Emerald Princess Day 43

Written by Safarigal
April 17, 2024

Panama Canal

April 15th, 2024

A man a plan a canal – Panama

I love palindromes, and this is one of the better ones.

We have been though the canal twice before, and each time we were very impressed by the marvel in engineering that allowed us to pass so easily from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. The canal has made so much difference to so many peoples’ lives, and here we were transiting this amazing feat of planning and construction.

Previously we have been on ships that could safely navigate the original canal – the Maasdam and Queen Victoria. Today we are experiencing the new canal which opened in 2016. In 2012 on Queen Victoria we could see the earthworks involved in making the new canal, today we get to see the end result. Emerald Princess is too large for the original canal, so we are going through the new one.

In 2012 we loved watching the mules drag us through the locks, and all of the hustle and bustle that was going on beside our ship, I wondered how different will the new canal be?

We had been given a schedule of our passage through the canal, and we were due to pass under the Bridge of Americas at 5:45 AM. I had hoped to be awake for that, but alas I slept through it.

However when we woke up at 7:30 and looked over the balcony, we could still see the bridge and we were securely in the first of the Cocoli locks.

There was a large container ship ahead of us in the 3rd lock.

While we were in the lock we were secured to the sides of the lock, and there was also a tug in front of us keeping us steady.

As our lock filled up with water the 2 gates slowly entered, and we were at the level of the 2nd lock, and the tug maneuvered us into place in that lock.

In the distant haze we could see the buildings of Panama City.

Down below us we could see the front of our ship, and the rather nice, but small sun deck that the crew have. Not much shade, and it must get very windy when we are at sea.

We followed the container ship through the locks.

Finally we reached the 3rd lock, and once the water levels were equalized we were free to go into Gatun Lake.


Gatun Lake is a man made reservoir that holds all of the water that is needed to make the canal passage work. We had been a bit worried that due to the drought in this area we may not be able to go thought the canal. They need an immense amount of fresh water to make it work. Luckily enough we were able to do the transit. Some ships have not been able to in the past few months.

We could see ships in the old canal on our right, and were intrigued by the rather odd looking car carrier that was exiting the locks at the same time we were.

We were side beside with the old canal as we entered the lake.

Once into the lake you sail under the very beautiful Centennial Bridge.

We then noticed that not only did we have a tug at the front of the ship, there was also one at the back, keeping our slow progress very steady.

We were not the only ships in the lake. We watched a couple of small sail boats pass by us, as well as an interesting assortment of commercial vessels.

Sitting on our balcony enjoying the view, it was very similar to observing our passage up the Amazon on Queen Victoria in 2017. It was also very hot and humid, and we were treated to watching the lush tropical vegetation go by. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

Eventually we reached the Atlantic side of the lake, and we waited for the container ship in front of us to enter the first of the Agua Clara locks.

The car carrier we had seen go thought the old locks next to us was now on our left, the new locks were to the right of the old ones.

The container ship was billowing out black smoke, I hoped we would be far enough behind it that we would not be affected.

Gradually we edged up to the locks, and began our slow progression through to the Atlantic Ocean.

It was fascinating watching the locks fill up and open and close, and we were grateful that there is so much open deck space on the Emerald that we were able to get a really good view of our progress.

At 4:00 we emerged from the final lock and sailed alongside the channel from the old locks

Towards the Atlantic Bridge.

There was still plenty of jungle scenery to watch as we made our way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Finally we waved goodbye to our tugs that had made our passage thought the canal so smooth and uneventful.

And headed under the bridge out into the open sea.

It was 4:30 PM. We had made really good time. On previous occasions we hadn’t emerged from the canal until early evening, the new locks are certainly a time saver.

This evening we sat on our balcony and welcomed the Atlantic sunset.

After dinner we decided not to join the line dancing in the Piazza

But instead went to the Wheelhouse Bar to listen to Stephan. Unfortunately there were only a couple of other people there to enjoy his music, everyone else seemed to be busy partying around the ship.

We then joined the group up on deck 19 for our stargazing experience. The southern cross was apparently visible, but was obscured by the steam from our funnels (smoke stacks?).

Still it was a lovely warm tropical evening, and although we didn’t see too many stars or planets, just being at the back of the ship with the lights turned off was enough for me.

Penguins, llamas, Incas, an eclipse, and now the Panama Canal. It’s an amazing cruise.

Post Discussion


  1. Jack Dawson

    Great narrative and great pics. We did the transit last August and, like you, found it awe inspiring. The contrast between this engineering marvel and the raw jungle surrounding Gatun Lake is a lot to grasp in one day. Still processing it all. Surprised you had fore and aft tugs as we didn’t see this on any ships including the QV which we were on.

    • Safarigal

      Did you go thought the old locks on QV and have the mules pulling you along? I missed the mules in the new locks, but it was great to see the little tugs keeping our monstrous ship on a safe and steady course. You are so right about the juxtaposition of the marvels of modern engineering and the beauty of nature. Such an amazing experience 🙂

      • Jack Dawson

        First of all, I apologize, it was the QE not the QV that we did the Transit on last August. We were originally booked on the QV for 2021 but that got COVIDed. By “mules” are you referring to the small locomotive type engines with their clanging bells or were they using the actual animals in 2012? We were fortunate on our voyage to have Richard Wainio as a Cunard Insights lecturer. He served for 18 years on the Panama Canal Commission and was the Executive Director who actually handed the Canal over to Panama in 1999. Besides his lecture series, he provided narration over the PA system for the entire day-long transit. It was quite amazing. So many details I never would have noticed and great back-stories.
        Once we had cleared the entry locks I was very surprised how fast the ship’s speed was and how closely we passed oncoming ships. At one point I had gone down to our cabin to grab something and when I looked out the balcony door/window, the ENTIRE view was filled by the side of a ship going in the opposite direction. For a second I couldn’t quite comprehend what I was seeing.

        • Safarigal

          You definitely had the better of the 2 experiences going through the locks, the tugs were fun, but nothing beats all the noise and hustle and bustle of the old locks! Cunard always has such great enrichment speakers, and that really does add to the enjoyment of the voyage 🙂

  2. Beverley Allen

    great report. When we went through in 2022 on QE Iwas amazed at how beautiful much of the journey was. A real treat to experience it.

    • Safarigal

      You are so right. The canal is so much more than just the locks. Gatun Lake is magnificent all by itself, and slowly making our way through the lake is such a beautiful experience.

  3. Mick

    Great report and pictures. As someone who has never been lucky enough to transit the Panama Canal, you really brought it to life!
    Thank you

    • Safarigal

      The canal still amazes me. It was such an incredible feat of engineering when the original canal was built, and the new canal is so impressive as well. I had forgotten how important the canal had been to opening up the west coast of America. We really take it for granted these days 🙂

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I love to share my adventures with others, and hopefully give them some insight into what to expect on their own exciting travels. I hope reading my blog will be a useful resource, and inspire others to follow their travel dreams. As a travel advisor, I get great pleasure out of being able to help folks fulfill their aspirations by translating my experience in safari adventures and ocean voyages into memorable travel experiences for them.