The Panama Canal is a technological wonder that is vital to modern commerce and shipping. The route that cuts through the isthmus of Panama has been open for more than 100 years, and its history is fascinating. People with an interest in history, engineering and travel in general all have good reason to seek out cruises that transit the Panama Canal.
I have done this on a large cruise ship and a small expedition ship. My verdict is that it's an overwhelmingly more pleasing experience to cross the Panama Canal on a small ship. My cruise on Celebrity Infinity (2,100 passengers, 950 feet long) was enjoyable enough, with a lot of entertainment options and an overall nice program for the canal. The large ship offered a good perspective from its high decks as we transited the locks and Gatun Lake, and we also enjoyed time viewing from our balcony.
But the limitations of cruising the Panama Canal on a large ship become apparent after my recent crossing with UnCruise Adventures on Safari Voyager. During this voyage, I discovered six reasons you should cruise the Panama Canal on an expedition ship.
On an expedition ship, this is no problem. There are plenty of good spots for pictures for everyone, and people can move more easily from area to area, unhindered by crowds.
On large ships, you pretty much have to choose your perspective for the whole process. If you want to go from aft to bow, for example, it can take a long time to walk from end to end to reach a new position.
Expedition ships generally have an open-bridge policy, and the captains will welcome you in to see how they navigate. They love to chat with passengers and answer questions, and many have a big bowl of candies to offer as an incentive to come visit. They get lonely up there and love the company.
Time Lapse -- I was able to affix my GoPro camera to a rail just in front of the bridge to document the crossing as a time-lapse (see video at bottom of this post). This is a fun way to save a memory from your Panama Canal crossing, and it's easy to find an unobstructed area on a small cruise ship to place your camera with good views of the journey. This is not as easy to pull off in any good way on a large ship.
A Panama Canal cruise is something to try at least once. You'll have fun on any type of ship, but for me, I really love that expedition ship experience. Have you done a transit? What type of ship were you on and what did you like about it?
Let us know in the comments below.