Dr. Don Newbury

The billing that the Panama Canal is the “eighth wonder of the world” has been trumpeted for years, and most folks leave it at that. Generally, we aren’t sure what merits “wonders” designation, or how they should be ranked.

My wife and I, embarking recently on a cruise with two thousand other vacationers, didn’t initially fret at the canal’s “number eight” designation.

Then, we beheld it. We marveled at this stunning tribute to ingenuity, unbelievably hard work, unprecedented engineering, perseverance and unwavering commitment. Let’s throw in tons of prayers by tens of thousands of workers who undertook the 34-year project in 1880. Upon “experiencing” it, we joined a chorus of “ooohs and ahhhs” on Princess Cruise Line’s Island Princess, ready to start a new list of world wonders…

Wouldn’t you know it? There’re already dozens of “wonder lists” covering numerous categories. I, an amateur “Googler,” was dismayed, flitter-flat, upon this discovery.

In most cases, the lists have seven entries. This is the Holy Bible’s “perfect number,” the one prayed for in casinos and, uh, I guess is mighty close to a “baker’s half-dozen.”

Princess Cruise excursions, and there are many, are wonderments. Check with others who have taken the Panama Canal cruise for quick confirmation. There were 14 excursions in the canal zone, all of them “sold out.” Maybe we could get cruise line brass to consider “oooh and ahhhh” meters. If they do, our crescendos of endorsement will lift the Panama Canal upward on the list of favorite world cruise destinations…

Our boarding in Fort Lauderdale marked the beginning of a long-anticipated voyage to see the canal “up close.” (I’m hesitant to say that it was on our “bucket list,” because mention of such a measly measurement in a column about a massive canal is akin to speaking of a grain of sand to folks trudging across the desert.)

What ho, mates, more “education” than expected hit us full in the face throughout the cruise! A renowned historian, Dr. Tom Ryan, who spends most of his time on the high seas, provided intricate details.

He’s on the bridge when the Island Princess enters the canal (ours was his 188th cruise of the canal) to provide details heard throughout the ship. Indeed, his knowledge is immediately apparent, and his passionate observations make it a spiritual experience for cruise guests. Does he ever “know the territory,” and he’s ever present to answer litanies of questions…

If I’ve nudged you into “Googling mode,” well and good. The varied lists of “world wonders” are eye-opening. The Panama Canal, its history and function, boggles beyond belief. And add Dr. Ryan to the list. He’s an absolute genius, this author and professor who taught at the college level for 47 years and has cruised extensively since 1973.

With so many numbers left “uncrunched,” please permit these notes: The canal rolled in profits of $1.4 billion last year. Forty-three vessels, on average, pass through daily. Cruise ships join the others in sustaining heavy tabs for its use. In the case of the Island Princess, the cost for canal use is $330,000 PER CRUISE! (Maybe the financial pain for Princess people can be lessened if we look at it this way: It is less than two cents per pound for the 18-million pound vessel.) Finally, consider this: More dynamite has been detonated in canal construction than by the U.S. in all wars to date.

So many thoughts; so little space! There’s been nary a mention of a delightful stop in Aruba. An island guide asked if we knew the national flower of Aruba. He claims that it is the satellite dish! Cartagena, Columbia, is home of massive fortresses which were 208 years in construction. Its Palace of Inquisition’s several torture apparatuses remind of two grim centuries, beginning in 1610, when some 800 persons were put to death…

Accounts of such a grand cruise must not end on such a sobering note. I’d sooner recall the many hues of blue for which the Caribbean is known, as well as its thousands of species of plants and animals. And consider the collision of five currents in the middle of the sea which has become the number one world destination for cruise ships.

I’d rather try to figure ways to move the Panama Canal much higher on the world’s wonder list. Believe me, higher ranking is deserved by this critical linkage of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Coming to mind is an old story that may serve to put “wonders” in perspective. On a major thoroughfare is a gleaming hamburger emporium. The neon’s blink claims “the best hamburgers in the world.” A few blocks out on the same street is another burger place. It appears to be ordinary in every way, but bold marquee letters boast “best hamburgers in the state.” A third one, near the street’s end, leans. It is propped up by the city limit sign. The place sorely needs paint, and a chalk board, dimly illuminated by a 60-watt bulb, boasts “best hamburgers on this street.”…

Dr. Newbury is a speaker and author in the Metroplex. Send comments to newbury@speakerdoc.com or call 817-447-3872. Visit his Web site at www.speakerdoc.com.