Bigger Isn’t Always Better for Cruise Ships

Bigger is better, right? That seems to be the current ethos of the cruise industry. Cruise lines are always competing to see who can have the largest ship possible. The most popular vessels of today are absolutely massive. The current record holder, Royal Caribbean’s recently-completed Wonder of the Seas, clocks in at 236,857 tons. It has a maximum capacity of nearly 7000 passengers, and it boasts 18 total decks. The ship is almost 1200 feet long.

Just stop and think about that for a second. That ship is big. And, of course, that’s nothing new. Royal has always been known for constantly one-upping themselves, but other cruise lines are doing it too: Costa’s biggest ships are almost 200,000 tons, and companies like MSC and Carnival aren’t far behind. It seems like cruise innovation is centered around making ships larger than ever before.

Does this focus make sense? Well, kinda. The popularity of cruises is only growing, and many cruise lines have reported record bookings even despite the coronavirus pandemic. It stands to reason that there will be a large increase in cruise travel once the pandemic is over. Cruise lines would be wrong to not try and capitalize on that.

But only building larger ships is a bit short-sighted. Sure, there seem to be more guests than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that all of those guests are looking for the exact same experience. They don’t all necessarily want to be crammed into the same ship. Many new cruise travelers will want a more personalized and intimate experience. Travelers always have unique tastes, and this is definitely true for those that enjoy cruises.

Beyond that, though, is something else to be considered. Will cruise veterans really be excited to just get on bigger and bigger ships that are more crowded than they were before COVID-19? As more guests flood onto ships, some of the old regulars are also going to start craving an experience that feels more like their own. They’ll start to want to get on smaller ships.

Large ships make a lot of economic sense, but small ships also stand to give cruise lines a different kind of value proposition. Imagine a Royal Caribbean ship that was small and luxurious. Brand regulars would probably flock to give it a try. Sure, their large ships would still be the focus, but a more exclusive experience could still be quite desirable.

Luxury shouldn’t be the goal of every cruise line. But there comes a point where the ships are so large that it just doesn’t make sense to keep making them bigger. And as the cruise demographic changes over the coming years, we may see a much larger demand for smaller, more intimate experiences.

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