Panama Canal cruises are often a bucket list item for avid cruisers. Here’s a guide to help you decide when to visit and which cruise to choose.
The Panama Canal is a 77.1 km ship canal that links the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean via the Caribbean Sea. The work on the canal was initiated by France in 1881 but was terminated because of engineering and manpower issues. In 1904, the United States took over the project and invested USD 325 million into it. On its completion on August 15, 1914, it became one of the most marveled engineering feats in the world. The canal consists of artificial lakes, numerous artificial channels, and several sets of locks, which are used for raising and lowering ships between varying stretches of water levels to make the river more navigable. The Panama Canal completed its hundredth year of inception in 2014 and is a popular cruise destination for travelers all over the world.
Dubbed as the “Crossroads of the World,” Panama Canal cruises sail across the 50-mile isthmus that links North and South America. Before the canal was built, navigating this distance involved a treacherous trek through the isthmus and jungle rivers. But after the construction of the canal, Panama Canal cruises are often considered a bucket-list cruise for avid cruisers.
How Long is the Cruise?
The most crucial decision that you need to make is deciding how much time you can dedicate to the cruise. For a long time, mostly senior citizens showed interest in Panama Canal cruises owing to the length of a full transit trip which usually runs for between 14-21 days. But, several Panama Canal cruises now offer partial transits where the ships go only mid-way through the locks before turning around. This decreases the number of days of cruising but still involves several day-trip options when the ship ports in Central American cities along the canal.
The traditional trans-canal crossing is the most favored Panama Canal cruise and usually routes through Florida to the West Coast. This option lets you spend an entire day in the canal and watch the locking experience firsthand. Enthusiasts who are keen on experiencing this will have shorter shore excursions along the Costa Rican ports of Limon, Puntarenas, and Colombia. Some ships even port at Guatemala and western Mexico. Holland America’s MS Ryndam from Tampa to Vancouver offers a 21-day voyage for folks interested in this kind of a trip. Carnival Cruises also offers a 14-day voyage aboard Paradise for this.
Partial Crossings are an option for folks with time restraints as the ship doesn’t sail the entire canal. These voyages last between 7-10 days, and the ships turn around in Gatun Lake. You’ll still experience the lock process as the ship crosses through one lock. This option allows for longer porting time and lengthier shore excursions in the ports surrounding the Panama Canal. If you wish to see the entire canal, you can hire smaller boats that sail through the canal and even let you enjoy Gaillard Cut, the Bridge of the Americans, and the Centennial Bridge. Partial crossing cruises also include islands along the Southern or Western Caribbean. The Princess Cruises’ 10-day voyage aboard the Coral Princess is ideal for this.
Faux Crossings are offered by some cruise liners wherein they don’t enter the canal at all. The ship docks at Colon, the Caribbean entrance of the canal, and allows the cruisers to enjoy shore excursions there.
Some Panama Canal cruise liners also offer shore excursions for travelers to enjoy the beauty of the canal and adjoining areas while the ship makes its way through the locks. Folks interested in the canal and its history will enjoy the Miraflores Observation Center where they can learn about the construction of the canal.
You can choose the Atlantic to Pacific or Pacific to Atlantic route depending on where you live and what kind of crossing you want to experience.
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