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The Wall Street Journal had a recent story describing “A flotilla of ships are stuck on both sides of the Panama Canal, waiting for weeks to cross after the waterway’s authorities cut transits to conserve water amid a serious drought.” This got me thinking, are Panama Canal cruises being cancelled because of drought?
We have a cruise booked for early next year that was supposed to embark from Cartagena, Colombia but has now been changed to start in Panama City and transit the Panama Canal. If the Panama Canal is low on water due to a drought, why would they be adding a cruise transit?
CNBC.com had a recent post that noted that “A temporary measure was put in place where five ships a day on the Panamax locks can traverse the canal on a first come first served basis.” Based on this it made me wonder if the size of the ship matters in terms of which ships are getting to transit the original and Panamax canals. Our ship, Oceania Sirena is fairly small at 30,277 gross tons and a beam/width of 82 feet (25 m) by modern cruise ship standards and can easily pass in the original canal.
A quick search turned up an article on cruisehive – Entire Panama Canal Season Cancelled for Royal Caribbean Ship. The ship, Rhapsody of the Seas, 78,491 gross tons and a width of 106 feet (32 m), is small by Royal Caribbean standards, but twice the size of Oceania Sirena. A series of 7 night cruises are now calling on Cartagena, Colombia instead of transiting the Panama Canal. Maybe it has to do with the size of the ship???
Another search of Norwegian Cruise Line Panama Canal cancellations provided more of the story as Norwegian is the sister line of Oceania Cruises. Newsroom Panama had an article announcing that Norwegian Cruise Line cancels Panama departures. The article states “The Norwegian Cruise Line company canceled its home port operation for the years 2024 and 2025 departing from the Amador and Colón terminals.”
So I think that I figured out why our cruise on Oceania Cruises this winter has now moved from Colombia to Panama, it’s because their sister line with much larger ships has shifted operations out of Panama and into Colombia. What I haven’t been able to determine is how much of this has to do with the drought and low water levels and how much of it has to do with the cruise facilities in Panama.
On our sailing last year through the Panama Canal we had a canal expert on board who provided a history of the canal from its construction through today. One of the things he shared was that there are limits on the number of ships passing through the canals each day and there are different fees depending on how you transit the canal. Cruise ships book windows of time months or even years in advance paying the highest prices to pass through the canal, while a number of cargo ships choose to wait on either side to get a non-reserved slot and thus pay a lot less.
Newsroom Panama‘s article also described a boarding “snafu” – “On December 3, 2022, 1,800 passengers boarding the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship took more than seven hours to complete the boarding process, due to the lack of organization on the part of the State entities, responsible for facilitating the process.” This sounds absolutely terrible as the heat and humidity in Panama City is serious as we experienced boarding at the Amador cruise terminal last year. While our boarding didn’t take 7 hours, I can tell you it was extremely disorganized and slow even with only 300 passengers.
So my suggestion is that if you’re booked on a Norwegian Cruise calling on Panama go check their website and see if your itinerary has been changed. The same seems to apply to at least some Royal Caribbean cruises.
Do you have a Panama Canal cruise booked and has anything changed with your itinerary? – Michael
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