Carnival Cruise Line just signed a deal to build its two largest ships ever -- twin 180,000-ton behemoths that will carry more than 5,200 passengers. To put that in perspective, a dozen ships in the line's 25-strong fleet are less than half that size (and they were considered big for their time!). Even this year's Carnival Vista, Carnival's current largest ship, is only 133,500 tons and carries 3,954 passengers.
The new ships, to debut in 2020 and 2022, won't be the largest in the world. That title goes to competitor Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class ships, including this year's 226,963-ton, 5,500-passenger Harmony of the Seas. Still, Carnival's new giants of the seas still dwarf most other ships on the market.
Why are so many cruise lines going bigger?
Consider that the tonnage of cruise ships is not weight but size. Ships are described in gross registered tons (GRTs) a figure that takes into account interior space used to produce revenue on a ship. One GRT is equal to 100 cubic feet of enclosed, revenue-generating space. Bigger ships can house more dining options, more entertainment, more bars, and more staterooms -- in other words, more places for passengers to play and spend.
And that's exactly what cruise lines are finding. The largest ships operated by competitor Royal Caribbean -- with "wow" features ranging from ice-skating to zip-lines to robotic bartenders -- generate higher-than-average fares. If cruisers are willing to pay extra for the latest, greatest, and biggest, then cruise lines want a piece of the pie.
Carnival isn't talking yet about design features or itineraries for its mammoth ships, but it's safe to say that the newest ships will offer more than those in its current fleet. Further, Carnival also said these would be the first ships in North America powered by energy efficient liquefied natural gas (LNG) -- making them "greener" than other offerings, which may give them an edge on their competitors.
The question of whether bigger truly is better may still be up in the air, but one thing's for sure: it's a trend that's here to stay.