Live from….the Panama Canal: Finding the Best Viewing Spots

March 25, 2014 | By | 8 Comments

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.
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    8 Responses to “Live from….the Panama Canal: Finding the Best Viewing Spots”

    1. Johnnie Villasenor
      March 26th, 2014 @ 1:47 pm

      About 3 years ago my husband and I took a Panama Canal cruise with Princess. Lovely cruise. We managed to get a spot on the rail of the forward area. The actual forward area was barricaded so we couldn’t go that far forward on the deck we were all using. We were in a good area regardless. However, the crew could access that closed area and would line up along the rail adjacent to our area and completely block our forward view of the mechanism. I appreciate that they may like to see this marvel also, but suggest that they move to locations that don’t block the traveler’s view.

    2. William Freeman
      March 26th, 2014 @ 2:18 pm

      On one transit, we noted that very early in the morning while the ship was in line to enter the Caribbean side, loads of people, mainly senior citizens, began to line up chairs on the weather decks- deck chairs, deck table chairs, and even Lido restaurant chairs. They were lining them up and saving spaces as if the canal would be a thirty minute event or a parade. I guess they hadn’t been informed it was a full-day transit. Well, by nine AM, as we exited the first lock, and the temperature had soared to 90 degrees or so with a 90% humidity, they drifted back into the air conditioning. The captain announced that the crew would be gathering the chairs as they constituted a hazard. It was amusing.

    3. bonnie
      March 26th, 2014 @ 2:47 pm

      We had a room with a window on a lower deck..When we woke we were inside the Canal it was the most awesome sight. ..we watched the boat raise and lower right from our room would get very dark and soon the sun would be shining and then start to lower…we loved it…Disney Wonder Sept 2013

    4. mojo morris
      March 26th, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

      Those are good suggestions!
      When we did the Coral Princess partial transit, we booked a shore excursion that included returning back to the locks to watch our ship exit thru the locks towards the Caribbean. There were bleachers alongside the locks themselves where we could watch the action.
      If you stay on the ship, make a plan on what time you will get up and where you will take photos. If you do a partial transit and book a shore excursion, be sure it includes a stop at the locks so you can watch gravity and water do their magic.

    5. Patty S.
      March 26th, 2014 @ 3:53 pm

      Went thru Canal last year & fantastic & educational. Found best spot was from our room’s balcony. We had special order breakfast complete with champagne! Princess ship set it all up & couldn’t have been happier. No crowds & plenty of photos, no problem.

    6. Vegas Cruiser
      March 28th, 2014 @ 1:49 am

      Our full transit of the canal on Norwegian Star was northbound as we traveled from Los Angeles to Miami. Knowing this was a one-in-a-lifetime trip, we opted for an Owner’s Suite on deck 10 at the forward starboard corner of the ship. our forward balcony directly below the bridge and our starboard balcony provided the best of all the vantage points previously mentioned: overlooking the three-deep crowds on the otherwise off-limits bow on deck 8 and a starboard view to see all the activity on land.

    7. tomworldwidewaftage
      March 29th, 2014 @ 7:13 am

      On our first cruise on Jan. 2013 (Panama Canal was on my bucket list)we went on Celebrity Century from San Diego to Ft. Lauderdale. On the day we went through the canal got up @ 5:00 am went to the deck 12 to the Hemisphere Lounge. There were already several groups there but we were able to get seats front and right(starboard) of center it was great. I am glad we had the view we did since, during the 8 plus hours of traversing the canal, there was a lot of people coming very late then standing in front of the people who were sitting in the second tier of chairs. Lots of yelling to keep moving or to get out of the way. That night and the rest of the cruise there were many people who got sunburnt while being outside cruising the canal.

    8. Ripley's Lady
      March 31st, 2014 @ 5:43 am

      On a full transit of the Panama Canal on Legend of the Seas for my November 2013 birthday, I experimented with where to watch the transit. Since I am vertically challenged, standing behind anyone over five foot tall was not an option. I tried standing on loungers but they were too tippy (and the RCCL staff issued warnings about the danger of my perch!) I finally went to a phone and made reservations in the new Japanese restaurant located in the old Viking Crown Lounge. It was a perfect spot to sit by an upper starboard window, enjoying a long, leisurely luncheon with chopsticks and a bottle of white wine. The staff were kind to take my photo in appropriate spots along the canal journey. I was fortunate that there were many empty tables and places along the window as well as a small side door to crane my head over the side to catch a glimpse of the crowds below!

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