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Panama Canal Cruise

A travel pro's take on Panama Canal cruising

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posted March 27, 2019

In January I escaped the Pacific Northwest’s cold and snow by taking an 18-night Panama Canal cruise from New York to Los Angeles aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Gem.

Complementing a full transit of the Panama Canal, this sailing included 10 ports of call: two in the Netherlands Antilles (Curacao and Aruba); two more in Colombia; stops on the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala; and three calls in Mexico.

One of the advantages of my cruise was that unlike some Caribbean ports, where half a dozen simultaneously visiting mega-liners can make sharing tourism facilities with 20,000 or more fellow travelers a somewhat less enjoyable experience, our ports were surprisingly uncrowded. We were the only ship there in six of them. In three of the others, only one additional ship (including a 148-guest sailing vessel) was there during our visit, and the one in Puerto Vallarta included a smaller, 700-guest ship.

Panama Canal cruising
Panama Canal

Considering the number of fascinating places we visited, the attraction of the Panama Canal itself, and Norwegian’s unique tour operator program, NTA operators would be wise to take notice.

As a very frequent cruiser, I have found that traveling with NCL is always a pleasure, like coming home to spend time with family and friends. Their sailings have proven to offer one of the most consistent mass-market cruise products available, providing top value and “Freestyle” flexibility at attractive prices.

No matter which ship or itinerary is chosen, one can count on seeing interesting ports of call aboard a well-maintained and managed vessel boasting extensive guest facilities, an outstanding variety of shipboard entertainment and activities, fine food served in a wide range of dining venues, and excellent service from a smiling, friendly staff.

Leon Nicaragua cruising panama canal
Leon, Nicaragua

When this article publishes in late March, I will be on a 14-night eastbound Panama Canal departure on Norwegian Star from L.A. to Miami with a group of 62 guests that I will be escorting for one of my consulting clients. Moostash Joe Tours, a traditional, family-owned motorcoach tour operator and NTA member in Nebraska, was selling virtually no cruises when I began working with them a little over four years ago. I noted that the demographics of their tour customers made them prime candidates for seagoing vacations, and in fact many were probably already cruising, but buying their sailings elsewhere.

Happily, Joey Spellerberg, the company’s young, but very bright, second-generation CEO “bought” my suggestion and today, by utilizing Norwegian’s excellent tour operator program, he is able to attract very substantial (and very profitable) numbers on extended sailings like this one.

There is definitely something to be learned here for NTA operators who have yet to “take the plunge” into cruising! 

Top photo: Oranjestad, Aruba
Photos by Bob Hoelscher


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