Cruise Through the History of the Panama Canal

The Coral Princess cruises through the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal stands today as a testament to modern engineering, but its creation was not without hurdles. The idea to build the Panama Canal was first noted in 1534, but all progress was halted by a series of wars. It was again proposed by Thomas Jefferson in 1788. But it was only after hundreds of years, with immeasurable planning efforts, that the Panama Canal was finally constructed.

Today, Panama Canal cruises are among the most popular in the world, with over 13,000 vessels passing through every year. On a cruise vacation through this thoroughfare, you can learn all about its fascinating past — what's more, you'll experience the surrounding region that helped make history. Learn the history of the Panama Canal and the major players in its construction as you prepare for your cruise:

It Begins with the French

In 1877, French Navy Lieutenant Lucien Napoleon Bonaparte Wyse, who had been exploring the Isthmus of Panama, proposed plans for a sea-level canal. Construction first began in 1879 under the leadership of Ferdinand de Lesseps, then a French diplomat. Unfortunately, building the Panama Canal proved to be much more troublesome than the French anticipated: Thousands of workers died during this effort, the results of malaria, yellow fever, and other diseases. It is estimated that 22,000 laborers' lives were lost in the nine years of construction that transpired before the French halted their efforts.

The US Steps In

Despite losses sustained by the French, the United States' interest in a canal held strong — in June of 1902, after some deliberation, the US Senate voted in favor of the Panama Canal and later, with the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1903, the United States was granted license to construct one.

Still, tension prevented the canal from being built. Political unrest prevented the United States from building a pathway until after Panama declared its independence in 1903. In that time, President Roosevelt's pro-Panamanian independence efforts were considered controversial. Roosevelt writes in his autobiography, "There are plenty of other things I started merely because the time had come that whoever was in power would have started them. But the Panama Canal would not have started if I had not taken hold of it."

At the end of it all, in 1904, construction of the canal could finally take place; after 10 years, it was complete.

A Lasting Legacy

On August 15, 1914, the SS Ancon was the first ship to pass through the Panama Canal, changing the face of the world and broadening horizons for travelers. Today, renowned for its beauty and rich history, the canal has become an international landmark that many travelers dream of visiting.

Our Panama Canal cruises will take you back through time. Indulge the history of the Panama Canal and everything the experience has to offer — from marveling at the wonders of the canal, to sightseeing in Old Panama City, to exploring the region's jungles on an aerial rainforest tram — and when you step back into the present, you'll come back new.

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