Not merely content to be ‘floating hotels’, some cruise ships are more like ‘resorts at sea’. With some high profile new ships launched at over 100,000 gross tonnes, including Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, P&O’s Britannia and yet more to launch in the upcoming years, the rise of ‘mega ships’ looks to be a trend – but where next?
In 2016, Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas will snatch the ‘Largest Cruise Ship in the World’ crown from her sisters, Allure and Oasis of the Seas, coming in at a staggering 227,000 gross tons, 1,188ft in length and carrying a maximum of 6,366 passengers aboard. In 2010, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic was the first ship to cross over the 5,000 maximum capacity threshold, with a maximum capacity for 5,183. With a current total of 61 ships coming in at over 100,000 gross tons – with over twenty being built since 2010 – it seems as if there’s a continuing trend towards ever larger ships, whether by gross tonnage and/or passenger capacity.
In some ways, a seeming competition between ship companies to build ever bigger (and faster) ships is nothing new; the world-famous RMS Titanic, at the time the world’s largest ship afloat at the time, was White Star Line’s response to rivals Cunard, Hamburg America and Norddeutscher Lloyd, although White Star chairman, J. Bruce Ismay, preferred to compete on size rather than speed (Cunard’s recently launched Mauretania and the ill-fated Lusitania were at the time the fastest passenger ships). However at only 46,328 gross tonnes and 882 ft 9 inch in length, and a passenger capacity of 2,435, Titanic is positively small compared to today’s behemoths, and the current Queens, Allure and Oasis of the Seas are nearily five times her size! Funnily enough, though, all three ships share the same maximum speed, with a top speed of 23 knots!
What makes a ship a ‘mega ship?’ One of the most important differentiations between cruise ships – particularly for first time cruisers – is size, and cruise ships are generally categorised into four different groups by this criteria: small ships, mid-sized, large and mega ships. A mega-ship will generally carry over 3,000 passengers, and will have in excess of 100,000 gross tons, the measurement which refers to the ship’s internal volume from keel to funnel, to the outside of the hull framing. The first cruise ship to be built with over 100,000 gross tons was Carnival Destiny in 1996 (she was later refitted and renamed as Carnival Sunshine, pictured below, in 2013), with a maximum capacity for 3,758 passengers, and it would seem that a trend was born, which has certainly picked up its pace in the 2010s!
Big and Beautiful vs Small but Perfectly Formed
Mega ships seem to have all the fun and bustle of a family-friendly resort; whilst lots of ships may have one, or possibly even two or more, swimming pools on deck, mega ships take it even further, with colourful waterparks, and dozens of pools! Their theatres are capable of featuring actual Broadway musical productions, and there are activities everywhere, from arcades and interactive video games to chilled out music performances. Onboard dining venues and options are numerous, with a greater choice to cater for the many legions of passengers. With their wide range of onboard facilities and amenities, it’d be tempting to spend your whole cruise onboard, with the ship itself the destination! It’s easy to see how these mega ships can be dazzling.
Does this spell the end of small-ship cruising? In a word: no! For many, small ship cruising definitely has its charms – those preferring a more intimate travel experience, personalised and attentive service where the staff know your name, and even get to learn your preferences, and the ability to call at smaller or more difficult to reach ports, offering more exotic itineraries.
No doubt the trend for mega ships will continue, with Norwegian Cruise Lines planning to launch three more ships in their Breakaway Plus class in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and more Quantum and Oasis class ships due to be launched from Royal Caribbean in 2018 and 2019 (in addition to Harmony and Ovation of the Seas in 2016). Furthermore in 2015, it was reported that Carnival Cruise Lines, the world’s biggest cruise line, would introduce ships carrying an incredible 7,000 passengers on either its German-based AIDA or Italian-based Costa brands. Due to be launched between 2018 and 2022, whilst these ships will be record-breaking in their passenger capacities, they are not due to take Harmony’s crown in terms of gross tonnage, as reports also state they will be built to 180,000 gross tons.
However, there’s still a demand for smaller ships, with Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, Silversea and Crystal all due to launch new, smaller luxury cruise ships between 2016 and 2018, with maximum passenger capacities ranging between 596 and 1,000. Luxury lines are not the only cruise lines with plans to launch smaller ships, with two new Saga ships carrying less than 1,000 passengers due to launch in the Summers of 2019 and 2021, whilst Hurtigruten’s newest ship, MS Spitsbergen, will carry a maximum of 320 guests along traditional coastal routes.
There is also perhaps a new trend starting to emerge, with a focus on expedition and yachting. Crystal’s first yacht, Crystal Esprit, was launched at the end of 2015, and more yacht cruises planned to be added to the new fleet. At the beginning of 2016, Scenic made an exciting revelation: a brand new, discovery yacht due to launch in 2018, complete with a seven-seat submarine and two helicopters and state-of-the-art technology ensuring the ultimate in safety and comfort for the 228 guests onboard.
With the continuing development of technology and the increasing popularity of cruising, it looks like the most obvious trend will be an increase in new cruise ships, whatever their size or style!
If you are interested in booking a cruise holiday, contact our dedicated cruise specialists today - big, small, luxury, expedition, or a family cruise, they can help you!
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