One of the true engineering marvels in the world, the Panama Canal, is definitely a must-do travel experience.

Since 1914, this link between the Atlantic and the Pacific continues to be one of the world's great and most important shipping routes. More than one million ships, from all over the world, have transited the canal. (And in case you're wondering, the historic millionth mark happened September 4, 2010 with the transit of the freighter "Fortune Plum").

If you think it's a cruise experience only an engineer will enjoy - think again. I'm recently back from my third Panama Canal cruise and found it as fascinating as ever. Watching the ship getting raised and lowered through the locks is a "bucket list travel dream" for many people. It is a fascinating and historical cruising event I highly recommend.

Many cruise lines offer Panama Canal sailings each season (typically October to April) with either the traditional trans-canal all day, ocean-to-ocean crossing, or a partial crossing in which the ship passes through one lock and turns around in Gatun Lake.

In April I was onboard Holland America's beautiful Zuiderdam and it was terrific from beginning to end.

In addition to the obvious canal viewing (best views are on the ship's bow), the Panama Canal is a fantastic cruise itinerary for travelers wanting more relaxing and leisurely days at sea - especially during the full transit. You'll have lots of warm & sunny days, with plenty of deck chairs and outdoor space to enjoy as there are generally fewer families and children onboard. Our tropical island ports of call included Holland America's private island paradise, Half Moon Cay ; Aruba ; Curacao and Costa Rica. The history of the canal is interesting and complex and I feel attending the lecture series onboard your ship is crucial to enjoying (and understanding) the entire passage and experience.

I particularly enjoyed our second seating dinners in the Vista Dining Room, also the upscale & clubby Pinnacle Grill and the delicious Italian fare at Canaletto's. The popular "Dancing with the Stars" was a huge hit with the guests as was the well-stocked library in Explorations Café and reading or snoozing on the authentic teak deck chairs on the traditional promenade deck.

All of the stateroom accomodations are quite nice, but if you can afford to splurge reserve a Neptune Suite and enjoy the extra indoor and outdoor space plus the amenities at the private Neptune Lounge - you won't be disappointed.

Holland America is a premium cruise line - meaning it is not a gigantic 24-hour party with 5,000 of your new best friends - nor is it a small, ultra-luxury vessel. It is somewhere in the middle and it is a brilliant choice for Panama Canal cruising.

In my 100+ cruises, I continue to be amazed at how affordable a Holland America cruise can be and how much you get for your money.

With more than 130-years of seafaring experience, Holland America is recognized as a leader in the premium segment appealing to travelers wanting mid-sized ships, personalized service, fine dining and a sophisticated (but not stuffy) ambience throughout the ship.

Be sure to ask your AAA travel expert about upcoming Panama Canal group cruises and all the special pricing and promotions.


During my Zuiderdam cruise, I met and interviewed Captain Christopher Turner and Hotel Director, Frank Ulbricht.

I asked each of them - Why is a Panama Canal such a special cruise experience?

Captain Turner - "The Panama Canal is like a real life jungle river cruise you will take in total comfort. Watching the massive ships moving through an amazing feat of engineering in the Canal and the locks - is truly an amazing sight. You have our luxury ship to enjoy at your own pace, and so much to do onboard or in port."

Frank Ulbricht - "It is a combination of the best of cruising. Leisurely days at sea, sunny weather, tropical islands and the history and engineering masterpiece of the Panama Canal. Our guests are well taken care of and their comfort and enjoyment is our priority."