Norwegian Bliss to Cruise the Caribbean after a Alaskan season.
After spending its inaugural season in Alaska, the Norwegian Bliss will sail weeklong Caribbean cruises from Miami in winter 2017-18.
Beginning on Nov. 17, 2018, the Bliss will depart each Saturday on cruises that will call in St. Thomas, Tortola and Nassau.
Norwegian Cruise Line will bridge the Alaska and Miami deployments with a five-day sailing from Vancouver to Los Angeles, four round trip Mexican Riviera cruises from Los Angeles, and a 14-day Panama Canal cruise from Los Angeles to Miami.
The Bliss will journey through the Panama Canal’s new locks, along with calling in Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, Mexico; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; and Cartagena, Colombia.
The Bliss is slated to enter service in June 2018, sailing Alaska cruises from Seattle.
The new, wider locks on the Panama Canal will open June 26 with the first official transit of a cargo ship, but don’t expect much traffic through them from cruise ships.
Only one cruise ship has reserved space to move through the new locks, which are open to one cruise ship a day starting in June 2017, according to the Panama Canal Authority.
Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess is scheduled to make a series of thirteen 10-day cruises through the canal beginning Oct. 21, 2017.
At 118 feet wide, the 3,080-passenger Caribbean Princess can’t fit into the 110-foot locks that were opened in 1914. The new locks had been scheduled to open in time for the centennial but were delayed by disputes between Panama and the consortia of contractors that built them.
The new locks rely on tugs rather than electric locomotives to move ships through them. Doubts have been raised about the ability to fit the tugs in the locks along with the longest ships, but at 951 feet, the Caribbean Princess will have room to spare in the 1,400 foot locks.
For cargo ships, questions have also been raised about the record-low depths of water in Gatun Lake, which connects locks on the Atlantic and Pacific side of the canal. Depths hit 81.75 feet earlier this year. But large cruise ships typically need only about 30 feet to operate.
Most cruise ships transiting the Panama Canal will continue to use the old locks. Cruise lines have several ships operating in Alaska that would need the new locks to move to the Atlantic, such as Royal Caribbean International’s Explorer of the Seas and Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Solstice. But for now they are stationed year-round in the Pacific, moving to Australia, New Zealand and the Far East during the winter.
A spokesman for Carnival Cruise Line said Carnival doesn’t have any full transit Panama Canal cruises scheduled through April 2018.
Holland America Line recently launched the Koningsdam, the first HAL ship that will not fit through the old locks, but it is currently deployed in Europe during the summer and the Caribbean during the winter.
A post-panamax bulk carrier became the first ship to pass through the Panama Canal’s new locks on Thursday, kicking off a series of trial runs ahead of the expanded canal’s grand opening later this month.
The $5.3 billion expansion project involves the construction of a new set of locks on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides and multiple dredging projects to create a second lane of traffic along the canal. The new locks are much wider and deeper than the current locks.
The first run was meant to simulate a southbound transit through the new Agua Clara locks on Atlantic side of the 255-meter-long, 43m wide MV Boroque, which was chartered by the Panama Canal Authority specifically for this purpose.
The trial runs will help Panama Canal workers prepare for the start of commercial operations on June 27 when the first vessels will begin using the new “neopanamax” locks on either ends of the canal. Unlike the existing locks, which use locomotives, the new locks require the use of two tugs positioned forward and aft to guide the ships through.
For that reason, Panama Canal pilots and tugboat captains have been required to go through extensive training at the canal’s own simulator training center and a nearby scale model facility, but there’s nothing like the real.
Before heading through the new locks, the MV Boroque was boarded by Panama Canal pilots before entering designated canal waters.
The lead tug here was the Cerro Santiago, one of many built by the Panama Canal Authority in anticipation of the new locks.
Inauguration of the Third Set of Locks project is scheduled for June 26 with commercial operations scheduled to begin the next day. During the initial stage of operation, only four vessels per day will be allowed to use the new locks to allow workers the chance to get used to the new operation.