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Bucket List Travel: Cruising through the Panama Canal

“A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.” Every schoolchild in the US learns about the Panama Canal, that marvel of modern engineering that allows ships to shortcut between Central and South America rather than take the long way around. And thousands of visitors come each year to see the famed locks in action; some even choose to get an up close view of the locks as they cruise through on a boat.

If you’re thinking about booking a cruise through the Panama Canal, there are a few things to consider. The first is whether or not you actually want to transit through the 50-mile canal. It takes about 12 hours to go through the three sets of locks, and while some might be captivated by the process, others might find a full day of crossing a little too relaxed. Some cruise ships are now offering a partial crossing, which stops after one set of locks and allows passengers to get off the boat for a day of shore excursions that they would otherwise miss.

The next consideration is how long you want to cruise and where you want to go. The most popular Panama Canal route starts in Florida or the Caribbean and lasts anywhere from 9-14 days, with several “at sea” days. But some smaller ships offer shorter cruises that go through the Canal and then make stops in Panama, Colombia or Costa Rica. Small-ship cruising is an entirely different experience from setting sail on a large ship, so check out all the options and weight the pros and cons before you decide what size ship is right for you.

The final consideration when planning a Canal cruise is flights. Since many Panama Canal cruises start and end in different spots, you’ll need to investigate open-jaw options when booking your cheap flights to Panama, or book each leg as a one way. A cruise through the Panama Canal makes an appearance on many a travel “bucket list,” and planning a trip though the landmark is easier than you might think.

Photo by Corvair Owner