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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride

What does $375 million getcha?

Day 8/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise

Last evening we had dinner again at the Chef’s Table. The menu was ‘California Cuisine’ which was completely different from the evening before when we had ‘Xiang’ Cantonese Cuisine. What we found was especially entertaining, was that the music had a California vibe to it. From Neil Young (Canadian), Joni Mitchell (also Canadian), The Eagles, and Led Zeppelin (‘Going to California’) if you can believe it! We thought it was funny after all those years of our parents telling us to “Turn that Noise off” whenever Led Zeppelin would be playing from our ZoSo album‘s, now on the Viking Neptune, in the highly refined Chef’s Table restaurant, Led Zeppelin has finally become ok with the older generation!

The Chef’s Table ’California Cuisine‘ menu based on California fusion cuisine.

  • Amuse Bouche: Sweet Potato Chip with apple, rosemary, Creme fraiche

  • First Course: Crab Cake and the chef made me a special halibut cake for my course

  • Granita: Moscow Mule (no photo but it was delicious! And I may have to order one!)

  • Main Course: Seared Halibut with California olive, herb vinaigrette, crumbled roasted cauliflower, buttered panko

  • Dessert: Ojai Mandarin Parfait with candied ginger

WOW! What a meal! We thought that the Chef’s Table the night before was fantastic, but the California fusion cuisine last evening was truly delightful! The dessert was spectacular and not something I have ever had before. YUMMY!

We decided to try and get our step count up past 10,000 steps for the day, so we headed out to Deck 2 - Promenade Deck to walk around the Neptune. As we got to the Starboard side of the ship where we had seen the refuelling take place yesterday morning, there was a sign up that prevented us from walking all the way around the deck. The sign said “Closed for Bunkering”. Interesting….

We thought we might be able to get around the closed deck, if we walked the other direction on the Promenade deck. And when we arrived on the starboard side of the Neptune we saw something very, very interesting!

Scuba divers jumping into the water from this ship docked next to the Neptune! The scuba divers were swimming around the front and starboard side of the hull of the ship. Interesting.….I wonder if they found anything? Or if this was a regular inspection? I’m glad we were in the right place at the right time and photo credit to Mary Kate Bass who we met with her husband Charles, while watching the scuba divers.

Sunrise at 6:31am this morning just as we were about to arrive at the Gatun Locks, the first locks we would traverse through today on our journey through The Panama Canal.

Our position at 6:31am on Cruise Mapper.

Our expected arrival at the Gatun Locks was 6:45am and our departure was scheduled for 8:30am.

Everyone on the Neptune was leaning out of their balconies trying to capture the wonder of the approach to the Panama Canal. The Quietvox headsets were streaming guest lecturers Russell Lee & Robin Petch, but unfortunately our headset connections did not work.

Inquiring minds want to know!

Side thrusters getting the Neptune into position to traverse the Panama Canal.

There are two side by side locks at Gatun.

Entering the first of three locks at Gatun. The Gatun Locks, Panama Canal are set along the Caribbean side of Panama, to the West of Colon. The Gatun locks are the largest on the Panama Canal at 1 mile long and raise ships 85 feet. It takes 2 sets of locks to do the same thing on the Pacific side of the canal. Each of the Gatun locks is 1,000 feet.

At the top left of the photo (above) you can see the mules that have tow ropes connected to the Neptune, and that are guiding the Neptune through the Canal.

There was so much activity going on it was hard to know where to look! I wanted to head up to the Sports Deck on Level 9 to take some photos, but in the meantime, we put on the ‘Bridge Cam’ in our cabin which gave us the Captain’s view of the Gatun locks.

Entering the first of 3 locks at Gatun today.

Exiting the first lock at Gatun and entering the 2nd lock. We are going to be raised 85 feet in the Gatun Lock, to reach the narrow Culebra Cut, and then onto Gatun Lake.

By now I had finally gotten up to the Sports Deck and had to stand on a small wooden table to get this shot! Richard was not with me or he would have had two fits I was standing on a table!

The last (3rd) lock at Gatun with another cargo ship going through the lock, in the other direction. We are entering the Culebra Cut before Gatun Lake.

After what felt like about 15 minutes, the last of the three locks are opening and away we go! Three locks down and four to go before we reach the Pacific later today.

So what does $375 million dollars ($8 billion in today’s dollars) getcha anyway? 51 miles of waterway in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and divides North and South America. The canal crosses across the Isthmus of Panama and if today’s marine traffic is any indication it is an extremely vital canal for marine traffic!

Look at all of the marine traffic (cargo ships and cruise ships etc) looking to traverse the Panama Canal today.

The Panama Canal was first conceived back in the 1500’s after explorer Vancouver Nunez de Balboa realized that a narrow strip of land separated the two oceans. The idea of a route across the mountainous, tropical terrain was deemed impossible at the time. Explorers wanted a potential shortcut from Europe to eastern Asia. The only other route was to sail around South America via the stormy unpredictable Strait of Magellan, or use the Panama Railroad to transfer goods and people from one ocean to another.

France first attempted the task of building the canal, but incessant rains, causing heavy landslides and yellow fever and malaria ultimately caused the funding to be pulled for the project in 1888.

Following discussions with the U.S. Isthmian Canal Commission and a push from President Teddy Roosevelt, the U.S. purchased the French Panama Canal assets for $40 million in 1902. On November 6, 1903, the United States recognized the Republic of Panama and on November 18 the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was signed with Panama, granting the USA exclusive and permanent possession of the Panama Canal Zone. After WWII, US control of the canal and the Canal Zone became contentious and relations between Panama and the US became tense. Many Panamanians felt that the Zone rightfully belonged to Panama. The permanent possession by the US did not stay permanent though, because in 1977 the Torrijos-Carter Treaty was signed which gave the canal to Panama as long as Panama agreed for the permanent neutrality of the canal. The handover of the canal occurred on December 31, 1999. The US though has the right to defend the Canal’s neutrality, if needed.

In 1904 the U.S. began the work on the canal with forty five thousand workers from around the world involved in the project. John Stevens convinced Teddy Roosevelt that the Canal would need to be elevated; William Gorgas found ways to fight disease by killing mosquitoes; and George Goethals headed up the project from 1907. The canal officially opened on August 15, 1914.

Building the canal was a very difficult project with workers having to battle disease, mudslides poisonous snakes, scorpions and poor living conditions. In fact 20,000 French workers died constructing the canal and most of them died from disease. When the U.S. took over construction of the canal 5,600 workers died.

There were three major construction projects involved in making the canal:

  1. Building the Locks - Locks on each side of the canal lift and lower boats a total of 85 feet. The locks are immense. Each lock is 110 feet wide and 1,050 feet long. They have huge concrete walls and giant steel gates. The steel gates are over 6 feet thick and 60 feet tall.

  2. Digging through the Culebra Cut - This section of the canal had to be dug through the mountains of Panama. Dealing with landslides and falling rock made this the most difficult and dangerous part of the canal’s construction.

  3. Building the Gatun Dam - The designers of the canal decided to make a large artificial lake through the center of Panama. To make the lake, they constructed a dam on the Gatun River creating Gatun Lake.

The ‘Hyundai Honour’ on Gatun Lake today. This ship left Busan, South Korea loaded with Hyundai vehicles in early December and the ship is headed to Cartagena, Columbia to unload their cargo. In my past life Hyundai Canada was my customer and I have been to Busan to see the Hyundai shipyards, where they make these container ships, as well as went to the port to watch the ships being loaded with vehicles, but never have I seen a Hyundai ship full of vehicles on the sea before! I had to send the photo to the President of Hyundai Canada today, telling him unfortunately this ship was not bringing him vehicles in Canada!

I decided once we were on Gatun Lake to start writing the blog, since I knew it would be a long day traversing the Panama Canal. A typical crossing through the Canal takes 8-10 hours and operating around-the-clock, the canal sees some 40 vessels pass through each day, including, tankers, cargo ships, yachts and cruise ships.

Speaking of cruise ships, we only saw one other cruise ship today as we traversed through the Panama Canal.

The Emerald Princess with a capacity of 3,114 passengers passed us while we were sailing in Gatun Lake. There were quite a few people on their balconies hooting and hollering as we sailed past. It is hard to see but the couple on Deck 2 at the very front of the ship had a Texas A&M flag unfurled over their balcony. “Go Aggies”! (I am from Canada so I do not have a U.S. college football affiliation!).

The range markers pictured above help the local pilot who jumps onboard the Viking Neptune to guide the ship through the Panama Canal.

As we were approaching the Pedro Miguel locks we looked down to see that the pilot boat had come alongside the Viking Neptune directly below our cabin

The pilot jumped onboard to take us through the remainder of the canal.

The Centennial Bridge, just before we came to our second set of locks; the Pedro Miguel locks.

Crossing through the single flight lock at Pedro Miguel. We moved down to Deck 2, Promenade Deck for a closer viewing of our transit through these locks. If you notice there are 2 electric locomotives or ‘mules’, running on tracks, attached to the Viking Neptune with lines. These mules are NOT pulling the ship through the locks, but keeping the Viking at ~7 foot clearance on either side of the ship. We are viewing the transit through the locks from the Port side of the ship, but a second set of mules is doing the exact same thing on the starboard side of the ship to ensure we have our 7 foot clearance on both sides as we go through the locks.

After seeing both the Gatun and Pedro Miguel locks it was time to grab a bite of lunch in the World Cafe buffet restaurant. We definitely appreciate the ability to quickly visit the buffet where the food is outstanding, when we are in a time crunch. Today was a very busy day and we did not want to miss the next set of locks, which would lead us out of the Panama Canal and into the Pacific Ocean.

We headed up to the front of the ship on Deck 7 in the Explorer’s Lounge where the staff were passing out mimosa’s and champagne as we headed for our final locks today. The last 2 locks of the Miraflores locks.

The viewing centre for the Miraflores locks is the yellow multi level building to the left of the lock. If you look closely in the distance you can see the tops of white skyscrapers in close by Panama City. We were going to go through 2 locks today at Miraflores and be lowered 54 feet in two stages, allowing us to traverse to the Pacific Ocean near the port of Balboa in Panama City. Ships travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific through these locks from 15:45 to 23:00 and our timing today through the Miraflores locks was a bit earlier than that at approximately 2:30pm.


Our last lock for the Panama Canal! Yeah! What a long day of watching, waiting and learning about the Canal!

The Bridge of the Americas is a road bridge in Panama which spans the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. Once we crossed under this bridge we would have officially traversed the length of the Panama Canal and be in the Pacific Ocean.

After we sailed under the Bridge of the America’s, we had a great view of the skyline of Panama City.

Panama City Skyline.

Well after seeing how much traffic goes through the Panama Canal on a daily basis with containers, upon containers on cargo ships, I think the $375million dollars spent by the USA to build the Panama Canal was definitely a good investment over time. Richard had been through the Panama Canal before on a Society Expedition’s small icebreaker ship and had the chance to be on the bridge for the entire Panama Canal crossing. I have to say that I didn’t know what to expect, since I originally had thought we would be transiting the canal during the evening. I overheard some folks talking as we went through the last lock at Miraflores who had bought the 18 day Viking Neptune cruise segment from Ft. Lauderdale to L.A. specifically to go through the Panama Canal, not knowing that the ship they would be on, would be taking us World Cruisers around the world after we dropped them off in L.A. I’m sure they were very surprised to learn that the rest of us were on board for 138 days! (After L.A. we have only World Cruisers on the ship). Today was quite an experience that I’m so glad I got the chance to see and learn through watching the going’s on of what it takes to get a ship through the Panama Canal.

We are now sailing towards Costa Rica and have a day at sea before we arrive in Costa Rica. Viking just notified us that we will lose an hour tonight as we go through a time change overnight.

I hope you also enjoyed our journey through the Canal today and now know what $375 million gotcha at the turn of the last century!

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Ceceille Durant Poole
Ceceille Durant Poole
Dec 30, 2022

Great job! I really enjoy your blog. We will be joining you in LA! Can't wait!


Marie Aspinall
Marie Aspinall
Dec 30, 2022

Thankyou for sharing your journey. Hopefully this time next year I will be sharing this journey with friends and family at home in Australia whilst enjoying all the happy times on the Neptune with friends existing and new. Looking forward to the rest of your travels.😎😎


Jonathan Paul
Jonathan Paul
Dec 30, 2022

beautiful, crisp pictire! Wonderful job! I am on the journey with you. Thank you for such dedication!


Cathy Vee Volpe-Paul
Cathy Vee Volpe-Paul
Dec 30, 2022

Great job!


Janet Leslie
Janet Leslie
Dec 30, 2022

Your blog is the next best thing to actually being on the ship! Many thanks for writing it for those of us who are stuck on land!

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