Being the “largest” can be a great title to hold, especially in the cruise line industry when different lines are often competing to show off the largest ship, the largest venues onboard, the largest stateroom sizes, or other record-breaking features.
But which cruise line has the overall largest fleet in the world? The answer isn’t quite as simple as cruise travelers might think.
In This Article…
Two Largest Fleets – Carnival and Royal Caribbean
Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International are the two undisputed leaders of the cruise travel industry in terms of fleet size, but comparing the two lines’ actual fleet sizes can be surprising.
Many enthusiastic cruisers believe Carnival Cruise Line is far and away the largest cruise line in the world, but that isn’t actually the mathematical truth in many ways. In fact, as of early 2022, Royal Caribbean International has more ships, with greater gross tonnage, and more passenger capacity.
Carnival Cruise Line’s fleet measures up as follows (as of May 2022):
- 23 active vessels (does not count ships on order or not yet delivered from shipbuilders)
- Combined vessel tonnage of just over 2.5 million gross tons
- Single sailing combined double occupancy capacity of approximately 70,000 passengers
Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean International’s numbers are (as of May 2022):
- 26 active vessels (does not count ships on order or not yet delivered)
- Combined vessel tonnage of approximately 3.8 million gross tons
- Single sailing combined double occupancy capacity of approximately 91,000 passengers
But what, exactly, do these numbers mean?
Active vessels are those that are currently controlled by the cruise line. This does not include future ships that may be ordered or already under construction but have not yet been delivered to the cruise line or entered into service.
Active vessels must also be available to the cruise line for bookings, not leased out or on temporary assignments in other ways, such as being chartered for emergency use.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and global cruise industry shutdown, Carnival Cruise Line featured 27 total ships, but 5 of the Fantasy-class vessels were retired as the line reorganized. As the cruise line restarted, Mardi Gras joined the fleet, for the current total of 23 vessels.
Royal Caribbean, in the meantime, still had 26 ships prior to the shutdown, but retired its 2 smallest vessels, while adding 2 of its largest, Odyssey of the Seas and Wonder of the Seas. This kept Royal Caribbean’s fleet total at 26 ships and allowed it to surpass Carnival as the largest fleet in the world by total number of ships.
Vessel tonnage is a measure of a ship’s overall volume and a convenient way to gauge the size of a ship. This does not, however, take into account which spaces on a ship may be taken up by crew quarters or operational areas such as the engine room, laundry facilities, galley, or other behind-the-scenes spaces.
Because of this, a “larger” ship by gross tonnage may actually be “smaller” for guests because of how space is used. Still, the gross tonnage figure is a useful one for a general sense of a ship’s size.
The passenger capacity numbers are based on double occupancy, meaning two travelers per stateroom, as is standard for the cruise industry. A cruise ship’s maximum capacity, however, may be significantly larger if all berths are filled, depending on how many staterooms can accommodate a third, fourth, or even fifth passenger.
Based on these figures, Carnival and Royal Caribbean are fairly comparable lines, yet there are other ways in which they compete for the “largest” and “biggest” titles.
Biggest Cruise Ships
Royal Caribbean is well known for leading the way with overall “biggest” individual ships, as the top 5 of the top 10 largest cruise ships in the world all belong to the Royal fleet. The line’s newest vessel, Wonder of the Seas, is currently the largest cruise ship in the world, with the newly announced Oasis-class Utopia of the Seas slated to be even larger when it debuts in 2024.
By comparison, Carnival Cruise Line’s award-winning flagship Mardi Gras is the largest ship in its fleet, nearly 50,000 gross tons larger than its next-largest fleet mate, but only just makes the top 10 of the largest ships in the world.
Mardi Gras is likely to be edged completely out of the top 10 list when Royal Caribbean’s new Icon class of ships launches with Icon of the Seas in fall 2023, however, as the new ship is projected to have a gross tonnage of approximately 200,000, far greater than Mardi Gras’ 180,800 gross tons.
Cruise Line With the Most Cruises
Another measure of how “big” a cruise line may be is based on the line’s overall passenger sailings, or how many guests sail with the cruise line annually. With this figure, Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean are even closer competitors.
Based on 2021 data, Royal Caribbean hosted over 3.2 million passengers, while Carnival Cruise Line hosted roughly 2.5 million passengers.
This data is somewhat misleading, however, as during 2021, both fleets were only partially operational and different ships were resuming post-pandemic sailings at different times and in different regions of the world.
In fact, Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas was able to resume sailing in December 2020, meaning it hosted more passengers throughout 2021 than any Carnival cruise ship possibly could have, simply based on number of sailings. Carnival Vista was the first Fun Ship to restart sailings and only did so in July 2021, months after Royal Caribbean began hosting guests again.
In typical years, Carnival Cruise Line would easily surpass Royal Caribbean for the most guest vacations, as Carnival generally offers a greater number of short 3-4 night voyages, allowing even its smaller ships to add up greater overall passenger totals.
This is particularly true in the Caribbean, which accounts for roughly one-third of all passenger cruise travel worldwide.
Other Carnival vs. Royal Measurements
While Royal Caribbean is currently dominating the “largest” and “biggest” titles in many ways and is closely followed, and even surpassed, by Carnival Cruise Line in different metrics, how do these top two cruise lines compare in other measures?
Cruise line offering the longest cruise? This title also goes to Royal Caribbean, which will sail a 274-night Ultimate World Cruise aboard Serenade of the Seas.
First cruise line to restart its entire fleet after the COVID-19 pandemic? This accolade belongs to Carnival Cruise Line as Carnival Splendor begins her 2022 Alaska season.
Cruise line with the highest observation deck? This belongs to Royal Caribbean as well with the North Star observation pod aboard Odyssey of the Seas.
Cruise line with the fastest roller coaster? With the only roller coaster at sea, this honor belongs to Carnival Cruise Line’s Mardi Gras.
Cruise lines often use such specific “titles” as clever advertisements or ways to draw attention to the unique features of their fleet.
How Other Cruise Lines Measure Up
Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Line are undoubtedly two of the most popular cruise lines worldwide, but they aren’t the only cruise lines by any measure. How do other popular lines fit according to size?
Cruise lines’ overall fleet size, combined gross tonnage, and approximate double occupancy passenger capacity are as follows:
- MSC Cruises: 19 ships, 2.4 million gross tons, 64,000 passengers
- Norwegian Cruise Line: 17 ships, 1.9 million gross tons, 51,000 passengers
- Princess Cruise Line: 15 ships, 1.8 million gross tons, 46,000 passengers
- Costa Cruises: 12 ships, 1.4 million gross tons, 45,000 passengers
- Celebrity Cruises: 12 ships, 1.4 million gross tons, 32,000 passengers
- Holland America Line: 11 ships, just under 1 million gross tons, 23,000 passengers
Of course, different metrics can always be used to show just how “big” any cruise line may be. Cruise line with the longest history? That title belongs to P&O Cruises, which began sailing in 1837. Cruise line with the greatest number of Disney fans? No surprise that this would be Disney Cruise Line.
Largest adults-only cruise line? This belongs to the new Virgin Voyages, though two other lines with smaller ships are also adults-only and some larger lines offer individual vessels or sailings that are adults-only.
What other largest, biggest, longest, most, highest, or other grandiose titles will different cruise lines and fleets have in the years to come? Cruise Hive will keep you updated on all the news of the biggest and best!
Note: Fleet statistics were accurate as of May 2022; as new ships join different fleets and other ships are updated or retired, data may change and cruise lines will continue to vie for the title of largest in the world.