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Panama Canal Cruise Tips

Gatun Locks; Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
Gatun Locks; Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
Panama Canal cruises come in three flavors -- a stop at Colón during a western Caribbean cruise, a visit to Panama City during a Pacific coast cruise and especially a cruise that travels the entire length of the canal.

A cruise to see the entire canal combines some of the best experiences of the coastal cruises and a chance to see some of the best ports of call on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Panama City is the highlight of the Canal at the Pacific side. The Colón port, Lake Gatún and the Gatún Locks are the highlights of the Caribbean side.

A Panama Canal cruise that goes the entire length of the Canal is either eastbound or westbound. An eastbound cruise usually leaves from a port in California, travels down the Pacific coast of Mexico and Central America, crosses the canal and goes up the Caribbean Sea to the port of disembarkation in Florida.

A westbound cruise simply goes in the opposite direction.

Panama Canal Cruise Ports


An eastbound cruise might leave from San Diego, CA, and have the following itinerary:

  • Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Puntarenas, Costa Rica
  • Guatemala City, Guatemala
  • Panama City, Panama
  • Travel the 50-mile length of the canal
  • Colon, Panama
  • Cartagena, Columbia
  • Fort Lauderdale, FL.

A westbound cruise might leave from Fort Lauderdale, FL and follow the same itinerary.

Other cruises might emphasize stops in the Caribbean such as Grand Cayman or Jamaica.

Cruises of this distance and with this many ports of call usually last 14 or 15 nights. Plan on flying into a Florida embarkation port such as Miami or Fort Lauderdale and fly out of the final disembarkation in California such as San Diego -- or vice versa.


Cruise Length and Cruise Lines


Azamara Journey
Azamara is one of the cruise lines that will visit the Panama Canal.
A random search of all Panama Canal cruises on a popular travel booking website showed a total of 68 upcoming cruises over the next 12 months.

Out of the 68, only 24 of them lasted 11 to 14 nights and the other 44 cruises were at least 15 nights. Cruises that went for 11 or 12 nights are more likely to leave from Florida, go to the Colon port at Panama and go back to Floriday. Cruises of 14 nights and longer are more likely to go from California to Florica or vice versa.

One cruise lasted 48 nights and cost $5,900 per person for the cheapest cabin. So this is a long cruise that has more appeal to retirees with extra time available.

Cruise lines that offer a Panama Canal trip include Azamara, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean and Viking.

Prices for the least expensive interior cabins were $929 per person on a 15-night cruise or about $62 per night departing from Florida. Price per night is a good way to judge the value of the deal for budget-minded cruises. Note that these prices may change at any time.

Excursions and Attractions


More than Caribbean cruises, a Panama Canal cruise has attractions that vary with the port of call.

Cabo San Lucas has both great shopping and great beaches. The main shopping district lines the port and marina. Visitors should plan on a long walk to get from one side of the marina to the other, all of which is packed with restaurants and small shops.

Puerto Vallarta also is a major beach destination and home to one of the largest bays in the world. Puntarenas is an up and coming cruise port known for its small-town flavor and beach boardwalk.

Panama City attractions include the ruins of Old Panama, which were destroyed by the pirate Sir Henry Morgan in 1671, as well as Paseo Esteban Huertas, Metropolitan Cathedral, National Theater and Simon Bolivar Plaza.

One of the highlights of Colón is Gatún Lake, a man-made body of water created by the Gatún Locks.

Cartagena is known to be the most popular tourist destination in Columbia. It is popular because of its beaches and Old World architecture including 500-year-old forts.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

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January 20, 2020
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