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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Transiting The Gatn Locks
The first of three locks we would reach was the Gatún Locks, which was nearly at the mouth of the Caribbean Sea. This lock would lift us up from the Caribbean Sea and deposit us into Lago Gatún. The closed circuit TVs on the ship provided commentary and the bow of the ship was open to passengers. But perhaps it was high atop the upper decks of the ship that perhaps provided the best views.
Upon the upper deck, you could really get a good vantage point of exactly how tight a squeeze this would be for the Celebrity Infinity. You see, at 964.6 feet in length and 105.6 feet wide, the Infinity is what is known as a Panamax vessel, as it is the maximum size able to fit in the Panama Canal. The locks are only 110 feet wide, so this only leaves about two feet on either side to spare! Once the new portions of the canal open in 2015, these dimensions will change, so it was kind of neat to do this transit on a Panamax ship in the original canal, 100 years after it was opened.
The Gatún Locks opened up. We smoothly glided in as if a hand had slipped into a perfectly sized glove. The boat was roped-up to devices that looked like little train engines that appeared to be pulling us in. In actuality, we learned these were more so helping to steer and straighten the massive ship as it entered.
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Panama Canal Cruises: Explore Guatemala Nicaragua & More
If you’ve ever dreamed about cruising through the Panama Canal, Norwegian Cruise Line can make it happen. You just need to decide if you want to do a full transit, visit parts of the Caribbean, or maybe even explore ports down in South America. Our lineup of 2021 Panama Canal cruises is ideal for whichever option is your top choice.
Ready to start planning? Explore all 2021 Panama Canal cruises.
Gatun Lake And Colon Panama
Colon is the Atlantic Ocean entrance to the Panama Canal. You may be here for a couple of hours, but your Norwegian ship is the perfect vantage point to snap photos of the Panama Canal as you sail on a partial transit. Consider booking an overland journey that allows you to leave the ship in Gatun Lake to take pictures and explore the beautiful scenery nearby. You will be transported to Colon where you will rejoin the ship and continue on your cruise.
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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.
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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Our Panama Canal Transit Experience
The year 2014 marked the 100-year anniversary of the Panama Canal and we were happy to commemorate its centennial when we visited the famed waterway back in March, earlier in our trip. Then, we went to the visitor center at the Miraflores locks and watched a few ships transit them, which grew our fascination of the engineering marvel. As we witnessed this spectacle earlier on our trip, we never imagined that we would be making the Panama Canal transit ourselves, only nine months later. Yet here we were, now back in Colon Panama aboard the Celebrity Infinity, now in December, ready to make the bucket list crossing of continents from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Our initial visit to the Panama Canal March 2014
To be honest, we werent really that excited to be transiting the canal. We booked this repositioning cruise deal, as we often do, simply because it was a comfortable, convenient and economical way for us to get from one place on the map to another. Yet for many people, the entire reason behind booking such a cruise is for The Day you transit the Panama Canal. For us, the Canal was just an added bonus as we were making our way down from Florida to Chile. Yet, it ended up being much more than that.
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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Cabo San Lucas Mexico
Cabo San Lucas is an option on some full transit Panama Canal cruises. Cabo is famous for its party scene, beautiful resorts, and iconic sights like El Arco, or âThe Arch.â Fishing enthusiasts also know that Cabo San Lucas is one of the best destinations for deep sea fishing, especially those hoping to hook a giant marlin.
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.
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Royal Caribbean Cruises Travel Tips
- A brand name that you know and can trust.
- Industry master, with over 50 years of experience and operation in the cruise line sector.
- They provide an incredible travel experience to all ages and have amazing amenities to help heighten your experience.
- Rock walls, surfing, and even waterparks to offer you something unique that you won’t find on any other cruise ship.
- Simply unpack and settle in once, then relax into your stateroom for the remainder of your trip.
- Our fast processes for embarkation and disembarkation give guests even more time to explore and allow for quicker access to the ship to reach anything you may need from us or your room.
- Incredible staterooms and suites to offer you the most relaxing experience while onboard.
- Incredible personalized experience designed to provide a family-like atmosphere.
- The industry’s most knowledgeable cruise managers and guides, providing you with the best guided experiences in the cruise market.
- Varied excursions available including everything from walking tours to guided biking tours, hikes, and more.
The Miraflores Locks Reunion
The third and final set of locks was the Miraflores Locks, where we had previously visited in back in March. Here, we waved to all the tourists crowded on the stands at the visitor center, where we had been waving back to ships ourselves just months earlier. Its a little bit of a peculiar scene here. All the tourists on the cruise ship are taking pictures of all the tourists at the Miraflores Visitor Center, as all the tourists at the visitor center were taking their best shots of our transiting ship.
Rather than attempt to shout over to the tourist hoards at the visitor center, we instead tried to again carry on conversations with the workers that were nearly eye-level with us on the side of the ship.
This final transit had come to an end and we could see Panamas towering skyline off in the distance. We passed under the Bridge of the Americas, which seemed to be nerve-rackingly close to the top of the ship.
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Entering The Pacific Ocean
Almost undetectable, we then began to pick up speed. The next time we glanced over the side of the Infinity, we were passing all the freighters lining up in the Pacific awaiting their transit to the Caribbean. The sun set down behind the Isla Tobaga, a familiar island for us to reflect back on, since we had spent a beach day there earlier in the year. And before we knew it, we were in open ocean. The transit was complete.
Tips For Viewing The Panama Canal
Wake up early.
Pay attention to information shared by the captain and/or crew the day before. Find out when your ship is expected to be entering the Panama Canal. And then set your alarm. Youve traveled a long way to see this. Dont miss out on any of it!
This was shortly after 5:00 am, early and dark. Blake and I were on the balcony, while we left the girls sleep awhile longer. When entering the Panama Canal, a special canal pilot comes aboard to navigate through the canal and its locks.
Fun fact for you. There are only two instances when the ships captain does not have authority over their vessel:
Grab something to eat and/or drink and enjoy the show!
I grabbed coffees and teas at the International Cafe and brought them back to our cabin. Then we woke the girls.
Watch from the balcony.
We hung out on the balcony for awhile in our pajamas, waiting for a little more canal action. Be sure to have your TV turned on, as Princess provides live commentary throughout the transit, with lots of canal history and facts.
Then, as we entered the canal, we started moving around the ship for different views.
Youll see something different from each side, and from the front and back. There will likely be an additional ship or two going through the locks in the other lane. Dont miss out on walking around!
Get OFF the ship go on an excursion!
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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.
Types Of Panama Canal Cruise Lines
No matter what type of Panama cruising experience you are looking for, I guarantee you will find it through one of these main and not-so-main-stream cruise lines.
From 3-day weekend trips to 180-day world cruises, these Panama Canal cruises are worth every penny. There are plenty of Panama cruise deals available for eager cruisers booking through a travel agent or directly with the cruise line.
Make sure to research diligently to find the best Panama Canal cruise for you!
Mainstream Cruise Lines for Panama Canal Cruises
Just about all the main cruise lines offer sailings to and through the Panama Canal:
Smaller Lines Cruising through the Panama Canal
Active travelers may be looking for expedition-style voyages or cruises on a smaller ship to enjoy more time exploring the Panama Canal.
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Panama Canal Cruise Highlights
Hike up to an active volcano. Raft one of the many rivers. Scuba dive in its beautiful seas, or zip along a cable through the rainforest tree tops. There are so many adventure sports such as kayaking, rafting, rappelling, and horseback riding.
Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers streets lined with old architecture plus modern amenities like restaurants and shops. The best historical structures are the churches, including the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion, dating from 1619, and the Iglesia de San Jose, noted for its vaulted side chapels and golden altar.
Central America has breathtaking natural areas, perfect for spotting wildlife or hitting the trails. In fact, more than 25% of Costa Rica is protected land or national parks. With more than 900 species of birds in this region, bird watchers can be sure to check the Resplendent Quetzal off their list.
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 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.