I love cruising! From my very first cruise in 1982 in Hawaii on the SS Independence to my most recent in April to the Western Caribbean on the Emerald Princess. Every time I step on a ship it is a blast! One of my most amazing bucket list cruises was through the Panama Canal in October 2013 on the Celebrity Millennium with a group of 31. We started from Fort Lauderdale and came westward through the Panama Canal to San Diego, California. We traveled in this direction to pick-up an hour every time there was a time change!
After two days at sea the first port was Cartagena, Columbia, and it was warm even with an overcast sky. Of course, it is near the equator, hence the humidity was high! The next day, we stopped at Colon, Panama, which is on the eastern shore of Panama. Celebrity does this right, as not all cruise lines stop here going westbound. Colon offers you the opportunity to take shore excursions all the way to Panama City, via rail and motor coach, to see glimpses of the Canal before you sail through it the next day. Queuing up for the Panama Canal is an awesome sight, as we left the pier at dark and moved out to a basin full of ships. Our ship made its reservation to go through the Canal almost two years in advance, while freighters have a much shorter lead time due to their irregular schedule. The morning we went through there were 14 ships waiting to be called to que up into the Gutan Locks. The Celebrity Millennium made its way slowly toward the first set of three locks. The Gatun Locks are the largest of the three and you experience going through three chambers and climbing 85 feet to Lake Gatun.
Leaving Lake Gatun you enter the channel which was cut out for ship traffic to go across the country, and it is called Culebra Cut. It was a difficult task over a 100 years ago as the earth was not very stable and the sides kept collapsing into the Canal. Eventually the hill sides were stabilized which you can see this as you pass. Crossing the Isthmus is about 48 miles across and it takes about 6.5 hours by cruise ship. Ahead, you see the Centennial Bridge crossing high above the Canal, which was built in 2003-04 to help auto traffic by-pass Panama City on the Panama-American Highway, which had been using the Bridge of the Americas built in 1962. Shortly after passing the new bridge the second set of locks called the Pedro Miguel Locks are in sight. They actually sit on the eastern side of Miraflores Lake and as you move through the lake you exit through the Miraflores Locks. Both of these locks are just one chamber. Straight ahead lies the Bridge of the Americas at Panama City. Passing underneath this Bridge you then enter the Pacific Ocean and begin the journey up the Western side of Central America, then Mexico. Further stops are made at Puntarenas, Costa Rica; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; and two stops in Mexico, Puerta Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.
Seven out of the 15 days are Sea days and they are nicely placed throughout the cruise. You would think leaving the Canal that would be the exciting end of your journey…..but, not so fast. I took a 50-mile excursion deep into Costa Rica to the city of Sharchi, famous for its hand painted oxcarts. I had lunch in a local place, (it was outstanding), and then toured two churches in the area. I would highly recommend this excursion. At the stop at Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala another great excursion is a visit to the former capital city of Antigua. While there don’t forget to taste the coffee, it is so good! Moving north to Mexico, the first stop is Puerto Vallarta (PV), known for many activities, food, and downtown cobble stone streets. Our last stop was Cabo San Lucas, known for fishing, eating, last time to get warm sun, and oh did I mention eating! One final day at sea before we reach San Diego. Arrival is in the downtown area, next to the USS Midway (#45- Naval Aircraft carrier) and just 10 minutes to their International Airport.
Please reach out to us if you have a group (or family reunion) of at least ten people and we would be happy to assist you in making your bucket list or family reunion cruise a success!