As we have transited the canal on previous cruises we always heard a lot of talk about the new canal locks. The completion date regularly seemed to slip further and further into the future. Since our last visit to the canal, the new locks have been completed and are now in use. They are difficult to see clearly from a cruise ship transiting the old canal since they are hidden behind terrain and buildings. The new locks have been in operation for over a year and there is a visitor center established to view the new locks on the Caribbean side.
HAL offers a tour to the new locks visitor center and we elected to buy the HAL tour as opposed to arranging one on our own. The price for a smaller group was about the same price as the HAL tour and we would have the advantage of priority tendering plus HALs assurance that they would be responsible for any delays we may encounter. I don’t mind a larger ship tour when the tour is primarily a shuttle bus to a single venue. When the ship tour visits several stops, lunch and shopping, the overhead of a larger group (getting on and off the bus several times – taking longer for lunch etc) becomes a bigger factor. For a single stop trip like this tour, a larger group isn’t that bad.
Taking a HAL tour in a tender port gives you an advantage because you do not have to get a tender ticket. Depending on the length of the tender ride and other factors, avoiding the requirement to get a tender ticket may be a big deal and it is always something to consider when choosing to go on a ships tour or on a private tour. Another factor deciding between a ships tour or a private tour in this case was the distance involved with going to the new locks. They are over 50 miles away with the travel time of about 90 minutes. Being that far from the ship in the area that is susceptible to heavy traffic can be risky. Especially in this case since the consequences for missing the ship in Panama means you probably wouldn’t be able to rejoin the ship until Tahiti over a week later.
The ship started tendering at 6 AM. Our tour’s meeting time was 7:15 AM in the Queens lounge. Even though they don’t have priority tendering this cruise due to the large number of Four Star Mariners and above, they offered open tendering until 8 AM for those people who needed to be off early. After 8 AM everyone would be required to get a tender ticket.
We left the Queens lounge about 7:45 to head down to A deck where we would board the tenders. The ride to the shore took about 15 minutes and we were on the tour buses a few minutes later. It took about 90 minutes to reach the new lock visitor center and we spent most the time traveling on a new modern four-lane expressway. Traffic was light.
New locks official names is Aqua Clara or clear water. We learned later that the locks are named for geographical features of the surrounding area. Unlike the Miraflores visitor Center on the Pacific coast, this visitor center does not have any exhibits or displays except for a small theater or showing a 12 minute video. The visitor center sits on a rise above the locks with fantastic a view which, which is further away from the locks then the Miraflores Visitor Center. It’s not practical to wave at passengers or crew members passing ships, you are simply too far away to be easily seen.
Two ships passed through the locks in the 90 minutes we were there, and there is a guide that provides some commentary as the ships transit the locks. It would probably be more accurate to call this the New Locks Observation area as opposed to visitor center due to the lack of any type of exhibits or displays. I would recommend going to this observation area and the Miraflores visitor Center to get the most out of learning about how the canal operates.
The observation area is covered so even if it is raining you will stay dry. There is also a gift shop and a small snack bar in addition to the movie theater. While we were there for 90 minutes, if you were to arrange a private tour here you could probably be finished in about 45 minutes seeing all that needed to be seen. This would depend somewhat on whether or not you want to see ships pass through the entire lock system or if you were satisfied with simply seeing the lock mechanism from this vantage point.
On the way back to the ship our bus stopped at a rest stop right off the highway. We thought it a little interesting that there would be a rest stop on a tollroad that was only 40 miles long. The rest stop had clean bathrooms with a snack bar and sold convenience food type items.
The area where the tour started is called Fuerte Amador and is located at the end of a long peninsula Road. Here you will also find several restaurants, some duty-free shops, free Wi-Fi and a few other tourist businesses. We spent about an hour wandering through these shops before we took a tender back to the Amsterdam.
Dinner was fantastic. I decided to go with the shrimp theme this evening with Shrimp Cocktail, Seafood Cioppino followed by Grilled Shrimp and Grits as the main course. All the food was delicious. As we are wrapping up our first week it appears that the second seating on the upper level will be about 75% full which does help with service.
The Entertainment tonight was a magician/comedian named Fred Moore. He was very good and put on a wonderful show. He showed how one trick was performed using a fake egg but then at the end that fake egg mysteriously turned into a real egg – pretty amazing.
Tomorrow will be the first of 8 sea days before we arrive in Nuka Hiva. These sea days will be filled with many choices of activities and will feature the Tahitian entertainment team that teaches lei making, ukulele and more.This entry was posted in Uncategorized