Panama Canal brief history and facts

New Panamax ships, new costs! Less than half the length of the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal joins the Atlantic to the Pacific. Or, goes from Colón to Panama City. It has lakes in the middle, and you can do a partial transit or full transit (discussed click here). Unlike the free flowing Suez, the Panama Canal is uses a system of locks. This is to save the huge amount of excavation work that would be required for it to be level. The work building these canals and the mortality rate (circa 25,000) should never be under estimated. The Britsh had a plan back in 1845 that did not materialise, the French started to build them between lakes in 1881 but could not over come engineering problems. The Americans re-started in 1904 and the canal opened ten years later when the initial annual traffic was about 1000 ships. That means it recently turned 100 years old even though it was envisaged as early as 1534 when Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, ordered a survey of a route to ease traveling between Spain and Peru. CRUISE THE PACIFIC  CRUISE INSURANCE  So important is this canal that ship building has been limited by the dimensions that can safely go through and these ships are known as Panamax. This class of ship shouldn’t exceed  294,13 m (965 ft) in length, 32,31 m (106 ft) in width and 12,04 m (39.5 ft) draught wise in order to easily and safely fit to the lock chambers and the height of the Bridge of Americas at Balboa. Now a third land of locks is in operation and the adventurous name of New Panamax has been given to a larger class of ship. 427 m (1400 ft) in length, 55m (180 ft) in width and 18.3 m (60 ft) in depth. The cost of transit alone makes such a journey special. The Panama Canal takes in about $2 billion a year in revenue. Of that approximately $800 million goes into Panama’s General Treasury. It has been swum and the toll was just 36 cents, but the average toll per ship is about $150,000. A small boat would be charged just under $1,000. With additional costs and overages the record toll is over $800,000 paid on July 6th, 2016, by cargo ship. The highest for a cruise ship is claimed to be the Norwegian Pearl at over $350,000. That seems very costly and it may be the cost that means so few cruise ships go through. When they do, the ships are pulled through the locks by trains. Take a look, nice film from Alex and Erika. 

P&O Panama Transits  Princess Cruises to Panama MSC Cruises to Cristobal Fred Olsen

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In short if you are in the Caribbean or Florida and the cruise is off to the west coast of the USA or across to the Pacific Islands, then you either have to go all the way round the whole of South America and the volatile Cape Horn or go through and pay the toll. The first time we went through was on the Black Watch. Panama City is a place where many stay in the ship as it is not the safest place but I seem to remember having my best Hard Rock Cafe veggie burger there. It is where book four of Solo Cruiser starts a new characters journey this December, see below.


The Aurora’s South America Circumnavigation or similar often goes through the canal at the beginning of the calendar year. The Black Watch also tends to go through somewhere at the beginning of the year, as does the Celebrity Infinity and the Azamara Quest. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter and share.Click here for the special CARIBBEAN SEASON destination menu. Each major Island and Caribbean Season Destination has a guide or film about the tours here !
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