Transit Through the Panama Canal

You've probably seen video of the ships transiting the Panama Canal. But what’s it like on the canal itself? We had the chance to transit the Panama Canal aboard the Pacific Queen, a day cruise that took us from the community of Gamboa to Panama City. The journey took four hours (although, because traffic on the canal can be unpredictable, the trip can sometimes take as long as six hours.)

The three-decked ship takes vacationers through two sets of locks, the most unique portion of the canal, as well as along the wider lake portion of the canal near Gamboa. A bilingual tour, given in English and Spanish, is given throughout the journey, and tickets include a hot lunch buffet featuring chicken and rice, macaroni, cole slaw, and dessert.

Two decks are air conditioned while the top deck is open air (and most popular). You’ll find the best seats on the top deck at the front of the ship.

During our transit, we traveled through both sets of locks with a freighter ship although we also had the opportunity to see a cruise ship on the canal (not that common of an occurrence since ships can pay close to a quarter million dollars to make the journey!) We also had the chance to cruise beneath the new Centennial Bridge, an architectural beauty, and we saw the Miraflores Visitors Center, a stop we would have liked to have made. The cruise ended with a beautiful view of the Panama City skyline, pulling into the Amador Causeway.

The cruise is not inexpensive—almost $100 per person for the partial transit (once a month, the cruise ship also makes a complete transit from the Caribbean to the Pacific). For travelers with a real maritime interest, the transit is interesting; for other couples, a stop by the visitors center (which includes a deck for canal viewing) might suffice.

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