5,000 nautical miles sailed: transiting the Panama Canal.
Updated: Jul 31
I traveled 5,000 nautical miles by ship over 18 days last Feb/Mar 2023. I sailed aboard the Norwegian Joy during the ship's repositioning via Panama Canal.
I'm packed up and ready to go off on another adventure.
The flight to LAX was long and exhausting. We arrived 4 hours behind schedule and were thankful for the few hours of sleep in a hotel before meeting up with the ship. The day we sailed out of the Port of L.A. the entire west coast of California was having extreme weather. It snowed in L.A. while we walked on the docks, making it feel more like Boston rather than L.A.
Once onboard we found our tiny inside stateroom and checked out the views of the angry ocean we were about to sail into. The waves were crashing over the pier at San Pedro. This was my very first cruise and I didn't know if I'd get sick.
Yup, I got sick! Thankfully, it only lasted those first few days while I was adjusting. That first night we were rocking really bad and they hung up puke bags all around the ship and hallways. I guess everyone was getting tossed about pretty bad.
The first full day sailing was sunny and we moved south of the storms. I was one of only a handful of kids on the entire ship. This was a long cruise and the ship was repositioning for the Spring Break crowds in south FL.
We had many activities to keep us occupied as we sailed in the Pacific Ocean. We golfed, I took a painting class while I had time away from mom, we watched nightly movies like DUNE on a massive screen. Although we had lots of days at sea on this trip I never was bored.
My first port in a foreign country was Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We had booked a private whale watching tour on a small zodiac boat to be able to watch whales and not scare them away.
I enjoyed watching the cruise ship arrive in Cabo San Lucas. We were amazed by the sharp cliffs but the temperature was FIRE hot. I didn't like the feeling of sun lotion at first, however, I got sun burn and regretted that choice later on.
Entering the harbor of Cabo San Lucas on the whale watching tour made me fell anxious because we had strange kids on the ride with us. I thought it might be over whelming at first, but as we left the shore I relaxed and had fun. We talked about sea myths on the way out until we saw a couple of whales off in the distance. We all shuffled to the side of the boat and we saw a gray whale spewing water out its blowhole! We also saw a humpback do a tail slap on the waters surface to communicate with other whales.
A grey whale fluke up close.
Whales use the Sea of Cortez to have babies because the infant whales are poor swimmers and the Sea of Cortez has a high salt content called salinity. This helps the whales with buoyancy and the mother's have an easier job helping the calf up to breath.
A close up photo of a humpback whale doing a tail slap on the surface of the water.
My favorite part of the whale watching tour was the waves tossing us into the air. It was like riding a roller coaster.
Our tour was over and we returned to our ship. We thought of getting a grilled cheese and quick snack. Mom was tired so I took her photo for a memory.
That evening we got some nice soda to sip and I read some of my books from home. We enjoyed looking at the beautiful lights on other cruise ships as the sun set.
This was my favorite spot hang out and watch the ocean.
Adventure during a day at sea exploring the new ship.
Our second port was Acapulco, Mexico. We arrived early in the AM before I was awake. We walked to breakfast and noticed the heavy security posted on the docks.
The police were carrying big weapons. It was a new experience for me because I never seen that much security.
The feeling of sun burn was horrible as we strolled through the streets. I was able to ignore it when we finally made it into some shops. I bought some souvenirs like a purse to store the money I carried during the trip. I also bought a porcelain 'Day of the Dead' skull that was painted orange.
I observed how run down the local streets appeared. I saw a lot of stray cats and dogs that I thought looked cute and I wanted to pet them, but mom said they probably have mange or fleas all over them. I asked to a picture of one mom agreed. We snapped a photo of a stray tabby cat resting on the sidewalks in the shade.
The sun was melting me like ice cream. I tried to stay out of the sunshine whenever possible. We had a chance to speak with a few local merchants and Mom practiced her Spanish. We were told which streets were safe and which ones to avoid. We decided to walk on foot and not take a taxi back to the pier so we could see daily life beyond the tourist locations directly at the pier.
The ship was docked next to a 16th century Dutch fort that was in the shape of a star.
Here's a picture of the burning and fatigue I experienced almost every evening after getting sunburned. You can see the exhaustion and pain on my face as I slowly recovered. It was hard to ignore the burns as they started to peel off. The thing that I hated most about the sunburn was the itching and tingling all over my body. Imagine having thousands of bugs crawling all over your skin because that was the exact sensation I was feeling! I love SPF sun lotion now.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
We are off the ship once again and exited to begin another expedition into another country! I have never been to Guatemala before so everything was exciting to see. I was really concerned about more sunburn, but I started rubbing the SPF lotion on my body much better at this point. I was actually getting used to the slime feeling but still hated the feeling of having wet skin.
We had a long bus ride up into the UNESCO heritage city of Antigua, Guatemala. We had the entire day to tour the town on our own and explore the shops and parks.
We needed to drive around the Vulcan De Fuego and we saw multiple small eruptions during the day. Fuego is currently very active and erupting. Around every 20 minutes it spews out ash and chunks of lava. This is known as strombolian eruptions. Fuego is a stratovolcano which is different than the volcanoes we saw in Hawaii. One fact that I learned was that Fuego had a massive eruption in 2018 and thousands of people were in the way of the pyroclastic flow and many hundreds died. This volcano has a cinder cone shape because it formed at the junction of tectonic plates not like the hot spot volcanoes in Hawaii.
It was amazing to witness another active volcano and see it's eruptions. I'd love to return and take a hike up it, but it would be backbreaking and very dangerous.
Many years ago the city of Antigua was the capital of Guatemala. Devastating earthquakes hit the area in the late 1700's and the towering Fuego volcano looming over the city forced the capital to move an hour away to Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Antigua, Guatemala is a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are many historic old churches and monasteries sprinkled around the town. The arch over the cobblestone street is called the Santa Catalina Arch.
Antigua was full of crazy beautiful colors and textures all around. I don`t know Spanish yet, but I could figure out the meaning of the 'STOP' sign and also the direction that traffic was using. That was fun to try and decipher on my own.
Guatemala was full of tiny miracles I thought I'd never see. One example is the gravity defying baskets full of items that the women balanced on top of their heads.
I remember feeling HOT HOT after walking around town for the afternoon! I needed a drink and to rest beneath some shade! My mom had a lot of trouble buying snacks in town because they didn't want to accept the U.S dollars. We were not told that the currency exchange would be so difficult here. We tried to go to a bank to exchange our cash, but they had armed guards and we didn't have the multiple required forms of ID needed to exchange cash. Each bank had a long waiting line. We finally found a store that would take our money and we bought a few t-shirts. Mom asked for the change in the local currency which is the Guatemalan Quetzal. Mom told me that the shop owners have trouble bringing dollars to banks to exchange just like we had, so many don't feel it's worth the amount of time they needed to stand in line at the bank and exchange money.
My favorite museum in Antigua, Guatemala was the Jade Museum. I found actual skulls with jade rocks drilled into the teeth as decorations! I personally would avoid visiting the dentists during the ancient Mayan civilization. Those dental depictions around the museum were spine tingling. The gardens at the center of the Jade Museum were filled with beautiful plants and fountains. I thought it was a spa at first, not a museum.
Hanging out on a street corner while enjoying Pringles. This completes the perfect recipe for my expedition snack break.
Scenes around the town of Antigua Guatemala. We noticed many stray pets around that was a new sight to behold. Thankfully, all the stray dogs were chilling around on the cool sidewalks.
I made a ten dollar bet with my mom that I could pet a pigeon. Guess who won? Hint: The birds are very fast!
My heart stopped when I thought this dog had died in front of us! These sights are easy to overlook, but I noticed a ton of stray animals all around. We checked him out and want to reassure everyone he was only sleeping.
Another gravity defying basket. We learned that many Mayan decedents still carry out traditional ways of living in Antigua. I felt like I was watching a magician.
I was visiting a church in Guatemala. While listening to the catholic priest give mass I noticed a couple of local Guatemalan women crawling on their knees up the hard stone aisle. They were praying. To show respect I took my hat off. I remember checking out the amazing decorations on the ceiling of the church. Gold covered parts of the walls and they statues all around. The organ music was beautiful and I was amazed by the entire experience.
I found my first Tuck Tuck! It's extremely tiny and sorta cute, probably gets great gas mileage.
What a nice day. I couldn't ask for more relaxing in the shade with my Coke.
Photos from our day wandering the streets together. Finding new hidden sites to duck inside and check out while also searching for air conditioning or shade. I noticed how thick the church walls are built and how the building look like they have been squished down to help support them during the frequent earthquakes.
Ruins of the old Antigua pre-1700's. They have left old examples of the damages the earthquake created. The new buildings look nothing like this shell of a church.
Resting again in a neat little t-shirt shop courtyard. Antigua was very neat with hidden treasures behind walls that were open to the public.
Antigua, Guatemala 2023. Santa Clarita archway and the Vlucan De Fuego behind me.
We both enjoyed Guatemala very much. The people were very kind and helpful.
Mom looks so tired all the time. I laughed at her and then took her photo to show proof.
Walking around the Norwegian Joy ship and really starting to learn the layout. Here is the midship atrium.
During the many days at sea we did enjoy the slide and pool. I believe I ran around a dozen times straight with nobody riding and I could jump right in. There was one unfortunate thing about the ship water slides, I wasn't able to use the floor drop slide over the edge of the ship because I needed to be 120 pounds to gain enough speed to not get stuck in a loop. I tried the entire cruise to eat more so that I could ride it.
it was a hot day onboard the cruise. mom said she's going to rest so she let me explore the pools and water parks. I realized the water was filled with salt so it tasted horrible every time I went underwater. my favorite part of the top of the ship was the slide that was salty but it was much easier to avoid it being splashed in my face. the slide went over the side of the ship.
Mom always got out of bed very early during this trip. She was crazy! She could noticed that our ship was almost part of a group of container vessels heading south. This was the first sign that we must be near the Panama Canal entrance. We did not see any other cruise ships.
These are large car carrier vessels. We saw many like these once we were sailing near the busy cargo shipping lanes.
This is where the trip got interesting! I was amazed to see this crazy cargo ship parking lot.
These massive ships were stacked out as far as my eyes could see.
We watched the Captain and the pilot bring our massive ship into Panama City, Panama. They maneuvered the Joy very carefully around many small obstacles. It was like pulling into a highway rest stop of cargo freighters.
Panama City, Panama looks like the largest city I have ever visited. I was excited to have our ship parked here for a few days while we waited to transit the canal.
We had the best marine life escorts follow our ship as we slowly sailed into Panama City. We saw dolphins and rays everywhere near the port.
We luckily had multiple days to explore Panama City while our ship waited for it's turn to cross the canal. We had multiple letters from the captain that said our ship needed perfect tide conditions to safely pass underneath the Bridge of the Americas before entering the canal zone.
Here is an example of what happens when you look over the rail and into the wind all day while the ship moves very quickly. Mom saw sharks, manta rays, sea turtles.... but had a funny looking eye for a few days.
I enjoyed lazy evenings relaxing and chatting with friends we met during our first week on the ship.
I went as high up as I could to watch the "bunkering" process of our ship being refueled. It took almost 17 hours to fill up the Norwegian Joy! This was a very dangerous time and they locked off the entire side of the ship for the day. They had crew looking for people sneaking a smoke! Mom wanted to know the gas bill afterwards. This night our PM movie was DUNE... again! We started to noticed that our repositioning trip was much longer than Norwegian's typical cruise offerings and they started repeating activities. Just a funny little observation.
Oh man, what on earth has mom planned for me next!
We left the Norwegian Joy early and found our bus into Panama City.
We could see the old US military base structures and some looked very run down and must be condemned.
Fun US military history fact: John McCain was born here in Panama while his family was stationed at the canal zone.
We finally arrived at the national park following a very long bus ride. I met native Embera Tribe members who were allowed to live deep inside the national park. The Embera Indian villages cover lands located near southern Panama and into northern Columbia.
There's a spot where you can buy a ride on a dugout canoe and visit their villages. They have dozens of different villages located all along rivers in Panama/Columbia. We drove an hour south into the Chagres National Park to meet our guides.
This started out as such a neat adventure.
We noticed how the tropical rainforest became thicker as we traveled on
We cruised past a dozen or so little villages with handmade huts and kids playing outside.
Water started to splashed inside the boat and splashed up into my face. I was not amused.
It's NEVER a good sign to see the wooden boat spring leaks while traveling in crocodile habitat rivers deep in the rainforest. Mom had soaking feet and her shorts were in water, but I was on the lighter side on the boat and stayed dry for most of the part.
Just keep smiling.
The water was getting a little crazy sloshing around the boat and we were wondering if this was a normal thing or should we say something?
A sign that things are getting serious! No smiles and my head down. We had to be in the most unsafe boat I've ever seen because it was actually sinking. We all were sitting below the water level while water was oozing in by splits in the log.
Our pure joy was jumping back on land after arriving at the Embera village. Mom was soaked from the waist down because of the leaking boat.
I had to go to the bathroom after the long canoe ride. We had some laughs over the jungle bathrooms.
A few examples of the tribe huts and the interior of a hut roof.
We saw some adorable kids playing and running around while the leaders gave us a cultural presentation. All the kids ran around and played hide and seek while crawling in and out of windows.
It was amazing how the lazy dogs were sleeping all around in the village. I believe they were just relaxing because it was so hot!
We learned that the Embera choose their village leaders by voting. They meet in the large village hut and anyone who wants to lead the group stands up. All tribe members who are 12 years old or above pick someone to stand behind and form a line. Whoever has the longest line and most tribe members behind them is the winner of the village chief role.
It was nice to hear about the cultures and traditions the Embera Tribe is trying to protect. They were very proud to show us all a US Presidential award that was given to the current Chief's grandfather. He allowed NASA's astronauts Neil Armstrong and even John Glenn to live with the tribe and learn jungle survival skills. The Embera Tribe was also thanked by the US military for assistance with the training of 11,000+ US military prior to Vietnam deployment. The military wanted it's soldiers to learn important jungle survival skills from the knowledgeable Embera tribes.
The history of the Embera Tribe thriving in the jungles around Panama and Columbia pre-dates the arrival of the first Spanish explorers back in the 1500's. Today they are granted permission to live in the national park by the Panamanian government with some limits on agriculture within the park. The Embera protect the watershed that the country of Panama uses as it's source for fresh water.
My memory of the jungle revolves around the crazy heat and humidity, it was unlike anything I had experienced before. My eyeball would sweat with every blink, and one lady who was there with us actually passed out. I don't know what happened to her. While we were wandering around I stepped on a large ant nest. I was suddenly shoved from behind by my Mom and she started yelling to "move it" because I was standing directly on top of a very large jungle ant colony!
I'm not 100% sure where we are after venturing up a twisting river. I believe this is somewhere in the jungles of Panama still, but could easy be on the border of Columbia, too. One thing was certain about my jungle experience, sweat would pour out of my skin pores immediately after taking a drink! I thought jumping in that croc infested river water looked like a great option by mid-day.
A wonderful view of the river from a little path leading between huts. They had a school building with a big box of new textbooks. That was neat to see in such a remote location.
We watch the Embera kids do an amazing dance for us. Some kids pulled out a few visitors to dance with them. We had free time to wander around the village and ask questions, check out amazing crafts each family might be selling, and try some food they had cooked for us as a gift. It was some sort of fish, but we didn't try it and went for a walk to check out the awesome family homes raised up on poles. We also asked about wildlife in the National Park.
Fingers crossed for a different canoe to take us back.
I remember all the wonderful plant life around the village with massive trees and beautiful flowers and ferns.
It was time to leave and that thought worried me because the water seeping in the boat and the fact that I felt like we were sinking during our trip out. We were soaked by the time we reached the beach with the bus stop once again.
Once we reached the bus stop location I noticed dozens of stray dogs surrounding the pickup stop. I really wanted to pet them but mom said "NO" to petting stray dogs because you could get fleas or whatever they may be carrying. WHAT A BUMMER!
We took a long bus ride from the National Park back to the city. I noticed the heaps of garbage laying around because they must not have any organized trash collection.
We could see the rundown buildings left behind by the US military when they turned the canal zone over to Panama years ago.
I'm holding the awesome caiman tooth necklace that I purchased from a family at the Embera village.
I have never been so thankful for ice water and a chef who understands what a grilled cheese actually is! I couldn't believe that most of the staff on this ship had never received a request for a grilled cheese. We had to explain the process of making my favorite dish to the wait staff. One funny moment was when my first order came back with two hamburger buns and a slice of cheese between them. Mom and I talked about the language barrier and different cultures and diets. I just smiled and crossed my fingers for a chef each day who knew what a grilled cheese looked like! We even had a photo on our phone to show waiters.
My choice of handmade Ember masks was the 'Harpy Eagle' that I bought from Embera family. It caught my eye immediately and only one man had made masks of birds. I checked out his crafts that he laid out on a bench. We first thought this mask must be an owl. We were told by an interpreter that it was in fact the mighty Harpy Eagle. What an incredible bird to learn about and research if your not familiar with jungle eagles! Take a minute to research this bird of prey and appreciate the mighty primate hunter... the Harpy Eagle!
Mom bought a bird handmade craft, although we are not sure if it was mask or hat? We had a language barrier while visiting the tribe and walking around to each house and looking at their handmade crafts. We noticed that they charged about $1 USD per hour they spent working on each craft.
This is how our clothes looked as we walked back on our ship after a trip into the jungle and spending the day with the Embera tribe. It was a memorable day and absolutely another "once in a lifetime" opportunity.
Balboa was the first European to set eyes on the Pacific Ocean after crossing the isthmus of Panama by foot. He was a Spanish explore lead by natives. He demanded his men stay far behind him so his eyes could be the "first" to see the ocean and he would go down in history. I received this coin as a gift from the tour leader during our second day trip into Panama City.
Enjoying a night movie of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom before bed. Every night we could get popcorn from the pool deck.
This photo is hard evidence that homeschool is NOT all fun and games! Mom forced me out of bed before 5AM so we could watch the Panama Canal Transit process begin. Our ship was a Neo-Panamax size and we needed to hit our mark perfect to clear underneath the Bridge of the Americas and enter the newly expanded Panama Canal locks. The Captain had delayed our exit four times the previous day because the tides would not allow the Joy to sail under the bridge safely. We received multiple letters for the Captain with schedule changes as they worked to figure out when our ship would be allowed to transit the locks. We ended up staying an extra 1/2 day in Panama City, Panama because of issues. The port terminal had dozens of busses waiting to drive passengers around if we wanted to tour the city. The area around the canal entrance has hundreds, maybe even thousands, of ships sitting around at anchor or in ports awaiting for their scheduled time to use the canal.
This is what pre-teen torture looks like!
The flag of Panama high above the canal zone in the early morning hours.
We spent time on the top deck waiting for the Joy to cross underneath the Bridge of the Americas. This was the first bridge connecting North American and South America following the construction of the canal. I realized everyone was pretty excited to see the ship enter the canal and they were heading to the front of the boat. I did not want to go to the bow of the boat because many of the older guests get ruthless and would probably injure a kid like me for a prime viewing spot on the rail! It was no joke, when we moved closer to the canal people became almost crazed to get the best view.
Watching and quietly wondering if they calculated the tides right. If not the Captain would hit the bridge and take the Doppler off the ship! I believe ships will not be able to use either canal if they continue to build larger!
We got very close to the belly of the bridge and it was cool to be so close to the bottom and observe the busy traffic passing overhead.
We saw there was a crowd forming on the live feed of the ship's bow and people were fighting for the best views at the front! We went to the back of the ship (stern) and found it nearly empty. We even had a private ice water and coffee stand to share with a handful of other guests. We hoped our secret wouldn't spread around the decks!
We found the BEST spot to transit the canals: the back of the ship! Everyone was fighting on the front rails when they opened the bow of the ship at 4AM and they were packed in tight fighting to look over the rail, while we walked around and found the back deck empty. I saw the canal close behind us as we waved "Adios" to the beautiful Pacific Ocean. While there was a massive crowd on the bow watching the canal close in front of the ship, we had our own private view of the canal closing behind the ship... in peace!
This is the best kept secret for anyone interested in going on a Panama Canal cruise: avoid the bow and head straight to the stern public viewing deck. We really enjoyed our conversations and views of the canal while moving around without elbow fights. We sailed on a repositioning cruise, so it was not busy and not a "typical" route this ship makes. It was a much longer journey than most cruises because of the repositioning. We enjoyed the fact that we spent multiple days in some ports and it allowing us more time to explore unique areas.
We could look down into the massive cargo ships all around the canal zone. This ship with open cargo doors reminded me of Jurassic Park when T-rex was shipped inside a container vessel like this one. We had recently passed by the coast of Costa Rica and we kept an eye out for any prehistoric looking islands since that's where Jurassic Park was supposed to be located!
I learned that some ships are already too big to pass through the larger and newly expanded canal locks and they need to transfer cargo loads here before the locks.
A close up photo of a tugboat coming to help guide our cruise ship.
They waist no time with getting ships into the canal zone! Another ship was closing on our stern within minutes of us clearing the bridge. About 14,000 ships use the "World's Greatest Shortcut" each year and cross Panama.
This ship is much smaller than the Joy and is considered a Panamax vessel. This ship will be using the original locks built in 1914 and would transit alongside our vessel.
On the right side of this photo is division of the old locks (Panamax size ships only) and on the newly expanded canal in 2016. The larger ships that need to use the expanded locks are called "Neo-panamax" ships. They design ships with the Panama Canal size limits in mind.
I have never seen so many tugboats working as assistants and lining up each ship. Ships must pay a toll to use the locks and that is how the canal earns money. They figure how much each toll will be based on the ships weight and what type of cargo it's carrying. In 1928 an American swimmer wanted to swim the Panama Canal and he was charged a toll based on his weight. He weighed 150 pounds and was charged thirty-six cents to transit the old locks. The world record for the new lock system was near $1 million dollars for a massive tanker ship! Prior to the new expansion the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl held the record for Panama Canal tolls when it was charged $375,600.00 in 2010 the year I was born!
I noticed the old lock passage was quicker for ships and this vessel ended up ahead of us despite moving under the bridge and into the canal zone after we did. The new expanded locks are slightly slower moving.
It was a sight to behold watching these tugboats maneuver the Norwegian Joy, one of the largest cruise ships in the world, into a canal that seems too small already for these massive boats. Even though they recently expanded this new canal it's proof that we can't imagine what the near future might hold. For fun facts: Norwegian Joy is 42 meters wide which is also called her 'beam' and the newly expanded canal is 55 meters wide. This was the expanded lock system opened in 2016 that is already too small for many mega ships at sea today.
Watching the crew and the tugboat toss lines back and forth and the tugboat using powerful cranks to pull our stern over for adjustment. They have to communicate well with a control tower because we have no clue what's happening at the bow of the ship at this point but somehow everything worked out smoothly. Without great tugboat operations this canal would probably have accidents every day.
Looking for the crocodile who hitched a ride up the locks with our ship! I never saw him, unfortunately, the only thing I noticed in the water was a plastic shopping bag.
The actual canal lock structure was amazing to see. We were feet away from the side of the locks and watched closely as they secured the ship.
Here is a great view of the two door rolling gate system that closes behind the ship and officially moves us out of the Pacific waters. The new locks use a rolling gate structure unlike the old miter gates used in the original 1914 lock system. The design improved efficiency and helps with the maintenance this lock requires. The new lock system was designed to save water by using a series of holding ponds at various heights. They reuse water with help from gravity to fill the lock with each ship passing and saving fresh water from mixing with sea water. During a transit of the old canal they open the lock doors up to the ocean and the lake loses 100% of water used in each passing. The country of Panama uses that fresh water lake for it's water supply, so finding ways to preserve water and keep it separate from sea water is best.
Canal zone workers working miracles with lines, I was amazed how they manage to work with no tangles.
The Norwegian Joy was finally secured to the side of the first canal lock area.
Close up peek inside the massive rolling gates of the Panama Canal.
Mesmerized by the process and carefully watching every movement made by ships and workers.
My favorite memory was the jolt of the gate alarm blasting at us once the gates commenced rolling closed.
That alarm had to be the loudest warning system ever created!
Everyone is tucked inside nicely waiting for the rush of water to lift us up over 85 feet!
Last few feet to go and I'm happy to see that tugboat safely hanging on.
Once they closed the gate it took a mater of minutes to raise our ship 33 feet in the first set of locks! I could see the massive rush of water into our lock and we could watch the ship lift multiple feet per minute. This was absolutely incredible!
What seemed like moments later, the crew that was above us tying our ship to the side now looked like tiny ants below us. They let the ropes loose as we inched forward into the second of three lock gates.
The holding ponds to help with water conservation and in the background you can see the ship using the old locks right beside us.
Restarting our engines and we could feel the rumbles as the massive Norwegian Joy inched forward. Our tugboat acted as our brake and helped steer the stern around. These little boats are impressive.
We needed to raise our ship 27 meters (88 feet) above sea level to be able to pass into Gatun Lake.
Tugboat crews have a really dangerous job around the busy canal. They help guide massive ships into place and then also help maneuver around the tight turns of the Culebra cut. If a small tug would get hung up on anything inside the canal or while transiting the Gatun Lake our massive ship would easily drag it over without feeling much resistance! These canal workers are highly skilled mariners for sure!
I made a friend who abandoned her attempts to watch the canal on the bow and joined us in admiring the marvel of engineering. The ship passage seemed effortless, which is ironic knowing the history of the canal construction. Over 25,000 canal workers died in horrible conditions cutting away the limestone and clay deep in the hot jungles of Panama. They battled yellow fever, malaria, mudslides, explosions, racisms between "gold roll" and "silver roll" workers and much more. The Frenchman who famously constructed the Suez Canal spent seven years in Panama and went completely bankrupt digging only 1/10 of the canal! The French had a flaw in the design, they tried to dig the canal at sea level just like they had in Egypt for the Suez Canal. Panama with all it's clay soil and 9 months of rainy seasons had other ideas!
Control tower for the Cocoli lock system.
This is were the Panama Canal stores the water it needs to elevate the ships that pass though the locks.
I am in the buffet restaurant eating some lunch and looking out at the beautiful canal.
The Germans constructed this second bridge over the Panama Canal to help with the traffic congestion over the Bridge of the America's. This allowed two points to cross between North and South America over the canal.
We finally made it out to check out the open bow. We wanted to wave to the bridge web camera as Grandpa and Grandma Sale watched our ship online from Hamilton.
The infamous Culebra Cut. Many graves around here of the canal workers years ago.
The white boxes with black crosses are used by the ship during navigation around the narrow curves and dangerously tight Culebra passageway.
We passed extremely close to massive super tankers and car transport vessels. This was amazing to witness close up.
Passing through miles of the manmade freshwater Gatun Lake.
I spotted a special ship passing us that made me laugh.
During our full day journey through the canal we finished up some homeschool work. I read the book 'What Is the Panama Canal' and we also worked on learning every South American country. I have them all memorized now. It was cool to meet staff on the ship from the various countries I was learning about- Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia, Paraguay, and more.
Relaxing late in the day at our favorite location on the ship. I always stayed in shade after my fear of sunburn.
We could see a super tanker enter the last set of locks before lowering down to Atlantic sea level. It's difficult to show the size in a photo, but these ships are just MASSIVE!
I was utterly exhausted by the evenings last lock entry. I made friends with a retired middle school teacher on our ship- he saw me and told my mom that her son was officailly "Lock-ed Out" for the day. Very true!
Our tugboats said goodbye and dashed away after a full day crossing the 48 miles of twists and turns.
Nice and clear instruction sign for boats. I like it.
Entering into the final three locks of the Auga Clara locks.
We passed the canal and we could look down over the deck of the ship and watch the workers watching our boat, too.
Agua Clara Locks control tower
We crossed the Panama Canal at Latitude 09*23.17N and sailed the full 48 miles of lake Gatun.
Time for laundry, rest and a little fun following a long day full of history and learning how locks work.
At sea I earned a few hours of VR arcade time after finishing all of my homeschool work. I waited and worked for 12 days to finally earn a chance to enjoy some video games.
Early morning arrival at Cartagena, Colombia. It was going to be a searing hot day.
We took a pirate tour of the old walled city of Cartagena, Columbia. The explorer Drake lived for a period of time in Cartagena and at one point almost burned the city down. He's considered a pirate in Columbia, but was knighted in England! How crazy is that? One country's hero is the next country's pirate! I did learn that Drake was an amazing navigator who circumnavigated the globe and a nightmare to the Spanish Armada.
Old walled city with protections from pirate attacks. Columbia was also a major stop in the African slave trade. We saw monuments to the thousands of enslaved Africans who landed in Columbia on their way to various destinations in North America.
Inside the walls the historic city looks like a scene straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Unfortunately, I started to notice the searing heat already before 10AM.
Columbia was beautiful with lots of flavor, it really was sad that we felt so uncomfortable due to the heat and humidity.
I felt like I was a melting clay mold at this point. I had to ask Mom if I would burn my hand if I touched these historic cannons. I felt like we were inside our oven and I was certain touching anything metal would sizzle my skin! Any light breeze felt like the hot air that escapes an oven we you open the door to peek, it doesn't cool you down but rather burns in it's own unique way.
We always looked for shade.
I had to drink a lot of water to prevent dehydration and reapply sun lotion to ward off more sunburn.
The Cartagena streets we busy with people.
Everyone was super sweaty and we could hardly keep cool in the shade.
My favorite part of Cartagena was the Emerald Museum. We could carve emeralds on screens with VR headsets. We also were able to see some real emeralds along with a neat exhibit of the mines scattered around Columbia.
We found the best store in town that allowed us to sit in AC!
It was the hottest day of our entire trip while we strolled the streets of Cartagena, Columbia.
We found the time at the zoo most enjoyable. It was located near the port docks and had nice shade, shops, and food! I thought the birds were amazing flying around and wandering on the ground until they started trying to snatch my food. We saw a toucan who had a zoo handler and was in rehabilitation for a damaged beak.
The flamingos showed us the funny shuffle they do in the water to stir up the bottom and find food. It looks like a silly dance.
I scored one of the last Columbian National Football team jersey's near the port.
A perfect picture of the sunset in Colombia as we took off to sea.
Goodbye, it was hot but enjoyable in Columbia.
Our last port stop was in the Cayman Islands. We had to wait for our van to pick us up to go horseback riding.
I rode a horse named Diamond.
This was one of my favorite activities we did during our trip away. I loved my horseback ride.
I couldn't believe the number of ships we had in the Cayman Islands. We were lucky to be riding on the opposite side of the island and we felt at peace. We did spend a fortune for a single can of coke. I think the exchange rate was 80 cents US to the Cayman dollar.
Back on the ship I was hungry so I got some salad with my ranch dressing and a couple of pickles on the side.
A final few photos of our room following 17 days. We had to pack up and be ready to disembark the ship in Miami.
Mom brought one of Verity's stuffed animals to send photos to her during the trip. We also bought a magnet at each port stop for our memory.
The pool deck had nightly movies. We watched Indiana Jones again on our final night on board the Norwegian Joy.
We arrived in Miami, FL and we walked out to a taxi to take us to the Brightline train station. It was a cheap and easy way to get to Ft Lauderdale. We had a few days to wait for our return flights.
I really missed my phone because there was no internet on the ship. Mom handed back my tech at the train station. I kissed it because now I had my music!
Miami Brightline train station. It was $30 to travel from Miami to Ft Lauderdale and we used the free shuttles to get to our hotel. We tried to find the best ways to save money while traveling, they are not always the shortest, but we survived.
Our new hotel room had much more space to roam around unlike the tiny ship room we have been living in for days and days. I was happy to have more space for sure and thankful Dad set us up so well while we were away. He booked our hotel while we were at sea and had no internet.
I found a LEGO store nearby.
We had shops around our hotel to check out. We had to stay in FL for 3 nights to catch a cheap flight home. It was Spring Break and flights were expensive to get back home.
We had to wake up at 3:00AM to catch a shuttle at 3:30AM. I think mom booked us on the earliest flight home possible. I was tired but ready to be home. I was a walking zombie around that first airport.
Sadly, it was time to head back home and we passed security checks. We had multiple flight connections during our flights back to Grand Rapids. I remember the moment I saw my Dad after 18 days. I ran to him and I literally hugged him flat! That was to show him how much I missed him!
The airport that we had a short stop at in North Carolina was crowded because of Spring Break. I felt like I was inside a jail cell and wished to back home so bad.
To wrap things up we snapped a photo of some fun books and educational stuff I had worked on during my time away. I memorized all the South America countries on a map and learned the history of Panama and the construction of the canal.
I enjoyed my trip and really look forward to another adventure...
"Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, tell me of a man made to wander far and long.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds, many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea..."
~Homer, The Odyssey
...departing Istanbul November 2023!