Travel Guides For Panama Small Ship Cruises
As small ship cruise and wilderness travel experts, AdventureSmith Explorations is your go-to resource for researching active, sustainable and educational cruises to Panama. Our Panama small ship cruise guides aim to answer common questions we receive from travelers.
Our experts have cruised and traveled extensively in Panama and share these tips so you can find the best Panama cruise. We are here to provide you with a seamless experience, and these travel guides written by our Adventure Specialists are a great place to start.
The Panama Canal is a living monument that stretches over historical lands and has connected the seas for over 100 years. We’ve curated 5 ways to experience this engineering marvel by small ship cruise and land tour.
The family travel experts at AdventureSmith have compiled these top 8 tips for travel in the rainforest with kids.
Panama Canal Cruise Routes
Most cruises are 10 to 15 nights, sailing between Florida and cities in California, or round trip from Miami or Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Panama Canal itineraries generally include five, six or seven days at sea. There are various combinations of these itineraries, as ships travel between seasons in Alaska and the Caribbean. Here are two of the most common:
14-Day One Way:The 14-day route sails between Fort Lauderdale or Miami and San Diego or Los Angeles and typically visits Puerto Quetzal or Santo Tomas, Guatemala Puerto Caldera or Puntarenas, Costa Rica Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and some combination of the San Blas Islands or Colon, Panama plus Aruba and Cartagena, Colombia.
Good For: History buffs will love the canal transit and the 2,000-year-old Mayan ruins at Guatemalas Tikal. Outdoorsy types will like the rain forest treks in Costa Rica and the beauty of rock formations off the coast of Cabo. Arubas white sand makes beach lovers happy.
11-Day Round Trip:The 11-day route conveniently sails round trip from Fort Lauderdale or Miami. Ports are Limon, Costa Rica Colon, Panama Cartagena, Colombia Aruba and Grand Cayman.
The Ultimate Guide For A Perfect Panama Canal Cruise
While many dream of visiting Central America, very few ever get the chance to experience cruising through the very spot North and South America split. Many note that a vacation to Panama is too expensive or not safe. Well, let me tell you, the best way to see the Panama Canal and possibly get off your boat at an affordable price is through a Panama Canal cruise!
If you are bit wary to cruising, you are going to absolutely fall in love with what the Panama Canal has to offer! I had the chance to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on my Panama Canal cruise back in December 2019, and to this date, it is my favorite cruise that I have been on.
Plus, cruise ships offer an extra sense of security, as you will have a safe place to rest your head everyday. So, grab your free cruise planner and buckle up, because we are going to go through everything you may need to know about Panama Canal cruises!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means Ill receive a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure here.
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Panama Canal Cruise Ports & Shore Excursions
A visit to the Panama Canal port region holds much for guests to see and do. Full of history, lush jungles to explore and the famous Panama Canal Locks! Your cruise will also include some incredible port visits as well so make sure to explore them on one of our unique and selected Panama Canal Cruise Excursions. If your cruise …
A visit to the Panama Canal port region holds much for guests to see and do. Full of history, lush jungles to explore and the famous Panama Canal Locks! Your cruise will also include some incredible port visits as well so make sure to explore them on one of our unique and selected Panama Canal Cruise Excursions. If your cruise begins in California, you should stop at some of the Mexican Rivera’s great ports whether it’s trendy Cabo San Lucas or more traditional ports of call like Chiapas. Central America gems may include lush Costa Rica or volcanic Guatemala. On the Caribbean side, no Panama canal cruise is complete without a visit to Cartagena’s Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and other exciting Cruise Excursions along the Panama Canal cruise itineraries. Some cruise ships travel through the canal re-positioning between Alaska and the Caribbean. All our Central America and Panama Canal Shore Excursions are operated by professional and reputable cruise excursion operators and include some of the best sightseeing, adventure, and relaxation excursions!
More About The Panama Canal & Central America
What is the best time to cruise to the Panama Canal & Central America?
Panama Canal and Central America cruise season is from October through April. The rainy season doesn’t end until November, so cruises here are more popular from December onward. For more: Best Month to Cruise to the Panama Canal
Which cruise lines go to the Panama Canal & Central America?
Most major cruise lines, including Princess and Holland America, feature at least a few Panama Canal sailings in addition to expedition lines like Tauck and Lindblad. Cruisers can choose from a partial or full transit of the canal . Cruises that specifically explore countries like Costa Rica are on offer, from small-ship lines like Windstar Cruises.
What are some things to do in the Panama Canal & Central America?
In addition to either a full or partial crossing of the Panama Canal, most cruises in this region include stops in popular ports throughout Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. That means you can do anything from lounge on the beach to explore ancient ruins or enjoy some duty-free shopping. If you can, trek Arenal Volcano from Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.
Do you need a passport to take a cruise to the Panama Canal & Central America?
Yes, a passport is required for travel throughout Central America, including Panama.
What should I pack for a cruise to the Panama Canal & Central America?
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When Is The Season For Panama Canal Cruises
Most cruises through the Panama Canal consistently run from This means you have a lot of flexibility for when you want to enjoy your Panama Canal cruise, whether looking for a Christmas escape, Spring Break adventure, or planning a Transpacific back-to-back cruise.
If you are planning to cruise the Panama Canal and the surrounding Caribbean countries, the optimal time is after the rainy season ends in for the best weather, wildlife, and viewing experience. This is truly when the temperatures are the most comfortable and enjoyable with sunnier days and breathtakingly scenic Panama Canal views.
For longer, repositioning Panama Canal cruises, you should stick to the earlier or later months of this window when the cruise ships are finding a new home.
There are some Panama cruises running year-round, which are typically shorter in length between 3-5 nights long.
Panama Canal And Central America Cruise Highlights
The Panama Canal LocksPanama Canal Cruises are available in a variety of itineraries. Partial transit itineraries are offered for those seeking the convenience of departing from and returning to the same port. Full transit Panama Canal cruises are also offered for those who prefer to sail coast to coast and can often be combined with back to back cruises to create a longer and more diverse cruise experience.
A Variety of ItinerariesPanama Canal Cruises are available in a variety of itineraries. Partial transit itineraries are offered for those seeking the convenience of departing from and returning to the same port. Full transit canal cruises are also offered for those who prefer to sail coast to coast. Full transit Panama Canal cruises can often be combined with back to back cruises to create a longer and more diverse cruise experience.
A Variety of Excursion OpportunitiesA variety of excursion opportunities are offered in the different ports on a Panama Canal cruise. In the Caribbean there are beautiful beaches and a variety of watersports and shopping. In Central and South America guests on a Panama Canal cruise can explore local markets, colonial towns and exotic surroundings.
Diverse PortsIn addition to the time spent transiting the canal, the itineraries include diverse ports throughout the region including beautiful Caribbean ports, Central America ports as well as stops in South America and Mexico.
Special Cruise Offers
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Which Cruise Lines Sail Through The Panama Canal
Heres what the cruise lines are offering:
Celebrity: Celebrity offers 14- and 15-night cruises on the Celebrity Quest, Infinity, Mercury, and Summit departing from Acapulco, Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego, and San Francisco.
Crystal: Crystal offers 10- to 16-night cruises on the Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony departing from Caldera, Los Angeles, and Miami.
Holland America: Holland America runs 10- to 36-night cruises from Callao/Lima, Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa, and Vancouver aboard the ms Amsterdam, ms Maasdam, ms Noordam, ms Ryndam, ms Statendam, ms Veendam, ms Volendam, ms Westerdam, and ms Zuiderdam.
Norwegian: Norwegian runs 13- to 29-night cruises from Barcelona, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, San Diego, and Santiago aboard the Norwegian Crown, Norwegian Dream, Norwegian Pearl, and Norwegian Sun.
Princess: Princess offers 10- to 19-night cruises from Acapulco, Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, San Juan, San Francisco, and Vancouver aboard the Coral Princess, Island Princess, Regal Princess, and Sun Princess.
Regent Seven Seas: Regent offers 14- to 16-night cruises from Ft. Lauderdale and Los Angeles aboard the Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager.
Royal Caribbean: Royal Caribbean sails 10- to 16-night cruises departing from Ft. Lauderdale, Galveston, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego, and San Juan aboard the Brilliance of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas, and Serenade of the Seas.
A Memorable Day Transiting The Panama Canal
We will remember this epic day crossing the Panama Canal on the Celebrity Infinity for the rest of our lives. This usually isnt the type of activity that thrills us, yet our excitement and enjoyment on this day were at peak levels. We now completely understand the allure of this awesome voyage and relished every minute of it.
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Ial Panama Canal Crossing
A more affordable option is a partial Panama Canal cruise. These sailings are return trips or trips between ports one the same coast, either the Atlantic or Pacific coast. Theyre generally 10-12 days long.
Most common are Miami-to-Miami voyages , but you can also find Los Angeles-to-Los Angeles cruises that enter the Panama Canal. Carnival even offers partial Panama Canal cruises from less high-profile ports, such as Mobile, Alabama and Galveston, Texas.
On partial crossings, the cruise ship only enters one lock. Passengers can then leave the ship and join a variety of shore excursions. Even though, you wont see the entire canal this way, you will, however, be able to explore places that you wouldnt see on a full crossing.
Alternatively, some cruises do offer passengers the opportunity to see the rest of the canal in a smaller excursion boat. Even on partial cruises, youll still have the chance to see highlights such as Gatun Lake, the Bridge of the Americas, the Centennial Bridge, and the Gaillard Cut, which has literally been cut through the Continental Divide.
Panama Canal Cruise Tips The Transit Experience & Celebrity Infinity Review
This is a three-part post about taking a Panama Canal cruise full transit.
- For our own personal experience transiting the Panama Canal on the Celebrity Infinity, simply continue reading.
- For Panama Canal cruise tips: skip here.
- For our brief Celebrity Infinity review of the Panama Canal transit: skip to the end.
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Small Ship Cruise Tours
Those who can’t stand the hustle and bustle of a big cruise ship like the Norwegian Pearl may rather travel the canal on a smaller vesselsay, one that has only 60 guests as opposed to 2,000-some. Some companies, like Grand Circle Travel, offer full-transit land-and-cruise tours for these smaller groups of people. The combination tourswhich can last between one and two weeksprovide a more intimate experience and they actually allow travelers to see more of the country than they would aboard a mega-ship. The bigger vessels don’t stop at places like Panama City like small ships do.
The Overall Best Time To Cruise
The sweet spot: December is cheap, not overcrowded and not too wet
Mid-December is a great time to cruise the Panama Canal as its not as rainy as November you might experience the odd shower, but nothing too much. After the rainy season, the hills and jungles are at their most beautiful. December is also a relatively inexpensive time to cruise, and you wont find the ports to be overcrowded.
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Panama Canal Cruise Options
1. PARTIAL TRANSIT FOR THOSE WITH LESS TIME OR BUDGET
On a partial transit of the Panama Canal, you cruise through the first set of locks followed by a day spent on Gatun Lake. You can purchase a ship shore excursion and there are always several options to choose.
If youre on a shore excursion from your partial transit, you might have to re-board your ship in Colon, Panama rather than be onboard for the 180 degree turnaround in Gatun Lake to exit the canal.
2. FULL PANAMA CANAL TRANSIT
The second option is a full transit of the Panama Canal, from the Atlantic to the Pacific or vice versa. These cruises tend to be seasonal and are at least 14 days in length. Generally, they will be even longer when the ship is continuing north along the California coast.
Arrival and departure ports on the west coast include either Seattle, Los Angeles or San Diego. Departures on the east coast usually begin from Ft. Lauderdale or Miami in Florida, sometimes in New York City.
If you love sea days, this could be your dream cruise. You can even include a cross-country Amtrak train from your cruise port after the cruise to return home.
Ports you might visit on the Atlantic side include Key West, Cartagena, Colombia, Aruba or St. Thomas in the U.S.V.I.
3. FULL TRANSIT BUT REQUIRES A FLIGHT OUT
Panama Canal Cruise Tips On Transit Day
Consider Rising Early: The night before your transit, you will receive the approximate times of all the major moments. This begins with the pilot coming aboard the ship. If you wish to take in this spectacle, be sure to set an alarm to wake up early for the chance of seeing it. But bear in mind that the times will likely change, plus or minus a couple of hours so dont plan your entire day around the schedule provided.
Best Places on the Ship During Panama Canal Transit: On the day of the cruise, be sure to experience the transit from many different vantage points. We strongly recommend not staying in one place. Going through the locks on the side of a lower deck provided a completely different experience than high atop an upper deck, yet both were great. Another prime location is on the bow of the ship, although it can get crowded. An often-overlooked place to take it all in is on the stern of the ship, which tends to be void of crowds and full of unobstructed panoramic views of the experience. Head to the back of the ship and watch the locks close up behind you.
Best Lunch Options for Panama Canal Transit: During our crossing, it seemed that most passengers preferred the buffet. This caused some crowds and a bit of clustering when trying to get your hands on the salad tongs. Tables near a window were scooped up quickly and people tended to linger. Instead, consider two other much more attractive options.
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Which Panama Canal Cruise To Go On The Old Or New
The Panama Canal is a great cruise to go on but with now two canals to choose from which is the best Panama Canal cruise to go on the old or the new?
Once an upon a time only smaller cruise ships could only transit through the Panama Canal and then they built a bigger canal.
Now bigger cruise ships can transit through the new Panamax Canal.
Panama Canal Public Holidays
If you want everything to be open: Avoid Easter, Christmas and other holidays
Panamanians love their public holidays, so if you arrive at the wrong time you might find that shops, restaurants and transportation services are closed. Even if a public holiday falls at a weekend, you can expect to find a ghost town on the Monday with everything still shut up.
The main times to avoid visiting Panama are:
- The week before Easter Holy Week
- May 1st May Day
If you cant avoid these dates, then made sure that you have enough supplies that you dont need to visit a shop and check that any tourist attractions that you plan to visit will be open.
You can see the full list of public holidays in Panama here.
One public holiday which is actually a great time to visit is the Carnival, which is held in the four days before Ash Wednesday in February or March
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When To Go To The Panama Canal
The majority of Panama Canal cruises are offered between October and April, with a few ships doing the run year-round since temperatures consistently hover in the mid- to upper80s throughout. The high season, like the rest of the Caribbean, spans January through April, plus major holiday weeks, when the winter weather in the U.S. drives people south to warmer climes. A Panama Canal cruise during the offseason summer and fall months will be cheaper, but with a caveat: high humidity and the threat of heavy rains.