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It’s been on my bucket list for quite a while. So when I had a chance to jump on a ship for a Panama Canal cruise that included a full transit of this feat of engineering, the decision was easy.
What if you really want to see the Panama Canal but time and/or money are a concern? Read on as I explain your options to experience this 48-mile man-made wonder.
There are three ways to “do” a Panama Canal cruise. You can cruise a partial Panama canal cruise, round-trip from a Florida cruise port and shorter in length than a full transit – usually 10-12 days. These are offered by a handful of mainstream and premium cruise lines. Princess does several throughout the year as does Norwegian. Also, for repositioning to Australia or a world cruise, you’ll find Carnival, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America and others heading out on a full transit.
On a partial transit, 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 you’re on a shore excursion from your partial transit, you might have to catch up to your ship in Colon, Panama rather than be onboard for the 180 degree turnaround in the lake to exit the canal.
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. Arrival and departure ports on the west coast include either San Diego or Los Angeles and of course Ft. Lauderdale or Miami in Florida. If you love sea days, this could be your dream cruise. Other ports en route could include a stop at Cartagena, Colombia on the Atlantic side. On the Pacific side, you might visit one or two ports in Costa Rica and Central America. Three ports in Mexico seem to be standard and might include Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. Then it’s northwest to San Diego and onto Los Angeles.
Your third choice is also a full transit but it’s shorter in length and starts or ends in Costa Rica or Colon, Panama. Air arrangements can be a little more involved but it’s easily set up. This is one time where booking cruise line air might be the least stressful option, especially for newbie cruisers.
Back to my cruise.
I’m aboard Crystal Serenity for my first-ever Panama Canal AND Crystal Cruise. As with all Panama Canal cruises, we’re spending a couple of days at sea after our departure from Ft. Lauderdale and a stop in Key West.
Tomorrow we’ll dock in Cartagena, a strategic port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Dating back to the early 1500’s, massive stone walls that surround the Old Town welcome tourists to explore this UNESCO-designated historic city, rich in Spanish colonial history, centuries-old architecture and of the indigenous Zinu people.
Stay tuned for more from my Between Two Seas Panama Passage cruise.