The thunderous noise, raw power and natural beauty of Niagara Falls are definite highlights of a cruise on the Great Lakes of Canada and the US – but how do cruise ships continue their journey from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie or vice versa, when the great Niagara Falls deny a safe way through?

The solution – the Welland Canal. Built in 1829, the Welland Canal has been the way ships have bypassed Niagara Falls for nearly 200 years. The man-made marvel has been worked on and improved since it was built. The fourth and current iteration of the canal was finished in 1932 and connects Lake Ontario and Lake Erie through a complex system of eight locks, which allow ships to traverse up and down the Niagara escarpment.

To put it simply for those who aren’t cruise enthusiasts, a lock is basically an elevator for ships. A ship will enter a lock gate and it will close the ship in, becoming watertight and then water is either drained from the chamber to travel down river or poured into the chamber to travel up river. The maximum vessel length allowed to transit the Welland Canal locks is 225.5 metres and the maximum height is 35.5 metres.

Cruising through the Welland Canal is not only essential to a Great Lakes cruise, but it is an entertaining journey as guests pass through each lock. The canal operates for most of the year; however, it closes during the winter months when weather conditions become a hazard to both navigation and shipping.

Experience the natural and man-made wonders of the Great Lakes, sailing aboard one of American Queen Voyages’ two twin sisters Ocean Navigator and Ocean Voyager, and taking in Niagara Falls, the scenic St Lawrence Seaway, Welland Canal and the Atlantic Coast.

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