Cruises to the Panama Canal

The title “Cruises to the Panama Canal” contains an important preposition, “to.” The word “to” is significant in this instance because it distinguishes cruises to the Panama Canal from cruises through the Panama Canal, which are also called transcanal cruises. The latter are offered infrequently because they are repositioning cruises, whereas cruises to the Panama Canal are offered more consistently throughout the year. Having already covered transcanal cruise and how to book them, we decided to focus on cruises that merely visit the Panama Canal and then return to their port of departure. Below you will find an overview of these cruises to the Panama Canal.

There are two types of cruises to the Panama Canal in addition to those that sail all the way through it. The first type of cruise merely goes to or near the entrance of the Panama Canal (generally the port at Colon, Panama), and the second goes into the Canal, but does not fully cross it. Both types of cruises could be properly called “cruises to the Panama Canal” – this is what they literally are – although only the second type is billed this way. Colon is a fairly popular port of call, but it is generally visited as part of a larger Caribbean cruise. Thus, a cruise to the Panama Canal is in many instances a standard cruise around the Caribbean and they are advertised accordingly. (Colon is on the shore of the Caribbean Sea, after all.) The primary focus of these cruises isn’t seeing the Canal; rather, seeing the Canal is merely one opportunity in a larger vacation itinerary.

The cruises that are advertised as “cruises to the Panama Canal” (the second type described above) are at present only offered by Princess, at least if we limit ourselves to major cruise lines. (There are small boat companies that offer trips through the Canal – indeed, this is a popular shore excursion with passengers on cruises that stop by Colon – but it would be strange to regard these as cruises to the Panama Canal, or to call the companies that offer them “cruise lines.”) Like Caribbean cruises that merely use Colon as one port of call, the cruises offered by Princess are not exclusively concerned with the Panama Canal, but seeing it is a focal point of the journey. These 11-day journeys from Fort Lauderdale not only stop by Colon, but also venture into Gatun Lake, which is the first part of the Canal if you are entering from the eastern side. Princess’ ships dock in the lake, allowing passengers who have booked specific tours to disembark, and then once the tours are complete, the ship retraces its step back out of the Panama Canal. This is the most thorough Panama Canal cruising experience short of a full transcanal cruise.

So, there are three ways to see the Panama Canal on a cruise. A ship can merely stop by the port in Colon, it can enter the Canal and then turn around, or it can cross through the entire canal. The first two types are what we have called “cruises to the Panama Canal,” and it is only the second that is marketed as such. If you merely want to see the Panama Canal, several Caribbean cruises will enable this. However, if you want a more robust Canal experience, but don’t want to travel all the way through it, you’ll have to book with Princess.

Photo Credit: Stan Shebs / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Transcanal Cruise

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