Norwegian Bliss

(9 a.m. EST) -- Norwegian Bliss today became the largest cruise ship to ever transit the Panama Canal -- carrying more than 4,000 passengers, measuring in at 168,028 gross tons and comprising 20 decks.

The brand-new Norwegian Cruise Line ship, which left Germany's Meyer Weft shipyard in March 2018, is in the middle of an inaugural series of voyages that have included stops in New York and Miami. After the Panama Canal, the ship will call at Los Angeles and Seattle, where it will be christened on May 30 before kicking off its summer season in Alaska.

"The Panama Canal is proud to welcome the Norwegian Bliss and recognizes that this distinct milestone is made possible by the Canal Expansion, as well as the experience and efforts gained in the two years since its inauguration," said Deputy Canal Administrator Manuel Benitez.

Unveiled in June 2016, the expanded Panama Canal introduced two new sets of locks, and widened and deepened existing lanes and locks, allowing for larger ships to pass. Other mega cruise ships that have been able to offer Panama Canal transits thanks to the expansion include Caribbean Princess, Carnival Freedom, Carnival Splendor and Disney Wonder.

The Panama Canal's 2017-2018 cruising season ends on May 24. A handful of cruise lines including Norwegian, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean will continue offering full or partial transits through the rest of the season.

Norwegian Bliss will sail seven-night Alaska cruises from Seattle, beginning June 2. It will then offer a short series of Mexican Riviera cruises from Los Angeles, before repositioning to Miami, from where it will operate Eastern Caribbean itineraries during the fall/winter season. In 2019, after another summer season in Alaska, the ship will return to New York City to offer seven-night cruises to the Bahamas and Caribbean.

Standout features of the ship include a go-kart racetrack, open-air laser tag arena, full-scale production of Broadway's "Jersey Boys" and a 20,000-square-foot Observation Lounge.

--By Gina Kramer, Editor