There was a time when a large cruise ship was 46,000 tons with a length of 882 feet, a total height of 175 feet, and carrying about 2,200 passengers and crew. That was 100 years ago and the ship I’m referring to is the Titanic, probably the most famous ship in history. At the time of its release it was called the “largest ship afloat”.
Over the years, as the popularity of cruising grew and grew, so did the size of the ships and their passenger carrying capacity. Although not every new cruise ship built challenges the limits, a new ship that does is released fairly often.
Today the largest ships, actually two ships of the same size, are Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas each having a length of 1,187 feet and a gross tonnage of over 225,000. The height of these ships just from above the waterline is 236 feet. These two ships can each carry over 6,200 people (passengers and crew). But let’s not stop there. Royal is reportedly building another ship to be released in 2016 that will beat that by another 2500 tons and adding another 300 people to its carrying limit. Is there a maximum limit to cruise ship size?
The reasons the cruise lines build their ships larger is obvious. Larger ships mean more passengers per cruise, which means more money in their pockets. Besides carrying more people, larger ships offer more things to do, more restaurants, more clubs, more pools, more everything. And with the new ships adding things like rock climbing walls, water slides, skating rinks, outdoor theatres, zip lining, etc., more space is needed, and more people are being attracted to cruising.
Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, to be released in 2014, will have bumper cars and a skydive simulator onboard. Princess’s Regal Princess, also to be released in 2014, will have a SkyWalk that extends over the ocean, a pastry shop, and a television studio.
Cruise ships have become floating cities with shopping malls, bars, dance clubs, casinos, restaurants, coffee shops, theatres, comedy clubs, internet bars, video game arcades, and more. Larger ships also tend to be cheaper to sail on than the smaller and mid-sized ships, and that attracts even more people.
But are these mega-ships at a disadvantage? Well, for one thing they are harder to maneuver in small places so there are some places where these ships cannot go. Smaller ports of call, or ports with a narrow or relatively shallow entrance channel would be a problem for these ships. At some of these ports, they could tender people in if docking is not possible, but there are still some ports where it’s not efficient to even tender people in due to the distance the ship would need to anchor away from the port.
As of November 2014, cruise ships larger than 96,000 tons, which is not very big by today’s standards, will be banned from entering the Giudecca Canal, the waterway between Venice and the island of Giudecca.
The Panama Canal is being widened to accommodate larger ships, not just cruise ships but the mega-cargo ships being built too. As the ships keep getting larger, they continue to test the limits of what the canal can handle.
Key West has decided it needs to widen and deepen its channel to remain a viable cruise stop. The cruise lines are also putting up money to have docks expanded, and as they build docks in new locations (Costa Maya for instance), they are taking into consideration the size of these mega-ships and constructing them large enough to be safe.
So is there a maximum limit to the size of cruise ships? Only time will tell, but for now it looks like we haven’t come close.