Crossing from one ocean to another, Panama cruises are exotic voyages that not only deliver a fabulous cruise vacation, but also offer the best in coast to coast travel. The Panama Canal was a decade-long project, finally completed in 1914 for the then unheard of sum of more than $385 million. The six sets of locks transport both cargo and passenger ships through eighty-five feet of elevation as they traverse the Isthmus of Panama, and nearly one million ships have crossed through the canal to date. Before setting sail, however, it is important for prospective passengers to learn the basics of their voyage in order to take full advantage of the opportunities a canal sailing will present.
When to Take Panama Cruises
Cruises that traverse the Panama Canal only sail during the winter, typically between September and April. During the summer, canal traffic is crowded with cargo shipments and passenger traffic is severely limited. The greatest number of voyages are scheduled for April, though there will be assorted itinerary options available throughout the winter.
Because the Canal is quite distant from typical United States embarkation ports, Panama cruises are longer than most voyages. The majority of sailings are from 8-15 nights, though cruises as long as 21 nights are possible, depending on where the ship originates from and how many different ports it visits along its route. Partial Panama routes are shorter but the ships do not fully traverse the locks, though the itineraries are round trip. One-way voyages truly cross the Canal, but passengers must arrange for airfare to complete their journey.
Because of the length of Panama cruises, the most common lines to traverse the Canal are luxury lines and more exclusive mainstream lines. Princess and Holland America offer the greatest number of voyages throughout the season, but interested travelers can also book passage on Oceania, Royal Caribbean, Cunard, Norwegian, Silversea, Crystal, Seabourn, and Celebrity ships. For updated itinerary options and to learn which cruise lines have scheduled Panama sailings, contact a travel agent.
Embarkation Ports for Panama Cruises
Cruises that sail through the Panama Canal embark from a number of different ports including Fort Lauderdale, Miami, New York, Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New Orleans, depending on the itinerary length and the specific cruise line. A limited number of voyages also depart from San Juan Puerto Rico or may be part of world cruises that depart from any number of international ports.
Panamanian Ports of Call
Most Panama Canal cruises are part of either Mexican Riviera or western Caribbean itineraries, and their ports of call vary depending on their specific route. Typical ports of call include:
- Jamaica: With mountains, waterfalls, and an intricate and unique culture, Jamaica is a romantic and popular cruise destination.
- Aruba: Scenic Aruba, with exotic natural formations and world-renowned nightlife, is a vivacious port for any energetic traveler.
- Cozumel: With both ancient cultures and modern amenities, Cozumel offers visitors a taste of Mexico unlike any they may otherwise experience.
- Grand Cayman: Luxury living, exquisite shopping, and decadent lifestyles merge in this central Caribbean port to delight thousands of cruise travelers every year.
- Puerto Vallarta: This Mexican Riviera destination was once a sleepy resort but today is a bustling port of call with numerous shopping, dining, and eco-tour experiences for visitors to choose from.
- Curacao: Located in the southern Caribbean, Curacao offers distinctive architecture and other unique attractions to mesmerize cruise passengers.
- Panama City: One of the most anticipated ports of call on Panama voyages, Panama City is home to the Interoceanic Canal Museum which documents the grand story of the canal.
- Colon: The second largest duty free port in the world, this Panamanian city offers unparalleled shopping opportunities for every visitor.
- Gatun Lake: This 23.5 mile long lake is central to the Canal experience, and cruise passengers will marvel at the millions of gallons of water necessary to connect this body of fresh water to the oceans on either side.
These and other ports of call offer a wide range of shore excursions to explore nature, history, and modern civilization, including river cruises, fishing expeditions, rainforest nature walks, kayaking adventures, historical highlight tours, and Indian village visits. No matter what type of distraction passengers crave during their Panama cruises, they will be able to find it.
From shopping to snorkeling and from one ocean to another, traversing the Panama Canal on a cruise vacation is an awe-inspiring experience. For the discriminating cruise passenger in search of a unique destination and exotic voyage, visiting the Panama Canal is the answer.