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Best companies for Panama Canal cruises

Sail in for the canal and stay for the lush rainforests, tropical sunshine and ancient culture.

Updated

View from above of the panama canal

Stand face-to-face with the one and only Panama Canal as you pass through the intricate locks on an enlightening journey only a select few experience.

The voyage between two mighty oceans encompasses an engineering marvel, Spanish colonial architecture and verdant rainforests and a cruise is one of the only ways you can experience it all.

Best cruises to the Panama Canal

Whether you want to experience the canal in all its glory, uncover the history of the cities along the canal or explore the nature and wildlife of the rainforests, there’s a cruise company that’s got what you’re looking for.

Best for mega-ship fun: Norwegian

Much larger than any other ships sailing through the canal, Norwegian’s 20-deck-high vessels are packed with everything you could possibly need at sea. Think dozens of restaurants and bars, big Broadway shows, go-kart racing on a double-decker track, large casinos, giant water slides, multiple pools, laser tag courses and comedy clubs.
  • Room service included
  • No free alcohol
  • Food included
  • No price matching
  • Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners, Discover Card
Price ($-$$$):
Book now

Best for cultural immersion: Azamara

Azamara takes immersion to the next level to help you feel like you’re really getting to know a new destination. Find the soul of the region with its culturally rich excursions, culinary demonstrations, destination immersion dinners and unique itineraries to help you see more than a traditional cruise.
  • No free room service
  • No free alcohol
  • Food included
  • No price matching
Price ($-$$$):
Book now

Best for families: Carnival

Kids are catered for from morning to night with a youth program and onboard entertainment like an IMAX theatre, ropes course, water slides, storytime activities, dive-in movie theatre, video arcade, mini-golf and family-friendly evening shows. Meanwhile, the adults can take time off at the casino or the adult-only retreat.
  • No free room service
  • No free alcohol
  • Food included
  • No price matching
  • Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners, Paypal, Carnival EasyPay, Gift Card, Discover Card, Debit, Western Union, Cheque
Price ($-$$$):
Book now

Best for seniors: Holland America

Known for its vast and varied onboard entertainment, shore excursions, classes and seminars, Holland America caters well to those looking for the charm of a classic cruise experience with all the amenities and accessibility features of a modern ship.
  • Room service included
  • No free alcohol
  • Food included
  • No price matching
  • Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover Card
Price ($-$$$):
Book now

Best for first-time cruisers: Royal Caribbean

Cruising newbies should look no further than Royal Caribbean, which offers a great all-round experience for travelers of all ages. You’ll find a variety of cabins to suit couples, families and groups, a casual vibe onboard (you can leave the tux at home), adults-only areas and kids’ clubs, shore excursions for all fitness levels and a large variety of dining options.
  • Room service included
  • No free alcohol
  • Food included
  • Price matches
  • Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners, Discover Card
Price ($-$$$):
Book now

Best for a luxury voyage: Crystal Ocean Cruises

Fine dining, personalized onboard service, spacious staterooms and butler service in every suite are merely the start of this luxury experience. Throw in the 24-hour room service, unlimited Wi-Fi and prepaid gratuities and you’ll feel like a VIP by cruise end.
  • Room service included
  • No free alcohol
  • Food included
  • No price matching
  • Visa, Mastercard, American Express
Price ($-$$$):
Book now

Best for exploring Panama: Princess

Princess’ signature two-day Canal experience allows you much more time than usual to spend on the canal or to see more of Panama. One-way cruises include a full transit through the canal plus an additional day at Fuerte Amador, near Panama City.
  • Room service included
  • No free alcohol
  • Food included
  • No price matching
  • Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners, Discover Card, JCB
Price ($-$$$):

Best for foodies: Celebrity

Locally sourced ingredients, flexible dining options, menus designed by a Michelin-starred chef, culinary tastings and demonstrations and over 500 choices of wine to sample. And that’s just onboard. Chef-led excursions can also take you to visit markets and meet local producers and farmers.
  • Room service included
  • No free alcohol
  • Food included
  • No price matching
  • Visa, Mastercard, American Express
Price ($-$$$):
Book now

How we picked the best cruises.

When choosing cruise lines for our list, we looked at price, ship size, features, activities and itineraries. We factored in our personal experience of Panama and the canal as well as third-party reviews and guides to home in on popular, high-quality cruise lines.

When is the best time to cruise to the Panama Canal?

October to April is peak season for Panama Canal cruising, with the absolute best time to cruise being after the rainy season ends in December.

That doesn’t mean you can’t cruise during the rest of the year, though, and there are definitely some positives to off-season cruising.

  • Best weather. December to March is when you’ll find the sunniest days and little-to-no rain.
  • Off-peak season. The cheapest time to visit falls during the rainy season, from May to November. You’ll also find the rainforest and vegetarian looking lush and green and it’s an ideal time for white-water rafting excursions.
  • Public holidays. These are strictly observed in Panama and while you don’t need to plan around them, make sure you’re prepared for some shops, restaurants and transportation services to be closed.
  • Carnival. You’re unlikely to get much else done but this celebration leading up to Ash Wednesday involves large parades, floats, costumes, music and dancing is a fun way to experience traditional Panamanian culture.

What are the must-do cruise excursions in Panama?

Along with the main event of the Panama Canal, Panama has a lot to offer for those looking to get under the surface of this beautiful country.

  • Panama Canal. This one’s a given and there are multiple ways to experience the canal, including staying on the ship during the actual crossing and taking an excursion to see the inner workings of one of the locks.
  • Panama Canal Railway. This historic railway offers a glimpse into that golden age of train travel complete with wood-paneled cars and a refurbished 1938 dome car with glass roof.
  • Panama City. From the ruins of Old Panama to the cobblestone streets of the Old Town and finally the cosmopolitan city center of the modern Panama City, this excursion allows a unique view of Panama’s long history.
  • Gamboa Rainforest Resort. A low-impact excursion to get a view of the Panamanian rainforest that includes a tram ride 280ft through the dense vegetation to the treetops and canopy.
  • Emberá Indian Village. Journey back in time to visit one of only seven Indigenous groups in Panama. Ride a dugout canoe, keep an eye out for monkeys and jaguars and get to know the friendly Emberá people.
  • Gatun Lake. A major component of the canal, you can take a relaxing boat trip to explore the wildlife, back channels, islands and bays that make up this unique ecosystem.

Bottom line

A visit to the Panama Canal is a rite of passage for any traveler, cruising or otherwise and being able to sail through the canal offers a once-in-a-lifetime perspective. Find out what’s on offer now with these top cruise deals.

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