The Panama Canal is one of the seven wonders of the modern world.  Largely unchanged since completion in 1914.  Today, 100 years later, the Panama Canal continues to be not only a viable commercial venture, but also a vital link in world shipping.

After successfully completing construction of the Suez Canal in 1869, France, in 1881, made an initial attempt to build a sea level canal across the 48 mile wide Panama Isthmus, the narrow strip of land that connects North and South America.  By 1889, after years of difficulty in excavating and loss of lives due to the conditions, the project failed.

Until 1903, Panama had formerly been a part of Columbia.  With President Theodore Rosevelts support, Panamanian rebels revolted and declared Panama an independent country.  The United States stepped in and negotiated the purchased of the French canal property and formed the Canal Zone, a US territory, now a part of Panama.  Construction resumed on the canal in 1904 and the project was completed in late 1913 and officially opened in 1914 with the first ship to traverse the canal on January 7, 1914.

The New Canal
As modern ships have increased in size and capacity, many are just too large to be capable of going through the existing locks and channels.  To accommodate these larger container, oil tanker, and cruise ships; expansion of the Panama Canal was started in 2007 with an original completion date of 2014, the Centennial year of the canal.  With many delays, it now appears as if the new portion of the canal will not open until January of 2016.

The Panama Canal expansion is intended to double the current capacity.  Once completed, the new canal will reduce by approximately 8000 miles, the distance the larger ships now have to travel around the tip of South America, Cape Horn.  A tremendous savings in both time and fuel costs.

What is involved in this expansion project:
*  2 new locks, one each at the Atlantic and Pacific sides.  Both locks will be composed of 3 chambers with water saving technology
*  New channels leading up to the locks
*  Widen and deepen existing channels including Gatun Lake
*  Raise the operating level of Gatun Lake, source of the gravity fed lock systems

Cruising the Panama Canal
During the past few decades, the Panama Canal has become a terrific cruise destination, offering an unforgettable trip through one of the world’s engineering marvels and a sojourn through the lush landscapes of Central America.

The 50-mile, nine-hour trip through the canal takes you between the Atlantic and Pacific with the help of three massive locks: Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores.  Because the trip takes a full day, passengers are usually not able to disembark for shore excursions, but the complexity of the canal’s engineering and the beauty of its surroundings are more than enough to hold your interest.  This type of complete trip through the canal is called a “full transit” cruise.

The Panama Canal cruise season begins in October and runs through April.  There is plenty of variety in cruise itineraries, which range from seven to 21 nights or more.  The classic Panama Canal cruise goes from Florida and to California (or the reverse), with stops in some combination of ports in the Western Caribbean, Central America and the Mexican Riviera.

Another option for seeing the canal is a “partial transit” cruise.  On these cruises, your ship will not go all the way through the canal.  Instead, it will enter the canal and pass through one or two locks.  Passengers can then disembark for shore excursions, such as a trip further into the canal on a smaller boat; a visit to a nearby rainforest or a native Embera Indian village; or a ride on the scenic Panama Railway that runs parallel to the canal.  When you rejoin your ship, it will exit the canal the same way it came in.

Until next time,
Bon Voyage

For more information, tips and ideas talk with me,
Ole Nordhavn, Cruise Holidays, “your personal cruise expert.”
email: onordhavn@cruiseholidays.com
Visit my website: http://www.cruisewithole.com for an almost endless amount of general cruise information.
Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/cruisewithole
Facebook “CruiseWithOle”:  http://facebook.com/CruiseWithOle