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Although the canal is impressive when admired from any of Panama City's various viewing points, there's nothing quite like getting onto the water and navigating it amid the giant cargo ships. People spend thousands of dollars on cruises that include a canal crossing, but you can have the same experience for $100 to $200 and be free to 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 full transits, which take you from one ocean to the other. All transits are accompanied by an expert guide who tells a bit of the canal's history, and include a Continental breakfast, and, on full transits, a cold box lunch. Partial transits travel between the island marinas on the Amador Causeway and the port of Gamboa, on Gatún Lake, a trip that lasts four to five hours. Transits take place every Friday and Saturday, May–December, and Thursday–Saturday (with additional days per demand), during the January–April high season. Full transits take place once or twice a month, usually on Saturday, and last eight or nine hours. Departure times are fixed, but finishing times can be only approximate; the Panama Canal Authority always gives priority to larger cargo and cruise ships. Either trip is an unforgettable experience, suitable for travelers of all ages.
Canal&Bay Tours. This 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, and the 85-foot Isla Morada, and the 85-foot Tuira II, both of which have one large covered deck. Partial transits are $115; full transits are $165. Bahia Balboa Building, next to Nunciatura, 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 are $120; full transits are $175. Villa Porras and Calle Belén, no. 106, San Francisco, Summit. 507/226–8917. www.pmatours.net.
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