The word “Titanic” is synonymous with the largest passenger ship in history, but how big was it? And what does that make today’s cruise ships? We took a look at both.
The Titanic was a humble ship when compared to modern cruise liners. The Titanic was only nine decks high and weighed 46,000 gross tons. Modern ships average 20% longer and twice as high, with an average height of 325 meters versus 269 meters for the original vessel. They also carry more passengers, weighing an estimated 133,000 gross tons per deck on Royal Caribbean’s Vision Of The Seas.
When you think about the most famous ship in maritime history, the “Titanic” probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. But if you were one of its passengers, this giant ocean liner would be on your list of things to fear or love, and why not?
At more than 3,200 feet long (about the length of two football fields), she was massive enough to hold thousands of people inside her luxurious cabins while sinking into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean after hitting an iceberg.
“The World’s Largest Sailing Vessel”
In 1912, the White Star Line launched their newest flagship, the Olympic-class ocean liner RMS Titanic. The ship was magnificent, and she carried a full load of confidence when it set sail from Southampton on April 10th. She had more room belowdecks than any previous White Star ship, including accommodations for 1,000 crew members and nearly 2,300 guests.
A few months later, however, disaster struck. On April 14th, 1912, the world’s most remarkable sea voyage ended in the North Atlantic Ocean near the coast of Newfoundland. After striking an iceberg, the ship sank in less than four hours. More than 1,500 lives were lost, making it one of the deadliest peacetime disasters.
And yet the ship wasn’t always called the Titanic. Many people referred to it as the Cunard Liner Oriental for decades before the name caught on. The original name still exists today. It was officially changed due to trademark issues in 1969.
One way to compare the size of different vessels is by comparing them side-by-side. We’ll have a problem if we do that here since the sides aren’t equal.
For starters, the Titanic was almost three times longer than wide. That means it looked like an arrow pointing toward the horizon rather than a rectangle. Imagine taking a piece of paper, putting it next to another, then laying those pieces together to form a rectangular prism.
You’d get a much better idea of how big the Titanic is compared to other ships of similar class. Let’s try that here.
First, I made a chart showing the maximum number of passengers in each ship section based on the available deck space. Then I measured the width and depth of the areas. Finally, I assigned approximate weights to these sections to determine how heavy they needed to be to stay afloat.
After doing all of this, I determined the weight of the Titanic using this formula:
Weight = Number of Passengers x Average Passenger Weight + 100 Grams
Average Passenger Weight = Total Number of People / Maximum Number of Passengers Per Section
I found out that even with only third-class passengers on board, the Titanic’s hull weighed approximately 4 million pounds! Consider that the average person weighs 140 lbs. With that extra weight, the Titanic sank under the weight of her passengers.
The Titanic was more prominent than anything else in her category, except maybe the current record holder, the mega-yacht owned by Peter Thiel. According to my calculations, the Titanic was roughly the same size as the 200,000-ton Carnival Elation. However, the Carnival Elation is also considerably more expansive than the Titanic.
So what makes the Carnival Elation so much bigger than the Titanic? It turns out that the difference between the Carnival Elation and the Titanic comes down to design choices.
Here’s what I discovered. As far back as 1856, ships have used vertical stabilizers to help balance themselves. These devices sit directly underneath the main mast and keep the boat upright. Their purpose is to deflect waves away from specific areas of the ship, thus helping to stabilize its overall movement through rough waters.
On the Titanic, however, engineers decided to forego these stabilizers. Instead, they opted to add additional ballast below the waterline. This helped counteract the destabilizing effects of having so many passengers on board.
Today, the Carnival Elation uses vertical stabilizers to compensate for its high center of gravity. Because the Carnival Elation is heavier than the Titanic, it needs more stability. However, since the Titanic didn’t use vertical stabilizers, she required little stabilization.
This is where the extra mass provided by the Carnival Elation comes in handy. Since the Carnival Elation’s added mass sits deeper in the water, it requires more ballast to counterbalance itself. That helps to give the Carnival Elation greater stability.
If you’re curious, you can learn more about the differences between the two types of vertical stabilizers on Wikipedia.
Ships Of The Same Class
There are plenty of passenger ships in service today comparable to the Titanic. One company, Princess Cruises, offers a line of luxury liners with interior spaces ranging from 500 to 800 staterooms per ship. Another company, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, operates the largest passenger ship globally, the 710,000-ton Queen Mary 2.
Another company, Seabourn Cruises, recently announced plans for the 880,000-ton Seabourn Encore. Meanwhile, Carnival Cruise Lines boasts 675-foot-long ships, such as the 750,000-ton Destiny.
These ships may be larger than the Titanic, but none are as long as she was. Even the largest cruise ship in the world, the Freedom-Class Amorella II, has less length than the Titanic.
What Makes Today’s Ships So Huge?
So what gives? Why did the Titanic extend so long in size during her lifetime?
Well, part of the reason lies in safety regulations. When the Titanic entered service in early 1912, the U.S. Coast Guard only enforced federal laws regarding the safe operation of merchant ships. In contrast, today’s regulations require that every passenger ship meet strict guidelines to ensure passenger safety.
Also, unlike the days of the Titanic, today’s ships don’t tend to carry cargo. Cargo holds account for more than half of a ship’s total volume. There’s no longer much demand for extra deck space without the need to transport goods. This contributes to the trend toward increasing sizes.
Finally, even though the Titanic was considered unsinkable, she was still vulnerable to ice damage. Icebergs accounted for several major accidents throughout her career. Fortunately, today’s ships are equipped with sophisticated anti-ice protection systems.
What Does This Mean For Travelers?
Many people dream of traveling aboard the biggest passenger ship in the world. It’s unlikely that anyone will ever build a boat that matches her record-breaking dimensions. While the Titanic was undoubtedly the largest in capacity, she never intended to travel under her power.
Even if someone did, though, it wouldn’t matter very much. Today’s ships are explicitly designed to maximize comfort and convenience for customers. They offer amenities like Wi-Fi access, swimming pools, state-of-the-art entertainment options, and dining experiences that rival fine restaurants.
Some companies, such as Carnival Cruise Lines, even offer special promotions to encourage customers to book trips on their largest ships. If you’ve got the money to spend and want to experience life on a grand scale, it’s hard to beat cruising aboard a Carnival ship.