Although originally engineered to avoid the turbulent waters around Cape Horn and to make international trade quicker by connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Panama Canal has since become an important historical monument in its own right. Those taking cruises in Central America and the Caribbean will often find that passing along the canal is featured in their itineraries. But what should you expect on a Panama cruise and how can you go about choosing from the huge selection on offer?
Let us run you through the highlights of a cruise in the Caribbean Sea and the main decisions to make before booking.
What are the highlights of a Panama cruise?
Cruises to Panama generally depart from locations in the south of the United States, including various cities in California and Florida. Depending upon the itinerary, expect to stop at Caribbean ports such as Aruba and Jamaica as well as docking at destinations which may include Cartagena and Santa Marta in Colombia and Puerto Limon in Costa Rica.
Before cruising along the canal, a Panama cruise is likely to dock for a day at Colon on the country’s eastern coast. From there, ships sail the 51-mile (82km) channel, stopping at a series of locks where the ship must be raised up to 85 ft. (26m) before it can continue on its way.
Prepare to be impressed by this feat of engineering and keep your eyes peeled for the exotic wildlife, such as sloths and toucans, that lives in the rainforest that lines the canal.
Things to consider when booking a cruise to Panama
Eastbound or westbound along the Panama Canal?
With cruises departing from the east and west coasts of the USA, one of the essential considerations before booking your itinerary is your departure city. Most cruises are one-way voyages so it’s unlikely that you will be returning to the same destination from where you started. That said, some companies do offer partial transit through the canal, therefore allowing the ship to return to its port of origin.
Your itinerary length
Most Panama cruises average between seven and 14 days and allow for stop-offs at various Caribbean ports, as well as visits to cities in Central and South America. If you’re keen to cruise the oceans for longer periods of time, other cruises offer itineraries of up to 28-days, with some even sailing from the UK and exploring historic cities in Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Norway, before crossing the Atlantic.
Which type of accommodation best suits your budget
The price you are willing to pay for your cruise will determine the type of lodgings you are assigned. For example, interior rooms without a window onto the ocean are the most affordable options onboard.
For those with a larger budget, rooms with windows and balconies allow you to truly absorb the experience of being at sea and, particularly during the voyage through the Panama Canal, grant excellent views from the comfort of your own bedroom.
How much of your itinerary will be spent at sea
Longer itineraries that go beyond the south of the USA and Central America will often include more days spent at sea, an important factor to be aware of when planning your cruise.
If you want to spend more time off the boat than on it, make sure you select a Panama cruise with multiple stops along the way. Instead, if you’re happy to enjoy the facilities onboard, which can range from cinemas to swimming pools and art galleries, be sure to book onto a ship that spends more time cruising the ocean.