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Best Cruises to the Panama Canal

For some cruisers, being aboard a ship passing through the great canals of the world is a gold medal event. The Suez Canal and the Panama Canal are the big ones for serious cruisers.

The Panama Canal is perhaps the most famous of them all and was responsible for cutting nearly 8000 miles from the journey between New York and San Francisco while avoiding the hazardous passage around Cape Horn at the bottom of South America. Great effort was expended both in terms of lives and money to cut the canal through 77 kilometres of mosquito-infested jungle in Central America more than a century ago.

Cruises through the Panama Canal are now a much more comfortable affair aboard some of the world’s most luxurious ships. You can choose a cruise that simply sails through the Panama Canal or one that explores the region, stopping at any of the nearby islands and nations bordering the Panama Canal. Here are a few ideas.

One of the most popular ways to transit the Panama Canal is to depart from the major cruise terminal in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and sail to San Diego in Southern California. Holland America is just one of the cruise lines to sail this route and their 21-night itinerary aboard the 1900-passenger MS Westerdam includes port visits at Half Moon Cay, the Netherlands Antilles and several stops in Mexico before arriving in the USA.

If you are looking for a shorter voyage, it’s possible to take a round-trip from Fort Lauderdale and visit some of the highlights of the Caribbean before returning to Florida. Princess Cruises offers this during a 10-night cruise aboard the 1900-passenger Island Princess that visits Aruba, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Jamaica. It should be noted that while these cruises visit the Panama Canal, they only conduct what is called a ‘partial transit’, so you don’t end up in the Pacific Ocean.

Many cruisers are looking for greater enrichment in their travels, using cruise itineraries to expand their horizons and their understanding of the world and its many natural treasures. Some of the world’s smaller ships enable port visits at smaller, more authentic locations that deliver such experiences. Voyages of Discovery are one of these cruise lines. Their 14-night Panama Canal transit aboard the 540-passenger Voyager also visits more unusual ports like Manta in Ecuador and Bahia Solano, Colombia as well as Puerto Limon in Costa Rica among others. On this voyage, not only will you be able to tick off the coveted Panama Canal, but you will also explore mangrove forests and the pristine rainforest canopy. There’s even the chance to snorkel among coral reefs and stroll through seldom-visited botanical gardens on this exciting journey from Ecuador to Mexico.

Visiting the Panama Canal is not just a thing to do, it is also a voyage that celebrates one of the most fascinating industrial projects of our civilisation.

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