A cruise ship is a floating city, but how does it compare to other ships?
The Symphony of the Seas is a massive ship with an immense weight of 228,021 gross tons. The Harmony of the Seas comes in second place at 227,500 tons, while the Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, and Brilliance all weigh in at 225,282 gross tons and a passenger capacity of 5,400. The sixth-largest cruise ship, The Costa Smeralda, weighs 185,000 tons.
This article will examine and explain how big a cruise ship can get compared to some real-world vessels, including passenger liners, cargo ships, yachts, cruise boats, ferries, etc.
Let’s start with the basics. How much weight do all these different types of vessels typically carry? What are their maximum capacities? To answer these questions, we need to know precisely which type each ship belongs to – so let’s take them one by one.
What makes A Cruise Ship So Large
Before looking at specific vessels, there are two general factors when considering size: overall length and width. These dimensions determine volume and surface area and how easy it will be to navigate narrow waterways, such as bridges. In addition, if a ship has a limited draft (the distance between its waterline and the bottom), it can’t pass under certain bridges without getting stuck.
Here are the approximate lengths for most major cruising vessels:
- Passenger Liner: 500 feet (152 m)
- Cargoship/Container Carrier: 400 feet (121 m)
- Yacht: 300 feet (91 m)
- Fast Ferry Boat: 200 feet (61 m)
Most commercial ships have drafts ranging from 15 to 20 feet (4.6 to 6 meters), except large containerships with up to 35 feet (10.7 meters) of clearance on average. If a boat has no draft restrictions, its length is measured along its longest axis.
The next factor affecting the size of a ship is its width. This dimension is essential because it determines how wide a canal needs to fit the boat inside. As mentioned above, longer ships generally require wider ones since they occupy larger volumes than smaller ones.
However, not every vessel has equally sized sides due to structural limitations or functional requirements. Here are some typical width measurements for common sailing craft:
- Small sailboats: 12 feet (3.65 m)
- Dinghies: 10 feet (3.04m)
- Canoes & kayaks: 8 feet (2.44 m)
- Motorized fishing boats: 16 feet (4.88 m)
- Sailing cruisers: 14 feet (4.26m)
- Power catamarans: 18 feet (.567 m)
- Rafts: 19 feet (5.817 m)
- Launch vehicles: 25 feet (7.62 m)
- Larger motor launches: 40 feet (12.19 m)
In addition to determining size, these numbers also tell us how much cargo a particular ship’s shape can hold. Next, let us look at three examples of actual vessels, starting with the largest passenger liner ever built.
Cruising Onboard A Huge Floating City
As of September 2011, Royal Caribbean offers a giant passenger ship known as the Oasis Of The Seas and accommodates 3,143 guests plus crew members. At nearly 800 feet long and weighing over 250 thousand tons, she remains the third-largest cruise ship in the world behind her older sister, Voyager of the Seas, and the newest mega-liner currently operating, Crystal Symphony [ref].
Oasis Of The Seas is slightly more significant than the current record holder, Carnival Destiny, launched in August 2010. With room for 4,830 passengers plus 1,300 staff, she weighs around 260 million pounds.
While technically not a “real” passenger liner per se, Destiny carries just shy of half a million paying customers annually on transatlantic routes across the Atlantic Ocean. She, too, accommodates both families and single travelers.
If you want to see the difference between a genuine passenger liner and a massive cruise ship, try comparing the two using gross tonnage vs. dead weight. Gross tonnage refers to total load displacement divided by the empty hull mass, while deadweight represents the weight supported by the structure alone.
For example, the QE2 holds approximately 150,000 tons of water and 180,000 tons of fuel, yet its official dead weight is less than 100,000 tons. Meanwhile, Destiny supports roughly 360,000 tons of loading while carrying fewer than 120,000 tons of passengers.
Another way to put this is that a genuine passenger liner usually takes 30 days to complete a single round trip across the Atlantic. At the same time, modern cruise ships can travel nonstop from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico, in 7 hours flat.
Passengers And Crew Are Not The Only People On Board
So far, our discussion has been focused mainly on the number of onboard visitors and employees. But where else are people living aboard cruise ships?
While some ships provide housing options for their crewmembers, others offer entire apartments specifically designed for residents with permanent positions. Most cruise companies choose to live onboard their boats rather than renting property ashore because it saves money.
After all, why pay for maintenance, utilities, security, parking spaces, etc.? Unlike landlubbers who enjoy amenities like grocery stores and restaurants, sailors don’t often dine ashore unless their itinerary includes port stops.
On top of that, having your apartment gives you greater freedom and flexibility. Instead of being tied down to a specific time zone, you can sleep whenever you please, wake up when you feel good, watch TV later at night, cook meals however you’d like, etc. Having an apartment also means you won’t share a bathroom with hundreds of strangers.
And finally, while crews often come from diverse backgrounds, the same isn’t always valid for passengers. Many cruise lines actively recruit during shore leave trips to help meet the cultural diversity demands of today’s society. They hope to gain valuable insight into local culture and customs by providing opportunities for interaction between tourists and locals.
Carrying More Than Just Cargo
Now that we’ve covered various vessels’ sizes and weights let’s talk about cargo ships. One thing becomes clear immediately: freight is carried primarily via specialized bulk carrier vessels instead of regular passenger liners.
Bulk freighters can weigh several hundred thousand tons depending on whether they transport dry goods or liquid products. Some monsters haul everything from grains and ores to crude oil and refined petroleum.
Others specialize in moving chemicals, plastics, steel, iron ore, wood pulp, paper, scrap metal, furniture, automobiles, machinery, livestock, farm equipment, and even household appliances.
Bulk carriers range in size from small workboats to enormous tramp steamers. Even “roll-on roll-off,” or RO-RO, vessels whose decks can unload directly onto truck beds or railroad tracks.
These gigantic machines dwarf anything considered a “normal” passenger ship. For instance, today’s largest bulk carrier in service is Maersk Triple Crown, 280 feet long and 80 feet wide. Triple crowns aren’t used for carrying passengers as the passenger liners discussed earlier.
They mainly ferry supplies and merchandise overseas from ports in Asia and Africa to European Union countries like Germany and France.
Some of the largest bulk carriers are listed below:
- MOL Carriers: Capesize / Panamax: 270 ft x 36 ft x 17 ft
- Evergreen Line: Seacrosse: 256ft X 22ft X 21ft
- Hapag Lloyd: Victoria: 240ftX36ftx21ft
- Yangshan Port Shipping Company: East Dawn Princess: 320ft X 48ft X 23ft
Even though they lack cabins, staterooms, elevators, recreational facilities, swimming pools, dining rooms, laundry services, sports courts, playgrounds, gardens, and shops, most cruise ships still have plenty of entertainment options to keep everyone happy.