Drought Causing Panama Canal Cruise Cancellations?

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a group of ships in the water
View from our Delta jet of cargo ships waiting to enter the Panama Canal in 2022

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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 cruisehiveEntire 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???

a building on a dock in the water with a city in the background
View of Panama City skyline from the Old Town, 2022

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.

a train tracks next to a body of water
Oceania Marina Passing Through Gatun Locks, 2022

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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18 COMMENTS

  1. We are scheduled full transit on princess in the old canal in April 2024.. Still a go so far. Smaller ship.. They cancelled us twice during covid so I’m hoping this one goes

  2. We are scheduled for a partial crossing of the canal on Viking’s small ship, the Mars, the end of October. The whole reason we chose this cruise is for the canal. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    • @BJ – It looks like smaller/mid-size ships like Viking’s Mars, with confirmed transit slots, are still transiting the canal. I don’t have any special insights into Viking’s operations.

    • We are on the same ship in December. I called Viking and they said no changes and they are monitoring it and will let us know in advance of changesor cancels..

    • We are booked on the same ship for Dec/23. I continue to call Princess, but they tell me there are no changes to the itinerary, yet I see reports all the time that its taking longer and longer to go through the canal due to drought conditions. This would be very troublesome for us since our airfare has been booked.

  3. I spoke to Viking yesterday and they said they are monitoring it and would let us know in advance of cancellations or changes.

  4. We are scheduled to go through the canal end of January on holland America’s Zaandam. Hopefully they’ve made a reservation

  5. We are scheduled for a Princess Cruise (partial transit) February 2024 – our payment is due shortly. We have NO information from Princess at this time, and are considering cancelling. Transits are now scheduled to drop from the 29-30/day to 18/day February 1st. Not good for sight seers, when global trade is at risk. Any info will help…

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