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The Panama Canal: 7 Pros of Cruising One of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World

The Panama Canal is an incredible man-made marvel that can be uniquely experienced on a Holland America Line cruise. If it’s not on your bucket list, it should be! There’s an incredible wave of awe that comes over every cruiser transiting the lakes and locks of this spectacle that made the list of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. And the region is beautifully lush, making it a picture-perfect vacation.

The only way to fully experience the Panama Canal is on a cruise. In fact, it’s the best way to experience any destination! No other vacation is as convenient, pampering and exciting … all at the same time. On a cruise you unpack one time, yet you get to visit many ports and countries. And with dining, entertainment, enrichment and so much more included, there’s no better value!

Holland America Line features diverse and extensive cruises to the Panama Canal, from full transits that reposition a ship from one destination to another, to the roundtrip Fort Lauderdale, Florida, series of cruises that enter part of the canal but don’t fully transit.

Here’s a list of the seven pros of a Panama Canal cruise:

EASILY GO FROM ATLANTIC TO PACIFIC
The days of having to go around Cape Horn at the tip of South America to get from Atlantic to Pacific — or vice versa — are long gone. Now ships can easily move from ocean to ocean, cutting 8,000 miles off the journey. And with the expansion well under way, larger vessels will soon be able to make the 48-mile journey. Ships often make the full transit on repositioning cruises in the fall and spring that take them from one cruising destination to another. Unlike many repositioning cruises, a Panama Canal transit includes a lot of scenic cruising and many ports of call, making it the ideal way to get from one season to the next.

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If You Want To Go:
If you want to get away for the winter holidays and transit the entire Panama Canal, Amsterdam’s 18-Day Holiday Cruise from San Diego, California, to Fort Lauderdale is an incredible way to celebrate Christmas and ring in the New Year! Departing Dec. 18, 2015, the voyage calls at ports in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Aruba, Curaçao and Half Moon Cay.

IT’S A TECHNICAL MARVEL
It’s called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World for a reason. The Panama Canal is a series of locks that raise and lower a ship to different sea levels. It took 33 years to complete the project, which was started by France 1881. The United States took over the project in 1904, and the Panama Canal was officially opened Aug. 15, 1914.

Graphic from panamaliving.com.

Graphic from panamaliving.com.

Onboard, guests will learn facts like this and more about the history of the canal and the art, culture and wildlife of the region through our Exploration Speaker Series that brings on Panama Canal experts.

Our “On Location” Guide Lisa presented a fantastic slide show of what we would see on our transit. Her talk was so comprehensive that we discovered a few things to see that we hadn’t spotted on our previous crossings. And we looked for them on this transit. — Sharon J.

If You Want To Go:
Are you looking for a special way to celebrate the New Year? Join Veendam on a 14-day Panama Canal cruise and see the wonder for yourself. Departing Jan. 3, 2016, the voyage from San Diego to Tampa, Florida, gives guests an up-close view of the inner-workings of the canal.

WHAT A VIEW!
The Panama Canal is a lush gateway lined with emerald-hued flora and an abundance of colorful fauna. Standing on deck as you traverse the canal is sensory overload, with beautiful sites around every corner. Be sure to have your camera on hand.

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Absolutely loved our trip from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego through the Panama Canal years ago. Amazing scenery… — Guest Fiona B.

If You Want To Go:
If you think one cruise isn’t enough, Maasdam is sailing back-to-back transits departing March 1, 2016, from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego, and back to Fort Lauderdale departing March 15. The two cruises have non-repeating ports in Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia and the Caribbean, making it the perfect Collectors’ Voyage for guests who want an immersive Panama Canal experience.

CRUISING THROUGH THE LOCKS
The Panama Canal is made up of three locks: Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores. On average, it takes a ship eight to 10 hours to pass through the canal. While moving through it, the system of locks raises each ship 85 feet above sea level.

Moving through the Panama Canal locks. Photo by Captain Mercer.

Moving through the Panama Canal locks. Photo by Captain Mercer.

Bright Hub Engineering did a great job explaining how ships move through the locks:

• The ship approaches the lock gates at a reduced speed.
• The “pilot” boards the ship and he instructs the ships speed and direction.
• The ship enters the lock gates, which is narrow when compared to the size of the ship.
• The lock gates are then closed, enclosing the ship inside. To lift up the ship, water has to be pumped into the lock chambers.
• When water is pumped, the level of water increases inside the lock chamber lifting the ship up. The lifted height equals the height required for the ship to proceed to the next lock chamber. Thus the ship gets lifted up above the sea-level from the pacific ocean.
• It reaches Gatun Lake after getting lifted up through Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks. The ship has to be lowered down to get to the level of the Atlantic Ocean through the Gatun locks.
• The ship enters the Gatun lock chamber, where the gates again get closed, enclosing the ship in the lock chamber. The water gets pumped out of the lock gates, decreasing the water level in the lock chamber.
• When the water level equals the level of the Atlantic Ocean side, the outward lock gates open up, leading the ship to the sea passage.

If You Want To Go:
If you want to transit the Panama Canal sooner rather than later, there’s still time to cruise this fall! If you like last-minute adventures, Westerdam and Oosterdam leave Sept. 26 and 27, respectively, to reposition from Alaska to the Caribbean. Westerdam is departing Seattle on an 18-day cruise, while Oosterdam is sailing from Vancouver on a 19-day transit. In October, Veendam cruises from Atlantic to Pacific on a 19-day transit departing Oct. 17 from Boston to San Diego. Those who want to leave from Fort Lauderdale can depart on Veendam Oct. 21.

THE IMPRESSIVE LAKES
The Panama Canal has two lakes: Gatun Lake and Miraflores Lake. Did you know that Gatun Lake is an artificial lake? It was created between 1907 and 1913, and at that time it was the largest man-made lake in the world.

Captain Mercer snapped this photo of Gatun Lake during his transit.

Captain Mercer snapped this photo of Gatun Lake during his transit.

If You Want To Go:
When it’s time for the Alaska season, Maasdam repositions from Fort Lauderdale to Seattle, Washington, on a 20-day adventure that includes a transit of the Panama Canal. Guests looking for a shorter journey can disembark at San Diego, making it a 15-day cruise, or Vancouver, British Columbia, for a 19-day voyage.

SAILING ROUNDTRIP FORT LAUDERDALE
If you want a convenient roundtrip Fort Lauderdale cruise, Zuiderdam offers Sunfarer voyages starting at 10 days that include a Caribbean exploration and a partial Panama Canal transit. The ship spends a morning cruising Gatun Lake where guests can disembark and take one of several shore excursions, including the Gatun Locks & Kayak in the Canal to Colon tour.

Guests on Sunfarer itineraries can go ashore at Gatun and take a variety of tours.

Guests on Sunfarer itineraries can go ashore at Gatun and take a variety of tours.

SEE THE PROGRESS OF THE EXPANSION
In 2007, work began on a $5.25 billion expansion project that will enable the canal to handle post-Panamax ships — those exceeding the dimensions of Panamax vessels built to fit through the canal. The expanded canal will be able to handle cargo vessels carrying 14,000 20-foot containers, nearly three times the amount currently accommodated! The expansion project, expected to be completed in 2016, includes the creation of a new, larger set of locks and the widening and deepening of existing navigational channels. As of Aug. 31, 2015, the project is 93 percent complete.

We will be doing our fourth transit next April with HAL. What a great trip. We learn new things every time. Looking forward to it – again. — Sue C.

If You Want To Go:
If you’re looking to transit the canal but also visit the exotic ABC Islands in the Caribbean, Westerdam’s March 12, 2016, cruise is the perfect choice for you. The 21-day cruise from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego makes 13 calls along the way, including Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. Mexico also takes center stage, with five calls throughout the country.

December 2015 UPDATE: Take Advantage of View & Verandah
We want to make your dream cruise even dreamier with our new View & Verandah promotion. We’re offering stateroom upgrades, up to 10 percent off shore excursions and up to 25 percent off Collectors’ Voyages on 2016-2017 sailings when booked by Feb. 29, 2016. Check out the offer to see if your dream cruise is included and book now!

22 Comments
  • Rita Sanders

    Send rate info please for Dec Panama Canal cruise. We are HA alums.

  • cecilia tasker

    Bucket list #1….everyones dream so..dreamerscruise …….we cruised years ago on the Veendam and Statendam the Panama is still a dream away .

  • Ron Holly

    Looking at sometime next year.

  • Ron Holly

    Perhaps sometime late2016

  • mandy cornwell

    Amazilicious!!!

  • mandy cornwell

    Stupendous!!

  • Don Brooks

    We’ve been thru the Canel & loved it!! We’d like to go again when the third lock is completed. Do you have a date for this?

  • Steve

    We are booked to
    Leave from Florida in November
    Should be an exciting trip!

  • OlgaE.Lozano Ramirez

    FROM San Diego to Tampa, Florida, Prices,please.

  • mavis wilding

    I live in spain where would I fly from to go on the panama canal 7 pros. I would be on my own and perhaps I would like to go next December 2016. can you send me details about the cruise, thanking you very much m.f. wilding.

  • Debbie Harper

    We are scheduled to go January 3, 2016 I can’t wait it looks amazing. We love the HAL crew most of all they make every cruise spectacular. We love you all keep up the great work we will see you soon.

  • Brenda England

    Looking at Feb or early spring 2016

  • Sandee

    We went in April and it was totally amazing. A true trip of a lifetime.

  • Cheryl Caldwell

    humbling

  • Anne Harrison

    Went through the Panama Canal on the Amsterdam in November 2001. It was an absolutely amazing experience. A memorable trip, interesting ports of call…Curacao, Nicaragua and flew home from Costa Rica. Had to skirt a hurricane in the Caribbean by going into the Atlantic…rough seas!

  • Carol

    We are booked on the Zuidetdam for March 7, 2016. Looking forward to this cruise.

  • Deanna Kramer

    I would call it the.. Awemarvel Cruise with Holland America Lines through the Panama Canal..I think that that cruise would be an unforgettable trip..

  • Evina Lewman

    Information please. Cost of different options.

  • Julie

    Evina, we don’t have that information at the blog, but if you reach out to reservations they can certainly help! hal_reservations@hollandamerica.com.

  • Elizabeth

    I’m a big enough fan of Holland America that I’m taking the time to point out something you should do better: keep this blog up to date! There are references on this page to book cruises that left in September and October — but today is NOVEMBER 4th.

  • Julie

    Elizabeth, thank you for taking the time to comment. The posts are written “in the moment” and if there’s a special deal going on at a certain time or if we point out a specific cruise, it is impossible to go back into the posts and update them. We’d be updating practically every post because we like to feature specific itineraries – that in time are no longer offered. But we do offer Panama Cruises every year, so it’s our hope that the reader will enjoy the post, decide to go on a Panama Canal cruise and go to the HAL website and look at the Panama Canal cruises and not focus on the exact date. Hope that makes sense! Thanks for reading!

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