Often dubbed the "Eighth Wonder Of The World" and selected as one of the "Seven Wonders Of The Modern World," the Panama Canal is a 48-mile long waterway across the Isthmus of Panama linking the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Completed in 1914 by the United States (the U.S. kept control of it and the Panama Canal Zone until 2000), the creation of the canal saved ships going from the Atlantic to the Pacific some 8,000 miles as well as the treacherous journey to traverse the often-rough waters of the Drake Passage and Cape Horn.
With wait times, it generally takes approximately eight to 10 hours to cross the Panama Canal, through its three sets of locks. Most cruise ships feature a daytime crossing of the canal so passengers can enjoy the experience during the day --not to mention the opportunity to watch the sunrise over one ocean and the sunset over another! Some cruises offer a partial transit of the canal roundtrip from Florida ports --these sailings are shorter, give a taste of the canal, and eliminate the need for flying home on the return (with subsequent air ticket savings). Narration explaining the history of the canal and the workings of its locks is typically presented over loudspeakers out on deck.
Since many modern ships, called "Post-Panamax" or "Super-Panamax" are too large to fit through the canal (the Panamax class of ships was built to the dimensions that would fit through the waterway), an expansion project is underway that will allow today's superliners to cross. The expansion is expected to be completed in 2014, the centennial anniversary of the Panama Canal's opening.
If you would like to experience the Panama Canal this spring, here are several sailings to consider arranged alphabetically by cruise line. Listed are sailings offering full transits of the Panama Canal to or from Florida ports; and partial transits roundtrip from Florida ports. Fares (per person, double occupancy) are the ones we found on cruise line websites and are subject to change and terms and conditions may apply. Always ask if there are any specials available when you wish to sail such as onboard credits, two-for-one fares and free airfare. Check the individual cruise lines websites for additional information.
-- Celebrity Cruises -- The Celebrity Infinity makes a complete transit of the Panama Canal departing from Fort Lauderdale on March 27 (other departure dates also listed). The 15-night voyage calls at Cartagena, Colombia; Colon, Panama; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; and ends in San Diego. Fares start at $1,899 in an inside cabin. Visit www.celebritycruises.com.
-- Holland America Line -- The Statendam offers a 14-day Winter Spring Panama Canal voyage from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego on March 2 (other departures are available). In addition to the transit of the Panama Canal, highlights include stops at Oranjestad, Aruba; Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica; and Huatulco, Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. Fares start at $1,299 for an interior stateroom. Visit www.hollandamerica.com.
-- Oceania Cruises -- The Regatta sails on a full transit of the Panama Canal from San Francisco to Miami on May 24. The 18-day voyage calls at Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Acapulco, Huatulco and Puerto Chiapas, Mexico; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; Cartagena, Colombia; Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands and Key West. Fares start at $3,499. Visit www.oceaniacruises.com.
-- Princess Cruises -- The Island Princess features a 10-day partial transit of the Panama Canal voyage on March 8 (other departures are also listed) roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale. Ports of call include Cartagena, Colombia; Colon, Panama; Limon, Costa Rica; and Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. Fares start at $1,299 for an interior stateroom. Or for those who prefer a full transit of the Panama Canal, the Coral Princess offers one from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles on March 27 (other departures available). Stops during the 14-day voyage are made in Aruba; Cartagena, Colombia; Fuerte Amador, Panama (for Panama City); and Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Fares start at $1,399 for an inside cabin.Visit www.princess.com.
-- Regent Seven Seas Cruises -- The Seven Seas Navigator sets sail on a Trans-Canal voyage from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco on April 14. Along the way, the ship stops at Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; Cartagena, Colombia; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; Puerto Chiapas, Huatulco, Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and San Diego. Visit www.rssc.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun