Travel Industry Trend: Mega-Cruise Ships Make Bigger Better

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Mega-ships vary in their amenities, offering everything from ice skating and bowling, to two-story miniature golf, jazz and professional theater. (Photo: A. Hylton)
Mega-ships vary in their amenities, offering everything from ice skating and bowling, to two-story miniature golf, jazz and professional theater. (Photo: A. Hylton)

BUSINESS

  • Major ocean-going cruise lines offering increasingly popular mega-ships
  • New ships often taller than Eiffel Tower, offer greater variety of activities
  • Passengers approve of new features, satisfaction is high

In the distant past, ocean-going cruise ships of 500 to 1,000 passengers were the norm, but today ships are getting bigger. Cruise line executives say this new trend is in line with passenger demand, with travellers looking for more activities, more dining and entertainment choices, more fitness facilities and more kids programs, among others.

Leading ship lines - such as Carnival, Holland American and Royal Caribbean - are taking advantage of the mega-ship trend to produce economies of scale: with more cabins, the overall cost is less. Cruise line insiders say the highest expenses for a ship’s operation are below deck, and only one set of engines and supportive technology means savings.

New Ships Taller Than The Eiffel Tower

Industry experts readily admit that mega-ships have the same advantages of smaller ones. Passengers get to visit several places without changing hotels, only need to unpack once and transportation is provided by shore trips.

With that in mind, are larger cruise ships that are at times taller than the Eiffel Tower or longer than the length of three football fields better than prior boats?

Looking at one of the biggest, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, a simple description is that it is like a small city, offering 2,700 rooms spanning 16 decks with 24 elevators. It can hold almost 6,300 passengers, has a total weight of 225,282 tons and four bow thrusters, each with 7,500 horsepower. The ships electrical cables, if someone wanted to stretch them out, would span the distance from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Juneau, Alaska.

Its length is three football fields - or five times longer than a Boeing 757 jetliner - and at 1187 feet tall, it is higher than the Eiffel Tower.

Benefits Of Bigger Boats

Ships like the Allure offer multiple and highly varied restaurants (23 in this case), with perks such as ice skating and bowling, two-story miniature golf, and entertainment options that include everything from comedy to jazz and professional theater.

Is this what cruise passengers want? Surveys of satisfaction are high, according to the body’s main trade group, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), and perhaps more importantly, cruise passenger numbers keep going up.

Mega-ships vary in their amenities, but cruise lines have had a long time to perfect their pursuit of pleasing most passengers. A glimpse at leading travel blogs found common answers to questions such as: does it feel crowded with so many people? No, agree bloggers. Besides, if passengers do feel claustrophobic, they can always find places to leave the crowd behind on a mega ship.

Restaurants are also reported to be quick and efficient, and large screens, generally near the elevators, ensure that passengers are provided with clear guidance on how to get around easily.

Service feedback is generally good across cruise ship leaders, but experienced cruisers hate the sometimes lengthy procedure of boarding. They want to get to their cabins and start enjoying themselves. Is this a problem on mega ships where it could take a long time to board, seeing as how passenger numbers are increased significantly? Industry data shows a lot of satisfaction in this area, and many big cruise lines set their own strict deadlines, or 15 minutes for boarding.

Mega-Ship Target Market

Many people find much to like about the new mega-ships. But who really loves them? “Families with children will love the largest ships afloat because they offer the most extensive kids programs and facilities,” says Anne Campbell in “Cruise Tips.” She adds: “Think water slides, zip line, rock climbing and private teen clubs for older children plus colorful pools and day-long supervised activities for tots and youngsters.”

It also holds true for seniors or entire families who find the type of variety of attractions that appeal to all age groups. Also to be added to the list are couples who like gambling and glitzy Las Vegas-style restaurants. Perhaps the best thing about the ships, however, is that they are so much like small cities, passengers can forget they are in the middle of the ocean.

Key Statistics - Cruise Ship Vacations (Source: Cruise Lines International Association)

  • Members of the Cruise Lines International Association last year carried 14.8 million passengers, which was an increase of over 10% over the previous year.
  • Despite the economic downturn, that number was the biggest year-over-year jump since 2003.
  • At the close of 2010, CLIA members were operating 176 ocean-going ships with a total lower berth capacity of 307,707, an 8% increase over 2009.
  • Passenger feedback puts satisfaction at nearly 95% and, compared to other vacations, cruise vacations are among the leaders in "extreme satisfaction" (45%).

By David Wilkening for
David Wilkening is a former newspaperman who worked in Chicago, Detroit and Orlando. He now specializes in travel and real-estate business writing.

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