Types of Cruises - Panama Canal Cruises
CRUISING THE PANAMA CANAL
A Panama Canal cruise is on everyone’s must-do list, the cruise of a lifetime, and cruise liners have made a Panama Canal crossing big business.
Most of the major lines offer a permutation of cruises, round-trip partial transits or complete one-way transits. The most popular of these types of cruises is still the traditional one-way trans-canal experience – from ocean to ocean, a journey of between 8 and 10 hours.
Then there are the partial transits, the “halfway crossings”, when ships go through only the first set of locks, turn around in Gatun Lake and go back the way they came. Passengers can be disembarked to enjoy a number of shore excursions from the town of Gamboa.
Panama Canal cruises are seasonal, from September to April, but for the best weather go after November. Main departure ports in Florida are Miami and Ft. Lauderdale; on the west coast they are Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.
There’s only one place to be when your cruise ship edges its way through the Panama Canal... and that’s on the deck. The rails of every cruise ship are lined with passengers as the ship enters the Canal, joining the millions who have sailed through Panama without ever setting foot on it.
The Panama Canal is a massive man-made engineering marvel, built to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It consists of artificially created lakes, channels and a series of locks, or immense water-filled chambers. As you enter the Panama Canal from the Atlantic Ocean, these locks raise the cruise ship from sea level to Gatun Lake and back to sea level – sometimes just inches from the canal side.
You might believe you’re crossing from east or west as the majority of cruise ships cruise either from the east coast to the west coast or the other way, but in fact the Panama Canal really transits north and south.
The passage on these types of cruises is incredibly peaceful, in spite of the many ships of all shapes and sizes passing you going the other way, rusty tramp steamers, yachts, massive dry bulk carriers, other massive cruise liners. The Canal handles (on average) over 14,000 ships every year.
For many cruise passengers the passage through the locks is the highlight of of the journey, but there are excursions on offer on the way, like a boat trip on Gatun Lake surround by prime rainforest or a tour of Panama's Embera Indian Village.
photo courtesy Holland America Line