Cruise ship sets canal record
Monday was a day for the record books at the Panama Canal as one of world’s biggest cruise ships, Norwegian Bliss, passed through the waterway for the first time.
Unveiled by Norwegian Cruise Line in April, the 168,028-ton vessel is the ninth-largest cruise ship ever built and by far the biggest to attempt a transit of the canal. Twenty decks high and 1,082-feet long, Bliss is in the midst of an inaugural journey from the German shipyard where it was built to Seattle, where it will be based for the summer.
The transit comes nearly two years after the completion of a massive expansion at the Panama Canal that has opened it up to the world’s biggest cruise ships. Two new sets of locks were added — one each on the Atlantic and Pacific sides — that allow for bigger ships. The expansion also brought new channels that serve the new locks as well as an expansion of channels to the canal’s original locks, which remain in operation.
Though the old locks at the canal are large enough for many of the world’s cruise ships, they can’t handle a rapidly growing number of megavessels. Until now, when moving between the Atlantic and Pacific, these bigger ships have had to travel around the tip of South America, adding 8,000 miles and many days to their journey.
Bliss is one of 20 cruise ships transiting the canal this season that are too big for the old locks, according to the Panama Canal Authority. The cruise ship transit season traditionally lasts from September through May as vessels reposition from the Caribbean to the West Coast and back.
Norwegian Bliss is the largest cruise ship to transit the Panama Canal.