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Debating on which Itinerary (Panama Canal)


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I am tossing around these 2 itineraries.  Any input would be appreciated.  Never been to any of the ports listed. Would probably get to either embarkation port a day or so early. Water activities (other than being on a boat tour) are not of interest. Mostly sightseeing, nature, etc. No children on the cruise. 

I realize the Joy would go through different locks than the Jade.  Would that be something to take into consideration for the first time going?

 

15-DAY CRUISE ON NORWEGIAN JOY

Panama Canal: Mexico & Colombia

from Los Angeles, California

Sailing

  • February, 2025

9 PORTS OF CALL

  • Los Angeles, California
  • Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Manzanillo, Mexico
  • Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
  • Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera), Costa Rica
  • Panama City (Pacific Cruise Terminal), Panama
  • Cartagena, Colombia
  • Miami, Florida

 

 

11-DAY CRUISE ON NORWEGIAN JADE

Panama Canal: Aruba & Cartagena

from Panama City (Fuerte Amador), Panama

Sailing

  • February,2025

8 PORTS OF CALL

  • Panama City (Fuerte Amador),Panama
  • Cartagena, Colombia
  • Oranjestad, Aruba
  • Willemstad, Curaçao
  • Basseterre, St. Kitts
  • Tortola, British Virgin Islands
  • Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
  • Miami, Florida
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I have been through the canal several times. The old locks are more interesting than the new locks.   But on the Joy cruise you will get more fascinating sea life. Whales, turtles, dolphins. Etc. 

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Posted (edited)

We're doing that 15 day one. We did the opposite route (Miami to LA) in 2019 on the Bliss.

 

It may come down to which departure city has better flights. We were able to get a great flight to LA vs. to Panama. Plus, we like longer cruises, so the 15 day was an easy choice. 

 

Plus, we recently got back from a cruise to Aruba, Curacao and Puerto Plata.

 

YMMV...and probably will.

 

 

Edited by schmoopie17
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(1) With The Joy, passing through the New Canal would be near the end of your cruise rather than the beginning with The Jade.

 

(2) If you have read David McCullough's book "Path Between The Seas--The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870- 1914, you will a understanding of what it took to build the "Original" Canal.

 

I have done the Panama Canal once in each direction and would love to take a smaller ship (Jewel Class) once again rather than one of the mega ships (Joy, Bliss, Encore).

 

Either way, it will be a wonderful adventure.

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3 hours ago, BarnCat1 said:

I realize the Joy would go through different locks than the Jade.  Would that be something to take into consideration for the first time going?

 

I think so. I have done four full transits of the Panama Canal, all through the historic locks on Jewel-class ships (the Gem and the Jewel).  I do believe that for a first-timer, going through the historic locks would be more interesting (and I think if you ask this over in the Panama Canal Ports of Call forum, folks would tell you the same). 

 

My first two transits were on "classic" East Coast to West Coast routes, very similar to the Joy's itinerary that you are considering (in the opposite direction).  The second two were B2B cruises from NY to Panama City and Panama City to NY, with an itinerary similar to what you are looking at on the Jade (although you have the addition of a couple of more interesting ports, imho, St. Kitts and Tortola).  I'm not a huge fan of the ABC islands (I realize i'm probably in the minority there).

 

I think the Joy's overall itinerary is much more interesting, but I would prefer as a first-timer to go through the historic locks.  Also, speaking only for myself, I love the Jewel-class ships.  They are a really comfortable size, with great public areas.

 

I looked at the Joy's itinerary, and, if I'm not mistaken, you will have a full day in port in Panama City the day before you transit the Canal. If that's the case, you may well have the opportunity to take a shore excursion on a small, ferry-sized vessel that will take you through the historic locks on the Pacific side.  That excursion really depends on the timing, since the Canal regulates the transits, and the Joy might arrive too late in the morning for this.  Even if you could not do such an excursion, you should be able to visit the Miraflores Visitors Center, and see the operation of those historic locks up close.

 

It's a hard decision.  The ships and the itineraries are very different.   You'd have an amazing experience either way; enjoy whatever you decide!

 

 

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3 hours ago, BarnCat1 said:

I am tossing around these 2 itineraries.  Any input would be appreciated.  Never been to any of the ports listed. Would probably get to either embarkation port a day or so early. Water activities (other than being on a boat tour) are not of interest. Mostly sightseeing, nature, etc. No children on the cruise. 

I realize the Joy would go through different locks than the Jade.  Would that be something to take into consideration for the first time going?

 

15-DAY CRUISE ON NORWEGIAN JOY

Panama Canal: Mexico & Colombia

from Los Angeles, California

 

Sailing

  • February, 2025

9 PORTS OF CALL

  • Los Angeles, California
  • Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Manzanillo, Mexico
  • Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
  • Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera), Costa Rica
  • Panama City (Pacific Cruise Terminal), Panama
  • Cartagena, Colombia
  • Miami, Florida

 

 

11-DAY CRUISE ON NORWEGIAN JADE

Panama Canal: Aruba & Cartagena

from Panama City (Fuerte Amador), Panama

 

Sailing

  • February,2025

8 PORTS OF CALL

  • Panama City (Fuerte Amador),Panama
  • Cartagena, Colombia
  • Oranjestad, Aruba
  • Willemstad, Curaçao
  • Basseterre, St. Kitts
  • Tortola, British Virgin Islands
  • Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
  • Miami, Florida

As others have said, YMMV.  We have done the canal three times.  The first was15 days on the Bliss from Miami to Los Angeles.  That one went through the new locks which are less interesting than the original ones.  Next was 21 days on the Gem from San Francisco to New York through the old locks.  The most recent was 11 days on the Sky from Miami to Miami.  That's right, down and back.  The advantage of the last one was that we took a tender to shore right after we passed through the first of the three sets of locks.  We went to the canal information center / museum which overlooks the first lock.  Very informative and impressive views of the canal.  Then we took a train from the Atlantic side of Panama to the Pacific, with a bus back to the ship, which by then had docked in Colon.  The Sky did not transit the canal, just went through one set of locks in the morning and back out the same way that evening.  Since the trip on the Jade that you're considering begins in Panama, you could travel a day early and make your own arrangements to see the canal visitor center, as well as the city itself, which looked like it would be very interesting.  You likely would only pass through one set of locks, but it would be the older, more interesting locks.  Depending upon how easy vs. how costly it would be to get a flight to Panama, I'd recommend the Jade's itinerary.

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My review from last winter on a reverse path on the Bliss. Most of the ports are the same.

 

Observation Lounge is a plus for the Bliss, along with Ocean Blvd on Deck 8.  They will open up the bow area on either ship you choose.

 

One consideration.  The Joy will have to sail under the first bridge from Panama City at low tide, which this last year was 4 AM.  You might want to look up tide charts to when that is for your cruise.  Some complained for the Bliss last year on the LA-Miami run, without considering this fact.

 

As for other on board activities, Joy will have a few more things to do on sea days.

The Jade ports are on many itineraries out of Miami or San Juan.

Manzanillo and Puerto Quetzal are not visited much by cruise ships, they are more unique places to visit, IMHO.  NCL rarely stops in Puntarenas, so that would also be unique.

 

We are maybe looking at doing the opposite Tampa-PC for March, which visits Jamaica and Grand Cayman.  We haven't visited those in many years, so would be some differences.

Either one will be great, just depends on what else you have done while cruising, and how much new things you want to see along the way.

 

 

 

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7 hours ago, BarnCat1 said:

I am tossing around these 2 itineraries.  Any input would be appreciated.  Never been to any of the ports listed. Would probably get to either embarkation port a day or so early. Water activities (other than being on a boat tour) are not of interest. Mostly sightseeing, nature, etc. No children on the cruise. 

I realize the Joy would go through different locks than the Jade.  Would that be something to take into consideration for the first time going?

 

15-DAY CRUISE ON NORWEGIAN JOY

Panama Canal: Mexico & Colombia

from Los Angeles, California

 

Sailing

  • February, 2025

9 PORTS OF CALL

  • Los Angeles, California
  • Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Manzanillo, Mexico
  • Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
  • Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera), Costa Rica
  • Panama City (Pacific Cruise Terminal), Panama
  • Cartagena, Colombia
  • Miami, Florida

 

 

11-DAY CRUISE ON NORWEGIAN JADE

Panama Canal: Aruba & Cartagena

from Panama City (Fuerte Amador), Panama

 

Sailing

  • February,2025

8 PORTS OF CALL

  • Panama City (Fuerte Amador),Panama
  • Cartagena, Colombia
  • Oranjestad, Aruba
  • Willemstad, Curaçao
  • Basseterre, St. Kitts
  • Tortola, British Virgin Islands
  • Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
  • Miami, Florida

I would look at the cost of flight for these two trips.  On one them, you have to fly to Los Angeles, then back from Miami to New York ( at least 1 day early so include hotel stay).  The other, how easy is it to get to Panama City from your home town?  Both options are nice.  Im from Los Angeles, and have been to many of those western mexico ports on a PC cruise.  If getting to Panama City is easy, I would opt for door #2

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2 hours ago, 9tee2Sea said:

I would look at the cost of flight for these two trips.  On one them, you have to fly to Los Angeles, then back from Miami to New York ( at least 1 day early so include hotel stay).  The other, how easy is it to get to Panama City from your home town?  Both options are nice.  Im from Los Angeles, and have been to many of those western mexico ports on a PC cruise.  If getting to Panama City is easy, I would opt for door #2

For those on the east coast, Puerto Plata,  St Kitts and Tortola are on lots of cruise itineraries.

So really depends on what OP has cruised to before.

We like to get new places on every cruise, which gets harder as the number of cruises goes up.

 

Another consideration, February on Mexico west coast is whale watching time, either in Cabo or PV.  If OP has never done that, it is a cool thing to experience along the way.

 

 

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Posted (edited)
15 hours ago, Turtles06 said:

I looked at the Joy's itinerary, and, if I'm not mistaken, you will have a full day in port in Panama City the day before you transit the Canal. If that's the case, you may well have the opportunity to take a shore excursion on a small, ferry-sized vessel that will take you through the historic locks on the Pacific side.  That excursion really depends on the timing, since the Canal regulates the transits, and the Joy might arrive too late in the morning for this.  Even if you could not do such an excursion, you should be able to visit the Miraflores Visitors Center, and see the operation of those historic locks up close.

 

 

 Yes, the ship will have a full day in Panama City and that tour and another of the locks are offered. 

Edited by BarnCat1
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9 hours ago, Panhandle Couple said:

Another consideration, February on Mexico west coast is whale watching time, either in Cabo or PV.  If OP has never done that, it is a cool thing to experience along the way.

  I have done whale watching in Alaska, but you can never see too many whales.  Are they visible from the ship as well?

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8 hours ago, Panhandle Couple said:

Another consideration, February on Mexico west coast is whale watching time, either in Cabo or PV.  If OP has never done that, it is a cool thing to experience along the way.

 

That is definitely a big plus for the Joy's itinerary.  Our first Canal transit put us in PV and Cabo in early February, and we went whale watching in both places.  PV was interesting, but Cabo was extraordinary.  We had a great morning seeing humpbacks from a small boat, at one point following (from the required distance) a mama humpback and her calf as she taught the calf how to breach.  It was one of the most incredible things we've ever seen.

 

Baby gives it a try:

 

Babybreaching2.thumb.jpg.111692b8b06d673d2ad09ee5f661a607.jpg

 

Here comes mama:

 

MamaHumpbackbreaching.thumb.jpg.dcfa25de3c9cd910d5685447434b1648.jpg

 

Mamabreaching2.thumb.jpg.02239ffffa42e62ed96ee52f82eef685.jpg

 

Mamasplash.thumb.jpg.cb1a3b82fc58c140cc1711caa8a77d49.jpg

 

(photos by turtles06)

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1 minute ago, BarnCat1 said:

  I have done whale watching in Alaska, but you can never see too many whales.  Are they visible from the ship as well?

Typically in Cabo, yes. Usually 1 or 2 in the harbor area. We have also seen them along the coast to the north, you might be up early to see them coming from LA depending on port time.

Bring binoculars.

Several excursions will be available in both ports, but Cabo is probably easier as excursion boats are close to tender dock.

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8 minutes ago, BarnCat1 said:

  I have done whale watching in Alaska, but you can never see too many whales.  Are they visible from the ship as well?

 

I've been to Cabo twice. You might see some whales from the ship, generally with binoculars. But it's nothing like being on a whale watching excursion.  (See my photos above.) 

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2 minutes ago, Turtles06 said:

 

I've been to Cabo twice. You might see some whales from the ship, generally with binoculars. But it's nothing like being on a whale watching excursion.  (See my photos above.) 

Agree.

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On 6/15/2024 at 6:01 AM, BarnCat1 said:

  I have done whale watching in Alaska, but you can never see too many whales.  Are they visible from the ship as well?

Yes we saw a bunch following the ship out at Cabo. 

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On 6/15/2024 at 7:06 AM, Turtles06 said:

 

That is definitely a big plus for the Joy's itinerary.  Our first Canal transit put us in PV and Cabo in early February, and we went whale watching in both places.  PV was interesting, but Cabo was extraordinary.  We had a great morning seeing humpbacks from a small boat, at one point following (from the required distance) a mama humpback and her calf as she taught the calf how to breach.  It was one of the most incredible things we've ever seen.

 

Baby gives it a try:

 

Babybreaching2.thumb.jpg.111692b8b06d673d2ad09ee5f661a607.jpg

 

Here comes mama:

 

MamaHumpbackbreaching.thumb.jpg.dcfa25de3c9cd910d5685447434b1648.jpg

 

Mamabreaching2.thumb.jpg.02239ffffa42e62ed96ee52f82eef685.jpg

 

Mamasplash.thumb.jpg.cb1a3b82fc58c140cc1711caa8a77d49.jpg

 

(photos by turtles06)

Amazing photos!

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Posted (edited)
38 minutes ago, The Traveling Man said:

Amazing photos!

 The photos of the whales and the potential of seeing these amazing animals (even though I have been on a few whale watches before) is making me lean more toward the Joy itinerary, plus the canal transit is later in the cruise rather than the first day like the Jades itinerary, allowing for a full day in Panama before the transit for additional touring of the city and the locks. 

Edited by BarnCat1
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If this helps cement your decision, I just got a book from the Panama Canal lecturer on a luxury line. He says “westbound” is a better first passage. It makes the locks more interesting.

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3 hours ago, Kp125 said:

If this helps cement your decision, I just got a book from the Panama Canal lecturer on a luxury line. He says “westbound” is a better first passage. It makes the locks more interesting.


Having fully transited the Canal in both directions, I’m wondering if he explained the basis for his opinion. Thanks. 

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1 hour ago, Turtles06 said:


Having fully transited the Canal in both directions, I’m wondering if he explained the basis for his opinion. Thanks. 

"Westbound" is actually kind of south, while "Eastbound" is mostly north.  I wonder if the position of the sun, and hence the direction of shadows, played a part in his recommendation.

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4 hours ago, Kp125 said:

If this helps cement your decision, I just got a book from the Panama Canal lecturer on a luxury line. He says “westbound” is a better first passage. It makes the locks more interesting.

Our first transit was Westbound (actually mostly south) through the new locks.  Our next time was Eastbound (mostly north) through the old locks.  The Eastbound experience through the old locks was far more interesting.  Our third time, an in-and-out through the old locks on the Atlantic side with a shore excursion to the canal visitors center, was the best of all.

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I prefer the “westbound/southern” transit, but really I think for the NCL itinerary. Starts with a few sea days and the transit ends with the crossing of the Bridge of Americas. Get to see it all during daylight, whereas sometimes in the other direction the transit starts at like 0200 (e.g. Bliss 2023 LA-Mia).

Last port is Cabo, and while the time in port is better coming the other way, I’ve done so many MR cruises that have Cabo as the last port, it’s feel weird doing it “backwards” with Cabo as first port.

 

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I did the Joy last year and highly recommend that if you like whales and turtles. We did see whales in Cabo on a whale watching excursion but I saw whales from my balcony pulling into Puerta Vallarta and then after a shore excursion that morning where we saw moms and baby whales, I sat on my balcony and watched sea turtles grazing below. Amazing! I'm going on the Bliss in 2026. We'll skip Puerta Vallarta 😢but I'll get to see Costa Rico which was swapped out for Acapulco on my 2023 trip.

 

As to the locks, I did an excursion that went through the old locks to Gantun Lake. It was a smaller ship so we could reach out and touch the walls. Then the next day we went all the way through in the new locks. I need to do the old locks from the other direction (east to west) to Gantun Lake so I can say I've been though 3 times rather than 2 and a half!

 

20230111_135318.jpg

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On 6/18/2024 at 10:31 AM, Turtles06 said:


Having fully transited the Canal in both directions, I’m wondering if he explained the basis for his opinion. Thanks. 

His rationale is that you enter the triple Gatun Lock system traveling up through the locks than moving down when you enter from the Pacific 

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