Panama Canal Cruise Cancelled, Are Other Cruises at Risk?

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Expedition specialist Aurora Expeditions has cancelled the upcoming sailing of Greg Mortimer that was to have sailed through the Panama Canal, as low water levels continue to impact canal traffic.

Will other Panama Canal sailings from more mainstream cruise lines be at risk of cancellation or itinerary adjustments?

Greg Mortimer Cruise Cancelled

Just one month before setting sail on what would have been a once-in-a-lifetime sailing to explore nature and wildlife with a transit through the Panama Canal, Aurora Expeditions has cancelled the April 20, 2024 departure of Greg Mortimer.

The one-way cruise was to have set sail from Costa Rica and called at stunning ports in both Costa Rica and Panama before passing through the famous Panama Canal and arriving in Cartagena, Colombia. Highlights of the cruise were to have included both the Curu National Wildlife Refuge and Rio Claro Wildlife Refuge, the Pearl Islands, and other fantastic natural vistas.

The man-made vista of the Panama Canal has proven too big a challenge for the cruise to proceed, however. Guests have been notified that the canal’s low water levels—right now, more than 7 feet below maximum operating levels—have been the major cause of the cancellation.

Few details of the cancellation are available, and the cruise line has declined to comment other than to note that it is working through solutions with passengers.

Those solutions could include such options as full refunds, rescheduling for the 2025 Panama Canal cruise (scheduled to depart April 19, 2025), or choosing a different sailing as an alternative.

Greg Mortimer Ship
Greg Mortimer Ship (Photo Credit: Mystic Stock Photography)

Greg Mortimer is the first ship of the Aurora Expeditions fleet, having debuted in 2019. The 7,892-gross-ton vessel is specifically designed for expedition work in remote locations, and can welcome just 132 guests aboard for each sailing. It is unknown whether or not the ship was fully booked for the now-cancelled sailing.

In addition to Panama Canal transits, the ship often offers stunning expeditions in Antarctica, including visits to the Falkland Islands and similar remote and rugged destinations.

Will Other Cruises Be Impacted?

Expedition cruises aren’t the only passenger vessels to transit through the Panama Canal. All major cruise lines – Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America Line, etc. – include either full or partial transits on their schedules.

Partial transits might be planned at any time of year, but full transits are often most common during the spring and fall, when ships are repositioning between sailing regions. This route is typically most popular when ships are moving from the Caribbean to Alaska and back.

Read Also: The Best Time to Cruise Alaska – Months to Choose

As water levels in the Panama Canal and the Gatun Lake, which supports canal operations, continue to fall, it is possible that other cruise itineraries will be impacted. Reduced local rainfall, other local water usage, and deforestation are all contributing to the historically low water levels.

Carnival Spirit, Panama Canal
Photo Courtesy: Panama Canal Authority

For example, Royal Caribbean already cancelled the entire Panama Canal season for Rhapsody of the Seas, which was to include partial canal transits for the 2023-2024 winter season.

Authorities monitor water levels in the canal and adjust how many ships are permitted to transit, including whether or not different sizes of vessels must be restricted.

While at this time there are no announced Panama Canal changes for major cruise lines, it is possible that some cruises may be rescheduled or cancelled, vessels changed to accommodate canal size limitations, or the timing of transits changed to use the canal most efficiently in these difficult conditions.

In addition to cruise travel, cargo ships have also been restricted through the Panama Canal at times. This is contributing to the supply chain issues affecting all industries, far beyond just the travel sector.

While Panama Canal cruises are bucket list itineraries for many travelers, any guests with sailings booked for the Panama Canal in the next few months will want to stay in close contact with their cruise line in case of changes or cancellations.

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