Escape to the Panama Canal

Jun 13, 2023 Avatar Nanci Goussak Nanci Goussak

While I have been fortunate to have taken a number of cruises in different parts of the world, the cruise I recently took in December through the Panama Canal can only be described as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It has always been a dream of mine to see the engineering marvel at the Panama Canal, and my 10-day Princess Cruise was superb from start to finish, fulfilling every fantasy I might have had into a reality of unforgettable memories.

Once arriving in Fort Lauderdale, the Princess check-in process did not take long at all as it was extremely user-friendly. As I embarked on the MS Caribbean Princess, a modified grand-class cruise ship, I was thrilled and excited to begin my journey of adventure to the ports of Cartagena, Colombia; Panama (Panama Canal); Limon, Costa Rica; Falmouth, Jamaica; and Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands).

Upon settling into my mini-suite, well worth the upgrade by the way, I found it very spacious and comfortable with a full-size tub bathroom, a balcony, additional seating with a sofa, and two big-screen televisions. Since the Caribbean Princess is an older ship, built in 2004 and refurbished in April 2017, the ambiance was quite nice with classic touches of brass and wood. It was such a nice feeling to unpack only once over the next ten days, and I looked forward to luxuriating in my relaxing retreat when needed.

I spent the first day at sea exploring the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of my 10-day, 951-foot long, 15-passenger deck, home base. Roaming here, there, and everywhere, I felt transported to a unique and exciting environment. Since it was December, the ship was fabulously wrapped in Christmas decor. The European-style Piazza was particularly beautiful and truly breathtaking with vibrant colors and activities–street performers, quaint shops, and a spectacular spiral staircase.

As I strolled through the ship, I got a bit hungry and checked out the included dining options available. To my delight, I found a wide range of culinary treats, from scrumptious looking, endless buffets to gourmet pizzas, 24-hour cafes, refreshing frosty treats, and decadent desserts, to name a few. Specialty dining experiences are also available, and the relatively small cover charge is well worth the money. My personal favorite was a luscious chocolate dessert from Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria. Whether I was enjoying casual eats or a specialty meal, I found the cuisine onboard outstanding.

I eventually made my way back to my pleasantly appointed mini-suite to relax and prepare for the ports of call on the itinerary, reading and researching each so that I would be ready to take it all in.

Our first port of call, Cartagena, is one of the major ports on the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean Coast Region. This historic city played an important role as a link in the route to the West Indies as well as setting the stage for world exploration and preservation of commercial maritime routes. Cartagena is the third busiest port of transportation for grain. We stopped here briefly, and it was amazing to see the hustle and bustle of this area. It is Colombia’s most popular city for tourists noted for its colonial buildings, sandy beaches, and mouth-watering cuisine.

Finally, our ship arrived at Limon Bay, and we were ready to go through the Panama Canal. I learned a lot about this historic man-made marvel. The Panama Canal is a lock-type canal that connects the Atlantic (more specifically the Caribbean Sea) and Pacific Oceans through the Isthmus of Panama. From shoreline to shoreline, it is about 40 miles, and from deep water in the Atlantic to deep water in the Pacific about 50 miles. Built by the U.S. between 1903 and 1914, it is one of the most strategic artificial waterways in the world (the other being the Suez Canal). Prior to this canal, ships travelling between the east and west coasts of the U.S. had to sail round Cape Horn in South America. The Panama Canal shortened their voyage by about 8,000 nautical miles.

Simply put, vessels enter the approach channel in Limon Bay and proceed to the Gatun Locks where a series of three locks lifts vessels 85 feet to Gatun Lake. The channel through the lake varies from 46 to 85 feet in depth. Eventually, the locks lower vessels 30 feet to Miraflores Lake, at an elevation of 52 feet above sea level. Vessels then pass through a channel to the two-stepped locks at Miraflores, where they are lowered to sea level. After passing through a seven-mile long dredged approach, the ships pass into the Pacific Ocean.

From start to finish, it takes between eight to ten hours to traverse the Panama Canal. As our ship went through this complicated process, I was in awe thinking about the engineers and workers who spent about 11 years building it through their ingenuity, zeal, and determination over 120 years ago. This is an unforgettable experience I will always treasure as I cross it off my “bucket list.”

Costa Rica is one of my all-time favorite places to have visited because of all the biodiverse areas of the country. There is so much to see and do, especially for active people, and the beauty of the country is breathtaking. Located in Central America, connecting North and South America, it is one of the most visited international destinations. For a small county, it proudly shelters five percent of the existing biodiversity in the entire world because of its many different microclimates. Twenty-six percent of Costa Rica is composed of conservation and natural protected territory.

Any time of the year is a great time to visit Costa Rica. Its landscape is one of great variety–from volcanoes to jungles, beaches to quaint towns–no matter the season, there is a good reason to see and experience this unique country.

When not visiting ports of call, there were so many onboard activities to partake in, both day and night. For those who like physical activity, you can dribble a basketball or bump, set, spike a volleyball, or do a workout in the beautiful gym. Swimming in freshwater pools or relaxing in hot tubs proved to be a popular pastime for many passengers. Improve your golf putting skills on the green surrounded by a blue ocean or check out a golf simulator so you can play and practice like a pro. If you want more tranquility, try stargazing on the top deck at night, or sipping afternoon tea in an elegant setting. I am sure you will find something that suits your interest or mood.

The onboard entertainment was fantastic! Princess has large, Broadway-style shows in the theater with dancing, singing, and beautiful sets and costumes. They bring in top comedians and entertainers. At night, one can enjoy movies under the stars shown on a big screen by the pool area.

I am so glad I took this 10-day Princess Cruise. From beginning to end, it surpassed all my expectations. I found the crew and service top notch, the cuisine exceptional, and the range of amenities, activities, and entertainment first class.

I highly recommend the MS Caribbean Princess. It is great for multigenerational family travel because of all the special programs offered for children and teens, as well as those of the young at heart. The entertainment and activities appeal to a wide range of ages and interests. The ambiance was very calm and peaceful with a very relaxing itinerary. Everyone should put the Panama Canal on their bucket list and this 10-day cruise in particular.

Contact me to book your Central and South America cruise.