Ah memories, how they seem to flow without any sense of order as time passes.
Panama Canal history - was that junior or senior high? I'm not sure and it doesn't matter, but we did take a course on the Canal's history. It was a canal that was started by the French, abandoned and finished by the Americans with a loss of 27,000 lives to cut an 80kilometre canal through the steamy jungle.
Today, freighters and cruse ships slowly traverse this water highway around the clock, from the Pacific to the Caribbean Sea or the reverse, through a series of locks, each capable of handling two ships at a time.
In 2014, new locks are scheduled to be completed, providing three more locks at each end of the canal. This means wider and longer freighters, warships, and even larger cruise ships will be able to make the canal transit. The mitigating factor for the cruise ships will be the clearance of the canal's Bridge of the Americas at the west end of the waterway.
The prime season for Panama Canal travel is from October to April and consumers have a wide choice of voyages, depending on the number of port stops on the cruise, with departures from Southern California and Southern Florida. During the 10-to 14-hour journey (depending on canal traffic), experienced tour guides will point out the history and the highlights of that journey on the ships' sound systems.
In the spring and fall, those trips are extended as ships from the Atlantic and Pacific are coming and going on their repositioning cruises (discounted one-off cruises, usually in fall and spring) to start and end the Alaska cruise season in Seattle and Vancouver.
The Panama Canal cruises offer a chance to see a truly magnificent engineering feat, offering up more places that you are less likely to see on shorter cruises from Southern Florida and Southern California; for example, East to West ports like Cartagena (Colombia), and CuraÃ§ao and Aruba, part of the Dutch ABC Islands. After transiting the canal westward, you will visit ports in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Southern Mexico and the Mexican Riviera before arriving in Southern California.
Major lines Carnival, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Holland America, Disney and some of the premium and luxury brands have numerous sailings from the east and west coasts.
On March 13, Carnival takes it one step further with a cruise that takes you from New York to Los Angeles over 15 days as the ship positions for a Mexican Riviera itinerary before sailing halfway across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii and finishing in Vancouver.
Princess and Holland America, the two lines at the forefront of Alaska cruising, have the most ships that reposition through the canal before and after the Alaska season, in addition to operating continuous Panama Canal cruises between the coasts during the 2012-13 winter season.
One cruise package that is almost all-inclusive is Holland America's Zuider-dam voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Vancouver. It's a 23-day trip departing from your gateway city April 18. The package includes air, hotel, taxes, fees for both air and cruise, transfers and a few other on-board goodies. Starting price for a balcony is $3,499 out of Vancouver, $3,699 from Calgary and Toronto, and $3,749 from Edmonton, with prices available for other Canadian cities. Cruise Plus is the company packaging the trip and you will find it at cruiseplus.ca or by calling 1-800-854-9664. Some of the ports on the trip include CuraÃ§ao, Aruba, Cartagena, Costa Rica, Victoria and finally, Vancouver.
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