Panama Canal

Cruising The Panama Canal

Posted September 18th, 2014

A dream more than 400 years in the making, the world's "greatest shortcut" - the Panama Canal - opened in 1914, 100 years ago. This epic man-made marvel changed the world, and today there is no better way to discover this colossal wonder than by cruise ship.

Prior to the canal being built, people used to cross the Isthmus of Panama by sail boat, along the Chagres River, and then by riding mules the rest of the way. But, over a period of 10 years, 51 miles of earth and hard granite was carved out to form the canal, which now allows over 13,000 ships to conveniently pass through each year. If these numbers haven't convinced you why you need to see this engineering marvel in order to believe it, here are some more reasons why you should consider going on this one-in-a-lifetime cruise adventure.

Why Cruise the Canal?

Historic Engineering and Seeing It All In Action

Digging through the Continental Divide and constructing the largest earth dam ever built, took the effort of over 80,000 workers and saw the loss of 30,000 lives. It is the greatest single construction project ever undertaken, and a cruise gives you an insider look as to how it all works and how ships pass through the massive locks and gates.

Holland America Line cruising the Panama Canal

Today these locks control the level of the water in the Panama Canal, enabling ships to pass through the 51-mile "water bridge". Passing through the entire canal can take between 8 to 10 hours, and ships are lifted and lowered a total of 170 feet, as they pass from the Caribbean to the Pacific.

Active Adventures

If you're seeking adventures and new experiences, then a Panama Canal cruise offers it all. Go snorkelling in the coral reefs of the destinations surrounding the canal, or watch stingrays at Grand Cayman's Stingray Sandbar. Maybe try your hand at scuba diving around a shipwreck off the coast of Aruba, kayaking in the Sea of Cortez or rafting in Jamaica's Martha Brae river. Adventure abounds in the destinations surrounding the Panama Canal, and it is sure to offer you a unique cruising experience.

Colourful Cultures

A Panama Canal is also the perfect opportunity to learn about new cultures - from the native Embera Indians of Panama, performing a cermonial dance, to exploring Nicaragua's Masaya Market where wood carvings and leather handicrafts are made by locals. A Panama Canal is a cultural experience never to be forgotten.

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Types of Cruises

Most major cruise lines offer Panama Canal itineraries, including Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises and Cunard. Itineraries vary by cruise lines, and there are a couple of options you can consider when choosing a Panama Canal cruise, including a full transit trip or a half-transit. So, what is the difference?

Celebrity Infinity cruising the Canal

Full Canal Crossing

If a cruise from ocean to ocean is on your "to-do" list, then a full canal crossing is the itinerary you are looking for. You can cruise from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or vice versa, with Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles being the main departure ports. On a canal crossing, a full day will spent crossing from ocean to ocean, giving you the full lock experience.

Partial Crossing

If you just want a taste of the canal experience, and also want to see Panama (which you tend to pass by on a full crossing), then maybe consider a partial crossing, whereby you pass halfway through the locks and then turn around.

Tips for Cruising the Panama Canal

  • Cruising season in Panama is October to April, but the best time to cruise the Canal is November, after the rainy season ends
  • On the day of your canal transit - get up early! Prime viewing spots at the bow and by the windows fill up quickly, and you definitely want to be able to see what is happening as you go through the locks
  • Don't spend all day on your balcony - it may seem like you have a private viewing spot, but it can be a tight squeeze getting through the canal, and you won't have a prime vantage spot from your balcony
  • Use sunscreen - be prepared for a day out in the Panama sun, which can get very hot!

So now you know the ins and out of cruising the Panama Canal, so what are you waiting for? Call one of our Cruising Specialists today to start planning this bucket-list adventure!

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