Transiting the Path Between the Seas Never Grows Old

Days 6-7, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Thursday and Friday, Oct.12-13, 2023, Panama Canal Transit and Sea Day

Holland American ships have been transiting the Panama Canal since 1916, with its first passenger ship crossing a few years later. My first transit was nine months ago. What took me so long?

A few years ago I listened to an unabridged recording of David McCullough’s “The Path Between the Seas,” the popular history of the canal. I loved my first experience, and now it was time for a repeat journey.

In January on the Zuiderdam, we followed Holland America’s Volendam into the Gatún locks, and then traveled side-by-side through the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks. In Panama City the two ships split up, the Volendam heading south for her Grand South America journey and the Zuiderdam west toward the South Pacific and her world journey circumnavigation. There was a festive atmosphere of hooting and hollering and blowing of the ships’ horns as we sailed together.

This time the Zaandam traveled alone – and I don’t just mean without a Holland America sister ship. We never passed another ship through the locks, and only passed a couple during the hours we cruised through Gatún Lake. The canal authority has limited the number of ships allowed to pass each day due to low rainfall levels, leaving less water to operate the locks.

[As an aside, this situation leaves me with very mixed feelings about my current cruising lifestyle. It’s not exactly environmentally friendly, and knowing that our transit required approximately 50 million gallons of water gives me pause. I hate to be part of the reason that some children won’t get their Christmas wishes granted because of this slowdown in the global supply chain. I wish I had an easy solution….]

I moved between the Crow’s Nest and my balcony as we passed through the locks. Cruise and travel director Jeremy gave a running commentary of our progress. The traditional Panama buns appeared around the ship, but I passed them by (and forgot to take a photograph). They are suspiciously like Sydney buns, and Hong Kong buns, and buns that appear whenever ships approach famous ports.

As we neared the end of the canal, we could see the skyscrapers of Panama City on the horizon. Once we arrived in the Pacific Ocean, the sea conditions lived up to its peaceful name. Fingers crossed that this great weather continues.

Technically Thursday was a sea day, as we never stopped in port as we transited the canal. Several of our regular sea day activities continued, such as watercolor class, and we had another class on Friday, as it, too, is a sea day as we sail toward Ecuador.

On this grand cruise, we have special lecturers as well as special classes. In addition to watercolor, there is bridge instruction and creative writing.

Our water color instructor, Lucia Machado, is new for me. So far it seems to be a more casual approach than in the past. She has three identical 45-minute sessions on sea days, and so far we have mainly just experimented with our colors. Finally, today we painted something other than a worksheet – a donut!

The class accommodates beginners, but even though I have painted before (and learned in a cruise ship class), I like instruction from different teachers, as they use different approaches and teaching styles. But I also get frustrated that I am not working on my own sketchbook paintings, because as usual I am falling behind. On the world cruise I used the first month to finish the sketchbook from an earlier cruise. This time I left my half-finished Northern European cruise sketchbook behind. And yet I’m still trying to finish the sketches of Canadian ports from late September.

I don’t know why some people complain they are bored on cruise ships. I always have too much to do, even if it is a lot of “doing nothing.” I’ve been that way my whole life and doubt I will change now.

Friday’s sea day ended with our first formal, or gala, night. The highlight was the Zaandam Ball in the World Stage theater. This venue on the R-class ships can transform into a dance floor, unlike on the larger and newer ships. It was nice to see so many passengers on this grand cruise dress up.

Earlier in the day, the Crow’s Nest dance floor was put to its original use, although with recorded, not live, music.

Tomorrow will bring a new country for me – Ecuador. I guess I will need to find time to go to the cultural and history lectures for these new ports.