Panama Canal Cruises: What Does “Partial Transit” Mean?

If you have ever looked into cruises to the Panama Canal or transcanal cruises, you’ve probably seen the phrase “partial transit” (or potentially “partial crossing”). As you might have guessed, “partial transit” means that the cruise ship does not fully traverse the Panama Canal, but merely goes part of the way through it and then turns around, exiting through its point of entry. This is, in the simplest terms, what “partial transit” means in the context of a Panama Canal cruise. However, much more can be said about partial transit cruises of the Panama Canal, which is why we have dedicated an article to the subject. Exactly what does partial transit of the Panama Canal entail, and how can you go about booking one of these cruises?

When booking any sort of cruise that involves the Panama Canal, you have to be mindful of what you are signing up for. If you are booking a transcanal cruise, you’ll be booking a respositioning cruise, which means you will begin at one port and end in another. In the case of transcanal cruises, you’ll likely start your cruise in Florida and end up in California, or vice versa. Since a transcanal cruise is by definition a cruise that sails all the way through the Panama Canal, it is obviously not a partial transit cruise, and it will not be advertised as such. Things become slightly more complicated when you are booking a cruise to the Panama Canal, as there are two types of such cruises. The first kind merely goes to the entrance of the Panama Canal (to the Port of Colon in Panama), but doesn’t actually sail into the waterway. The second kind actually enters the Panama Canal, sails through a segment of it, but then turns around to exit the Canal without ever traversing the entire channel. Only this second type of cruise offers a partial transit of the Panama Canal.

At present, only Princess and Holland America offer these partial transit cruises, so in order to book one, you’ll have to work directly with either cruise line, or look up their offerings on a cruise deal site. However, the latter is harder than it may seem, as many deal sites don’t list the Panama Canal as a cruise destination. So, what you’ll likely have to do is look up information about the partial transit cruises (like when they leave and which ships offer them) on the cruise lines’ official website, and then use this data to search for the cruise on a deal site. On these partial transit cruises, which leave from Fort Lauderdale, the ship will enter on the eastern side of the Canal and sail into Gatun Lake, which is the first part of the Canal when approaching from the Caribbean Sea. The ships will dock in the lake for several hours, allowing passengers to take shore excursions, and then the vessels exit the Canal the same day they entered it. Some people opt to travel the rest of the way through the Canal on a smaller boat, or they’ll just enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds the Canal.

So, partial transit cruises of the Panama Canal are exactly what they sound like. A cruise ship enters the Canal, docks in Gatun Lake for several hours, and then exits the Canal. The only thing that makes partial transit cruises somewhat confusing is that they are often advertised only as Panama Canal cruises, and as we saw above, a few different vacations can be billed this way. Thus, if you want to see and enter the Canal – not merely visit its entrance or fully traverse it – you have to make sure your cruise is labeled as “partial transit.”

Transcanal Cruise

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