Travel Expressions Ltd.'s Blog

8 Facts About the Panama Canal

Panama is one of the fastest-growing destinations in Central America, and the Panama Canal is the country's star attraction. Although it's on everyone's list of things to experience, the canal is more important as a global shipping transit than tourist experience. 

Whether you sail the canal on your next cruise or watch in action from land, here are 8 things you need to know about this wonder of the modern world.

1. It's a short cut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The Panama Canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama in a narrow land bridge between North and South America. Prior, ships had to sail around the tip of South America. It takes about 8 hours to cross the Canal's 50 miles (77km). That saves days. If a ship had to navigate down and around Cape Horn at the tip of South America and back up the other side, it would have to travel nearly 12,500 miles (20,000 km).

2. It's over 100 years old.

2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal.  Columbia, France, then later, the United States controlled the land surrounding the canal. In 1881, the French started building the canal, but progress halted due to engineering problems and high worker mortality. The US took it over in 1904 and completed the project with newly available technology ten years later at a cost of $400 million USD. In 1999, control passed back to Panama.

3. Construction cost over 25,000 lives.

At times, more than 43,000 people were working on the Panama Canal at once. Workers had to deal with heat, jungles, swamps - and all the creatures in them, including rats that carried bubonic plague. Plus mosquito-borne diseases like yellow fever and malaria. Over 20,000 workers died during French building efforts.

After the scientific links between the insects and disease had been discovered, Americans undertook intensive and successful anti-mosquito initiatives. Even so, another more than 5000 workers perished during the American building phase.

4. It's considered one of the Man-Made Wonders of the World

The American Society of Civil Engineers has also dubbed the Panama Canal one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World. It's one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.
 
A system of locks at each end of the Canal lifts ships up 85 feet (26 meters) above sea level to an artificial lake. Ships traverse the artificial lake, as well as a series of improved and artificial channels, and then are lowered again in more locks to sea level at the other side.  
 
The locks are 110 feet (33 meters) feet wide and 1000 feet (300 meters) long. About 30-MILLION pounds (1,400,000 kilos) of explosives were used to help clear the land for the canal.

 (That's a view! The Norwegian Bliss is the largest passenger cruise ship to have ever transited the Panama Canal)

5. Over 1 Million Vessels have transited the canal since it opened.

In 1914, the year it opened, about 1000 ships used the canal. Today, nearly 15,000 ships pass through the Isthmus of Panama via the Canal annually. The 1 Millionth ship crossed the canal in 2010, 96 years after it opened.
In 1934 it was estimated that the maximum traffic of the canal would be around 80 million tons of shipping a year, but by 2015, canal traffic exceeded 340 million tons of shipping – over 4 times the original maximum estimate.
 

6. $2 Billion in Tolls are Collected Annually

Every ship that passes through the canal pays a toll based on its size, type and volume of cargo. Tolls are set by the Panama Canal Authority. Tolls for the largest cargo ships can run about $450,000. Cruise ships pay by berths (number of passengers in beds). The per-berth fee set in 2016 was $138; a large cruise ship can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to sail through the Canal. 

The smallest toll recorded was paid by American Richard Halliburton in 1928, who paid 36 cents to swim the Canal.

 

7. The Panama Canal was expanded for bigger ships in 2016

The original canal locks are 110 feet (33 meters) wide and ten times as long. For a century, they accommodated shipping, and the term 'Panamax' ships was used to describe ships built to fit through the canal. But ships kept getting bigger, and in 2007, work began on a multi-billion dollar expansion of the Canal. In 2016, a third, wider lane of locks opened for commercial shipping, capable of handling 'Post-Panamax' ships that can carry 14,000 20-foot shipping containers (nearly 3 times Panamax ship capacity).

In spite of that giant leap forward in 2016, the world's largest container ships - that can carry 18,000 shipping containers – can't pass through the Panama Canal.

(A Celebrity Cruise ship transiting the Panama Canal)

8. How you can visit the Panama Canal. 

Many ocean cruise lines offer increasingly popular Panama Canal itineraries that sail through the canal in the approximately 8 hour passage to their next destination in the opposite ocean. 

But you don't have to sail through the canal. If you're visiting Panama City, or taking a resort / beach vacation in Panama, you can take a land trip to see the canal in action.
 
The Miraflores Visitor Center is on the east side of the Miraflores Locks, which are close to the Pacific end of the Canal and Panama City. Like the canal, the Visitor Center is open daily. The Visitor Center has large balconies designed for you to get a great view as the lock gates are opened and closed for ships to start or complete their journey through the Panama Canal. 

Engineering buffs and even children will be thrilled at the up-close-to-the-action perspective on this man-made Wonder of the World. 
 

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What Happens to Worn-Out Hotel Sheets? A Good News Story

How many times can your hotel sheets be slept in once, then washed, and slept in again before they're too worn to use one more time?

We don't know.

But we do know that there's now a better end story for used sheets than landfill or being tied together to form an escape route out the back window in a romantic comedy.

Westin Hotels has decided that there's more to their famous 'Heavenly Bed' sheets than thread count. In fact, their new upcycling program for used linens is making every thread count.

The hotel chain's Project Rise: Thread Forward transforms dated bed linens into all new fabric: a soft, breathable jersey material. Then it's made into kids' pajamas.

It's a sustainability program, yes, but it speaks to even more than a commitment to the environment. Westin has embraced and established groundbreaking Wellness programs for its guests. 'Sleep Well' is one of the pillars of that program, and Westin has been inspired by studies that show a third of adults and majority of children don't get enough. Westin also recognizes that for more and more of us, giving back is also important to our sense of well-being.

These kids' jammies hit all those buttons.

It's the first large-scale textile upcycling program in the industry. In the first 5 months, 50 Westin hotels world-wide collected a mind-boggling 30,000 pounds of linens, that were turned into thousands of sets of children's sleepwear.

Westin is working with charities to distribute pajamas to children in need, whose insecure circumstances contribute to poor sleep. New York, Toronto, Mexico City, and Cape Town are among the first cities where Westin is sharing the gift of sleep outside its hotels. Sadly, pajamas are among the most-requested items of charities that support low-income families. Putting on pajamas contributes to a bedtime routine that can help provide children with the healing power of sleep.

Which is why Westin guests will also be able to buy a pair of pajamas for kids in their own lives, with proceeds benefiting the program.

The jammies come in kids' sizes 2-8, all in a playful, unisex design of a child rising over a moon with a book – a nod to a better sleep empowering a better day.

It's a multi-level wellness win: for the environment, the well-being of Westin hotel communities, guests and hotel associates who came up with the idea and whose participation makes the program possible.


Westin hopes their program inspires change and textile upcycling throughout the travel world. It's certainly a way you can feel good about being kind to the planet, and to others, when you travel.

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Where's the Coolest Place to do Yoga in Vancouver?

It's where stand up paddleboard meets downward dog – in a South Beach-style pool overlooking Vancouver's seawall and mountains.

The latest trend in West Coast wellness lifestyle, the stand up paddleboard (SUP), is well established in Vancouver. And yoga? Well that's a no-brainer.

But it took local SUP pioneer and yoga instructor Kristy Wright Schell to bring the two together and introduce them to Vancouver. And the Westin Bayshore's programming team to take notice and make Kristy's 'Liquid Yoga' part of the hotel's pool lifestyle.

The stunning hotel pool gives participants an opportunity to practice yoga in the open sea air, embracing the quintessential experience of Vancouver's West Coast lifestyle but in the security of a pool as an aquatic yoga studio, rather than the open sea like SUP yoga.

We tried it and we think it's inspired.

On a fair summer day in Vancouver, British Columbia, the locals joke it's like 'British California'. And it seems that somehow, every resident and visitor in town is outdoors or on the water.

This program gives hotel guests – and the general public – a unique way to be part of the local wellness and outdoor culture, even if you're in town, like we were, with a packed business schedule.

Liquid Yoga sessions take place in the morning, while the pool is still quiet. Kristy, who's the Owner/Founder of Just Add Water Yoga Ltd and Standup Paddle Vancouver, discovered made-in-Canada Aquamats (Kristy's on the center mat below). She and the Westin Bayshore team decided on six, so every session is intimate and there is plenty of space around each mat in the pool.

Photos: Above, Westin Bayshore; Top, BestTrip.TV

Unlike yoga on SUP's, Aquamats have squared corners and are stable left to right, but, here's the 'twist', they do tend to rotate.

Getting wet can be intentional… or accidental. Participants either mount pool-side dry, or have the option to swim to their mats, and some of the poses involve options to dip in the water, or even dismount and remount, adding that challenge and direct interaction with water. Kristy says about 1 in the 6 students every session will end up in the drink without meaning to. Luckily the pool is warm!

For Liquid Yoga, Kristy uses a lot of Vinyasa 'flow' - the water environment lends itself quite literally to a fluid practice, where participants need to bridge the gap between effort and surrender to stay balanced on the mat in the water.

As a result, you gain a new awareness of your body in the pose, and new awareness of your yoga practice. Control freaks usually intent on the perfect pose will find they need to let go a little and relax in response to the elasticity of the water. While yoga slackers will need to bring more consciousness to their practice to literally 'stay afloat'.

Even though Kristy keeps to relatively simple poses. A class that done on the floor in a studio would be quite basic takes on a new challenge in the water, requiring you constantly engage tiny core muscles for balance.

But in case you were thinking it all sounds very serious… it's not. Let's face it: we are primed for pools as places to play, and Liquid Yoga brings a playfulness to yoga practice too. We almost wanted to fall in!

It's like taking a 'mini yoga retreat' completely outside a usual yoga environment that reconnects and reinvigorates your yoga practice.

We recommend wearing your bathing suit under layers of yoga or workout wear that will wick water away from you in the open air. Didn't bring workout wear? We love that guests can take advantage of the Run Westin's gear lending program.

Classes fill up, so we recommend advanced booking through the hotel concierge or Kristy's web site. The sessions are open to both hotel guests and the general public.

There are two morning sessions of Liquid Yoga at the Westin Bayshore 6 days a week (except Mondays) from May- September whenever the pool is open. They are considering moving it to the indoor pool once the outdoor pool closes.

Liquid Yoga is a terrific way to enjoy the Westin Bayshore's gorgeous, 'make an entrance' circular pool, with its new South Beach style cabanas and indoor/outdoor terrace restaurant. But it's also an inspired addition to Westin's wellness cuisine and activity programming, with a uniquely Vancouver spirit, enhanced by the Westin Bayshore's incomparable views of Vancouver's harbor, seawall and mountains.

By: BestTrip.TV's Lynn Elmhirst with Ryan McElroy

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Vancouver may be Canada's most famously 'outdoorsy' major city. Even in a city that drives Canada's vast Asia-Pacific business, athletic wear is more common than pinstripes! Nature thrives right on the city's doorstep: a gorgeous, picturesque harbor and bay, snow-capped mountains surrounding the city, and breathtaking Stanley Park, one of the world's top urban green spaces. For vacationers and cruise travelers in Vancouver, outdoor activities top the list of things to do. Even if you're traveling to Vancouver on business, if you don't take the opportunity to get outdoors, you've missed essential Vancouver.

Luckily, it's not only one of the most enticing big cities to be outdoors, it's easy to get outdoors and get active on a trip to Vancouver.

BestTrip.TV's Ryan McElroy 'test drives' Vancouver luxury harborfront hotel Westin Bayshore's active travel program. With cycling, run concierge, superfoods, yoga, and fitness equipment loan programs, Ryan discovers there is no excuse to miss enjoying the great Vancouver outdoors.

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