The first cruise I ever took was Royal Caribbean’s trip to the Panama Canal. I was 10 years old. It was a sort of family reunion with my parents, grandparents and aunt.
There were some minor incidents on the boat, like when I burned my hand on a curling iron primping for the kids talent show. I remember how we rocked the show, so it was totally worth it when my hand blistered. I remember that — even if we were all separated during the day — we came together at night in the dining room. We laughed and talked over plates of food, all of us sun burnt and peeling. I remember splitting a Reeses for dessert with my aunt before bed every night. But what stands out the most was the excitement around the ship as we went through the Panama Canal.
Everyone stopped what they were doing to reserve a seat for the show. I looked out over each side of the boat to see what all the fuss was about it. I didn’t quite understand all the work that had gone into it, being only 10.
Work on the canal started in 1880. It took more than 30 years and 22,000 lives to complete the passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Although the canal has remained a key shipping conduit for more than a century, it doesn’t seem to justify the lives of 22,000 people. The working conditions were hot and full of disease. Men hammered while sweat poured down their faces and malaria-carrying mosquitos buzzed around their heads. Since we're talking about the year 1880, it took mostly man power — not machines — to complete.
They gave their lives to create a connection that improved maritime trading drastically. The Panama Canal route replaced the lengthy Cape Horn journey. The canal is made up of 17 artificial lakes creating 51 miles of cruising space. The American Society of Civil Engineers named it one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
Like most major construction projects, the Panama Canal was full of controversies and successes. If I passed through it today, I would certainly give it a lot more thought.