to side and back again to see it all.
• Staying inside
One of the best parts is being outside and looking over the railing to see the whole process.
• Fitness room
As I love to say, the fitness room often has one of the best views on a cruise ship and this really comes true during a Panama Canal crossing. Watch the process unfold as you work out on a treadmill or elliptical, you’ll never forget this workout! There is definitely no excuse to not work out during the crossing.
• Get up Early
The ship will tell you what time you will go through the first set of locks but a lot happens before that. I got up about two hours early, and was glad I did. It was just about dawn and I could see all the other ships waiting outside for their turn to go through the Canal. The process of entering the first set of locks as the sun rose was truly unforgettable.
The main event of a Panama Canal cruise is going through the canal, so make sure to educate yourself on the process before leaving on the trip or while on the ship (if offered). On our cruise, there was a 3-part lecture series starting from the beginning days of building the Panama Canal to the Panama Canal today and its plans for future expansion.
These talks were part of Celebrity Cruises, “Beyond the Podium” series. Lecturers, Rheal and Claire Perron were engaging and all their talks were standing room only in the main theatre. In addition, 2 different movies about the Panama Canal were shown leading up to the crossing. When the day came, I felt that I had learned a lot and could really understand what was happening from an engineering perspective as well as appreciating from a historical standpoint.
Have additional tips to share? Please add a comment below.
FreshCruiser Tip: If you're going be on a top deck, don't forget to bring something to stay hydrated, it’s very hot there and you may not want to give up your prime spot along the rail. Also, don’t forget to continue to keep reapplying sunscreen!