A few days ago, Carnival Corporation (the parent of the Carnival, Princess and Holland America brands, among others) announced an order for three new ships. Nothing unusual, except for the size of the ships: 180,000 tons, 5,200 passengers.
With the new mega-ships, the largest in the brands’ fleet, Carnival Corp is making a bit of a splash in the mega-ship trend. A few years ago, a huge ship was one that carried 2,000 passengers. Now, that’s a canoe compared to its brethren. Starting in 2018, it will be hard to find a new, small ship: Of the 35 ocean cruiseliners slated for delivery in or after that year, exactly six of them will have fewer than 2,500 passengers. And the small ships are front-loaded: 11 ships are currently contracted for 2021 – 2024. Only one of those is smaller than 2,500 passengers. On the other hand, 17 out of the 35 ocean liners, almost 50%, can carry 4,000 passengers or more. Okay, I cheated a bit. 2018’s Carnival Horizon will carry only 3,954, although that number is based on double-occupancy. The actual number of passengers on the ship at any time will probably be 4,100-4,200.
Because they can. And because they’re trying to change the nature of cruising. Once considered the domain of only the wealthy, cruises are increasingly targeting middle-America. When many people think of cruises, they think of passengers dressed in tuxedos and eating bad desserts at the midnight buffet. Those days will soon be gone. Now, you wear what you like to dinner (more or less) and can eat bad desserts at numerous restaurants around the ship.*
The larger ships are also tremendous revenue generators for the cruise lines. At one point, cruises were almost entirely all-inclusive. Now, you can pay for additional activities, eat at specialty restaurants or shop at on-ship malls. Harmony of the Seas, which can hold over 6,000 passengers (and 2,000+ crew members) is divided up into “neighborhoods,” with 20 dining options, a zip line and two rock-climbing walls (the cool wall and the one you wouldn’t be caught dead at). Want something a little tamer? The ship also has a full-sized basketball court, ice-skating rink and multi-story waterslides.
There are, of course, still plenty of small ships out there, although they tend to be on the luxury end of the spectrum. The service is a little more personal and the food is better. But who wouldn’t want a cruise with 4,000 of their soon-to-be closest friends?
*If you never believe anything else I say, please believe this: Very few desserts on the mass cruise lines are worth the calories.
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