In a previous article, we explained what cruises to the Panama Canal are, and we also distinguished them from transcanal cruises, or cruises that sail all the way through the Panama Canal. (Confusingly, both are called “Panama Canal cruises” in certain instances.) It turns out that booking a cruise to the Panama Canal is somewhat difficult. Well, “difficult” isn’t really the right word, as there is nothing particularly complicated about booking a cruise to the Panama Canal – it is just that many of the cruises to the Panama Canal aren’t marketed as such. So, below we explain how to book a Panama Canal cruise, and also how to go about finding them.
We have already explained how to book transcanal cruises, so we’ll leave transcanal cruises out of our discussion. We will only cover cruises that go to and/or enter into part of the Panama Canal, but do not traverse its entire course. Cruises that actually enter into the Panama Canal are the easiest to find, as they are generally marketed as “Panama Canal cruises” or “cruises to the Panama Canal,” which is to say that visiting the Panama Canal is a major focus of the cruise.
They are also easy to find because these cruises are currently only offered by Princess. (That is, Princess is the only cruise line at the moment that offers cruises that go into the Canal, dock for shore excursions, and then exit the Canal. Cruises offered by other lines that go to the Canal don’t actually enter the Canal – they merely dock at the entrance, at the port in Colon, Panama. More on that in a moment.) Thus, you can go to the cruise line’s website to look at Panama Canal cruises offered by Princess. This link will bring you to a page full of information related to Panama Canal cruises, or you can use the search function on Princess’ website to look for all of their cruises to the Panama Canal. (Note that some of these cruises are transcanal cruises – you have to look for the cruises that are listed as “partial transit.”) You can also try to look up these same cruises on the cruise deal sites, but some of these sites don’t list “Panama Canal” as a specific cruise destination. So, what we recommend doing is checking the months during, and cruise ships on which, Princess’ Panama Canal cruises are offered (you can easily do this through the Princess website), then use these criteria to search for cruises on the deal site. Of course, you can simply book directly through Princess as well, but it might be worth it to check out the deal sites in case they are offering some sort of promotion (e.g., credits to use on board when you book through them).
The cruises that go to the Panama Canal, but don’t actually enter it, are generally more difficult to find because they are not listed as “cruises to the Panama Canal” (or something similar). Rather, these cruises are merely a few among thousands of other Caribbean cruises. If you merely search for “Caribbean cruises,” you’ll be overwhelmed with results, the vast majority of which have nothing to do with the Panama Canal. The trick to finding cruises that stop by the Canal is to realize that Caribbean cruises that double as Panama Canal cruises stop by the Port of Colon in Panama, which is right by the entrance of the Canal if you are sailing from the east (which of course you will be if you are taking a Caribbean cruise – Colon is situated on a shore that lines the Caribbean Sea). Thus, the best way to find these cruises is to search for cruises to Colon. One site that we found especially helpful is Cruise Compete, which lists all the cruises that stop by Colon, and using a site such as this will give you an idea of which cruises visit the Panama Canal. Again, you must be vigilant about transcanal cruises when performing these searches, as many transcanal cruises stop by Colon during their voyages.
To book a cruise to the Panama Canal, you go through a fairly standard procedure. You search around online to figure out what’s available, and then you can book in whatever way you want (directly through a cruise line website or a cruise line toll-free number, or you could work with a deal site). The only thing that is strange about cruises to the Panama Canal is that they are hard to find, at least if they are offered by any company besides Princess. However, now that you know that Panama Canal cruises stop by Colon, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding one right for you.
Photo Credit: Stan Shebs / CC-BY-SA-3.0