Our ship entered the Panama Canal at 6 am. When we did the crossing the first time we got up to watch the vessel enter the first set of locks. This time we were too lazy so we didn’t get up and on deck until 8:30 or so. It was a typical tropical day with high temperatures, high humidity and rain off and on. The biggest difference between our 2009 canal crossing and this one in 2011 was the water. Obviously there had been lots of rain and lots of run-off as the water was brown. Still, watching the electric mules guide the ship and the huge doors on the locks open and close as we were raised to the level of Gatun Lake and down again to the Pacific side was still pretty interesting and we spent much of the day on deck.
It requires about 50 million gallons of water to move one ship through the locks and almost 20,000 vessels make the crossing every year. In the first decade of the canal (1904-1914) the annual traffic was about 1,000 ships. At this time work was ongoing on a second, wider canal to accomodate the larger freight and cruise ships that are too big for the current canal. (The new locks opened in June 2016.) The visitors center at the western side of the Panama Canal is a popular tourist spot. All of the viewing decks and roof are packed with people all day, every day, watching the ships enter and exit the locks.