With much local fanfare, the $5.4 billion expansion of the Panama Canal opened on Sunday — a project that took some 40,000 workers and a decade to complete. The giant new locks can now handle the world’s largest cargo ships, and yes — cruise ships, too.
Princess Cruises, which operates a full slate of Panama Canal sailings every year, is the first to announce plans to go through the new locks with its previously too-wide (by about 18 feet) Caribbean Princess. The 3,080-passenger ship will inaugurate the new locks with a partial crossing in October 2017. It will make its turn around at Gatun Lake, the most scenic part of the route.
The 102-year-old passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific is well worth seeing from a cruise ship if: A) You’re interested in feats of modern engineering, and B) You can afford to take the (minimum) 10-day trip. During a crossing, expect views of lush jungle scenery and optional shore excursions in places like Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and Puntarenas, Costa Rica. But the experience is mostly about watching your ship and other vessels maneuver through a series of locks and gates. With the older locks, there are sometimes only inches to spare.
Some will find the many-hour experience thrilling, while for others… well, shipboard activities offer a diversion. In either case, you gain major bragging rights by going, plus a library of cool photos along the way.