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13 April 2014

Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal

panama-canalThis summer marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal, the 48-mile shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific. Practical purposes aside, the manmade Continental Divide thrills cruise passengers who get to see their ship lifted and lowered through a series of locks, on a surprisingly scenic route.

Cruise ships pass through the canal while repositioning — such as when ships are moved from the Caribbean to Alaska — and some do a regulation rotation through the waterway. Cruisers can experience either an ocean-to-ocean crossing or a partial crossing.

Port calls on Panama Canal cruises afford the opportunity to visit historic cities in Central America, spot wildlife in Costa Rica and enjoy a little beach time in Mexico.

Here are our picks for the best Panama Canal cruises.

Princess Cruises

Princess has two ships specifically built for Panama Canal cruising, the Coral Princess and Island Princess — on 11-day partial transits round-trip from Fort Lauderdale and 15-day full transits between Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles. The cruises are offered October to May.

Sample cruise: 15-day sailing on the Island Princess, from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, embarking April 16, fares from $999 per person.

Windstar Cruises

Windstar does a regular season of Panama Canal sailings with its Wind Spirit, combining a crossing with visits to small Panamanian islands with rainforest exploration in Costa Rica.

Sample cruise: 7-day cruises between Puerto Caldera, C.R. and Colon, Panama, December to April, fares from $1,999 for the December 13 sailing.

Celebrity Cruises

The famed waterway is explored on 15-day eastbound and westbound itineraries between Florida and San Diego on the Celebrity Infinity in March/April and November.

Sample cruise: 15-day sailing on the Celebrity Infinity from San Diego to Miami, embarking April 14. Space is limited; veranda cabins from $3,129.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean ships mostly pass through the canal for repositioning purposes, in the spring and fall. But Legend of the Seas also does a pair of sailings between Fort Lauderdale and San Diego in November.

Sample cruise: 15-day sailing from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale, November 30, from $1,224.

Holland America Line

Holland America Line ships do full transits of the canal, most on two-week itineraries in April, and September to February. Many of the cruises happen when ships are repositioning to and from Alaska.

Sample cruise: 14-day sailing on the Westerdam, from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego, embarking April 15, fares from $899.

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