Cruise ships are pretty impressive – even the smaller ones are stunning, epic works of engineering genius. And they’re hardly empty shells – they’re packed with cabins, restaurants, places to relax and things to do. None of which comes cheap.
Imagine the cost of your average hotel – now factor in making sure that the hotel can float, has powerful engines (and fuel) to move it between destinations, and the ability to power every room without being constantly plugged into the power network.
It all sounds terribly expensive – but how much does a cruise ship actually cost to build and operate?
Let’s take a look at the costs involved, as I think you’ll be impressed by the scale of it all.
- The Cost Of Building A Cruise Ship
- Icon of the Seas cost to build
- Running Costs Of Cruise Ships
- Profit Margins Of Cruise Ships
The Cost Of Building A Cruise Ship
The cost of a cruise ship varies depending on its size and complexity, but many break the $1 billion level, especially the latest mega-ships. The average cost of an ocean cruise ship sailing today is $496 million (or £380 million).
So, on average, how much is a cruise ship? Well this table shows the world’s most expensive cruise ships in order:
|Cruise Line||Ship||Cost to Build||Year Built||Volume (GT tons)||Guest Capacity|
|Royal Caribbean||Allure of the Seas||$1.43 billion||2010||225,280||5,412|
|Royal Caribbean||Wonder of the Seas||$1.35 billion||2022||228,080||5,518|
|Royal Caribbean||Harmony Of The Seas||$1.35 billion||2016||227,000||6,780|
|Royal Caribbean||Symphony Of The Seas||$1.35 billion||2018||230,000||6,870|
|Royal Caribbean||Oasis of the Seas||$1.3 billion||2009||225,280||5,412|
|MSC||MSC Europa||$1.255 billion||2022||205,700||5,264|
|MSC||MSC World Europa||$1.255 billion||2022||205,700||5,264|
|NCL||Norwegian Epic||$1.2 billion||2010||155,900||4,228|
|Royal Caribbean||Ovation Of The Seas||$1.1 billion||2016||167,800||4,820|
|MSC||MSC Seascape||$1 billion||2022||169,500||4,540|
|MSC||MSC Seashore||$1 billion||2021||169,500||4,540|
|Royal Caribbean||Quantum of the Seas||$0.95 billion||2014||158,000||4,100|
|Royal Caribbean||Anthem of the Seas||$0.95 billion||2015||167,000||4,180|
|Carnival||Mardi Gras||$0.95 billion||2020||180,800||5,282|
|Costa||Costa Toscana||$0.95 billion||2021||183,900||5,322|
|Carnival||Carnival Celebration||$0.95 billion||2022||183,900||5,374|
|MSC||MSC Bellissima||$0.95 billion||2019||171,600||5,700|
|MSC||MSC Meraviglia||$0.95 billion||2017||171,600||5,700|
|Costa||Costa Smeralda||$0.95 billion||2019||183,900||6,520|
|Disney||Disney Fantasy||$0.94 billion||2012||128,000||2,500|
|Royal Caribbean||Spectrum of the Seas||$0.94 billion||2019||168,670||4,246|
|NCL||Norwegian Bliss||$0.92 billion||2018||164,600||4,200|
|NCL||Norwegian Encore||$0.92 billion||2019||167,800||4,200|
|NCL||Norwegian Escape||$0.92 billion||2015||163,000||4,200|
|NCL||Norwegian Joy||$0.92 billion||2017||167,400||4,400|
|Celebrity||Celebrity Apex||$0.9 billion||2021||129,500||3,260|
|Celebrity||Celebrity Beyond||$0.9 billion||2022||129,500||3,276|
|Celebrity||Celebrity Edge||$0.9 billion||2018||129,500||3,370|
|Disney||Disney Dream||$0.9 billion||2011||128,000||2,500|
|Virgin Voyages||Scarlet Lady||$0.85 billion||2020||110,000||2,800|
|NCL||Norwegian Prima||$0.85 billion||2022||142,500||3,215|
|MSC||MSC Virtuosa||$0.85 billion||2021||181,541||4,810|
|MSC||MSC Euribia||$0.85 billion||2023||181,541||4,828|
|MSC||MSC Grandiosa||$0.85 billion||2019||181,541||4,888|
|NCL||Norwegian Breakaway||$0.84 billion||2013||144,000||4,000|
|Royal Caribbean||Independence of the Seas||$0.83 billion||2008||154,400||3,634|
|Cunard||Queen Mary 2||$0.8 billion||2004||151,400||2,592|
|Royal Caribbean||Freedom of the Seas||$0.8 billion||2006||154,400||3,634|
|Royal Caribbean||Liberty of the Seas||$0.8 billion||2007||154,400||3,634|
|Carnival||Carnival Horizon||$0.8 billion||2018||133,500||4,700|
|Carnival||Carnival Vista||$0.8 billion||2016||133,500||4,716|
|NCL||Norwegian Getaway||$0.78 billion||2014||143,500||4,000|
|Costa||Costa Firenze||$0.78 billion||2021||135,225||4,232|
|Carnival||Carnival Panorama||$0.78 billion||2019||133,500||4,700|
|Costa||Costa Venezia||$0.78 billion||2019||135,500||5,260|
|Princess||Majestic Princess||$0.76 billion||2017||143,000||3,560|
|Princess||Regal Princess||$0.76 billion||2014||141,000||3,600|
|Princess||Discovery Princess||$0.76 billion||2022||143,700||3,668|
|Princess||Enchanted Princess||$0.76 billion||2021||143,700||3,668|
|Princess||Sky Princess||$0.76 billion||2019||142,700||4,272|
|Royal Caribbean||Odyssey of the Seas||$0.75 billion||2021||169,300||4,284|
|MSC||MSC Seaside||$0.745 billion||2017||153,516||4,134|
|MSC||MSC Seaview||$0.745 billion||2018||153,516||4,134|
|Carnival||Carnival Dream||$0.74 billion||2009||130,000||3,646|
|Carnival||Carnival Breeze||$0.74 billion||2012||130,000||3,690|
|Carnival||Carnival Magic||$0.74 billion||2011||130,000||3,690|
|Princess||Royal Princess||$0.735 billion||2013||139,000||3,600|
The Most Expensive Cruise Ship
The most expensive cruise ship ever built was Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, which has been reported to cost over $1.4 billion to build. The more recent and larger Harmony and Symphony of the Seas ships cost around $1.3 billion each.
In comparison, the cruise ships sailing in 2024 that cost the least amount of money to build are SeaDream Yacht Club‘s SeaDream I and SeaDream II. They were built in 1984 and 1985 respectively and cost a mere $35 million each.
An alternative comparison you can make is to look at the most expensive cruise ship per berth. Most cruise ships cost in the region of $100,000 to $350,000 per passenger to build, but there are a few anomalies below and above that range.
The most expensive cruise ship ever built when you look at the cost per berth is the luxury expedition cruise ship Hanseatic Nature, which is operated by Hapag Lloyd for the German market. At $155 million, the ship wasn’t so expensive overall, but as she only has a capacity of 199 passengers that works out at a huge $779,000 per person.
Of the cruise ships to have a maximum capacity of at least 1,000 guests, the most expensive are the Oceania Marina and Riviera, which each has a capacity for 1,258 passengers at a cost of $380,000 per person to build.
Suggested read: List of New Cruise Ships Launching in 2023
Icon of the Seas Cost To Build
The newest ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet – Icon of the Seas – may become the most expensive cruise ship ever built. Early estimates for the Icon Class put the ships at $2 billion each to build, although final costs may be lower.
While a number of details have been revealed for Icon of the Seas, we don’t know the final build costs yet, and we likely won’t until she has launched.
There’s a high likelihood that she will become the most expensive ship ever built – after all, she will be the biggest by some distance. But many of her features are attractions that already exist on the Oasis-class and Quantum-class ships, which will help lower some costs.
Whether she does end up costing near the initial estimate of $2 billion, or she is closer to the costs of the Oasis-class ships, we do know that she won’t be cheap.
Read more: Icon of the Seas Size – How Big Will It Be?
Running Costs Of Cruise Ships
Of course, building a cruise ship is only the first step. Most of the cost of running a cruise line comes from operating and maintaining the ships. So, let’s look into how much that all costs…
How Much Does a Cruise Ship Cost To Operate?
The cost to operate a cruise ship varies depending on the size of the ship and where it’s sailing. As a guide, Royal Caribbean ships cost an average of $240 million per year to operate.
There are six main areas of expense for cruise ships:
1. Commission and Transportation
This is a broad area that covers everything to do with getting passengers onto a ship. So that’ll be the cost of producing tickets, any commission fees paid to travel agents, and the costs involved in using a port for embarkation and disembarkation.
Port costs are normally calculated based on the capacity and tonnage of a ship – a bigger ship means more passengers will be boarding, which in turn means more space is needed, more security staff must be hired or paid for longer, and even just the cost of power for the terminal goes up too.
2. Onboard Expenses
This area covers the cost of any facilities or features on the ship that cost money to run. So think entertainment, spas, shops and activities. These all need special insurance too, so that’s covered in this section of expenses.
A really simple one – the staff on the ship need to be paid. Again, depending on the size of the ship this will vary pretty dramatically. Often the larger ships will have as many crew as some smaller ships will have total passengers.
Suggested read: How Much Do Cruise Ship Workers Get Paid?
Unsurprisingly, the cost of cruise ship food is high – cruise ships get through a lot of food, and so this expense gets its own category. There are all the upmarket meals that guests eat, including snacks and drinks, while the crew also needs to be fed while they’re on board.
Fuel costs include the cost of buying the fuel, but also the cost of getting the fuel delivered to the ship and any costs involved with storing it. Fuel is expensive, and cruise ships spend huge amounts on it – more on that below.
6. Other Expenses
The final category of expenses covers ‘everything else’, such as general repairs and maintenance, and the cost of insuring the ship as a whole.
How much does it cost to fuel a cruise ship?
The amount of fuel used by a cruise ship depends on its size and cruising speed. The largest ships, like Allure of the Seas, will use around 250 tonnes of fuel per day, which means a cost of around $187,500 per day.
Just like all fuel costs, the price of ship fuel has continued to climb, and ships can now expect to pay between $700 and $750 per tonne, depending on the port that they buy it from. Based on using 250 tonnes per day at $750 per tonne, that’s a mammoth sum, working out at over $68 million per year on fuel – for one ship!
Smaller ships will likely use between 100 and 150 tonnes per day. If we take an average of 125 tonnes per day, then a small cruise ship would spend just under $95,000 per day or $34 million a year on fuel. Still pretty pricey!
How Much Does It Cost To Maintain a Cruise Ship?
It’s been reported that around 7% of a cruise line’s revenue goes into ship maintenance. That averages out at around $19 million a year per cruise ship, although that figure fluctuates as cruise ships will do larger refurbishments every three to five years.
Ships go through a lot of wear and tear, but cruise lines don’t want guests to know about that. It’s important that everything is properly cleaned, repaired and maintained so that every guest gets the same high-quality experience.
This means there are ongoing costs to keep on top of smaller issues, and then larger refurbishments when features start to get tired and need an update.
These refurbishments often cost huge sums. Here are some examples:
Celebrity Cruises undertook a massive refurbishment programme towards the end of the 2010s, spending $500 million to modernise the entire fleet of nine ships and bring them in line with Celebrity Edge, at the time their newest ship. Suites and public areas were given an ‘epic makeover’ as part of the investment.
In one of the largest ever single-ship refurbishments, NCL spent $100 million to upgrade the Norwegian Spirit in 2020, carrying out a number of major enhancements.
I visited Norwegian Spirit just before the makeover, and she actually looked fine! A little dated, yes, but still in good condition as you can see from my ship tour.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Regent spent $125 million to upgrade the Seven Seas Navigator, Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner from 2016-to 2017, following the launch of the Seven Seas Explorer. Compared to the $100 million NCL spent on one ship it doesn’t seem like an incredible sum, but these ships were already exceptionally luxurious.
Profit Margins Of Cruise Ships
So, given the huge costs of building and maintaining cruise ships, you may now be interested to know how much profit cruise lines are making. Of course, this is something that’s varied a lot in recent years, especially during the shutdown, but let’s take a look…
Is Owning a Cruise Ship Profitable?
Owning a cruise ship is profitable, providing the ships sail with enough passengers – likely around 70% capacity. While there are huge expenses involved, cruise fares are designed to cover these costs while still being affordable to passengers.
Even deals like drinks packages are carefully planned out based on the data that cruise ships record. They’ll look at how many drinks they’re selling on average by passenger, and then offer a package that covers that cost.
Passengers who drink a lot will probably get value for their money but there’ll be a lot of passengers who take out a drinks package but don’t consume their share – extra profit for the cruise line.
A decent chunk of profit comes from casinos, spas, speciality dining and guests booking suites. As a general rule, if you book an inside cabin and decline the drinks, speciality dining, spa services and casino, the cruise line will make a loss on your stay.
How Much Do Cruise Ships Make Compared to Hotels?
So the Royal Caribbean made twice as much money, which is even more impressive when you consider that Hilton has almost a million rooms in its hotels, whereas Royal Caribbean has around 70,000 staterooms on its ships.
In years since the global shutdown of 2020, many cruise lines have lost money rather than being profitable, but year-on-year things are improving again.
How Much Does a Cruise Ship Make in a Year?
A cruise ship will usually generate around $200 million to $300 million in revenue every year. The amount of profit that a cruise ship makes every year will vary but it’s usually between $20 and $40 million annually.
As I said above, Royal Caribbean Group made around $1.8 billion in profit in 2019, the year before the global pause. When you divide that between all the ships operated by the group at that time (across Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Silversea Cruises and other smaller lines) that averages at $40 million per ship each year.
How Long Do Cruise Ships Last?
On average, a cruise ship tends to last for around 30 years if properly maintained, and they will usually undergo some refurbishments or a refit during that time to keep them updated.
That can vary though – some ships have a much longer lifespan. The longest-surviving cruise ship still sailing is the Sea Cloud, owned by Sea Cloud Cruises operating as an independent cruise ship for up to 64 passengers. She was first built in 1931 as a private yacht and served during World War II as a weather ship for the US Navy.
Hebridean Princess is another ship that’s had a long life – she was first launched in 1964 as MV Columba, serving as a car ferry and Royal Mail ship. She now serves as a cruise ship for Hebridean Islands Cruises around the islands of Scotland.
Here are some notable ships that no longer operate, and their lifespan:
|Cruise Line||Ship||Year Launched||Year Ended Service||Years Active||Notes|
|Carnival/Century||Carnival Fascination/Century Harmong||1994||2022||30||Spent most of her life as Carnival Fascination for Carnival, until 2020.|
|Carnival||Carnival Sensation||1993||2022||31||After being retired in early 2022 by Carnival, she was scrapped immediately.|
|Fred.Olsen||Black Watch||1972||2022||50||Never returned to service after the global shutdown of 2020.|
|Fred.Olsen||Boudicca||1973||2021||48||Began life as Royal Viking Sky. Various operators including Princess from 1993-97.|
|NCL||Norwegian Star||1973||2021||48||Originally built for Phoenix Reisen, bought by NCL in 1997.|
|Cunard||Queen Elizabeth 2||1969||2008||39||Cunard’s longest-serving ship, now operating as a floating hotel in Dubai|
|P&O Cruises||Arcadia||1988||2021||33||P&O’s second Arcadia also served for Princess, and Cruise and Maritime|
|Royal Caribbean||Sovereign of the Seas||1988||2020||32||Served as MS Sovereign for Pullmantur Cruises from 2008 to 2020|
|Carnival||Mardi Gras||1972||2003||31||Carnival’s first ship was sold on in 1993|
|MSC Cruises||Melody||1982||2013||31||Sailed for MSC from 1997-2013. Started life as the Atlantic.|
|Carnival||Carnival Fantasy||1990||2020||30||Served its whole life with Carnival.|
|Celebrity Cruises||Horizon||1990||2020||30||Sold by Celebrity in 2005, served for Island, Pullmantur and CDF since|
|Royal Caribbean||Monarch of the Seas||1991||2020||29||Served as MS Monarch for Pullmantur Cruises from 2013 to 2020|
|Princess Cruises||Princess Patricia||1949||1978||29||Princess’ first ship when bought in 1965.|
|P&O Cruises||Arcadia||1954||1979||25||Built as a passenger ship originally, began cruises in the 1960s.|
The Bottom Line
Phew – quite the stat-heavy guide there, but hopefully you can see now just how big the numbers are when dealing with how much cruise ships cost, both when being built and to be maintained, and how much money they make.
Are the numbers what you expected? Or are they bigger, or smaller?
The numbers will only get bigger again, especially now that capacity is getting back to maximum levels and new, feature-packed ships are launching.
It’s an exciting time to be a cruise passenger with some of the epic ships on the horizon – that will no doubt cost a pretty penny.
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