Skip to content

Cruise lines still have more than 100 ships on order. Do they really need them?

March 09, 2021
7 min read
Cruise lines still have more than 100 ships on order. Do they really need them?
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

You might think that after a 12-month-stretch that has seen almost no cruising around the world, cruise lines would be cutting back on the number of new ships they have on order.

But that hasn't been the case.

None of the world's major cruise lines has canceled a single ship order since the coronavirus pandemic brought cruising to a halt in early 2020.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG's cruise newsletter.

Indeed, in what may seem counterintuitive, many major lines are plowing ahead with plans to grow cabin capacity significantly over the coming years -- even as they contend with the lingering effects of a worldwide pandemic on operations and bookings.

A TPG count of new ships on order at all major cruise lines found that there still are more than 100 new oceangoing vessels on the way -- a significant sum considering the world's major lines currently operate fewer than 300 ocean ships.

MSC Cruises alone has five giant new vessels on order for delivery by 2025, with options for six more for delivery between 2026 and 2030. This for a line that currently has just 18 vessels. Norwegian Cruise Line, which currently has 17 ships, has six more vessels on order for delivery by 2027. Royal Caribbean also has six ships on order. It currently operates 24 vessels.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

MSC Cruises executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago takes delivery of the 4,842-passenger MSC Virtuosa on Feb. 1, 2021, at a ceremony at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in St. Nazaire, France. The ship now sits idle. (Photo by Ivan Sarfatti courtesy of MSC Cruises)

And then there's fast-growing Viking, which has nearly a dozen ocean vessels on order as well as several river ships on order.

Other major lines that have new ships on the way include:

Since the start of the coronavirus-caused industrywide shutdown, many of these lines have been cutting costs by shedding older ships. Carnival and Holland America have each removed four older vessels from their fleets in recent months, for instance, with some of the ships heading to scrapyards. Royal Caribbean has sold off two older vessels.

The lines also have negotiated delays in the delivery dates of new ships with shipyards for a number of vessels scheduled to arrive this year and next year.

But they have shied away from canceling new orders outright.

Related: This small line is the first to cancel all 2021 sailings

Cruise line executives say there's a logic to their strategy. Cruise ships can take years to build, forcing cruise executives to forecast demand far in the future when ordering vessels. And their forecast now is that demand for cruises in three, five, 10 or even 20 years will be far higher than it is today.

Put simply: They need the ships, they think.

“There are plenty of new ships on order, but to be honest with you, they are going to be needed,” Arnold Donald, the CEO of the world's largest cruise company, Carnival Corp., noted in October at a cruise conference. “There will be demand. There will be need for capacity. Shipbuilding will stay robust in terms of bringing new ships into the global fleets.”

Donald noted that only 30 million people in the world take a cruise each year — a small fraction of the 500 million people he said took some sort of vacation annually.

Related: A seventh small cruise line goes out of business due to pandemic

That number, he suggested, is likely to soar over the coming decades.

At the same cruise conference, Richard Fain, the chairman and CEO of the world's second-largest cruise company, Royal Caribbean Group, also made clear that he expected demand for cruising to grow strongly in the long term, resulting in a need for more ships.

The first block of a new Royal Caribbean ship scheduled for delivery in 2022, Wonder of the Seas, was lowered into place at a shipyard in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

“This is not (a situation where) the industry is going to tail off,” Fain said. “I think what you’re going to see is the industry will continue to grow. Once we’re past this crisis, people will see the value of cruising.”

Among the ships that Royal Caribbean has on order is Wonder of the Seas, which will be the new world's biggest cruise ship when it debuts in 2022. Forecast to measure around 230,000 tons, it's been under construction at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in St. Nazaire, France, since 2019.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio also has made comments about his company's commitment to stay the course with new ship orders.

Related: How to plan a cruise with points and miles

"We think that we will continue to grow as we bring on these nine incredible ships that we have on order," Del Rio said in November during a conference call with Wall Street analysts, referring to vessels on order for the line's Norwegian, Oceania and Regent brands.

In the short term, all the above lines are facing a situation where they have too many ships. They all have said that when cruising resumes, they will restart with just a few vessels at first, leaving most of their ships on hiatus. They then will add a few more ships to operations every month as they find their footing with both new health protocols and also customer demand, they have said.

But the consensus in the industry is that pent-up demand for cruising and favorable demographics will mean a relatively quick rebound to the days of all ships sailing and sailing full.

Related: Stop waiting for deals -- prices are on the rise

In the meantime, newly competed ships keep piling up. Just last month, MSC Cruises took delivery of its 18th vessel, the 4,842-passenger MSC Virtuosa. It currently sits idle at a dock in St. Nazaire, France, the shipbuilding town where it was constructed.

Carnival recently took delivery of its biggest ship ever, Mardi Gras, from the Meyer Turku shipyard in Turku, Finland. In recent days, it's been circling in the waters just off Barcelona.

The temporarily-unneeded newcomers join such long-idled newbuilds as Scarlet Lady, the first vessel from startup line Virgin Voyages. It was complete a full year ago but has been unable to operate due to the pandemic. It's currently docked in Civitavecchia, Italy -- the port for Rome.

The list of new cruise ships that have been completed but unable to sail with passengers over the past year also includes ships from Princess, Celebrity, Silversea and Lindblad Expeditions.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas is one of the world's biggest cruise ships. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 6X points
6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.

Intro offer

Earn 100,000 points75,000 points
Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

Annual Fee

$125

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees