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Pearl Panama Canal partial transit excursion


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Sorry, I know we should ask questions in the Ports of Call section, but I’m not seeing anything specific to the NCL excursions there. We can’t make up our mind on which excursion to choose in the locks because they all look appealing. They have a Railroad dome car, the Grand Tour, and Panama Canal by Ferry. Which one is best?  I’d like to book today, but we don’t know which to choose. 

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My last trip to the canal was on Silversea and they had similar excursions, though I don't recall a dome car, just regular train cars. The tour I took drove through town and by the new locks and then dropped us at the train depot. We rode the train across the isthmus, then took a bus back, after we drove around Panama City for a couple of hours. I think that the difference in this excursion and the Ferry excursion is that you don't have the time in the cities because the ferry is so much slower. The advantage to the ferry is that you are on the water while you go through the lake.

 

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My family took this cruise in April.   I can only tell you why we chose what we chose.   We wanted to go thru the full extent of the locks and we opted for the ferry.    The train was out because I didn't want to be locked in a box and feel like we were seeing it from inside a theater.  I didn't want to be on and off a bus all day either, so the grand tour was out.

 

So, for the ferry. First let me say, it was great and an experience of a lifetime.  It was a LONG day and if you have small kids you might re-think it, because there was a LOT of hurry up and wait.  My daughter was 8 at the time and did really well, but I was thankful we brought her electronic babysitter for the bus trip back to the ship.   Road traffic in Panama be CRAZY.

 

We tendered off the ship to the "Yacht Club" - which is a ramp and a bathroom (use it).  Then we drove across the country stopping at an extremely nice gas station/mini-mart where we had enough time to use the restrooms, and buy snacks (do both).

 

We boarded the ferry and started our journey thru the canal.   We would go thru a lock, tie up and then wait for the other vessels to join us.  It was entertaining and fun to cross with (for us) a sailboat and a tanker.     The ferry had some indoor space and some undercover space, but we were prepared to be outside in the sun.    It rained on us for about 20 minutes and I would normally say that as a Seattle person I am use to the rain.  HOLY SMOKES -that was insane - it was warm and felt like a strong shower.    My group wore swim clothes (board shorts, & spf rash guards) for the day and for a while I thought I may have made a mistake, but nope - be ready for anything!   We dried quickly and have a great story to tell.

 

Food on the ferry was IMO questionable.  But, with the gas station snacks and the bagels and buffet stuff that we had with us, we survived the day.  Oh bring your water bottle ... they have beer and Panamanian sodas for sale on the ferry.  American money worked just fine - but can't confirm the exchange rate.  

 

All in all, it was a great day and I recommend it.   (our group was two 78 year olds, two 50 ish, and the 8-year old)  pack your patience, buffet food (in ziplocks) and a waterproof pack for your valuables and enjoy!

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We did the full transit and I would recommend the ferry over the rail road.  You can see the rail road tracks some doing the transit, but not the entire time.

 

Be sure to read McCulloch's  "Path Between the Seas."

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I did the Ferry transit with NCL (Pearl) in November.  My experience was very similar to TPGal.  Our bus did not stop at a nice gas station/convenience store enroute to the ferry.  We also had no rain.  Like TPGal, I also thought it was a wonderful experience and would do it again in a heartbeat.  However, as she points out, there may be a lot of waiting around on the ferry as they work through getting the multiple boats into each lock.  They fill up each lock with several boats at a time.  So we'd move for a while, tie up in the lock, and then maybe sit there for 15-30 minutes as the other boats enter the lock and get ready to rise/drop in elevation.  This happens multiple times as you traverse through the remaining locks to the Pacific.  It made for a very long day.  After we reached the Pacific, the ferry continued out and around a peninsula so we could view the skyline of Panama City.  It was dark by this time and the view was cool, but no one on the ferry really cared.  We were all pretty much ready to go back to the ship.  Many viewed this additional ride as unwanted and many were complaining amongst themselves about it.  I just viewed it as "part of the adventure".  We then boarded a bus and drove back to Colon.  By this time it was 8:30pm -- a few hours later than the excursion was supposed to last.  But the ship waited for us and we boarded and took off.  We did NOT have any time to explore Colon because of the delay in getting back to port.

 

Oh, also, our guide was a bit of an annoyance since he really seemed to feel he had to talk the ENTIRE time we were on the ferry.  Most of us just wanted him to be quiet.

 

So it wasn't perfect.  BUT I can say that I saw most of the Panama Canal and I may never be able to go back and do that again.  The engineering aspect of the canal is amazing.

Edited by MeHeartCruising
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27 minutes ago, MeHeartCruising said:

We did NOT have any time to explore Colon because of the delay in getting back to port.


From what I have read in the Panama Canal forum, there is nothing there to explore. 
 

OP: I haven’t done any of these excursions, but I have done two full transits of the Canal. (The second one just a few weeks ago.) It is awesome. If you want to experience all of the Canal itself, and especially if you don’t think you will return for a full transit, it sounds like the ferry excursion is the way to go.   And I think it would be fascinating to be on a small boat sharing a lock with other boats. That’s something you don’t get to experience on a big cruise ship.  
 

Enjoy whatever you decide! 
 

And definitely read “The Path Between the Seas.”

Edited by Turtles06
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4 hours ago, NCteacherlovescruising said:

We booked the Grand Tour yesterday, but most of you recommended the ferry. We eliminated that one first because we were afraid it would be uncomfortably hot in April to be on a ferry all day. We also thought it may get boring after a while. Now I’m second guessing our decision. 

 

I didn't look up the temperatures for April to comment on that part.  But as much as I and many others on the ferry appears to loved the excursion, there were quite a few people that appeared rather bored after a while.  They just sat in their seats and talked to each other.  The rest of us moved around the ferry to look all over the place as things were happening.  So it really will depend on your own interests, I suppose.

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5 hours ago, NCteacherlovescruising said:

We booked the Grand Tour yesterday, but most of you recommended the ferry. We eliminated that one first because we were afraid it would be uncomfortably hot in April to be on a ferry all day. We also thought it may get boring after a while. Now I’m second guessing our decision. 

 

Going through the Canal is a long, hot day.   I can't tell from what others have said about the ferry whether there is any inside airconditioned space, where folks can take an occasional break.   If no one mentions that here, and even if they do, the Panama Canal forum is still a great place for info.   Even if you don't get specifics about individual NCL tours there, the cruise lines are using the same tour operators and folks in that forum will still be able to give you advice.  You should also do a search there.   

 

As for being bored -- all I can say is that only you can judge what you and your family would find interesting.   I think going through the Canal is fascinating.   I'm in no way trying to convince you to do it.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ok so the itinerary is is like this

  Canal de Panamá/lago Gatún, Panamá  5:00 a. m.  to 3:00 p. m.  
  Colón, Panamá 5:00 p. m.  to 8:00 p. m.  

 

 

So this means, in the first part you dont leave the cruise at all and then disembark for 3 hours in Colon? weird

Edited by Comi.uy
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4 hours ago, Comi.uy said:

Ok so the itinerary is is like this

  Canal de Panamá/lago Gatún, Panamá  5:00 a. m.  to 3:00 p. m.  
  Colón, Panamá 5:00 p. m.  to 8:00 p. m.  

 

 

So this means, in the first part you dont leave the cruise at all and then disembark for 3 hours in Colon? weird


The first part of the day is the partial transit of the Canal. The ship will enter the Canal from the Atlantic entrance, go through the three chambers of the Gatun Locks (this takes hours), and then enter Gatun Lake. (You don’t disembark from a ship in the locks.) At that point, only passengers taking ship-sponsored tours may disembark for them.  The ship will then go back through the Gatun Locks and stop in Colon, where the passengers who left earlier for tours will re-embark. 
 

The dedicated Panama Canal forum has a wealth of information about transits of the Canal, and I would encourage anyone new to the Canal to take advantage of that resource. 

Edited by Turtles06
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On 2/18/2020 at 9:38 PM, Comi.uy said:

However our time is from 5:00 a. m. to 3:00 p. m., would you say its risky to take this tour independently? Im not willing to risk losing the cruise

 

It is my understanding that you won't be allowed off the ship unless you're on an NCL sponsored excursion.   I think this is a Panama rule, but even if you managed it I absolutely would NOT.   Traffic in Panama in the afternoons is like nothing I've ever seen.  There is one bridge to drive out of Panama City and in the evening they reroute westbound bridge traffic to one of the eastbound bridge lanes - only there are no barriers or anything - just a lane full of cars going so slowly that there are vendors walking between the lanes of cars selling food, beverages to the commuters.   Our bus was headed in the opposite direction, but we were still over an hour late getting back into Colon.   I think we were underway before they even had the gangplanks up.  

 

 

IMG_1849_Original.JPG

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6 minutes ago, TPgal said:

It is my understanding that you won't be allowed off the ship unless you're on an NCL sponsored excursion.   I think this is a Panama rule, but even if you managed it I absolutely would NOT.   Traffic in Panama in the afternoons is like nothing I've ever seen.  There is one bridge to drive out of Panama City and in the evening they reroute westbound bridge traffic to one of the eastbound bridge lanes - only there are no barriers or anything - just a lane full of cars going so slowly that there are vendors walking between the lanes of cars selling food, beverages to the commuters.   Our bus was headed in the opposite direction, but we were still over an hour late getting back into Colon.   I think we were underway before they even had the gangplanks up.  

 

 

IMG_1849_Original.JPG

 

Thanks for the reply. Yes, I didnt understand how it was going to be. At the moment our plan is to get up early, see the access to Gatun then the same as it exits and finally going down in Colon only to the shop thats right outside where the cruise docks.

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