Panama Canals Busy Season
To avoid the crowds: Cruise in May to November
Panamas dry season between January and March co-incides with the worst weather in the United States and Europe, making it a popular place to escape for some winter sun. However, the influx of tourists can mean that cruise ports are incredibly busy.
Another problem with cruising at the most popular times of year is that prices can be much higher to match the increased demand.
If you want to save money and miss the crowds, choose a cruise between May and November. Youll likely experience some rain showers, but they will likely be short-lived. The rain makes Panamas jungle explode with life, so the rainy season can be the best time to see South Americas lush green scenery.
Panama Canal Cruise: Whats On Deck
Below is an outline of things on board the Norwegian Sky. You can see a lot of stuff is located on Deck 6, 7, 12, and 13. Restaurants, services and shops tend to be grouped together, giving you easier access. While the ship is over 900 feet in length, it truly just feels like a floating hotel. You dont really walk that far, or at least it never feels that way.
Norwegian Star by the numbers:
- 956 feet long
- 1,031 crew members on board
- Refurbished in 2018 shes a beauty!
- Day 9: Costa Rica 8:00am-6:00pm
- Day 10: Sea Day
- Day 11: Cruising the Panama Canal you will not be getting off the ship for this portion of the cruise. However, you re free to go on the decks to see the Panama Canal or watch from your balcony .
- Day 12: Cartagena, Colombia 10:00am-6:00pm
- Day 13: Sea Day
- Day 14: Sea Day
- Day 15: Disembark early morning the only thing you can do on board this day is grab breakfast before you leave. You arent spending the day here the crew is turning the boat over for the next set of guests.
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.
Best And Worst Times To Visit Panama
|Celebrity Equinox is one of the ships that visits Panama credit: Wikimedia|
The best time to visit Panama is during the dry season from the late winter to late spring. The worst time is the rainy season from June through November.
Panama is famous for the Panama Canal that connects the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean. Caribbean cruises often visit the port of Colon at the eastern end of the canal while Pacific coast cruises visit Panama City on the western end.
The two ports, which are only 45 miles apart, share similar temperatures. Daytime temperatures are consistently in the high 80s to low 90s Fahrenheit and low 30s Celsius for most of the year.
Why Cruise To The Panama Canal
Think of it as a Caribbean cruise with a theme. Panama Canal cruises are long, leisurely trips through the Caribbean, Central America, and often Mexico, topped off with a daylong transit of the Panama Canal, one of the greatest engineering achievements of all time. Built between 1880 and 1914, this massive project was started by the French and finished by Americans, but not before thousands of workers died of malaria and harsh working conditions.
The 50-mile-long, all-day trip includes passage through three main locks, which, through gravity and levers, raise ships over Central America and down again on the other side of the isthmus. Onboard experts narrate the entire trip over the ships PA system, explaining how the canal was built and how the locks operate. On the day of transit, set your alarm and get up early enough to snag a good spot by a window or on deck so you dont miss the show.
Because Panama Canal itineraries are lengthy, they attract an older crowd drawn to a slow-paced cruise thats heavy on days at sea six or seven on a two-week sailing. For those who have less time, partial transits go halfway through the canal and turn around to offer a taste of the canal experience on a seven-night sailing.
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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.
Full Panama Canal Crossing
A full crossing of the Panama Canal means that the ship travels the entire length of the canal, from one ocean to the other. This type of Panama Canal cruise is always one-way and itineraries are never shorter than 14 days. It takes a full day to cross the Panama Canal.
The most common full Panama Canal crossing itineraries are from Florida to California or vice versausually between places like Miami or Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles. Some cruises also start or end elsewhere on both of the American coasts, in the ports of New York City, New Orleans, San Francisco, San Diego or Vancouver, for example, among other places.
Additionally, complete crossings of the Panama Canal are also a major feature of round-the-world-cruise itineraries. Remember that the longer the voyage, the more expensive it will be.
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Panama Canal Cruise Itinieraries
At one time, Panama Canal cruises followed the same standard itinerary: 14 days from Florida to the West Coast, with stops in the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico. In the past decade, cruise lines have expanded their offerings, eager to lure new passengers to the seas and snag cruisers who may have already traversed the canal once or twice in the past. Current cruise lengths can be anywhere from 7 to 9 days, 10 to 11 days or 14 to 16 days. Several lines, such as Princess, Crystal, Holland America, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas and Cunard, also offer a few cruises per season in the 18- to 21-day range, and cruises that transit all the way to the Pacific Northwest or Alaska can take up to a month.
Apart from length of sailing, the biggest decision you’ll need to make on a Panama Canal cruise is whether to opt for a traditional trans-canal experience or take a partial crossing.
Trans-Canal Crossing: The most popular Panama Canal itinerary is still some version of the standard Florida to West Coast route. Miami and Ft. Lauderdale are the main departure cities in Florida. Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco are the key West Coast cities, although longer transits also depart from Seattle or Vancouver.
Experience a full crossing with our slideshow, Postcards from a Panama Canal Transit on Celebrity Infinity.
Staying Out Of The Rain
As in other tropical destinations, year-round temperatures in Panama are relatively constant, usually around 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Expect balmy and humid conditions, especially in the lowlands through which the canal runs. The dry season is between mid-December and mid-April and provides some respite from the tropical weather. You still should expect heat, but showers are rare in the canal area, and this can be the best time to travel without tropical thunderstorms thwarting travel plans or hiding the view.
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Selecting A Room On Your Panama Canal Cruise:
For a two week cruise, you should pick a room you are comfortable staying in for the duration of time. Truth be told, not many rooms are that big so you should pick your traveling companion as someone you dont mind close quarters with. I cant stress enough how much having a balcony is worth the value. Balconies come on various style rooms, including suites so there is a variety of price points to choose from based on what you are after.
During this cruise I stayed in a mini suite AND it came with a balcony that graced me with gorgeous sunrises and sunsets nearly everyday. The passengers who stayed on both sides of me were outside each day to see the dazzling sky.
This room category comes equipped with a king size bed or two twins, the bathroom has a shower/tub combo, luxury bath amenities by Bvlgari, ample closet space and drawers for storage, safe box, a couch that converts to a sleeping area, TV, mini bar, coffee and tea maker, vanity, balcony with 2 chairs, and a thermostat for the room.
Norwegian Star Mini-Suite
What I loved most about this room was the balcony and space. Suitcases fit under the bed, the closet was plenty big and had shelving units inside of it and 3 big ones over the top.
Norwegian Star does not offer Haven rooms but they do offer a nice selection of suites.
Holidays Are Just Holidays
“The only thing Panamanians take seriously are their holidays” one wise man told this. On formal as well as festive holidays, Panamas streets are empty and you might feel like its a ghost town. Make sure that you dont plan your holiday in the holiday periods. Though most of the tourist services are working throughout the time, be sure to stock water and other things.
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Planning A Panama Canal Cruise
I think a Panama Canal cruise is similar to an Alaska cruise for several reasons.
If your ship makes a port call in Cartegena, Colombia and Panama City, Panama, youre in luck. These were my two favorite ports on my Panama Canal cruise. Why? Cartegena is emerging as a world-class vacation destination with great restaurants, historical sights and fabulous shopping.
Panama City seems to rise out of the sea with unexpected ultra-modern skyscrapers that extend along the shoreline. Panama City is very modern urban city, and was a total surprise for me.
Despite a Panama Canal cruise being a bucket list vacation, I would go again without hesitation. Especially because now I know what to do in some of the ports of call that I missed doing the first time.
Best Month To Cruise To The Panama Canal
A cruise through the Panama Canal, from the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean, is a trip of a lifetime for many travelers, who geek out over modern engineering as well as thrill to the extraordinary biodiversity and lush landscapes and rainforests of Central America.
The height of Panama Canal cruise season runs October to April, but the best month to travel will depend on how much you expect to be active and outdoors. The year-round tropical climate of Panama and bordering countries of Costa Rica and Colombia get unbearably hot and humid, with a dry season and a rainy season.
We’ve listed the pros and cons of travel by each month so that you can make the best of your Panama Canal cruise. Prices quoted are per person, double occupancy.
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How Long Does A Cruise Ship Take To Go Through The Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is 50 miles long. A cruise ship can take approximately 8-10 hours to go through the entire Panama Canal.
Panama Canal cruise pros and cons are many and varied, but the benefits far outweigh the downsides.
The canal benefited from an expansion project in 2016 that doubled its capacity by incorporating a new traffic lane, allowing more ships to sail through.
The expanded canal has not only exceeded service expectations, but it has also reaffirmed Panama Canals leadership in the maritime industry.
How To Choose The Best Panama Canal Cruise For You
There are three ways to do a Panama Canal cruise. All three types of Panama Canal cruises are offered by a handful of mainstream, premium and luxury cruise lines.
Not all cruises offer the same ports of call, either. So its important to study itineraries and not just price-shop.
Princess does several Panama Canal cruises throughout the year as does Norwegian. Also, when repositioning to or from Alaska, Australia or on a world cruise, youll find Carnival, Cunard, Holland America and others sail the full 48-mile, coast-to-coast canal transit.
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Visiting Panama In January
With plenty of sun and only rare showers, January to March is a popular time to travel in Panama, with visitors from around the world descending on the country . Minimal rains will also give you excellent visibility if you wish to snorkel or dive.
Events & Festivals
- The town of Boquete in western Panama holds its annual Feria de la Flores y del Café in mid-January, showcasing the regions produce and traditional dancing.
- Costumes, music and decorated floats parade through towns across the country during Marchs carnival.
- The Panama Jazz Festival, held each January in Panama City, is quickly becoming one of the best of its kind in Latin America.
Visiting Panama In May
From May to August, the tropical rains begin in earnest. This doesnt always deter visitors, with many North Americans and Europeans choosing to visit Panama during their summertime. While you can expect typically short, tropical thunderstorms during this period, adrenaline-seekers can take advantage: heavier rains swell the rivers and create excellent conditions for rafting.
Events & Festivals
- The small city of Chitré and Los Santos Province celebrate Corpus Christi, and Los Santoss idiosyncratic celebrations include costumed dancers dressed as diablicos sucios , a tradition dating back to colonial times.
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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.
Keep An Eye On The Weather
While some cruise lines continue to operate in the Panama Canal throughout the summer, many close down in anticipation of hurricane season, which runs from June 1st to November 30th in the Atlantic and May 15th to November 30th in the Eastern Pacific, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If you choose to book a cruise during this time frame, it’s important to pay close attention to any tropical storm warnings and sign up for weather alerts on a mobile device. It’s unlikely that your cruise ship will be caught by a severe storm while it’s at sea, but preparing for the worst can give you significant peace of mind.
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What Is Included On A Cruise
If youre new to cruising, youve no doubt wondered: What is included on a cruise? Its a question that even seasoned cruisers continue to ask, particularly when sailing on a new trip.
Cruising is a great, hassle-free vacation option. Not only do you wake up in a fascinating new destination every morning, but you also have more inclusions than on a typical land-based getaway.
Here, we demystify what is typically included on a cruise, from the kids clubs to the theater.
How Is The Weather On A Panama Canal Cruise
Since the Panama Canal is nestled between the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean, weather can vary greatly during Panama Canal cruises. With the varying climates of Panama and the mixing weather of two different oceans, it would be best to prepare for some rainy weather during the transit.
When I went on my Panama Canal cruise, there were plenty of clouds in the sky, however, it did not rain. That being said, make sure to bring your rain jacket as it could have just as easily gone the other way. It was also fairly humid, leading to fog during the morning hours of the Panama Canal transit.
Technically the Caribbean side of Panama Canal measures twice the amount of rain as Panama City, notable for short and unpredictable afternoon thunderstorms during the spring months.
Because of Panama’s strategic location, it is safe to assume that you will be enjoying warm temperatures during your Panama Canal cruise. The Panama Canal area has a tropical climate, meaning temperatures will range between 75 and 85 degrees on your Panama cruising adventure.
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