How Much Does A Cruise Ship Cost To Build?

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Royal Caribbean's, Oasis of the Seas, anchored in St. Maarten

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Modern cruise ships are like floating cities at sea.

The ships are a combination of hotel operations, restaurants, entertainment, bars, amusement park, and theatre all rolled into one.

But as you’ll soon learn, building a floating resort isn’t cheap.

How Much Does A Cruise Ship Cost To Build?

Aerial view of unfinished cruise ship MSC Seaview at the Fincantieri shipyard

Generally, it costs between $500 million to $1.2 billion to build a cruise ship.

Large cruise ships with a passenger capacity of 2000-3000 cost around one billion dollars.

The cost of a cruise ship depends on many factors, including size, amenities, and decor.

Mainstream cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess Cruises, MSC Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line often spend over $800 million on a new cruise ship.

The largest class of ships, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class, costs between $1.2 million to $1.4 million per vessel.

Carnival Celebration Rendering
(Photo Courtesy: Carnival Cruise Line)

In 2022, Carnival launched the Carnival Celebration at the cost of $1 billion. In the same year, Norwegian Prima debuted at the cost of around $850 million.

Another way to look at cost is by comparing the total cost to the number of beds (berths).

Cruise lines prefer this method of comparing the total cost to the number of births.

Royal Caribbean's, Oasis of the Seas, anchored in St. Maarten

For example, the cost to build Oasis of the Seas was around $250,000/berth. And Carnival’s Mardi Gras was about $189,000/berth.

Luxury cruise ships are much smaller than mainstream cruise lines. And they cost less to build than a mega-ship.

However, a luxurious cruise ship has a higher cost-to-berth ratio.

That’s because luxury cruise lines have higher-end amenities and decor. These factors account for a higher relative cost than mainstream cruise lines.

Sea trials of the Silver Dawn.
(Photo Credit: Silversea Cruises)

Luxury cruise line Silversea’s Silver Dawn cost $380 million to build. With a 576-passenger capacity, the ship cost almost $660,000/berth.

Seven Seas Splendor had a $478 million cost to build. With a passenger capacity of 754, the ship costs $634,000/berth.

While the cost of building a new cruise ship varies, there’s no denying that they are costly construction projects.

Factors Affecting Cost

Spectrum of the Seas under construction at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany
(Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean)

The cost of building a cruise ship depends on several factors, including ship size, shipyard location, taxes, material costs, and onboard features.

The size of the cruise ship plays the most significant role in determining the cost of building a cruise ship. Larger vessels require more materials and labor, resulting in higher overall costs.

The location of the shipyard is also important, as taxes and labor costs vary by country.

For example, it is more expensive to build a vessel in Europe than in Asia. While most cruise ships are built in Europe, Asian shipbuilders are quickly catching up.

Material costs also play a role. Prices for steel, aluminum, and other materials fluctuate throughout the year.

At first glance, the high price tag to build a cruise ship sounds absurd. But, at over 1,000 feet in length and up to 20 stories tall, a lot of steel is required to build these floating cities at sea.

Shipbuilders often purchase long-term contracts to lock in material prices and minimize risk. But they can’t possibly eliminate risks associated with changing prices.

When prices for materials rise, the cost of building a cruise ship rises with it.

The quality of construction, decor, amenities, and onboard features also affect the cost of building a cruise ship.

Cruise lines often invest substantial amounts of money in developing unique features and attractions like water parks, rock climbing walls, surf simulators, go-kart tracks, and high-end restaurants.

Think about the number of cabins, restaurants, entertainment venues, bars, washrooms, activities, and pools needed to support thousands of passengers. Not to mention the crew who requires separate facilities.

These features come at a price, as they require additional materials, labor, and engineering. Not to mention the years of market research, design, and development that go into building a new ship.

The Most Expensive Cruise Ships Ever Built

Oasis of the Seas sailing close to land

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas is the most expensive cruise ship ever built at the cost of $1.4 billion. Oasis was built in 2009 and would have a cost to build of over $1.6 billion in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation.

Royal Caribbean built two more ships after Oasis that cost $1.4 billion, Allure of the Seas and the Ovation of the Seas.

But, because they were built after the Oasis of the Seas, they cost less to build when adjusted for inflation. Because Oasis has a higher inflation-adjusted cost, it holds our top spot as the most expensive cruise ship ever built.

There are several Oasis-class ships larger than Oasis of the Seas. But, they are cheaper to build as there are fewer upfront costs as they share similar construction.

But Royal Caribbean’s newest cruise ship might overtake that spot.

Icon of the Seas is currently under construction at the Meyer Turku shipyard in Finland. And not much is known about the ship’s construction.

We do know that the Icon-class ship will become the largest cruise ship in the world. Early estimates put the cost of the ship at $2 billion. If these estimates are correct, it would make Icon of the Seas the most expensive cruise ship built.

We likely won’t know the final cost until the ship launches. But don’t be surprised if Icon overtakes Oasis’ record.

How Much Did the Titanic Cost?

The Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland, at the cost of $7.5 million. After accounting for inflation, the cost to build the Titanic is equal to $200 million in today’s dollars.

Construction on the Titanic began in 1909 and took approximately three years to complete.

Over 3,000 construction workers helped build the famous ship, which used a whopping 3 million rivets.

How Long Do They Take To Build?

Carnival Horizon at dry dock in Palermo Italy with new blue white and red livery

It takes approximately 12 to 24 months to build a new cruise ship. And the work begins years in advance before the first steel is laid.

Naval architects and engineers spend years designing every aspect of the ship to ensure it’s safe, reliable, and, most importantly, fun.

Not to mention cruise lines constantly compete to add new features and firsts to their ships. There’s a high price tag for the research and technology required to build the incredible activities we take for granted.

Why Do Cruise Lines Choose to Renovate Old Ships?

Cruise lines prefer renovating old ships because it’s much cheaper to renovate an existing vessel than build a new one.

With sky-high construction costs to design and build new cruise ships, cruise lines take great care when deciding whether to purchase or upgrade an existing vessel.

A renovation might consist of a simple paint job or a full-scale renovation.

Massive renovation projects reconstruct large sections of the ship and add new amenities like water slides, theatres, attractions, and fitness centers.

Oasis of the Seas arrives at the Navantia shipyard in Cadiz Spain to begin her $165 million amplification
Oasis of the Seas during $165 million amplification (Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean)

Royal Caribbean’s Royal Amplified program is an example of a full-blown renovation. Ships in the program received up to $165 million in upgrades.

When cruise lines do a good job renovating, passengers receive the same amenities that they’d expect to find on newer ships.

When we sailed on one of Royal’s amplified cruise ships, we felt like we were sailing on a brand new vessel.

And, we didn’t feel like we missed out on any of the latest thrills by sailing on an older vessel.

Cruise lines spend millions of dollars each year upgrading existing ships to stay ahead of their competition.

Cruise ships have a life span of around thirty years. And renovations ensure that cruise ships operate for as long as possible.

Majestic Princess sailing at sunset

Environmental regulations update every year. It’s logical for cruise lines to refit an existing ship rather than replace it when the laws change. 

The cruise industry is rapidly changing, and if it weren’t for the frequent updates, cruise lines would have difficulty attracting passengers to older vessels.

And if a ship isn’t popular, the cruise line is forced to remove the vessel from the fleet.

Frequent updates ensure cruise ships remain operational well into the future. And provide cruise lines with a good return on their investment.

When a cruise line is deciding whether to upgrade an existing ship or build a new vessel, they’ll examine their current fleet, passenger expectations, costs, and what their competitors offer.

References

  1. statista.com/statistics/1119388/ranking-expensive-cruise-ships-worldwide-building-cost/
  2. https://www.cruisemapper.com/wiki/759-how-much-does-a-cruise-ship-cost
Marcello De Lio
Marcello De Lio

Marcello's been cruising since he was 12 years old. He loves the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. Marcello created High Seas Cruising to share his passion for cruising and travel with readers and grow a community of passionate voyagers.

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