Today we got to do our field trip to the Miraflores Visitor Center for our school’s Panama Canal Unit. The school staff/parents were more excited than the kids but in the end, we all were very impressed. There were some adjustments due to COVID-19 so we didn’t get to see the IMAX movie which was a disappointment to everyone.
We did get to go through the museum. It was a group of 10 and was done via a tour rather than letting us wander at our own pace. We were free to take pictures to look at later, but we got about 5-10 minutes in each section. There was the history of the canal construction, the important flora and fauna of Panama, displays about the second set of locks to allow larger ships and a bit about how the traffic is managed through the locks.
Then it was outside for the real show – the locks themselves. After a few minutes at the viewing deck we starting to see some activity. One of the tugs was moving through the locks headed away from the Pacific toward Miraflores lake. We got to see the lock doors close, the water come up and see the boat move into the lake. It was good the boat was small so we could see the water moving in the lock, but it was missing a bit of the wow factor.
Then we spotted a gigantic ship coming from Gatún Lake headed toward us. The guide said it was about 90 minutes away and would be passing through the 107 year old locks right in front of us. That’s a long time for the kids to wait, but they muscled through (perhaps because they had no choice) and we got to see a sailboat and that huge ship pass through the lock.
It was the vehicle carrier Dionysus Leader, flying under the flag of Japan. Ships of this type can carry up to 8,500 cars. It’s width is the maximum the old locks can hold. We also saw a large container ship approach the new locks further away. As school field trips go, this was a good one.
We celebrated by finding a rooftop restaurant near our neighborhood and enjoying some good food, good drinks and a great view of downtown Panama City. It was the kids’ first rooftop dining experience and a pool in the restaurant was a first for us all.