Partial Transit Through Panama Canal

Hello all, we are doing a partial transit through the Panama Canal next year. I had a few questions as I never did this before and maybe will never have the opportunity to do it again.

1) How many locks do you go through for a partial transit?
2) I heard there are new locks that take less time. Is this true?
3) How long does it take? I take a lot of pictures so I want to be prepared.
4) I heard you drop anchor in the lake until it's your time to go back and while you are anchored, locals come aboard to sell you souvenirs. Is this true? I at least want a magnet gosh darn it. LOL
Thank you in advance.

Tags: Panama Canal Central America Panama Canal (Cruise Into Canal)

10 Answers

We have did the canal twice, (Doing it again full transit in four weeks though), once partial transit and the other all the way through. I imagine the partial transit experience varies from line to line. We did it with Princess. We went from east to west. On the partial transit you do only one set of the three canal locks that allow passage from ocean to ocean, the easternmost or Atlantic locks are the Gatun Locks. (Three sets of locks -- Miraflores, Pedro Miguel, and Gatun (from the Pacific to Atlantic) -- are included in the canal).

The Gatun Locks lift ships in increments, one lock at a time until they go from sea level to 85 feet above sea level at Gatun Lake. Once in Gatun Lake the ship didn't anchor but we were transferred to shore on tenders where we boarded a bus which took us back to the Gatun Locks where they provided us with a detailed land tour of the locks and their operations. After that, on the bus again, they gave us a tour of the new eastern locks still under construction at that time. Afterward they took us to the nearby railroad where we boarded a deluxe observation car on a train which took us to Panama City. After touring Panama City we boarded buses for a return to Colon where we boarded our ship again.

Once the ship is in Lake Gatun, you have the option to stay on the ship, or take a tender, like we did, to catch a tour. If you don't have a tour booked, you can't get off the ship in Lake Gatun. The ship will sit in the lake for a while, and then turn around, and go back down through the locks, and dock in Colon where it waited for those of us who took day tours to the Pacific Coast.

We really enjoyed both voyages at the canal. Truthfully, if you took a partial transit like we did you see and learn a lot more than when doing the full ocean to ocean transit.

Interesting. Good to know.

So, we did a partial transit about 4 years ago. We went through the Gatun Locks and i believe there are only two. But it does take some time to get through them. At the time they were building new locks and I believe they are operational now. I am not sure, however, if they are faster. I think each lock took something like 30 or 45 minutes. But the entire experience begins at 3 or 4 in the morning when you approach the locks. People get up to see that. From that time until 8ish or so, you are still going through the locks. It is quite cool when you go through the locks because you are so close the walls, you can touch them from your balcony.

Once we entered Gatun Lake, everyone who was booked for an excursion was tendered off. If you stayed, you did cruise around the lake some. I don't know if people selling stuff were able to board. But, it was one of my favorite cruises.

I have been through the Panama Canal four times. Each time the ship did the full transit. I doubt if ships would let vendors come on board to sell you souvenirs. Going through the locks is very interesting and educational. Get up early to watch it from the beginning if you will only have a chance to do this once. If you are doing only a partial transit, you will probably go through one lock. The length of time it takes varies with the amount of traffic going through at that time. Sometimes ships have to wait quite a bit for their turn. It should take about 45 minutes for the ship to be in the lock. Be sure to watch from the stern and the bow of the ship. You will have time to go back & forth during transit. Most ships open up the bow for passengers to get a closer look. The ship photographer is usually out on deck taking photos.

Thank you everyone for that info. I am beyond excited. It is probably the only time we’ll be doing this.

I will on this itinerary in 19 days....feeling the same way you are, VERY EXCITED!! I will report back what I think. I do know we have the rest of the canal booked on a ferry and keep hearing it's a very long day. I intend to book the entire passage when we have more time to play in a few years!

Thank all of you for the timely replies..we have been mulling that trip for awhile now...just so happens my wifes brother and his wife live in Panama City...retired would we go about getting together with them for a few hours on a partial transit?

If you are thinking of cruising Princess, in order to even get off the ship, you have to book their tours. I really don’t see any real way you that could happen.

Thanks for that...we're a ways away from booking it, but we're inclined to use NCL...I'm not shy about calling them....


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