Panama Canal Cruises and Cruise Lines

Panama Canal Cruises and Cruise Lines

Cruising Panama Canal with Holland America Line

For centuries, it was a pipe dream: the idea of a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via Panama. As early as 1534, people had tried - in various ways - to improve trade without the need for lengthy and dangerous sailings around the horn of South America. But sufficient technology did not yet exist to allow the creation of a canal, and those who attempted the journey overland were beaten down by the inhospitable conditions in the dense jungle.

But the idea of creating a Panama Canal was never forgotten. The first serious attempt began in 1881 and was spearheaded by Ferdinand de Lesseps, the Versailles-born genius who successfully developed the Suez Canal linking the Mediterranean and Red Sea in 1869.

Conditions in Panama, however, couldn't have been more different from the hot deserts of Egypt. Heavy rain oversaturated the land, and recurring mudslides hampered construction almost from the onset. The rampant spread of malaria and yellow fever was exacerbated by rumors that senior French officials had been bribed. Down to its last franc, the company was dissolved and construction halted in 1889.

By 1904, the United States had gained control over the work site. For their troubles, the Americans were rewarded with a muddy, water-filled ditch and a series of dilapidated buildings that had been used by the French more than a decade before. During the next decade, Spanish and American workers, along with engineers, would create a series of locks that would raise and lower ships from one ocean to another, and in the process, the world’s largest man-made lake – Gatun Lake – would be created.

The Canal officially opened for the first time on August 15, 1914 – 100 years ago this year. Almost US$8.6 billion in today’s dollar equivalent were spent to create the Canal.

Panama Canal cruises on Princess Cruises Transiting this "path between the seas," cruise ships move at a snail's pace, waiting one behind the other to enter the enormous locks that flood with water to raise and lower ships.

Once the water fills the concrete locks, ships progress to the next set of locks. There may be a container ship in front of you, a sailboat behind on your Panama cruise.

This engineering marvel is best savored from the comfort of a cruise ship. Panama cruises typically run for full 14 days between South Florida and California. Several cruise lines, however, offer 10-day partial transits to Gatun Lake sailing roundtrip from Florida. Either way is recommended to cruise the panama canal.

Cruising Panama Canal with Princess Cruises The canal is lined in a lush jungle canopy, juxtaposed with the machinery of the locks that raises and lowers the ships making the transit possible. With numerous cruises in panama during the traditional spring and fall repositioning seasons, as well as both full and partial transits, this special passage continues to be an awe-inspiring favorite.

The Panama Canal isn’t just the quickest link between the Atlantic and the Pacific. It’s also among the most beautiful trips you can make anywhere.

How Many Days?
Panama Canal cruises come in two versions. The most popular way to experience the Panama Canal is on a 10 or 11 day cruise roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale. Most of those cruises go through the canal locks into the Gatun Lake and back, while some other 10 day cruises instead call at Colon, Panama, from where passengers can choose to take optional shore excursions along the canal.

The other way to experience the Panama Canal is on a longer 14 to 15 day cruise with a full transit of the canal. Those cruises start in California and end in Florida, or vice versa.

When To Cruise?
The 10 to 11 day Panama Canal cruises depart from October through April every year. There are longer 14 to 15 day cruises that depart during those same months, but the majority of the coast to coast cruises take place in September or in April and May, when the cruise ships reposition to or from the summer cruise season in Alaska.

Transit the Panama Canal on Holland America Line



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