The newly expanded Panama Canal locks are open, and at least four cruise lines are planning to utilize the increased dimensions.
In June 2016, the Panama Canal officially opened its third set of locks to allow passage of larger vessels from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea and vice versa without the need to descend considerably farther around Cape Horn in South America. The greatest beneficiaries of the new lane will be mega tankers and cargo ships, but the occasional cruise ship passage can also take advantage of the larger size.
In the past, many cruise ships were specifically scaled to the former Panamax dimensions. This included Carnival Cruise Line’s Spirit-class and Princess Cruises’ Coral-class, but now, much larger ships, now classified as Neopanamax, can fit, opening up a whole new world of convenient itineraries for growing vessels.
Technically, the largest Harmony of the Seas from Royal Caribbean International would even fit the locks. However, it would not clear the Bridge of the Americas near the Pacific side of the canal. So, there are some limitations still.
In order to facilitate the arrival of the Carnival Splendor for its new year-round sailings from Long Beach, California, the 3,006-guest ship will transit the new canal locks as it departs from Miami, Florida in 2018. The ship’s beam, or width, of 116 feet exceeds the original locks’ 106-foot maximum but is well within the new locks’ 161-foot limit.
Also expected to take advantage of the new locks seasonally will be the newly lengthened Disney Wonder as it repositions to and from Alaska for the summer months. The once 964-foot-long ship just surpassed the old 965-foot Panamax dimensions when it added 20 feet to its length. By adding a ducktail to the stern for added hull efficiency, it made the ship 984 feet long, only fitting the new 1,200-foot dimension.
Princess Cruises is currently planning regular Panama Canal transits as part of its winter 2017 to 2018 itineraries. The Caribbean Princess will specifically feature the new locks on a partial transit using only the northern set. Thirteen 10-day roundtrip voyages are scheduled from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, also visiting Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; Cartagena, Colombia; Colon, Panama; Limon, Costa Rica and Falmouth, Jamaica.
Additionally, Norwegian Cruise Line will deploy its new Norwegian Bliss to Alaska in 2018 via the third lane of canal locks. In fact, we previously speculated that Norwegian’s Breakaway-class would realistically be one of the largest collection of cruise ships to be capable of clearing the full transit, and these plans for the even larger Breakaway Plus-class ship proves it to be true.
Besides those, several other biggest cruise ships in the world are potentially too tall, but there are several contenders still larger than the original Panamax size that could fit and will likely be deployed accordingly in time.