Transcanal cruises, which are cruises through the Panama Canal, appeal to a lot of different people. First, there are people who want to cruise to the general region of the world where the Panama Canal is located. One needn’t take a transcanal cruise in particular to visit this area, but it’s a good option that covers a lot of territory, including parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Second, there are people who specifically want to see the Panama Canal – because it’s an engineering marvel, it’s of enormous historical importance, etc. – and a transcanal cruise is the perfect way to do this. Third, there are people who want to take a transcanal cruise as a way to travel from region of the country to another via a scenic ocean route. (Of course, one could have multiple motivations for taking a transcanal cruise.) Given the broad appeal of transcanal cruises, we thought we would explain how to book a cruise through the Panama Canal.
A few notes on Transcanal Cruises
As we explained in our overview of transcanal cruises, not every cruise to the Panama Canal is technically a transcanal cruise. Lots of cruises merely traverse part of the Canal and then return to the port from which they departed, and others merely get to the entrance of the Canal (the one on the Caribbean side, at Colon, Panama) so that vacationers can see it up close. On such cruises to the Panama Canal, there are often opportunities to take tours of the Canal with smaller boats, but the cruise ship itself does not sail all the way through it, and hence it is not a transcanal cruise.
This is an important point to make because several cruise lines operate “cruises to the Panama Canal” or “Panama Canal cruises” that don’t actually sail through the entire Canal. If you want the full Panama Canal experience, which includes going through all the locks along the waterway, you’ll want to make sure your cruise starts in one location and ends in another. (The embarking and disembarking ports are primarily in Florida and California.) Since they start in one port and end in another, transcanal cruises are also repositioning cruises. And since they are repositioning cruises, they aren’t offered very frequently, as one function of a repositioning voyage is to relocate a cruise ship for a season. Not all transcanal cruises serve to relocate a ship for the season – Norwegian offers transcanal cruises that sail between Florida and California a couple times in a row – but the basic point remains the same: there aren’t that many transcanal cruises per year, so you’ll want to get on booking one sooner rather than later to secure a spot.
The process of booking a transcanal cruise
As for the actual process of booking a transcanal cruise, you have a few different options. First, and as is always the case, you can work directly with a cruise line to book a transcanal cruise. Of the major cruise lines, Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian, Disney, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, and Princess all offer transcanal cruises, and the luxury cruise lines Seabourn, Crystal, and Regent Seven Seas offer them as well. Representatives from each these cruise lines will of course be more than happy to book you on one of their transcanal cruises.
Nowadays, it is perhaps more common to book with sites that aggregate cruise deals – vacationers are always looking for the best deals – and these can be used for booking a transcanal criuse as well. However, you must keep two things in mind if you go this route. First, and as mentioned above, not all Panama Canal cruises are transcanal cruises. So, if you can select “Panama Canal” as a cruise destination (which you can’t always do – see the next point), some of the cruises that come up won’t be transcanal cruises. The actual transcanal cruises will be mixed in with results with cruises that go to the Canal but don’t actually sail through it. Second, some deal sites don’t even allow you to search for Panama Canal cruises specifically. You have to select fairly broad regions of the world (e.g., the Caribbean) and then search for cruises that go through the Panama Canal. This can be tedious and you might not even find what you are looking for.
Given that there aren’t that many transcanal cruises, it perhaps best to look at the one or two transcanal cruises that each cruise line offers and work from there. Normally, this process is made easy by the cruise deal sites, but transcanal cruises present certain difficulties because they are such a specific vacation option. You can’t just go on, say, CheapCruises and get a neat list of every transcanal cruise (and only transcanal cruises) and then select the cheapest option. You’ll likely have to do a bit more searching around until you come up with all the feasible transcanal cruises you can take. (This will largely depend on where you want your cruise to start and where you want it to end.) You might be able to find a discounted cruise through a third-party deal site, but you might end up working directly with a cruise line too.
To conclude, booking a transcanal cruise is a bit different from booking a cruise to a major destination. It isn’t necessarily a hard process, but it will perhaps take a little more effort than usual. However, when you do manage to book the transcanal cruise that is right for you, you’ll be in for an incredible voyage and an up-close view of one the great achievements of modern engineering.
Photo Credit: Stan Shebs / CC-BY-SA-3.0