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Although the canal is impressive when admired from any of the city's various viewing points, there's nothing quite like getting onto the water and navigating it amidst the giant cargo ships. People spend thousands of dollars on cruises that include a canal crossing, but you can have the same experience for $120 to $160, and spend the night in a spacious hotel room. Two companies offer partial transit tours, which travel through the canal's Pacific locks and Gaillard Cut, and occasional full transits, which take you from one ocean to the other. All transits are accompanied by an expert bilingual guide. Full transits include a Continental breakfast and a simple lunch. Partial transits travel between the islands at the end of the Amador Causeway and the port of Gamboa, on Gatún Lake, a trip that lasts 4–5 hours. Full transits take place once or twice a month and last 8–9 hours. Either trip is an unforgettable experience, fit for travelers of all ages.
Canal Bay Tours. This tour company offers partial and full transit tours on one of three ships: the 115-foot Fantasía del Mar, which has air-conditioned cabins and a large upper deck; the 85-foot Isla Morada, which has one large covered deck; and the 117-foot Tuira II, which has two covered decks. Partial transits cost $115 for adults and $60 for children; less frequent full transits, $165 adults and $75 children. Bahía Balboa Building, next to Nunciatura, Punta Paitilla, Panama City. 507/209–2009. www.canalandbaytours.com.
Panama Marine Adventures. Panama Marine Adventures runs canal transits on the 119-foot Pacific Queen, a comfortable ship with air-conditioned cabins and two large decks. Partial transits cost $120 for adults and $65 for children; full transits, $175 adults and $75 children. Villa Porras and Calle Belén, No. 106, San Francisco, Panama City. 507/226–8917. www.pmatours.net.