We enjoyed all the ports, which included Curaçao, with its fine old buildings and floating bridge across the harbor; Guatemala's Antigua, reached by bus from Puerto Quetzal; Puerto Vallarta's seaside Mexican mountainscapes, and the beach at Cabo San Lucas -- but the Panama Canal was the highlight, from the moment we entered the Gatun Locks at the western end.
"Good morning," blared the speaker on an escort tug, one of a fleet of 25 that had appeared off our starboard bow. "Welcome to Panama."
McCullough used 622 pages to tell the canal's story; in contrast, here are a few random observations. The locks are all doubles, and the Tahitian Princess locked through in tandem with us, along with a pair of container ships. Rowboats have proved the most practical way to convey the cables that the "mules," eight to a ship, each with two cables, use to position the transiting vessels. Thus they're still in use.
Gatun Lake, the canal's center section, was lovely, with lush jungle all around, mountains in the distance, and islands that dotted our passage. Then came the Culebra Cut, the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks, and finally the Bridge of the Americas. The scene leaving the canal in late afternoon was breathtaking. To the south, Panama City was a revelation in the late, low light -- miles of sun-washed high-rises soaring beyond the long breakwater that led us out into the Pacific.