Have you ever been cruising aboard a mega-liner and stopped to think “how on Earth would someone create this huge feat of engineering?” At Cruise1st, we’ve often found ourselves pondering such questions – amazed that the vessels we love so much could have come from the minds and hands of ordinary people like you and me.
So, here we’ll investigate how the world’s major cruise liners are designed and built, answering the following questions:
- Who Builds Cruise Ships?
- How Long Does It Take to Build a Cruise Ship?
- Where Are Cruise Ships Built?
- What Materials Are Cruise Ships Made From?
None of the major cruise lines employ their own in-house shipbuilders to design and develop their fleet, largely due to the incredible costs of the equipment, as well as the knowledge and expertise required. Instead, there are a number of specialist shipbuilders which are responsible for piecing the megaships together. Meyer Werft from Germany, STX Europe and Fincantieri from Italy are three of the major shipbuilders – responsible for the majority of the world’s biggest cruise ships.
These shipbuilders (also known as shipwrights) operate massive shipyards in coastal and riverside towns, constructing multi-million-pound ships from the sea up before they’re ready to set sail.
Watch the construction of Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas:
Generally speaking, it depends on the size of the ship and the cruise line but a timeframe of about one year to 18 months is the usual length it takes, from laying the keel to the final delivery. Modern technology such as computer-aided design and modular cabins has helped to speed up the process, though designing the ship itself tends to add another year to the whole operation.
It might surprise you to know that there are only four shipyards in operation today with the capability to build cruise ships. We’ve touched on three of them earlier, with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, rounding out the number.
Fincantieri, based in Italy, delivered its first cruise ship back in 1990 and is currently the largest shipbuilder in Europe. Family-owned and based in Germany, Meyer Werft started building cruise ships in the mid-1980s. Their shipyard is in a somewhat unique location, since it has no actual direct access to the ocean; all ships must be transferred via a river to the North Sea. Lastly, STX Europe – despite the name – is based in South Korea and was the yard responsible for building Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Allure of the Seas.
Lightweight metals such as aluminium and high-strength steel are used in order to keep the centre of mass low despite their size. The heaviest components, things like engines, propellers and fuel tanks, are located in the lower parts of the ship, and despite the top-heavy appearance, weight is evenly distributed to ensure stability. The use of lightweight materials not only helps to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, they’re more than ready for to perform in the at-times challenging environment of the sea
Fibre-reinforced plastics and carbon fibre, frequently used in the aerospace industry, are being considered too, since they could theoretically lessen the mass and bring down the centre of gravity by reducing weight above the water line.
Flat Pack Cabins
If you’ve ever stuck anything to the inside wall of your cabin using a magnet, you’ll know that cruise ship cabins are magnetised. This is not just a handy feature to help guests increase their storage and organise their belongings, the magnetism is central to how cruise ships are constructed.
For the vast majority of cruise ships, all of their cabins are built separately from the rest of the vessel, on a construction line akin to a car factory. Every aspect of the cabin is added in the factory, including the plumbing and fitted furniture. These cabins are then transported to the shipyard, where they are slotted into the vessel using the magnetic force.
With some mega liners reaching close to 500 feet in total height, including the hidden below-water section (which is roughly equal to the section above the ocean’s surface), putting any cruise ship together is a masterpiece of structural engineering.
The hull of the ship is the first part built, constructed on dry land – creating a base for the vessel. Ground crews and massive cranes combine to build the hull, ensuring the structure is watertight, before placing the superstructure atop the hull. Many parts of the superstructure are remotely built in smaller blocks, then placed upon the hull, akin to an enormous Lego construction.
Shipyards traditionally include water control systems which allow work crews to build the ship, both in and out of the water. This can simultaneously test the constructed hull for water-tight structure and allow the engineers to work on the underwater sections of the ship. Using man-made dam systems, the shipyards can allow the team to fill and empty the construction site as and when they choose.
Helping create a sense of escapism and total luxury, all the major cruise lines bedeck their vessels with the finest flourishes and décor that money can buy. Employing the help of top artists and interior designers; the cruise lines ensure that their ships resemble high-end resorts, rather than modes of transportation.
From P&O Britannia’s £1million art collection to Norwegian Cruise Line’s massive, instantly recognisable hull designs — cruise lines are constantly looking for ways to help their newest vessels stand out from the crowd.