Holland America Line

A ship in the locks. 

As early as the 1500s, the dream of constructing a canal through the Isthmus of Panama inflamed the imaginations of visionaries and adventurers.

By the late 19th century, technological advances and commercial pressure allowed construction to begin by France. Due to the cost overruns and the underestimation of the difficulties in excavating the rugged Panama land, heavy personnel losses in Panama due to tropical diseases and political corruption in France, the canal was only partially completed. 

The United States took over the completion of the canal from French control in 1904. One of the greatest barriers to a canal was the continental divide. The effort to cut through this barrier of rock was one of the greatest challenges faced by the project. Two artificial lakes were key parts of the canal, Gatun and Miraflores Lakes and four dams were constructed to create them.

In 1914, the Panama Canal dream became a reality, and a 48-mile engineering wonder opened it locks. During World War II, the canal proved a vital part of the U.S. military strategy, allowing ships to transfers easily between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The canal remained a territory of the U.S. until 1977 when it was transferred to the Panama in 1999. 

The canal was a technological marvel and an important strategic and economic asset to the U.S. It changed world shipping patterns, removing the need for ships to navigate the Drake Passage and Cape Horn. The canal saves a total of about 7,800 miles on a sea trip from New York to San Francisco.

The Panama Canal cost the United States about $375 million. More than 75,000 people worked on the project. Three presidents spanned the construction period: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Howard Taft. However, Roosevelt is the most associated with the canal.

Today, you can relive the canal’s epic story as it makes its way between two might oceans with Holland America Line ships and 30 cruises to choose in 2019. In addition to the full transits, guests can embark on Panama Canal “Sunfarer” itineraries that feature a partial transit in combination with southern Caribbean ports of call. More than 40,000 people enjoyed the full transits from 14 days to 23 days and 10- to 11-day partial explorations in 2018.  

On the full transits, guests will visit cities in Columbia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and the islands of the Caribbean. In addition, some of the sailings include a visit to Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s award-winning private island in the Bahamas known for its pristine beaches, engaging family activities, exciting shore excursions and exclusive beach cabanas.  

The partial transits cruise conveniently from Fort Lauderdale for 10-day and 11-day Panama Canal “Sunfarer.” Itineraries including an exploration of the Canal’s Gatun Lake with a combination of southern Caribbean calls in Aruba, Curacao, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Half Moon Cay.

From the scenery to the culture to the history, these itineraries are not only personally enriching, but they also visit some fantastic ports. And the opportunity to see the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal locks and the famous surrounding lakes is a must see for all ages.

Holland America Line’s fleet of 15 ships offers more than 500 cruises to more than 400 ports in 98 countries, territories or dependencies around the world. For shorter getaways to 113 day itineraries, the company cruises visit all seven continents, with highlights including Antarctica explorations, South America circumnavigations, Australia/New Zealand and Asia voyages, four grand voyages around the world and popular sailings in the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, Canada, New England, Europe and of course, the Panama Canal.

Arlene Goldberg is president and owner of Action Travel Center in Solon. You can watch her on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to noon on WKYC’s “Live On Lakeside” with the “Hot Travel Deal.”

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