There are certain facts about a Panama Canal cruise that you should consider to ensure that it is hassle-free. In addition, whether or not your cruise sails round-trip from the U.S., you must decide whether to arrange airline tickets on your own or use the AIR/SEA program offered by the cruise line. Here are the main points to help you with your decision.
- Most Panama Canal cruises depart from a U.S. port, such as Los Angeles or Miami, but some depart from ports in Central America.
- Panama Canal cruises are typically either partial transit cruises that depart from and return to the same port or full transit cruises that reposition from one port to another. Partial transit sailings typically depart from Florida. Full transit sailings typically depart from California or Florida.
- Some of the 6-star cruise lines and cruise lines that feature exploration ships offer Panama Canal sailings that originate in Costa Rica or Panama.
- For Panama Canal cruises originating in Costa Rica, you will likely fly into the airport in San Jose. This airport is about 3 hours from the pier, and the purchase of cruise line transfers or a pre-cruise hotel package is highly recommended.
- For Panama Canal cruises originating in Colon, Panama, you will likely fly into the airport in Panama City. This airport is about 60 miles from the pier, and the purchase of cruise line transfers is highly recommended.
- Flights from the U.S. into Central America will require passports and you will be required to go through customs.
- Passports are not required for most partial transit Panama Canal sailings that are roundtrip from a U.S. port since the itinerary is considered a closed-loop sailing, meaning it departs from a U.S. port and returns to the same U.S. port.
- Flights from the East Coast of the U.S. to Central America: Because of different time zones, you can expect to gain time on your flight from the East Coast to Central America and lose time on your flight home.
- Flights from the West Coast or Central U.S. to Central America: In most cases, you will not change time zones.
- Flights from the upper 48 states of the U.S. to Costa Rica or Panama may be red-eye flights.
- For international flights, some airlines recommend that guests arrive at the airport at least 3 hours prior to their flight's departure.
- When flying the day of departure try to book non-stop flights.
- Allow for extra connecting time if a connection is required.
- Choose an air carrier with a hub in your region.
- Consider flying in a day prior. In some cases you'll need to fly a long distance to reach your port of departure. Arriving at the port city at least one or two days in advance of your cruise will give you time to rest and get oriented before boarding the ship. Most cruise lines offer pre-cruise hotel packages.
- Purchasing transfers through the cruise line is recommended. They are often more convenient and cost-effective than a taxi.
- Purchasing travel insurance is recommended. Be sure to read the insurance policy thoroughly and check for any flight-related restrictions.
Advantages of Arranging Your Own Airline Tickets
The main advantages of securing your own airline tickets are that you will be able to select the airline you fly and you will have some control over the timing and routing of your flights. You may wish to fly a particular airline to use frequent flier rewards, or to earn frequent flier miles, or because that carrier has nonstop service to your port city. If you arrange your own airline tickets you will have more control over these variables. If you utilize the cruise line's AIR/SEA program, you may be given an air schedule with an overnight flight, multiple connections, and in some cases, a forced overnight stay at your expense.
Advantages of Using the AIR/SEA Program
The main reasons to let us book your air at the same time you reserve your cruise -- through the cruise line's AIR/SEA department -- are convenience and the peace of mind that your flight will make easy connections to your ship.
Cruise lines meet their AIR/SEA passengers at the airport and transport them to the pier. These transfers are frequently free of charge, but even if a charge is levied it is typically less than what you would pay if you arranged your own transfers.
Cruise lines monitor the status of flights carrying their AIR/SEA passengers, and will sometimes (depending on the number of passengers involved) hold a ship past its scheduled departure time to wait for guests arriving on a delayed flight, but only if that flight was booked through the cruise line.
And finally, sometimes unexpected things occur that affect travel plans. Flight delays or cancellations, changes in cruise ship arrival or departure times, and cancellation of sailings altogether, are some of the things that can force you to rebook at a later time or date or seek a refund for your airline tickets. If any of these things should happen before or during your vacation, you will not be eligible for assistance from the cruise line if you arranged your own airline tickets. However, if we secure your tickets through the cruise line's AIR/SEA program, some cruise lines will assist you in working with the airline to make alternate flight plans, help you catch up with your ship at the next port, or apply for a refund. Your cruise counselor will verify the details of each cruise line’s AIR/SEA program at the time of booking.
The bottom line: Ask your Vacations To Go cruise counselor to quote air
from the cruise line and compare that rate to the best rate you can find calling
airlines directly. If the rates are close, you're probably better off letting
us book your airline tickets through the AIR/SEA program.