For more than 100 years, the Panama Canal has been an invaluable shipping link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It’s a wonder of the modern world, and worth seeing just for the magnificence of its engineering. The canal is also surrounded by the lush, tropical scenery of Panama, making it that much more attractive as a cruise destination.
There are three ways to see the Panama Canal via cruise ship: a full transit of the 50-mile canal and its three sets of massive locks; a partial transit; or a day excursion from the port of Colon, on the Atlantic end of the canal.
A day excursion (or “faux transit”) from Colon won’t take you into the canal on your cruise ship, but on a smaller excursion boat. First, you’ll take a bus to the town of Gamboa. You’ll board a boat that will take you through two sets of locks, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Then, you’ll ride a motorcoach back to your ship. If you’re on a cruise that calls on Colon, be sure to check your options for this type of excursion.
A partial transit cruise may be a good choice if you have a limited amount of time, as these cruises are usually just 7 to 10 nights. This option lets you stay on your ship as you sail into the canal and go through one or two sets of locks. Your ship may bring on a canal expert who will explain the history and engineering of the canal as you cruise.
A full transit cruise can go Atlantic to Pacific or Pacific to Atlantic. You’ll spend a full day in the canal, going through all three sets of locks. Plus, you may have the opportunity to explore Panama City, on the Pacific end of the canal, with its beautiful old town and modern skyscrapers. Note that most full transit cruises are at least 14 nights, and most are not roundtrip (unless they are quite long indeed, such as a world cruise). These cruises usually stop in other lovely Central American ports, too.
Cruise season in the Panama Canal is October through April: November brings the end of the rainy season in Panama, so that may help determine your choice of departure date. Talk with Anita, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert, about more options for your cruise to Panama and its storied canal.
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