Cruising The Panama Canal On The ssv Radisson Diamond
Being an avid cruiser, I often get asked many
questions regarding specific types of cruises. Readers, like Andrea
Loconto from Massachusetts who's heard positive rumors about Panama
Canal cruises, wonders what they are like. Having just experienced
my first canal cruise aboard the ssv Radisson Diamond, I can
tell you that cruising the Panama Canal is more than just a cruise;
it's a great history tale that unfolds before your eyes.
Stairway to Heaven
Just before sunrise on my
cruise, the Radisson Diamond entered the opening of the Panama
Canal. After plunking down a $44,000 toll to the Canal Authority, a
canal pilot boarded to guide the ship throughout her transit. At
sunrise, the ship slipped into the first Gatun Lock, one of six
locks she would enter during her nine hour-long 50-mile transit. In
three steps at the Atlantic side of the canal, she ascends 85 feet
from sea level to the surface of Gatun Lake.
attached to the ship from powerful 55-ton locomotives (mechanical
"mules") along each side of the locks. Although the mules pull and
restrain the ship, they mainly serve as a guiding force to keep it
from bumping into the sides or gates.
Continental Divide to the Pacific, the Radisson Diamond
descends 31 feet with the Pedro Miguel Lock, and then down two
stages of 54 feet in the Miraflores Locks. Rising and falling
through the locks was a lesson in the history of the area and of the
nature thriving in the rain forest along the embankments of the
It's hard to
fathom that this canal—literally cut out of the wilderness—was
contemplated back in the 15th century. In 1534, Spain's monarchy
looked at the possibility of a canal route connecting the two oceans
through the Isthmus of Panama. A canal was beyond the Spaniards'
capabilities, but they did pave mule trails with cobblestones to
carry tons of gold moving back to Spain from the conquest of Peru.
Remnants of the Las Cruces trail can still be seen today.
|Panama Canal Fun
Mileage saved going through the canal versus going around
Cape Horn: 7,873.
Largest toll was paid by the NCL Star in December 2001: $230,000.
Smallest toll paid was $0.36 by Richard Halliburton who
crossed the canal swimming in 1928. He dubbed himself the
S.S. Halliburton because the locks would only be filled
The hydrofoil Pegasus of the U.S. Navy made the
fastest Canal transit by completing it in two hours and 41
Since opening to ship traffic on August 15, 1914, more
than 700,000 vessels have taken the shortcut through the
was the French who began digging the canal in 1880. French diplomat
Count Ferdinand de Lesseps, who successfully supervised the building
of the Suez Canal, was in charge of the undertaking. The French
labored for 20 years, but their efforts failed mainly due to poor
planning, malaria, yellow fever, cholera, and other diseases that
killed workers by the thousands. In 1903, the U.S. signed a treaty
with Panama to construct the canal, and the next year, paid France
$40 million for its rights and property.
American supervision were spared the deaths suffered by the French
due to medical advances made by U.S. doctors. The life-threatening
maladies were under control thanks to a massive sanitation and
inoculation effort by Army doctors.
The Canal opened in 1914,
34 years after the initial effort by the French. It is estimated
that over 80,000 persons took part in the construction and that over
30,000 lives were lost. Together the French and American
expenditures totaled $639,000,000.
The Panama Canal is one of those massive
engineering and construction accomplishments that is difficult to
comprehend until you see it firsthand. I was staggered by the
monumental effort it took to complete this project, and intrigued by
the foresight and dedication of those who saw the undertaking
through to completion. It was by far the most exciting nine hours
that I've ever spent aboard a cruise ship.
Thomas J. Ethier of Hudson, MA, asks if there are any
cruises of 10-days or less that transverse the entire length of the
canal. I highly recommend the aforementioned Radisson Diamond
seven-day itinerary that begins or ends in Aruba/Costa Rica. Here is
a list of major cruise lines that offer Panama Canal cruises and
Mainstream Cruise Lines
Premium Cruise Lines
- Carnival: Offers 14-, 16-, and 17-day Panama
Canal cruises on the new Carnival Spirit during November
only. All cruises transit the entire canal.
- Norwegian Cruise Line: Offers 16- and 14-day
cruises on selected dates in October and April each year. All
cruises transit the entire canal.
- Regal Cruises: Offers 10-day Panama Canal
cruises on selected dates in January and March. All cruises go
through Gatun Lake and then turn back to the Caribbean.
- Royal Caribbean: Offers 11-, 13-, and 14-day
Panama Canal cruises on selected dates between November and May.
Some transit the entire canal and some go through Gatun Lake then
turn back to the Caribbean.
Luxury Cruise Lines
- Celebrity: Offers 13- and 14-day cruises on
selected dates between November and May. All cruises transit the
- Orient Lines: Offers 16-day cruises on selected
dates in November and March. All cruises transit the entire
- Princess: Offers 10-, 15-, and 16-day cruises on
selected dates between November and May. Some transit the entire
canal and some go through Gatun Lake turn and then turn back to
- Holland America: Offers 10-, 11-, 12-, 13-, 14-,
16-, 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-, and 21-day cruises between January and
April or September and December. Some transit the entire canal and
some go through Gatun Lake and then turn back to the
- Crystal: Offers selected 11-, 12-, 16- day
cruises in October, November, December, and April. Some transit
the entire canal and some go through Gatun Lake and then turn back
to the Caribbean.
- Radisson Seven Seas: Offers 7-, 9-, 11-, 14-,
and 16-day cruises on selected dates between November and May. All
voyages transit the entire canal.
- Seabourn: Offers 14- and 18- day cruises on
selected dates in January, February, and March. All cruises are
complete canal transits.
- Silversea: Offers a complete transit, 16-day
cruise in December on the ultra-deluxe Silver
- Windstar Cruises: Offers 13- and 14-day cruises
on selected dates in November and March. All cruises are complete
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