Cruise to Panama Canal

Becca has wanted to sail through the Panama Canal for as long as I have known her, so when I thought about doing a cruise back in May 2009, I thought Panama. I checked out the Holland America website and found ten-day cruises out of Ft. Lauderdale. Stops included Half Moon Cay, Aruba, Curacao, Panama, and Costa Rica. So a canal for Becca and two new countries for me, sounds like a plan.

Of course, then came the tough part, getting a cheap cruise that we could afford and saving up the money to pay for it. So I started charting out the prices on the Holland America site on each cruise (10/14, 10/24, 11/3, 11/13, 11/23, 12/3, and 12/23) and each cabin category on a lovely spreadsheet. It looked like the 12/13 cruise was the least expensive, so we planned on that. I booked tickets on US Airways from DCA to TPA, a car from TPA to FLL, and tickets back from FLL to DCA. We figured we could drop in on Becca's grandmother in Venice on our way.

I found a site called Cruise Critic that provided a wealth of information about cruising. It also had Roll Calls for CC members who were going to be on specific sailings. I joined the Roll Call for our cruise after we purchased it.

From watching the earlier cruises, I determined that after the balance was due (75 days out) the lowest category in each type (inside, outside, verandah, and suite) usually became available. Often the fares on these showed non-refundable and suggested a sale, although the prices were not always lower than they had been if they were previously available. Normally, prices on these would fluctuate a bit, but usually they would bottom out about 30-45 days prior to sailing.

I put in a fare request on Cruise Compete and got online pricing from three cruise-only travel agencies. So I watched their prices on the cabins in which I was interested as well as the HAL pricing. I noticed that the VH cabins, lowest level verandah, were only a couple hundred dollars more than the G obstructed-view cabins. For the Panama Canal, and breakfasts, it seemed worth it. When prices dropped to their nadir, $1295 pp VH Guarantee, we booked.

Total cost was $2350 for two, and we got $50 on-board credit, chocolate-covered strawberries, a free 8"X10" picture, and two savings booklets. Round trip airfare cost $450 for both of us. A Hertz rental car cost another $90. The week before our trip we dropped the cats off with Becca's Parents, and two days before we dropped Kevin (16-month old son) off with my sister.

Copyright 2010. John Eisinger. All Rights Reserved.