21-day Panama Canal cruise aboard ms Nieuw Amsterdam – April 9-30, 2023
This cruise departed from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA and terminated in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 21 days later. I live in Victoria, which is close to Vancouver, so returning home at the end of the voyage was no problem, however getting to Fort Lauderdale involved taking flights two days before the ship departed.
The weather on this voyage was nearly perfect – Fort Lauderdale to San Diego through the Caribbean and Central America gave us typical warm tropical weather. The voyage from San Diego to Vancouver was along the North Pacific coast, so we had a few days of cloudy and rainy weather until our arrival in British Columbia, which was experiencing unseasonably sunny and warm conditions.
If you just want to see a photo album of the whole trip – 2023 Panama Canal Cruise – about 300 photos – a 20-minute slideshow or flip through them as you wish.
My full itinerary is listed below. Feel free to click on what interests you, however if you click on the top-most item, there are links at the bottom of each page (just above the Comments section) to take you to the next destination – from beginning to end. This is the best way to explore the whole trip as it happened.
- Victoria to Fort Lauderdale – flying from home to the cruise departure port and an overnight stay
- Fort Lauderdale Departure – Nieuw Amsterdam sails south
- Sea Day – offshore from the Bahamas
- Grand Turk – Turks & Caicos Islands
- Sea Day – Grand Turk to Aruba
- Sea Day – Aruba to Cartagena
- Cartagena – coastal Colombia
- Panama Canal – Nieuw Amsterdam transits the canal using the old locks
- Sea Day – Panama to Costa Rica
- Costa Rica – Puerto Caldera near Puntarenas
- Sea Days One, Two, Three – Costa Rica to Mexico
- Puerto Vallarta – Mexico
- Sea Day – Puerto Vallarta to Cabo San Lucas
- Cabo San Lucas – Mexico
- Sea Day – Cabo San Lucas to San Diego
- San Diego – USA
- Sea Days One, Two – San Diego to Victoria
- Victoria – Canada
- Vancouver Arrival – disembarking the ship in Vancouver and flying home to Victoria
How it started and evolved
This was a transition cruise, moving the Nieuw Amsterdam from the Caribbean (winter) to Alaska (summer), so the cruise fares were attractive. I have transited the Panama Canal four times previous to this cruise, and I’ve also cruised very similar routes twice before, but decades ago. Some of the ports-of-call were new to me, others were repeats but ports I was interested in exploring further.
One port on the original itinerary was dropped: Corinto, Nicaragua. Apparently the Nicaraguan government changed the rules about entry of cruise ship passengers, so Holland America decided to bypass that port. All other ports-of-call were happy to see cruise ships again after the long shutdown during the pandemic.
In addition to the cruise fare being attractively priced, Holland America also offered to pay the crew appreciation gratuity, discounted the Have-It-All Package (premium dining, excursions, Wi-fi, drinks), and also offered a US$300 on-board credit to my account. It ended up being a deal I couldn’t refuse!
Flights from my home city of Victoria on the west coast of Canada to Florida on the east coast of the USA tend to be expensive and involve awkward connections and routes. I found a flight offered by Air Canada that addressed both issues, since the first flight was an Air Canada Rouge (discount fare) overnight from Victoria to Toronto, and the second leg left Toronto direct to Fort Lauderdale, so only one stopover was involved. I booked a Marriott hotel a short distance between the Port Everglades cruise terminal and the airport (FLL) using points, so overnighting at that nice hotel cost nothing. My 20-minute flight home from Vancouver to Victoria at the end of the cruise was booked on Pacific Coastal Airways, which offers discounted Bravo fares that are half the price of Westjet or Air Canada.
Bottom line cost: CA$472/day (US$340/day) for airfares, cruise fare and other expenses.
So was it worth it?
This was another wonderful travel experience with Holland America Line. The cruise line continues to provide the personal touches for its passengers, despite the evolution of service levels across the cruise ship industry as they struggle to pay for the huge debt they incurred during the shutdown. I was once again spoiled while aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam (this was the same ship I was on for my 2022 Alaska & Yukon cruise). The highlights of this trip for me is seeing the Panama Canal (for the fifth time…never gets old), snorkelling a shipwreck in Aruba, experiencing the Costa Rican Cloud Forest and sublime San Jose de Cabo. The meals and drinks aboard the ship are always wonderful, and socializing with my fellow passengers and the crew is something I look forward to when cruising.