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What Cruise Ships Go To Panama Canal


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Clarie Johnsen



Welcome to the fascinating world of Panama Canal cruises. Embarking on a cruise through the Panama Canal offers a unique and awe-inspiring experience that combines the beauty of the Caribbean Sea with the engineering marvel of the canal itself. Whether you’re a history lover, a nature enthusiast, or simply seeking an unforgettable vacation, cruising the Panama Canal is sure to exceed your expectations.


The Panama Canal is a man-made waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, spanning the country of Panama. It was constructed in the early 20th century and remains one of the greatest engineering achievements in history. Cruising through the canal allows you to witness firsthand the intricate lock systems and marvel at the magnitude of the locks as they raise and lower ships to different sea levels.


Not only is the Panama Canal an important feat of human ingenuity, but it is also surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. As you sail through the canal, you’ll encounter lush rainforests, exotic wildlife, and stunning views of the surrounding landscapes. From the vibrant city of Panama City to the tranquil islands of the Caribbean, a Panama Canal cruise offers a diverse range of destinations and experiences.


Whether you’re a seasoned cruiser or embarking on your first voyage, there are plenty of cruise ships that offer trips through the Panama Canal. From luxurious mega-ships to smaller, more intimate vessels, there are options to suit every budget and preference. Your journey can range from a short transit through the canal to a longer itinerary that explores multiple ports along the way.


In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the history and importance of the Panama Canal, explore the popular cruise lines that include the canal in their itineraries, highlight the must-see sights along the route, and provide tips to make your Panama Canal cruise a memorable experience. So, get ready to set sail on an unforgettable adventure through one of the world’s most remarkable engineering marvels.


History of the Panama Canal

The history of the Panama Canal dates back to the 16th century when Spanish explorers recognized the potential for a canal across the narrow isthmus of Panama. However, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that serious efforts were made to construct a canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.


The idea of a canal gained significant traction after the successful completion of the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1869. The benefits of having a shortcut for ships sailing between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans were clear – it would greatly reduce travel times and eliminate the need for ships to navigate the treacherous Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America.


In 1880, the French began the construction of the canal under the leadership of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the man behind the Suez Canal. However, the project faced numerous challenges, including daunting terrain, disease outbreaks, and financial difficulties. After years of struggle and the loss of thousands of lives, the French abandoned the project in 1889.


It wasn’t until 1903 that the United States took over the responsibility of building the canal, following Panama’s separation from Colombia with the help of the U.S. government. Under the leadership of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, the construction of the Panama Canal began in earnest.


The U.S. faced many of the same challenges as the French, but with improved engineering techniques, better medical knowledge, and increased funding, they were able to overcome these obstacles. One of the most significant engineering feats was the creation of a system of locks that could lift ships from sea level to the elevation of Gatun Lake, which would serve as the main body of water for the canal.


The construction of the canal was a massive undertaking that involved digging a channel through mountains, creating an artificial lake, and building a series of locks. It required the labor of thousands of workers from around the world, including many from the Caribbean islands and Europe.


Finally, on August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal was officially opened, revolutionizing global trade and maritime transportation. The completion of the canal not only provided a vital shortcut for ships but also had a profound impact on the economies of the countries that surrounded it.


Since its opening, the Panama Canal has played a crucial role in facilitating international trade and fostering global connectivity. Over the years, it has undergone several expansions and upgrades to accommodate larger vessels and increased traffic. Today, it remains one of the most impressive engineering achievements in history and a testament to human innovation and determination.


Importance of the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal holds immense significance in the world of international trade and transportation. Its strategic location at the crossroads of the Americas has made it a vital conduit for maritime commerce, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The canal’s importance can be seen in several key aspects:

1. Shortcut for Global Trade: The Panama Canal provides a crucial shortcut for ships traveling between the east and west coasts of North and South America. Instead of navigating the treacherous Cape Horn or undertaking the lengthy journey around South America, vessels can transit through the canal, saving time, fuel, and resources. This significantly impacts global trade, reducing shipping costs and delivery times for goods traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific regions. 2. Trade Routes Optimization: The canal’s existence has reshaped global trade routes, allowing for the development of more efficient shipping lines. It has facilitated the rise of containerization and the expansion of international trade, enabling goods to be transported faster and more competitively across different markets. The canal’s importance is particularly evident in the implementation of “just-in-time” delivery strategies, minimizing inventory costs and increasing economic competitiveness. 3. Economic Impact: The Panama Canal has had a profound effect on the economies of countries worldwide. It has boosted Panama’s economic growth, generating revenue through tolls, jobs, and related industries. The canal has also stimulated economic activity in neighboring countries, such as Costa Rica, Colombia, and Ecuador, by providing a route for their exports to access global markets more efficiently. Additionally, it has created employment opportunities and spurred infrastructure development along the canal’s route. 4. Strategic Military Importance: The canal has played a significant role in military strategy over the years. It provides a crucial maritime passage for military vessels, allowing for rapid deployment and movement of naval fleets between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The control and protection of the canal have been a strategic objective for many countries, highlighting its geopolitical relevance. 5. Tourism and Cultural Exchange: The Panama Canal serves as a major tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the world who are captivated by its engineering marvel. Cruise ships, in particular, offer travelers the opportunity to witness the canal’s operation firsthand, explore the surrounding natural beauty, and engage with the cultural heritage of Panama and the nations along the canal’s route. Tourism related to the canal provides a significant economic boost to the region, supporting local businesses, hotels, and tour operators. In summary, the Panama Canal has transformed global trade by providing a crucial link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Its significance extends beyond commerce, impacting economies, military operations, and tourism. The canal’s ability to expedite maritime transportation and optimize trade routes has had far-reaching effects, demonstrating its enduring importance in the modern world.


Cruise Ships that Visit the Panama Canal

A variety of cruise ships offer itineraries that include a transit through the Panama Canal. Whether you prefer a large, luxurious mega-ship or a smaller, more intimate vessel, there are options to suit every style and budget. Let’s explore some of the popular cruise lines that offer Panama Canal voyages:

1. Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Line is known for its Freestyle Cruising, offering flexibility and a laid-back atmosphere. Their Panama Canal itineraries feature stops at ports like Cartagena, Puerto Limon, and Puntarenas, allowing passengers to explore the rich history and natural beauty of the region. 2. Royal Caribbean International: Royal Caribbean offers a range of Panama Canal cruises on their innovative ships. Passengers can enjoy amenities like rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks, and Broadway-style entertainment while sailing through the canal. The line also includes stops at popular destinations such as Aruba, Curacao, and Grand Cayman. 3. Holland America Line: Holland America Line offers an array of Panama Canal cruises on their elegant mid-sized ships. These itineraries often include stops in Central American countries such as Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Belize, providing opportunities to explore vibrant cultures and lush tropical landscapes. 4. Princess Cruises: Princess Cruises is renowned for its immersive travel experiences. Their Panama Canal voyages feature full transits of the canal, providing passengers with a front-row seat to witness the mesmerizing lock operations. The line offers a variety of onboard activities and shore excursions to enhance the overall experience. 5. Carnival Cruise Line: Carnival Cruise Line offers a mix of shorter partial canal transits and longer voyages that pass through the entire canal. With their fun-filled atmosphere, these cruises appeal to families and active travelers. Carnival also includes stops at scenic ports like Cozumel, Grand Turk, and Half Moon Cay. 6. Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Cruises offers luxurious journeys through the Panama Canal with a focus on premium service and upscale amenities. Passengers can enjoy gourmet dining, spacious accommodations, and enriching activities while exploring the wonders of the canal and adjacent destinations. These are just a few cruise lines that offer Panama Canal itineraries, but there are many others to choose from. It’s important to research different cruise lines and their specific offerings to find the one that best suits your preferences and travel style. Whether you are seeking relaxation, adventure, or cultural immersion, there is a cruise ship that will take you on an unforgettable journey through the iconic Panama Canal.


Popular Cruise Lines that Include the Panama Canal in their Itineraries

The Panama Canal is a bucket-list destination for many travelers, and several cruise lines offer itineraries that include transit through this engineering marvel. Here are some of the popular cruise lines that provide memorable journeys through the Panama Canal:

1. Princess Cruises: Known for its immersive experiences, Princess Cruises offers a variety of Panama Canal itineraries. Their ships provide panoramic views from specially designed viewing areas as they traverse through the locks. Princess Cruises also offers a range of shore excursions that allow passengers to explore the cultural and natural wonders of the countries surrounding the canal. 2. Holland America Line: Holland America Line combines elegance and enrichment with their Panama Canal cruises. Onboard naturalists provide insightful commentary about the canal’s history and ecology. Passengers can also enjoy culinary experiences that feature local flavors and participate in educational presentations on the canal’s construction. 3. Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Line offers a diverse selection of Panama Canal itineraries, providing passengers with flexibility and freedom. Their ships feature a wide range of activities, from exhilarating water slides to award-winning entertainment. In addition to transiting the canal, Norwegian Cruise Line includes stops at picturesque ports along the way. 4. Royal Caribbean International: Royal Caribbean International offers unforgettable Panama Canal cruises aboard their innovative ships. Passengers can enjoy amenities like rock climbing walls and ice skating rinks as they transit through the canal. The line’s itineraries often include visits to exotic ports such as Aruba, Curacao, and Costa Rica. 5. Carnival Cruise Line: With their fun-filled atmosphere, Carnival Cruise Line appeals to families and active travelers. Carnival offers a variety of Panama Canal itineraries, ranging from shorter partial transits to full transits. Passengers can indulge in exciting onboard activities and enjoy ports of call that include tropical destinations. 6. Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Cruises prides itself on providing a luxurious experience for passengers cruising through the Panama Canal. Their ships offer upscale amenities, gourmet dining options, and enrichment programs. Guests can relax in stylish accommodations and participate in immersive shore excursions at various ports of call. 7. MSC Cruises: MSC Cruises offers a range of Panama Canal itineraries, providing passengers with the opportunity to explore this famous waterway. Onboard MSC ships, guests can savor international cuisine, relax in elegant lounges, and enjoy world-class entertainment. The line’s itineraries often include visits to vibrant cities and tropical destinations. When selecting a cruise line for your Panama Canal adventure, consider factors such as the duration of the cruise, the onboard amenities, the types of shore excursions offered, and the overall vibe of the cruise line. Each cruise line brings its unique style and offerings to ensure an unforgettable journey through this iconic waterway.


Ports of Call in Panama

When cruising the Panama Canal, you’ll have the opportunity to visit several vibrant ports along the way. These ports offer a diverse range of experiences, from exploring colonial architecture to discovering pristine beaches and immersing yourself in the local culture. Here are some popular ports of call in Panama:

1. Panama City: As the capital of Panama, Panama City is a bustling metropolis that seamlessly blends modern skyscrapers with colonial architecture. Take a stroll through the historic Casco Viejo neighborhood, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to admire charming streets lined with colorful buildings. Explore the Panama Canal Museum, which provides fascinating insights into the canal’s construction and history. Don’t miss the chance to experience the vibrant food scene and indulge in local delicacies. 2. Colon: Located at the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal, Colon offers an array of attractions for visitors. Explore the Gatun Locks and witness ships passing through the canal up close. Visit the Fort San Lorenzo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which provides panoramic views of the entrance to the canal and the surrounding rainforest. Shop for souvenirs and immerse yourself in the local culture at the Colon 2000 Cruise Terminal. 3. Bocas del Toro: Situated on an archipelago on Panama’s Caribbean coast, Bocas del Toro is renowned for its stunning beaches and untouched natural beauty. Swim in crystal-clear waters, snorkel around colorful reefs, or take a boat tour to explore the surrounding islands. Visit the quaint town of Bocas Town and indulge in fresh seafood at waterfront restaurants. Bocas del Toro offers a perfect mix of relaxation and adventure. 4. Puerto Limon: Located on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, Puerto Limon is a popular port of call on Panama Canal itineraries. Discover the country’s rich biodiversity by exploring the Tortuguero National Park or taking a boat tour through the lush canals and rainforests. Visit the Veragua Rainforest Research & Adventure Park to learn about Costa Rica’s diverse ecosystems. Puerto Limon is also known for its vibrant Caribbean cultural heritage, which can be experienced through local cuisine and music. 5. San Blas Islands: The San Blas Islands, an archipelago of over 350 islands, are an idyllic tropical paradise off Panama’s Caribbean coast. Known for their white sand beaches, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant coral reefs, the San Blas Islands offer a perfect escape for beach lovers and snorkel enthusiasts. Interact with the indigenous Guna people, who inhabit the islands and have preserved their traditional lifestyle and customs. These are just a few of the ports of call you may encounter during a Panama Canal cruise. Each port offers its unique attractions, cultural experiences, and natural beauty, making your journey through the Panama Canal a truly enriching adventure. Make sure to plan your excursions well in advance to make the most of your time at each destination.


Must-See Sights along the Panama Canal Route

As you embark on a cruise through the Panama Canal, you will be treated to breathtaking sights and memorable experiences along the route. From engineering marvels to natural wonders, here are some must-see sights that should not be missed:

1. Miraflores Locks: Located just outside of Panama City, the Miraflores Locks is one of the most iconic spots along the canal. Observe the massive ships as they are raised and lowered through the locks, experiencing firsthand the impressive engineering behind the canal. Visit the Miraflores Visitors Center, which offers informative exhibits and observation decks for an up-close view of the locking process. 2. Gatun Lake: As one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, Gatun Lake is a spectacular sight along the canal route. Cruise through this expansive body of water, surrounded by lush rainforests. Keep an eye out for wildlife, including monkeys, toucans, and caimans, thriving in their natural habitat. 3. Fort San Lorenzo: Located at the mouth of the Chagres River, Fort San Lorenzo is a UNESCO World Heritage site that offers a glimpse into Panama’s colonial history. Explore the well-preserved ruins of this 17th-century fortress, which played a vital role in protecting the country’s valuable trade route. Enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding jungle and the Caribbean Sea from the fort’s strategic vantage point. 4. Culebra Cut: Witness the impressive excavation of the Culebra Cut, also known as the Gaillard Cut. This narrow, rocky section along the canal required the removal of over 100 million cubic meters of material during its construction. Sail through this scenic passage and marvel at the engineering triumph of transforming rugged terrain into a navigable waterway. 5. Panama Canal Railway: For a unique perspective of the canal, consider taking a ride on the historic Panama Canal Railway. This railway, which runs parallel to the canal, offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside and allows you to witness the movement of ships through the locks. Enjoy the comfort of the luxurious railway cars as you journey between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. 6. San Blas Islands: Explore the idyllic San Blas Islands, an archipelago of over 350 islands off Panama’s Caribbean coast. With their white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and vibrant coral reefs, these islands offer a paradise-like setting. Immerse yourself in the indigenous Guna culture and interact with the friendly locals who have preserved their traditional way of life. 7. Gamboa Rainforest: Venture into the Gamboa Rainforest, a rich ecosystem located within Soberania National Park. Explore the lush jungle on a guided tour, discovering diverse flora and fauna, including monkeys, sloths, and exotic bird species. Take a boat ride on the Chagres River to experience the untouched beauty of the rainforest. These must-see sights along the Panama Canal route exemplify the incredible wonders that await you during your cruise. From the engineering achievements of the locks and the Gatun Lake ecosystem to the historical sites and natural beauty, each stop offers a unique experience that adds depth and excitement to your journey through this remarkable waterway.


Tips for Cruising the Panama Canal

Cruising through the Panama Canal is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that requires a little bit of planning to make the most of your journey. Here are some tips to help you have a smooth and enjoyable Panama Canal cruise:

1. Choose the Right Time of Year: The Panama Canal can be cruised year-round, but the dry season from December to April offers the best weather with minimal rainfall. However, keep in mind that this is also the peak tourist season, so be prepared for larger crowds at popular attractions. 2. Research Your Itinerary: Take the time to research the ports of call and excursions available along the Panama Canal route. This will help you prioritize which sights and activities you want to experience. Familiarize yourself with the attractions, culture, and history of each destination to make the most of your time ashore. 3. Pack Accordingly: Be sure to pack clothing suitable for warm and humid climates. Light, breathable fabrics, sunscreen, hats, and insect repellent are essential. Also, bring a swimsuit for enjoying the pool or beaches at your ports of call. 4. Keep Your Camera Ready: The Panama Canal offers countless photo opportunities, so make sure to have your camera or smartphone readily accessible. From the mesmerizing lock operations to the stunning landscapes, you won’t want to miss capturing these unforgettable moments. 5. Attend Educational Lectures: Many cruise lines offer educational lectures and enrichment programs related to the Panama Canal. Take advantage of these sessions to learn more about the history, engineering, and environmental significance of the canal. It will enhance your understanding and appreciation of the experience. 6. Arrive Early for Deck Viewing: When your ship begins to approach the locks, head to an open deck early to secure a prime viewing spot. This will give you an unobstructed view as the ship enters and passes through the locks, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the incredible spectacle. 7. Explore Local Cuisine: While onboard, make sure to try dishes inspired by the local cuisine of Panama and the countries you’ll visit. When in port, venture beyond the tourist areas to sample authentic local dishes that showcase the flavors and culinary traditions of the region. 8. Stay Hydrated: The tropical climate in Panama can be hot and humid. It’s essential to stay hydrated throughout your journey. Carry a refillable water bottle and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and maintain your energy levels. 9. Stay Flexible: Itineraries can be subject to changes due to weather conditions or other unforeseen circumstances. Keep an open mind and be flexible if any adjustments occur. Embrace the opportunity to explore alternative ports or participate in onboard activities during unexpected schedule changes. 10. Enjoy the Experience: Finally, relax and savor every moment of your Panama Canal cruise. Take the time to enjoy the stunning views, the fascinating history, and the warm hospitality of the destinations you visit. Embrace the uniqueness of this incredible journey and create memories that will last a lifetime. By following these tips, you can ensure that your Panama Canal cruise is a truly memorable and rewarding experience. Prepare in advance, stay flexible, and embrace the awe-inspiring wonders of this remarkable waterway.



Cruising through the Panama Canal is a remarkable journey that offers a blend of natural beauty, engineering marvels, cultural experiences, and unforgettable moments. From witnessing ships pass through the locks to exploring captivating ports of call, a Panama Canal cruise is an adventure filled with excitement and discovery.


The history and importance of the Panama Canal, along with the allure of the destinations along its route, make this a bucket-list experience for many travelers. Whether you choose a cruise on a large, luxurious ship or opt for a more intimate vessel, there are options to suit a range of preferences and budgets.


During your cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to visit vibrant cities, pristine islands, and historical sites that showcase the rich cultural heritage and natural wonders of the region. From the bustling streets of Panama City to the tranquil beaches of the San Blas Islands, each destination offers its unique charm and attractions.


As you sail through the canal, make sure to take advantage of the educational programs and lectures offered onboard to deepen your understanding of the engineering feats and environmental significance of this incredible waterway. And don’t forget to have your camera ready to capture those breathtaking moments as you navigate through the locks and witness the panoramic views of Gatun Lake.


Remember to plan your itinerary in advance, stay flexible, and make the most of your time ashore. Try local cuisine, engage with the local culture, and immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of each destination. And above all, relax, unwind, and savor every moment of this extraordinary adventure through the Panama Canal.


No matter which cruise line you choose or which ports of call you visit, a Panama Canal cruise promises to be an experience of a lifetime. Prepare to be amazed by the engineering marvels, captivated by the natural beauty, and enriched by the cultural heritage along this remarkable waterway. So, get ready to set sail and embark on a journey of exploration, discovery, and wonder through the unforgettable Panama Canal.