The Panama Canal was built to be the vital link between two huge oceans, and nearly 100 years after it first opened, it still serves that purpose admirably. During the past few decades, it has also become a terrific cruise destination, offering an unforgettable trip through one of the world’s engineering marvels and a sojourn through the lush landscapes of Central America.
The Panama Canal cruise season begins in October and runs through April. There is plenty of variety in cruise itineraries, which range from seven to 21 nights or more. The classic Panama Canal cruise goes from Florida and to California (or the reverse), with stops in some combination of ports in the Western Caribbean, Central America and the Mexican Riviera.
The 50-mile, nine-hour trip through the canal takes you between the Atlantic and Pacific with the help of three massive locks: Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores. Because the trip takes a full day, passengers are usually not able to disembark for shore excursions, but the complexity of the canal’s engineering and the beauty of its surroundings are more than enough to hold your interest. This type of complete trip through the canal is called a “full transit” cruise.
Another option for seeing the canal is a “partial transit” cruise. On these cruises, your ship will not go all the way through the canal. Instead, it will enter the canal and pass through one or two locks. Passengers can then disembark for shore excursions, such as a trip further into the canal on a smaller boat; a visit to a nearby rainforest or a native Embera Indian village; or a ride on the scenic Panama Railway that runs parallel to the canal. When you rejoin your ship, it will exit the canal the same way it came in.
Depending on the itinerary you choose, before and after your canal experience you can visit wonderful ports like the Caribbean islands of Aruba and Curacao; Puntarenas and Puerto Limon, Cost Rica; or Cabo San Lucas and Acapulco, Mexico.
To visit the Panama Canal yet this winter or plan ahead for next, talk with your personal cruise expert about all of your options for partial or full transit cruises.