I’m currently onboard Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas for a 15-night Panama Canal cruise. A few days ago, we made the eight-hour journey southbound, from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, through the 100-year-old waterway — one of the modern world’s most impressive feats of engineering.
I learned lots along the way, thanks to a helpful narrator, whose facts and figures were piped over the ship’s PA system: 75,000 men worked to build the canal over a 10-year period. About one-third died during the project, most from malaria or yellow fever spread by mosquitoes. The fees paid by vessels to sail through the canal generate anywhere from $6 to $8 million per day; Royal Caribbean shelled out more than $277,000 for Legend of the Seas’ passage.
What I discovered on my own, however, were some of the pitfalls of trying to find optimum outposts to snap some stellar shots. Here are some of the solutions I found that could help you on your own Pan Can cruise.
Problem: Naturally some of the best vantage points are forward on the outdoor decks. Unless you plan to wake up at the crack of dawn, however, you’ll be standing behind three-people-deep crowds, trying in vain to hold your camera above their heads.
Solution: On my sailing, the ship’s photographers roped off a small area directly in the middle of the forwardmost portion of the sun deck to take pictures of passengers in front of the canal’s locks and bridges. Volunteer to have your photo taken, and the crowd parts for you. Before you turn around to smile for the camera, pause and take a couple of seconds to capture your own shot.
Problem: It’s fun to watch the ship as it positions itself to enter each of the canal’s three locks. But once the vessel is inside, it’s difficult to watch the mechanisms that make it all work.
Solution: Head aft on any outdoor deck that overlooks the back of the ship. You’ll get better views of the nuts-and-bolts operations, and it’ll be far less crowded.
Problem: If you’ve done your due diligence by waking up at 5 a.m. to score a prime viewing spot, it’s just not fair that you might have to give it up for something as silly as paying a visit to the buffet.
Solution: Keep in mind that the transit will take nearly all day, and there will be several hours between locks. People tend to get bored during those times, so take bathroom breaks immediately after the exciting stuff, and be sure to sidle back to your perch while the enthusiasm is still dwindling. If all else fails, trying positioning yourself at a different spots on the outer decks. A little change of scenery and a new perspective will keep you from getting bored.
Problem: My pale Irish skin and the brutal Panamanian sun didn’t get along well with one another. By the time I captured several photos that will eventually make my Facebook friends jealous, I had sweated completely through my tank top.
Solution: Our ship offered a live broadcast of the transit on the pool deck’s movie screen, as well as on in-cabin TVs, allowing shade-lovers to escape without missing a minute of the action.
Problem: While many Pan Can cruisers focus on what’s in front of them, a lot happens on each side of the ship, as well. But with frosted safety glass along much of the top deck’s port and starboard areas, photo-taking was a bit frustrating at times.
Solution: If you’ve got a balcony cabin, go back to your stateroom, and take in the views from there. If you don’t have a verandah, see if your ship has a lower promenade deck, which is a great spot for an uninhibited perspective.