Cruising the Panama Canal Lavishly

For luxury cruise lines, the Panama Canal has always meant an expeditious method of crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, or vice versa, in only a matter of hours. Along the way, cruisers are treated to a number of engineering marvels, which includes a series of intricate locks and man-made lakes. The Regent Seven Seas' Mariner

The journey through is half the fun of a Panama Canal adventure. A ship sailing from the east will enter the canal at the Gatun Locks, where it will be raised about 85 feet into Gatun Lake. From there, the ship cuts through the aptly named Culebra Cut (culebra is Spanish for "shake") on its way to the Pedro Miguel Locks. There, the ship is lowered 30 feet. The ship then meanders on until arriving at the Miraflores Locks, the final lock system, where the ship is lowered another 52 feet before pushing into the Pacific Ocean. The entire process takes around nine hours. Along the way, guests onboard will in some instances be so close to the canal walls that they can touch them from their stateroom balcony.

Onboard Enrichment

All of the luxury lines operate Panama Canal sailings, but there is more to the itineraries than just passing through the canal, such as the many onboard enrichment programs. Luxe Lines That Go There

Regent Seven Seas' Mariner entered the Panama Canal in May and featured an Ocean Futures Society lecture program along with a Food & Wine Spotlight Series.

Silversea is bringing Academy Award-caliber cinema on its Silver Shadow Panama Canal cruise this fall, which will feature Rex Pickett, whose novel, "Sideways," turned wine snobbery into a major hit film. For golfers, Silversea offers its Silver Links program on two 15-day Panama Canal sailings. The program gives golfers the opportunity to play renowned courses along the way in Mexico and South America.

Many of Crystal Cruises' Panama Canal crossings are themed or special-interest cruises that include cooking courses, body-wellness classes and wine and food festivals.

Several of the luxury lines, such as Regent, include a stop at GatunLake, where guests can relax with a drink and take in some sun at the Gatun Yacht Club, or choose from a host of excursions. Of particular note: the Chagres River Eco Cruise and Rain Forest Walk lets guests experience rainforest wildlife up close, such as monkeys and an array of exotic birds. Tip: It's best to pack a pair of closed-toe, comfortable shoes.

Some luxury lines think of the Panama Canal as the "cherry on top." Seabourn is more concerned with the ports before and after negotiating the canal. The line's signature offering is its Caviar in the Surf beach barbecue, which it offers at Hunting Cay in Belize. That doesn't mean Seabourn sidesteps the canal experience itself; a guide from the Canal Authority gives an onboard running commentary as the ship makes its way through the varying canal mechanisms.