The Panama Canal connects the Pacific with the Atlantic. Credit: Shutterstock

A bucket list experience: transit the Panama Canal with Holland America Line

Author: Daniel Edward

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One of the few major cruise lines to still sail ships that fit in the original locks, Holland America Line is the line to experience this man-made marvel

There are certain cruises that find themselves the topic of conversation around the dinner table for years, and a transit of the Panama Canal is certainly one of them.

This bucket-list itinerary showcases a marvel of human engineering and ingenuity as well as ports on both sides of the transit – in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean.

Holland America Line
has just released its line up of 2025-2026 Panama Canal sailings and there are more options than ever before on this groundbreaking (literally) voyage. Departures are available from September 2024 right the way through to April 2025, with the season picking up again in the autumn of 2025. And with six ships in Holland America Line’s ‘right-sized’ fleet making canal transits, you can pick from all four of the line’s ship sizes.

The smallest of Holland America Line’s ships – Zaandam – will sail through the original 1914 locks, while the larger ships will transit via the newer Agua Clara locks, which saw the biggest expansion project in the canal’s 120-year operating history.

And it’s not just the size of ship that you can choose – the line has prepared a range of itineraries, from 15 to 22 days, which highlight different ports in both the Caribbean and Pacific, depending on where you want to explore more.

Panama Canal transits depart from Fort Lauderdale, Florida for East-to-West transits, and San Diego, California for transits heading from the Pacific Ocean towards the Atlantic.

Zaandam is one of HAL's most elegant and comfortable ships. Credit: HAL

Cruise Inspiration
While many Panama Canal cruises are a complete transit from one side to the other, Rotterdam – HAL’s newest ship – offers a 12-day roundtrip Panama Canal cruise from Fort Lauderdale, which includes daytime sailing in the Canal before heading back out on the Atlantic side to continue enjoying the Caribbean.

For a full transit (West to East), Niew Amsterdam will be enjoying her first season in the region, with a 16-day transit departing San Diego on October 4, 2024. You’ll start the cruise in the gorgeous Mexican Riviera and be treated to Aruba’s dreamy white sand beaches on the other side of the canal crossing.

For a longer voyage – and Holland America Line is really good at longer cruises – Rotterdam will be setting off on a 21-day journey into the Panama Canal and around the Caribbean on March 16, 2025. You’ll rise up in the Agua Clara locks into Lake Gatun and then head back out into the Caribbean for more of the world’s best island-hopping.

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Introducing a new port: Acajutla
Holland America Line calls at about 400 ports of call around the world and select cruises in the upcoming Panama Canal season will include one more: Acajutla.

This maritime port city in El Salvador is buzzing with vibrant local markets, where stands overflow with local produce, hand-crafted keepsakes and delicious traditional food.

Of course, the nearby beaches or gorgeous national parks make a day in Acajutla a memorable place for time out in nature.

But, perhaps the most noteworthy and meaningful way to spend your day in Acajutla is to head out to Joya de Cerén on a shore excursion. Nicknamed the ‘Pompeii of the Americas’, this archaeological site is as impressive as the better-known Roman ruins, but without the crowds.

Cruising the Panama Canal is a slow and serene trip. CredIT: HAL

Why transit the Panama Canal with HAL?
Holland America Line has been sailing for over 150 years. The line introduced cruisers to Alaska 75 years ago, and is all about delivering the destination.

With an itinerary as unique as a Panama Canal transit, it’s worth going in the company of experts and passionate storytellers – guides who will help you connect with the history, industry and meaning of the man-made monument you are sailing.

Your transit of the canal will be supplemented with explanatory commentary so that you gain a fuller understanding of the engineering feat you’re sailing within. And expert lecturers add even more context in the days at sea beyond the transit day.

Of course, the line’s carefully curated selection of shore excursions in ports in countries such as Aruba, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Panama help you connect authentically with each destination along the route as well.

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