How Long Does it Take to Build a Cruise Ship?

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Photo of Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas cruise ship during renovations as part of the Royal Amplified program

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Constructing a cruise ship requires extensive planning, designing, and craftsmanship. If you’ve ever marveled at these majestic vessels and wondered how long it takes to build one, you’re not alone.

Building a cruise ship takes 12 to 18 months, not including the design phase.

However, building a large cruise ship can extend up to 30 months or more, depending on the size and complexity of the vessel.

Here’s a fun look at how cruise ships are built.

How Long Does It Take To Build A Cruise Ship?

Royal Caribbean’s fifth Oasis class cruise ship Wonder of the Seas under construction at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in Saint Nazaire shipyardPin
Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas under construction at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in Saint-Nazaire shipyard (Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean International)

Building a new cruise ship generally takes 12 to 18 months, though larger vessels can take up to 30 months to build. The construction phase begins with an initial order and keel laying ceremony and is considered complete when the cruise line receives the vessel.

Designing a new vessel building is very much like planning a small city.

Imagine a floating city being put together piece by piece—a process that takes precision and careful planning. It takes years of planning to create a new cruise ship.

Cruise ships offer passengers a variety of amenities and features, such as cabin accommodations, restaurants, and entertainment venues. But there are also the things passengers don’t see, like freshwater generation, propulsion, jails, laundry service, sewage treatment, storage, and crew accommodations.

Cruise ships are built surprisingly quickly, considering the average cruise ship is over 1,000 feet long and over 18 decks high.

Stages Of Building A Cruise Ship

Disney Wish under constructionPin
Disney Wish is under construction in an enclosed dry dock (Photo Credit: Disney Cruise Line)

Building a cruise ship is an incredible journey of engineering, craftsmanship, and coordination. The carefully planned process ensures the mega vessel is constructed in time for her inaugural voyage.

From the initial concept to the maiden voyage, constructing a cruise ship is an intricate dance that unfolds over several years. It begins with the spark of imagination and progresses through a series of meticulously planned stages. After placing an initial order, shipbuilders celebrate the ceremonial steel-cutting and keel laying, followed by the complex assembly of the ship’s sections.

Let’s take a closer look at the nine stages of building these magnificent maritime giants, a process that combines maritime tradition with cutting-edge technology to bring the giants of the sea to life.

1. Initial Order

After years of design, constructing a new cruise ship begins with an initial order. Cruise lines commission a shipyard to build a new vessel and set a timeline for delivery.

Once the contract is in place, preparations for the construction begin. The shipyard ensures that materials, labor, and a detailed schedule are ready for the project to start as planned. This phase sets the foundation for the entire building process, marking the beginning of a journey toward a new addition to the cruise line’s fleet.

The cruise line and the shipyard send out a press release with the order’s details. They may include details like the ship’s name, class, size, and passenger capacity. But they usually hide specific details until closer to the launch date.

When a new class of cruise ships is announced, we often don’t find any details until around six months before the maiden voyage. For example, Royal Caribbean announced plans to build an Icon-class cruise ship in 2016, but we didn’t know the vessel’s size until the end of 2022.

2. Steel Cutting Ceremony

Carnival Jubilee First Steel Cut by laser cutters at Meyer Werft shipyardPin
The first steel cut for Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Jubilee. The shipyard cut out a silhouette of the cruise ship from the first sheet of steel as part of new maritime traditions. (Photo Credit: Carnival Cruise Line)

The Steel Cutting Ceremony marks the actual start of construction. It’s a celebrated event that symbolizes the transition from design and planning to the reality of a ship taking shape.

The ceremony celebrates the first piece of steel cut to construct the cruise ship. It’s becoming a tradition for shipbuilders to cut a silhouette of the cruise ship from the first piece of steel.

The steel-cutting ceremony is symbolic and practical.

It represents the first tangible step in the ship’s life. The steel cutting is often accompanied by a small celebration, with key individuals from the cruise line and shipyard in attendance to witness this significant milestone.

3. Keel-Laying Ceremony

The keel of Star of the Seas laid at the bottom of the dry dock at meyer turku shipyard in finlandPin
A large crane lowers the first keel section of Royal Caribbean’s Star of the Seas. (Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean International)

The Keel-Laying Ceremony celebrates when the first block of the ship, or the keel, is placed in the dry dock.

The keel is the ship’s foundation, providing structural integrity and stability. The keel is the lowest part of the ship and marks the beginning of a process where blocks are assembled – like a massive Lego set.

The midsection of Spectrum of the Seas floats out to make room for the forward blocksPin
(Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean International)

This ceremony is often marked by fanfare and attended by dignitaries, shipyard workers, and cruise line representatives. A key highlight is placing a newly minted coin under the keel for good luck, a practice that dates back to ancient times.

The ship’s godparent participates in the ceremony, but they’re not always the same godmother who christens the vessel before the maiden voyage. If the ship’s godmother hasn’t been selected, a shipworker or cruise line employee will take on the part of the ship’s godmother.

4. Float Out

Disney Wish Float out from meyer werft shipyard with captain minnie mousePin
Disney Wish floats for the first time as the Triton-class vessel leaves the enclosed dry dock for the first time. (Photo Courtesy: Disney Cruise Line)

The float out is a significant milestone in the shipbuilding process, where the ship first enters the water. The cruise ship is now mostly assembled and resembles a cruise ship from the outside. Many of the internal structures and major construction blocks are assembled.

This event is a technical step in construction and a ceremonial occasion that celebrates the ship’s transition from land to sea.

The shipyard slowly floods the dry dock, allowing the vessel to float for the first time.

After months of construction and assembly, the new cruise ship emerges from the enclosed shipyard. It’s a visual spectacle that attracts many spectators.

The event may accompany music and speeches. Cruise line and shipyard representatives celebrate the occasion as the ship’s godmother breaks a bottle of Champagne against the ship’s hull.

The float out is more than ceremonial; it’s a critical test of the ship’s buoyancy and stability.

It’s the first time the shipyard can confirm that the vessel floats as designed and that the initial stages of construction have been successful.

After the float out, the ship moves to a wet dock for the final construction stages. The cruise ship receives the outfitting of interior spaces, cabin decor, and completion of mechanical and safety systems.

The float-out represents a ship’s readiness to embrace its destiny on the open seas. It’s a step closer to the ship’s final delivery and future life, exploring oceans, hosting passengers, and creating memories. It’s a proud moment for everyone involved—from the shipbuilders to the future crew and passengers—who eagerly await the ship’s completion and inaugural voyage.

5. Sea Trials

Sun princess sailing during sea trialsPin
Sun Princess during her first sea trials (Photo Credit: Princess Cruises)

Sea trials are the maritime equivalent of a car’s test drive. Sea trials are critical in ship construction, ensuring the vessel performs to its design specifications and is ready for safe and efficient operation.

The trials also allow the ship’s captain to get accustomed to the new vessel.

The captain is accompanied by a team of engineers, technicians, and naval architects who conduct rigorous performance tests. These trials verify the ship’s speed, maneuverability, equipment, and safety features under real-life conditions at sea.

The ship is tested in various scenarios, including high-speed runs, turns at different speeds, and tests of the propulsion and steering systems. The crew also practices emergency procedures to confirm the ship’s safety and readiness.

Sea trials allow shipbuilders to identify and address issues before the ship enters service.

They are also an opportunity to fine-tune systems for optimal operation, including engine adjustments, stabilizers, and navigation equipment. The feedback gathered during sea trials is invaluable for making the final adjustments before the ship welcomes its first passengers.

The trials last over seven days and are one of the last steps before the shipyard hands the vessel over to the cruise line. Successful completion of sea trials is a prerequisite for delivery, ensuring that the ship is technically sound and ready for passengers.

The successful conclusion of sea trials is a cause for celebration, marking one of the final steps in the ship’s construction journey.

6. Handover Ceremony

Icon of the Seas departs the Meyer Turku shipyard as Royal Caribbean International takes delivery of their new cruise shipPin
Icon of the Seas departs the Meyer Turku shipyard as Royal Caribbean International takes delivery of their new cruise ship (Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean International)

The handover ceremony is a defining moment in the life of a cruise ship. It signifies the official transfer of ownership from the shipyard to the cruise line. The ceremony is a formal event representing the culmination of years of design, engineering, and construction work.

It marks the beginning of the ship’s operational life.

The handover includes a thorough walk-through of the ship, ensuring that every feature and system meets the cruise line’s expectations and contractual specifications.

The handover ceremony celebrates the successful collaboration between the shipyard’s workforce and the cruise line’s representatives. It involves key personnel who played significant roles in the ship’s construction, including workers, engineers, designers, and executives.

Speeches that reflect on the journey of the ship’s construction, the challenges overcome, and the craftsmanship involved mark the event.

The ceremony’s centerpiece is the signing of the delivery documents, which legally transfer the ship’s ownership. The ship’s flag might also be changed at this time, with the shipyard’s flag lowered and the cruise line’s flag raised.

A symbolic change in command.

The handover ceremony is also a time to look forward, as the ship is now ready to welcome its crew and, eventually, its passengers. There’s a sense of anticipation for the voyages and experiences that will be created aboard the new vessel.

The ship is now part of the cruise line’s active fleet, and the handover is complete.

The crew begins training, and the final preparations are made for the ship’s inaugural journey.

7. Shakedown Voyage

After the handover ceremony, a cruise ship embarks on a shakedown voyage. A Shakedown Voyage allows the ship to operate under typical conditions but without passengers.

Consider it a final rehearsal before it begins service with paying passengers.

The shakedown voyage lets the crew familiarize themselves with the ship’s systems and procedures in a real-world setting. It also provides an opportunity to identify and resolve any remaining issues, from minor cosmetic flaws to more significant operational glitches.

Every aspect of the ship’s daily operations is tested during the shakedown. This includes everything from the propulsion and navigation systems to the service in restaurants and the onboard entertainment.

The crew undergoes rigorous training to familiarize themselves with safety protocols, customer service standards, and the intricacies of their specific roles.

Shakedown voyages are critical for new cruise ship classes.

It’s the first time the cruise line has run through operations on the new class of vessels. It’s a chance to see years of planning and engineering come together.

Although not all shakedown voyages include guests, some cruise lines invite a select group of people, such as company employees, travel partners, or special guests, to provide feedback on their experience. This feedback is invaluable for making necessary adjustments to ensure the highest service and guest satisfaction.

Once the shakedown voyage is completed, the cruise ship is deemed ready for its maiden voyage. The ship’s crew, now seasoned and prepared, can look forward to providing an exceptional experience for travelers eager to enjoy their time aboard the newest addition to the fleet.

8. Christening Ceremony

Celebrity Ascent Naming CeromonyPin
Celebrity Ascent Naming Ceremony (Photo Credit Celebrity Cruises)

The Christening Ceremony has a long maritime tradition. It is the grand introduction of a new cruise ship to the world. It’s a festive and symbolic event that officially names the vessel and blesses it with good fortune on its future voyages.

One of the most iconic moments of the christening ceremony is breaking a champagne bottle against the ship’s hull.

This act is steeped in maritime lore and is believed to bring luck to the ship and its passengers.

The cruise line selects a godmother to preside over the celebration and bless the new vessel. The godparent is often a celebrity or person of distinction who embodies the spirit and characteristics of the cruise line.

Celebrity Apex Naming CeremonyPin
(Photo Credit: Celebrity Cruises)

The christening ceremony features music, speeches, and entertainment.

It’s an opportunity for the cruise line to showcase the ship and express its brand values. Guests include shipyard representatives, company executives, future passengers, media, and other dignitaries, all gathered to witness this significant moment.

In addition to the bottle-breaking, the ceremony often includes a blessing by a religious official, asking for safe passage and protection for the ship and its travelers. It’s a nod to the ancient practice of invoking divine favor on new vessels and their journeys.

The christening ceremony also serves as the ship’s public debut, a chance for the cruise line to generate excitement and media coverage. It showcases the ship’s amenities and features, highlighting what makes it unique and enticing future travelers to come aboard.

9. Maiden Voyage

Norwegian Bliss cruise ship, docked in San Diego, CaliforniaPin

The final step in launching a new cruise ship is its maiden voyage. This momentous event symbolizes the culmination of years of design, engineering, and construction.

It’s the first time the ship sets sail with passengers aboard, showcasing its capabilities, amenities, and experiences.

Passengers on the maiden voyage can expect exclusive experiences that are unavailable on later trips.

Cruise lines offer unique entertainment, commemorative gifts, and inaugural events to mark the occasion. It’s a chance for guests to be part of the ship’s history and enjoy the prestige of being among its first passengers.

As the first operational sailing, the maiden voyage is a real-world test of the ship’s facilities and services. Crew members are attentive to passenger feedback, and there may be an extra focus on service quality. The ship’s staff addresses hiccups and ensures the vessel is fine-tuned for future sailings.

The inaugural sailing attracts media attention, with journalists and bloggers invited to document the experience. This coverage provides valuable exposure for the cruise line and offers potential passengers a glimpse of what they can expect from the new ship.

Participating in a maiden voyage is a unique opportunity for cruise enthusiasts to be part of a significant event in the ship’s life. It’s a time filled with excitement, celebration, and the promise of new adventures on the high seas.

How Long Did It Take To Build the Titanic?

The bow of the Titanic while under construction in the shipyardPin

The Titanic was built in three years and two days, beginning in 1909 and completing in 1912.

There is some controversy regarding the date of Titanic’s completion. Titanic’s enormous keel was laid on March 31, 1901, and the most accepted completion date is April 2, 1912, when the vessel embarked on her first sea trial.

The shipbuilder Harland and Wolff had the honor of building the famous ship for $7.5 million, or $200 million in today’s dollars. The project was massive, utilizing over 3,000 workers and 3 million rivets.

Perhaps the most famous ship in the world, the RMS Titanic, once held the record for the world’s largest ship. However, the Titanic is small compared to today’s cruise ships.

The Titanic measured 882 feet 8 inches long with a gross register tonnage of 46,329 GRT.

Where Are Cruise Ships Built?

Photo of Costa Smeralda under construction at the Meyer Turku shipyardPin
Costa Smeralda a the Meyer Turku shipyard (Photo Credit: Meyer Turku)

Cruise ship construction occurs in specialized shipyards capable of handling their massive size and complexity. It takes special expertise and equipment to build a mega cruise ship.

Four major shipbuilders build most of today’s cruise ships in Europe.

The four major shipyards that dominate the cruise shipbuilding industry are:

  1. Meyer Werft is located in Papenburg, Germany. It is renowned for its state-of-the-art facilities and environmental sustainability practices. Meyer Werft’s is one of the most advanced shipyards in the world, with enclosed buildings allowing for year-round construction, regardless of weather conditions.
  2. Meyer Turku is part of the Meyer Werft family and is located in Finland. The shipbuilder is popular for building some of the biggest cruise ships, such as Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas and Carnival’s Mardi Gras cruise ship.
  3. Chantiers de l’Atlantique is located in Saint-Nazaire, France. This shipbuilder is known for building some of the most innovative and sizeable cruise ships, including the MSC Meraviglia and the Oasis-class Symphony of the Seas for Royal Caribbean International.
  4. Fincantieri, founded in the 18th century, is one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world. Based in Trieste, Italy, It has built ships for many of the major cruise lines, such as Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and MSC Cruises. Its extensive facilities can construct multiple large ships simultaneously.

Europe’s cruise ship construction industry dominance is due to a combination of historical expertise and a skilled workforce. The four significant shipbuilders have a proven track record of delivering some of the most sophisticated vessels at sea.

But the Asian shipbuilding industry isn’t far behind.

Asia has emerged as a significant player in the cruise ship construction industry, with Japanese and South Korean shipyards making notable contributions.

  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, located in Nagasaki, Japan, has entered the cruise ship market. They’ve constructed vessels for companies like Princess Cruises and AIDA Cruises. Mitsubishi has faced challenges in the cruise ship sector but remains a significant player in building cruise ships.
  • STX Offshore & Shipbuilding is more known for its freighter and tanker construction. But, they’ve made strides in the cruise ship market. Its shipyard in South Korea can build large cruise ships and has worked on projects for major cruise lines, indicating the global nature of cruise ship construction.

How Much Does It Cost To Build?

The cost of building a cruise ship varies widely depending on its size, amenities, and the technology used. Generally, building a cruise ship costs between $500 million to $1.2 billion.

For instance, smaller vessels and older ship classes cost less. The Carnival Panorama, a Vista Class ship, cost around $780 million to build. However, the most advanced and largest cruise ships can easily surpass the $1 billion mark.

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas cost $1.6 billion to build. Later, Oasis-class ships cost less as the shipyard became familiar with the construction process. Wonder of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s fifth Oasis-class cruise ship, cost $1.35 billion.

The construction of the largest cruise ship in the world, Icon of the Seas, cost around $2 billion.

The construction cost of a cruise ship is a significant investment, reflecting the level of detail and sophistication required to create these floating resorts. Building new vessels will become more expensive with the cruise industry’s continuous growth and the demand for more innovative and luxurious ships.

Article by

Marcello De Lio

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