Last Updated on 11/15/23 by Rose Palmer
There are some place in this world that can best be seen from the deck of a ship. The Panama Canal is one such a place.
It was the end of February and I had had enough of cold weather and dreary skies. As I searched for sunnier options, I decided on a whim to look at cruises. I looked at many cruise lines and studied all the available itineraries for an early March departure and settled on a 16 day full transit cruise through the Panama Canal on the Ruby Princess.
This cruise checked off all the boxes for what I was looking for:
- a cruise longer than a week
- plenty of time in a warm, sunny climate
- lots of sea days for relaxation, writing, reading
- an itinerary that included a unique bucket list destination – the Panama Canal
- departure cities that were easy and inexpensive to fly to and from – Fort Lauderdale and San Francisco
- a great price
- a dependable cruise line with a good reputation for catering to mature adults
I booked a cabin directly on the Princess website and ten days later I was flying to Florida to meet the ship. This was my first Princess ship in many years and I really loved my whole experience on it. I share all the details of the ship in my story Living Like Royalty on a Princess Cruise – A Complete Ruby Princess Review With Photos
My Ruby Princess itinerary for a full transit through the Panama Canal
I specifically chose this cruise because it had many sea days where I could just relax and also because it was a full transit through the Panama Canal – a bucket list item for me.
My cruise was going from east to west through the Panama Canal. It started in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, cruised in the Caribbean, passed through the canal, and then sailed north along the Pacific Coast to the final destination in San Francisco, California. Because of the size of the ship, we would be passing through the New Panama Canal locks rather than the original Miraflores locks.
Day 1 – depart Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida ; all aboard 3:15 PM
Day 2,3 – at sea
Day 4 – Cartagena, Columbia from 7:00 AM to 2:30 PM
Day 5 – transit through the new locks of the Panama Canal
Day 6 – Fuerte Amador, gateway to Panama City, Panama from 6:30 AM to 5:00 PM
Day 7 – at sea
Day 8 – Puntarenas, Costa Rica from 7:00 AM to 6:30 PM
Day 9, 10. 11, 12– at sea
Day 13 – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Day 14, 15 – at sea
Day 16 – dock at the San Francisco, California Port Terminal at 7:00 AM
During the cruise we had three formal dress nights and the rest were all smart casual.
My Panama canal cruise excursions
Princess had an excellent Central America destination expert on board the ship who gave lectures about each of our stops a few days before we arrived there. His information was very useful in helping me decide which shore excursions to sign up for.
The stop in Cartagena was short, only about 6 hours total. To make the most of my time and give me the flexibility to see the sights I was interested in on my own time, I chose the HopOn-HopOff bus excursion.
The bus met us at the dock and then drove us toward the old town of Cartagena. My first stop was the old historic fort Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. An hour there was enough to explore one of America’s oldest Spanish forts.
Then it was back on the bus to the next stop in Cartagena’s Old Town. I wandered the colorful lanes of this UNESCO World Heritage site for a few more hours until it was time to head back to the ship.
The day was hot and humid, and the sun was strong so I was glad to be back in the port by early afternoon.
The cruise ship port in Cartagena had a nice, shady, Eco Park that I walked through before boarding the ship. The colorful macaws, peacocks and flamingos were quite photogenic. If I had not wanted to go into town, exploring more of this Eco Park would have been fun and very easy as it was right by the ship.
Read my full story of how I spent A Day in Cartagena, Columbia – A Colorful, Independent Cruise Excursion.
Cruising through the Panama Canal
Going through the Panama Canal on the Ruby Princess ship was the highlight of this cruise for me, as well as for most of the other passengers on the ship. It took the whole day, and even though the process of going through the locks was repetitive, I was fascinated by it.
We had a Panama Canal expert on board who gave lectures about the construction and the workings of the canal and also provided commentary all day as we passed through the locks. For me, this really added a lot to the whole experience.
I share all the details of the panama canal crossing in my story A Full Transit Panama Canal Cruise – Passing through an Engineering Marvel.
Fuerte Amador, gateway to Panama City
Once we completed our passage through the canal, we docked just outside Panama City in Fuerte Amador. Most of the tours offered were Panama Canal shore excursions that gave additional opportunities to experience this unique engineering marvel.
The day tour I chose here was a guided trip to see the Panama Canal locks at Colon followed by a train ride through the rain forest back to Panama City. I was particularly interested in experiencing this historic rail line which connected the Atlantic to the Pacific 50 years before the canal was built.
A one hour bus ride took us from Panama City back to the Agua Clara Locks Visitor Center in Colon, which is where we had entered the Panama Canal from the Caribbean on the day before. Watching the ships as they entered the locks provided a totally different perspective and gave me a better appreciation for the size of this engineering marvel.
Then it was another bus ride to the train station to get on the train. I was told that at this time the tourist train was only running for cruise passengers, so the train was not full. The train ride was only about 45 minutes through the rainforest and followed the canal and Gatun Lake to the town of Balboa.
From Balboa, another bus ride took us back to the port and the ship. There was an awful lot of time on a bus during this day (not my favorite), but I am glad I had a chance to take the train ride and see the locks from a different perspective.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica
There were many interesting excursion choices for our one day in Costa Rica. This was my first time visiting costa rica and I would have liked to see many of the sights offered in the tours. In the end, I picked a unique Local Connections experience that I would not have been able to easily do on my own.
Our small group of 7 drove about 90 minutes (over some very rough roads) up one of the mountains to Macaw Lodge, an eco resort focusing on providing a sustainable environment for its guests.
At the lodge we had a cooking lesson, learning how to make a local dish. It was a cross between an empanada and shepherd’s pie. Boiled yucca root was mashed and then formed into a disc which was filled with a flavorful ground beef filling. We also made sauteed veggies using vegetables grown on site and a beautifully presented salad. All this made for a unique and absolutely delicious lunch.
We had some time to explore the grounds of the lodge which have been developed into a botanical garden of indigenous species, many of which had beautiful flowers. Then it was another 90 minutes drive back to the ship. Again, it was a lot of time driving in a van, but in this case I thought this unique experience was worth it.
Los Cabos, Mexico
There were quite a few excursions available for this stop – many of them involving time on the beach which I could see from my balcony. Some beach time would have been fun, but instead, I opted to just get off the ship on my own and walk around the port for about an hour and then I enjoyed the rest of the day on an empty ship.
I chose this cruise to get some down time and to see the Panama Canal. As a bonus, I also had the opportunity to do some easy sightseeing in countries I had not been to before (and hopefully will have a chance to visit again).
Links to all my cruising content, including all my other Princess cruises, can be found on my Experience – Cruising page.
Other cruise shore excursion stories I’ve written:
Excursions I liked on my Alaska cruises: Alaska Cruise Excursion Tips to Inspire Your Best Alaska Trip
Excursion that I took on a cruise in Norway: Norway Shore excursions – How I Spent a Day in Norway’s Most Popular Ports
Excursions I took on a cruise around Iceland: Shore Excursions in Iceland – How I Spent a Day in Iceland’s Most Popular Ports
Please note that I received a media upgraded cabin from Princess. All content and opinions in this post are my own.
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