How Much Does It Cost to Fuel a Cruise Ship?

google news icon 150px
google news icon 150px
A Volvo truck cistern refueling a cruise ship docked at the Port

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. We may receive compensation when you purchase via my links at no cost to you. See my disclosure for more information.

Cruise ships require a large amount of fuel to propel the ship forward and power onboard facilities.

If you’ve traveled on a cruise ship, you’ve probably wondered how much does it cost to fuel a cruise ship?

The answer will surprise you.

How Much Does It Cost to Fuel a Cruise Ship?

A Volvo truck cistern refueling a cruise ship docked at the PortPin

A large cruise ship of over 1,200 feet in length can hold up to 2 million gallons of fuel. With diesel prices of $4.959 at the time of the article, it costs approximately $10 million to fuel a cruise ship fully.

The cost to fuel a cruise ship depends on several factors, including fuel type, cruise ship size, and storage.

Smaller cruise ships of 500 feet in length can hold around 130,000 gallons of diesel and cost about $650,000 to fuel.

Cruise ships can sail for several weeks without refueling. And may not fill their fuel tanks. The added weight of fuel reduces fuel efficiency. If a cruise line doesn’t need a full diesel tank, they may opt to fill only what’s required; plus a little extra in case of emergency.

Fuel for cruise ships is one of the highest operating costs for the cruise line. By some estimates, up to 20% of a cruise line’s expenditures are fuel related.

How Much Fuel Can a Cruise Ship Hold?

Royal Caribbean Construction Update Icon of the Seas LNG TanksPin
The large LNG tanks being installed on Icon of the Seas (Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean International)

The size of a cruise ship’s fuel tanks varies by ship. On average, a cruise ship can hold around one to two million gallons of fuel.

Below is a chart showing how much fuel a cruise ship can hold depending on the vessel’s length.

Size Of Cruise ShipLengthSize In Feet & Fuel Capacity
Small400-500 ft100,000-500,000 gallons of fuel
Medium500-900 ft500,000 to 1,000,000 gallons of fuel
Large900-1,100 ft1-2 million gallons of fuel
Mega1,300+ ft4+ million gallons of fuel

The fuel type used by a cruise ship impacts the fuel tanks’ size.

Many new cruise ships are powered by liquified natural gas (LNG), which burns cleaner than traditional diesel or gas-powered engines. While LNG provides many environmental benefits, it has a lower fuel density than diesel.

Because of the lower density, LNG-powered cruise ships require fuel tanks with double the diesel engine fuel capacity.

How Often Do Cruise Ships Refuel?

A bunkering vessel refueling a Norwegian Cruise Line ship with the Queen Mary 2 Ocean Liner in the backgroundPin

Cruise ships can sail for 10 to 14 days before refueling.

The amount of time cruise ships can spend at sea depends on how much fuel they consume. The number of port visits, average speed, and weather conditions affect fuel usage.

A cruise ship that travels short distances, spending most of the day in port, won’t need to refuel as often as a ship that spends seven days sailing across the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite the length of time cruise ships can sail on a single tank, cruise ships refuel every few days when possible.

Running out of fuel is one of the worst things to happen to a cruise ship. For the safety of the thousands of passengers and crew, cruise lines take extra precautions to ensure their vessels have more than enough fuel at all times.

How Much Fuel Does a Cruise Ship Use?

Two fuel trucks refueling a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in the BahamasPin

An average-sized cruise ship uses around 140 to 150 metric tons of fuel daily, or about 46,500 gallons. If you want to impress your friends with fun cruise ship statistics, the average cruise ship uses 18.3 gallons of fuel per minute or 1100 gallons of fuel per hour.

According to Marine Insight, a large cruise ship of 1,000 feet in length uses over 200 metric tons of fuel per day.

And the world’s largest cruise ships, like Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class, can consume up to 250 metric tons of fuel per day or 80,645 gallons per day. That’s more fuel than you’ll use driving cars throughout your lifetime. The fuel cost for the Oasis-class vessels is estimated to be around $300,000 per day.

Smaller cruise ships like Norwegian Spirit or Carnival Elation use around $80,000 of fuel daily.

Up to 80% of a cruise ship’s daily fuel consumption goes into the propulsion of the vessel. The rest is used for power generation for electricity, lights, ventilation, and other onboard services.

The amount of fuel used by a cruise ship depends on several factors:

  • Sailing Route: Cruise ships spend most of their time sailing in coastal water or in port. While docked, a cruise ship’s standard fuel consumption reduces to around 15 metric tons. If the vessel has several calls within short distances, the captain will travel slower between ports of call to reduce daily fuel consumption. Longer sailings require more fuel. According to the University of Colorado, a cruise ship burns 1 gallon of fuel for every 30 to 60 feet of travel.
  • Sailing Speed: Cruise ships use more fuel the faster they travel. How fast does a cruise ship go? The average cruise ship speed is around 18-22 knots while sailing. While they can travel at speeds of up to 30 knots, cruise ships rarely hit their top speed for safety and fuel efficiency. Depending on the itinerary, some cruise ships may travel at slower speeds to reduce fuel consumption. Cruise ships traveling at slower speeds of 16 to 18 knots save more fuel than those traveling at faster speeds. One of a cruise ship captain’s responsibilities is determining the optimal fuel efficiency speed and reaching the next port on time.
  • Ship Size and Design: Larger cruise ships require more fuel than smaller ships. And newer vessels take advantage of new technologies to improve fuel efficiency. Many newer cruise ships can connect with the local power grid while docked. The “shore-to-ship power” technology allows cruise ships to reduce fuel consumption to almost zero while docked. Modern cruise ships are designed with fuel efficiency in mind. If you look at new cruise ships, you’ll find that many have straight bows. The bow design helps cut through the water and reduce the amount of power needed to propel the ship forward, reducing daily fuel consumption. Further, cruise ships use a special coating that creates air bubbles on the ship’s hull, reducing friction and allowing the ship to “glide” on a pocket of air.
  • Fuel Type: There are several means of propulsion for cruise ship engines, including diesel, gas, and liquified natural gas. Some marine fuel types are more efficient than others. For example, gas-powered cruise ships are more fuel efficient than traditional diesel and diesel-electric vessels. The newest cruise ships use LNG to power massive vessels and reduce harmful carbon emissions.
  • Weather: The weather and ocean conditions impact a cruise ship’s consumption of fuel. Wind strength and direction are the primary culprits, but wave height and ocean currents also impact fuel consumption. Ship captains choose their routes to avoid rough weather for the safety of passengers and crew.

How Long Does it Take to Fill a Cruise Ship With Fuel?

A bunkering barge refueling a cruise ship docked at portPin

Cruise ships refuel by a small barge, which pumps around 110 tons of fuel per hour. A cruise ship with a 1 million ton fuel capacity requires nine hours to fully fuel.

But cruise ships rarely empty their fuel tanks. So many cruise ships don’t need much fuel when it comes time to refuel.

During a routine port visit, cruise ships can refuel in 2 to 3 hours.

Where Do Cruise Ships Get Their Fuel?

Where Do Ships Get Their Fuel?

There are no gas stations at sea, so cruise ships need to refuel at the port. While at a port, a small bunker barge approaches the vessel’s side and delivers the right fuel.

The bunker barge gets its name from when refueling a passenger ship meant filling the coal bunker on steam-powered vessels.

For the same reason, some people refer to the refueling process as “bunkering.”

Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) may also be called bunker fuel. Bunker fuel is technically the name of any fuel used on a maritime vessel, but it’s most commonly associated with Heavy Fuel Oil.

HFO is a low-quality fuel source that is cheap and widely available. It’s not as refined as gas, diesel, and other marine fuels, which makes it very harmful to the environment. Though some cruise ships run on bunker fuel, most use a more environmentally friendly fuels like gas, diesel, marine diesel, or liquified natural gas.

What is a Fuel Supplement on a Cruise?

If you’ve traveled on a cruise ship, you may have noticed a fuel supplement added to your cruise fare, sometimes called a fuel surcharge. A fuel supplement is a fee added on top of cruise fares to offset high fuel costs.

Most cruises don’t have a fuel surcharge. But in times of high gas, diesel, and oil prices, cruise lines may charge a fuel supplement to offset the cost of higher fuel prices.

If you read the cruise contract, you may find a threshold price of oil where a fuel supplement would take effect.

For example, the cruise contract may state that the cruise line reserves the right to charge a fuel supplement if oil prices rise above $75 per barrel. The surcharge can be applied even after you’ve paid for your cruise, making your cruise vacation a little more expensive.

It’s up to the cruise line’s discretion whether they charge the extra fee. Many cruise lines won’t charge added fees to avoid upsetting customers. Instead, they may raise prices on future cruises to compensate for the added fuel expense.

The fuel surcharge is usually between $7 and $12 per person daily.

Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line directly outline the fuel surcharge price in their terms and conditions. But other cruise lines like Royal Caribbean don’t state a specific price. 

Article by

Marcello De Lio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.