Have you ever wondered where and how today's cruise ships are built? These engineering marvels can spend years under construction, and that does not include the time that cruise lines worked behind the scenes to conceptualize them.
While the majority of maritime fans may only be interested in tracking where cruise ships are en route to, some might be curious about the construction process itself. It's rather interesting, especially when you think about how only a handful of shipyards are equipped to handle these massive projects.
In this article, we'll break down not only where cruise ships are built, but what the construction process looks like and how long it takes.
First things first, where are cruise ships built?
Shipyards can be found all across the globe. Newport News Shipbuilding, for instance, is a shipyard that is headquartered in Newport News, Virginia, and has been building ships since 1886. They, however, don't specialize in cruise ships. Instead, they build nuclear-powered ships for military and commercial use, including aircraft carriers, surface combatant ships, and submarines.
The majority of shipyards that build cruise ships can be found in Europe:
- Fincantieri (Monfalcone, Italy)
- Fincantieri (Genoa- Sestri Ponente, Italy)
- Chantiers de ‘lAtlantique (Saint-Nazaire, France)
- Meyer Turku (Turku, Finland)
- Meyer Werft (Papenburg, Germany)
- Meyer Neptun Werft (Rostock, Germany)
Why aren't cruise ships built in the United States? Well, it comes down to the high costs. Labor, for instance, is cheaper overseas, as well as the cost of the materials themselves. Additionally, there are simply more governmental regulations when it comes to American-built ships. Since American shipyards have yet to build any mega-ships, they're not equipped with the experience, either.
Where was Icon of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship, built?
Icon of the Seas was under construction for over 900 days at Meyer Turku in Finland. The ship was finally delivered to Royal Caribbean in November 2023, with the inaugural voyage commencing on January 27, 2024.
Star of the Seas, the second Icon Class vessel, is under construction there, too, as well as the third unnamed Icon ship. They're set to enter service in 2025 and 2026, respectively.
Meyer Turku was also responsible for the construction of two of Carnival's Excel Class ships
While not the largest in the world, Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration were built in Turku, Finland, too. These ships were the first to feature a roller coaster onboard.
Since their launches in 2021 and 2022, Carnival Jubilee has set sail and also has a roller coaster on the top deck; however, this vessel was constructed at Meyer Werft in Papenburg, Germany.
Additional ships built by Meyer Turku include Freedom, Oasis, and Allure of the Seas; Carnival Miracle, and Costa Toscana, among many, many others.
Meyer Werft in Germany is responsible for Disney Cruise Line's two newest ships: Disney Wish and Disney Treasure
When Disney Wish set sail in 2022, it was the first time a new ship had entered DCL's fleet in roughly a decade. Thankfully, the wait for the next won't be as long, as Disney Treasure is currently under construction at Meyer Werft and is set to begin her inaugural season in late 2024.
Meyer Werft was also responsible for Disney Fantasy (2012) and Dream (2011), meaning that when Treasure launches, she'll be the fourth ship constructed by Meyer Werft for DCL. When Fantasy and Dream were completed, they were the largest ocean liners ever built by Germany. Of course, that record has since been broken.
The third Triton Class ship will be delivered to Disney by Meyer Werft in 2025. At the time of writing, this ship was still unnamed.
Meyer Werft has also built ships for Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line, AIDA Cruises, and Silversea Cruises
While not the largest ships in the world, you'd be surprised at how many ships Meyer Werft has built over the years, ranging from Celebrity Cruises' Century in 1996 to Celebrity Silhouette in 2011, Norwegian Bliss in 2018, and Odyssey of the Seas in 2022.
Meyer Neptun Werft is located in Germany, too; however, this shipyard doesn't focus on mega-ships like the others. Instead, they've built some luxury river ships, such as Viking Beyla and Viking Prestige.
Moving to France, Chantiers de ‘lAtlantique started building ships in 1912, and they've built some of the largest at sea, including Wonder of the Seas and MSC World Europa
Saint-Nazaire, France is located on the western coast of France close to the mouth of the Loire River and the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean. This makes sailing mega-ships in and out rather easy, especially when compared to Meyer Werft, as Papenburg, Germany is located more inland.
They're known for building Sovereign of the Seas for Royal Caribbean in 1987. At the time of construction, this was considered the first mega cruise ship in the world, can you believe it?!
Since then, they've gone on to complete mega-ships (by today's definition) for lines like MSC Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, and, of course, Royal.
Most recently, they delivered Celebrity Ascent, the fourth Edge Class ship, to Celebrity Cruises. They were also responsible for constructing MSC Cruises' first-ever World Class ship: MSC World Europa.
In November 2023, MSC ordered two more World Class ships from Chantiers de ‘lAtlantique to be delivered in 2026 and 2027.
Fincantieri has shipyards in Monfalcone and Genoa- Sestri Ponente, Italy, and has built over 15 ships for Holland America Line
Despite only currently operating a fleet of eleven ships, Fincantieri has been responsible for seventeen HAL ships, including the now-sold Amsterdam (2000), Rotterdam (1997), and Veendam (1996), as well as the new builds of MS Rotterdam (2021) and MS Nieuw Statendam (2018).
Fincantieri built Virgin Voyages' first two (and only) ships at sea — Scarlet Lady and Valiant Lady — both of which are adult-only ships for passengers 18 years of age and older.
Surprisingly, they have never been responsible for the construction of any Royal Caribbean ships, and Norwegian Prima (2022) and Viva (2023) are the only NCL ships they've built. They've primarily built for upscale lines like Princess Cruises and Viking Cruises, as well as Italian-line Costa Cruises and Carnival.
How are cruise ships built?
It takes, on average, two to three years to build a cruise ship. This clock starts when the keel is laid and stops when the ship is launched, meaning that if you include the time it takes to design a ship, construction can take much, much longer.
Cruises are built in Lego-like pieces; segments of the ship's superstructure are built elsewhere before being placed on top of the hull. Before this happens, though, the cruise line must place an order for the ships, which can happen years before the first piece of steel is ever cut.
When the first piece of steel is eventually cut, the cruise line and shipyard will have a ceremony. They'll have another one when the keel is laid, as that's the first step in the ship's actual construction.
(Keel-laying ceremony for Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas in April 2022)
The ship's keel is the structural beam that runs from the bow to the stern. Usually, coins as placed beneath the keel as a symbol of good fortune. They are later collected during the ship's float out, which is when it enters the water for the first time.
At this point, the ship has the recognizable shape of a cruise ship; however, the interior typically only contains some structural elements, like staircases. The ship will then be transferred to another dock to finish the construction of its interior.
The next phase of a ship's construction is sea trials. When they occur, the ship may not be fully complete; however, it's ready to underdo tests that simply cannot be completed when docked.
(Carnival Jubilee beginning sea trials)
Sea trials also allow crew members to understand how the ship runs before inviting paid guests onboard. Some ships will only have round round of sea trials, while others will have two. They also range in duration.
The shipyard cannot maintain possession of the ship forever. During the handover (or delivery) ceremony, the ship will be transferred from the yard to the cruise line. Even at this point, it's unlikely that the ship is 100% done. Plus, this is often the time in which the majority of the crew will step foot onboard.
Prior to the vessel's inaugural voyage, it'll undergo a series of shakedown and/or media cruises. This gives crew members a chance to complete various trainings and get acclimated to the ship.
Then there's the christening ceremony, which is the last milestone before the inaugural voyage. This is when the famous godmother or godfather formally christens the ship.
Often, that individual is well-known. Mariah Carey, for instance, is the godmother of Disney Dream, whereas Lionel Messi is the godfather of the brand-new Icon of the Seas. It's not uncommon for representatives from the cruise industry, line, shipyard, and media to be present.
Finally, the ship is ready to enter service! The inaugural sailing is when everything's officially ready to go. While there may be some small flukes, everything should be as close to perfect as it can be. Performers, for example, have been rehearsing for months, often starting off-site before being transferred to the ship itself.
Read more: How are cruise ships built?