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Big Princess Passes Thru New Canal

Princess Cruises has taken travelers on trips to the Panama Canal for five decades, but until recently, none of its mammoth, 3,000-person ships could fit through the Agua Clara locks. That changed last June, when the locks were reopened following the completion of Panama’s $5.4 billion “Neo-Panamax” Canal expansion project. On Oct. 26, the Santa Clarita company celebrated 50 years of Panama Canal voyages by becoming the first cruise line in the world to sail a mega-liner through the newly expanded locks, which are on the Caribbean side of the waterway. Travelers aboard the Caribbean Princess, a 118-foot wide ship with the capacity for 3,200 people, were treated to Panamanian cuisine and narration about the history of the canal as the ship crossed between oceans. “Marking our 50th anniversary taking guests to the Panama Canal in 2017 is a huge milestone,” Princess Chief Executive Jan Swartz said in a statement. “The widely anticipated expansion of the Panama Canal allows us to showcase this engineering spectacle to more guests than ever on our larger ships.” Prior to the canal’s expansion – which was commissioned by the government of Panama in 2006 – ships could be no more than 106 feet wide. Princess liners Coral Princess, Island Princess and Pacific Princess all met the requirement, but had roughly two-thirds the carrying capacity or less than that of the company’s mega-liners. The canal expansion added 70 feet to the width and 18 feet of depth to the Agua Clara locks, enabling ships up to 118 feet wide to traverse it. At 118 feet wide, the Caribbean Princess and the Emerald Princess will both be making voyages through the canal in coming seasons. The Panama Canal was built in the early 20th century to facilitate the movement of trade between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The waterway, which spans 48 miles, halved the time needed to cross between the two oceans; today, ships can pass through in roughly eight to 10 hours, according to the Panama Canal Authority. More than 1 million ships have traversed the canal since it opened in 1914. Princess Cruises began taking travelers through the canal in 1967, the first commercial cruise liner to do so. It now offers 10-day and 19-day round trips to the destination – originating from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Los Angeles, respectively – as well as one-way voyages from either coast that last between 15 and 19 days. The trips include port calls at cities in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, where travelers can take excursions through rainforests, visit volcanoes and tour historic landmarks. The Caribbean Princess will conduct 13 voyages through the Panama Canal this year. – Helen Floersh

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