Where do I go for resources on freighter travel? I want the trip to encompass the Panama and Suez canals.
-Sandra, Sunriver, Ore.
A: If your goal is to visit both the Panama and the Suez canals, you're going to have to be willing to spend a considerable amount of time at sea, since as you probably know, the Panama Canal is in South America and the Suez Canal is in the Middle East.
Maris Freighter & Specialty Cruises (www.freightercruises.com, or toll-free, 800-99-Maris) offers a 15-week voyage that includes both canals, but it begins and ends outside of the United States. There are trips that sail monthly from Dunkirk to Le Havre, France, then across the Atlantic to Cristobal, Panama, and through the Panama Canal to Tahiti, then on to New Zealand, New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua, New Guinea, and then to Singapore, followed by a passage through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, ending in Hamburg, Germany.
The same company also offers an eastbound cruise starting and ending in Texas. This voyage lasts 18 weeks and goes from Texas, up the East Coast of the United States, to Hamburg, Germany, then to Belgium, Italy, and another European port, then through the Suez Canal to India, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, various ports in China, then to Korea, Japan, and back to the States, stopping in Southern California, then through the Panama Canal, and ending in Houston, Texas.
Freighter World Cruises (www.freighterworld.com, or toll-free, 800-531-7774) and TravLtips (www.travltips.com, or toll-free, 800-872-8584) also offer similar itineraries, with near identical destinations and trip lengths.
A number of other voyages including either the Panama Canal or the Suez are also available from all three companies.
Here’s some general information about freighter cruises that you may want to know:
Most freighters hold up to 12 passengers, usually less, and between 10 and 12 crew members. The ships are smaller than most cruise ships. Naturally, amenities are much different from those on traditional cruise ships.
Trip lengths obviously vary by destination and can last anywhere from days to months. Pricing is usually around $100 a day, which generally adds up to be more expensive than flying but much less than cruising. Note that prices are usually Euro-based, which may make them a bit more pricey, considering the exchange rate.
Be sure to note that port stops may change with congestion and weather, and the timing may put you at certain spots in the middle of the night. Just be prepared to deal with changes.
One more thing: Make sure you're in good health, since there are no doctors aboard, although in an emergency, they can call one.