How Long Does It Take to Build a Cruise Ship?

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Have you ever marveled at the sheer magnitude of these vessels and wondered how long it takes to build a modern cruise ship?

When asking this question, you may as well be inquiring as to how much time it takes to create a small city, which is exactly what today’s cruise ships are – a floating city. It takes a great deal of planning, effort, and time to build these floating wonders.

With an incredible array of amenities, features, entertainment, activities, and culinary restaurants, there are many details that go into creating these modern cruise ships in the cruise industry. Yet despite their sheer magnitude, constructing one may not take as much time as one might think.

How Long Does It Take?

The time required to create a new cruise ship will depend on the size of the ship and the owner’s requests. Regardless of the overall size, the general time to construct most cruise ships will depend on the experience of those building them.

Building a cruise ship typically takes between 12 and 18 months. Construction begins with the laying of the keel and is completed upon launch.

Why So Long?

Modern cruise ships contain all the amenities and features of a modern city. Their focus is on entertaining any passenger on board. Like Las Vegas, these vessels contain movie theaters, casinos, playgrounds, and numerous restaurants.

This isn’t on a small scale, either. Each cruise line wants to take what it’s offering to the next level. So, they are looking for the next thrill-seeking adventure ride, how to make things even bigger or more exciting, and how to appeal to different demographics.

The features and entertainment are getting larger. Movie theaters are incorporating more technology than ever before, and every cruise line strives to be the first in one area or another. They are all competing for people’s attention in a highly competitive market. They need to be the best.

Meyer Turku Shipyard
Meyer Turku Shipyard (Photo Credit: Jamo Images / Shutterstock)

A cruise company is devoted to providing its guests with the best experience possible. Standard features of a cruise ship include spas, gyms, fitness equipment, and swimming pools. There are also varieties of restaurants available that appeal to most patrons.

Where cruise lines try to outdo the other is offering unique attractions to their guests. This may include waterparks, mini-golf courses, zip-lining, go-karts, skating rinks, and more. Additionally, there are hundreds of accommodations for crew members, guests, cabins, and staterooms to construct.

Worth Reading: How Big is a Cruise Ship?

With all of these details, you may think that constructing a cruise ship would take forever. Yet once you understand how cruise ships are built, the timeframe seems more plausible.

Stages of Building Cruise Ships

Cruise ships go through various stages before they’re launched. Here are the highlights of the typical steps to construct a cruise ship from beginning to end:

  1. Order is Placed – While it seems obvious, this is the first step. Whoever owns the cruise line places the order for their ship. The cruise ship’s design will have already been approved prior to placing the order.
  2. Ceremonial Steel Cutting – This involves cutting the first piece of steel that is part of the cruise ship. It is cut in front of the cruise ship owner/management.
  3. Laying Down the Keel – The keel is the lowest part of the ship. It is laid down with absolute precision using GPS coordinates to provide accuracy. The process must be correct down to the centimeter to be successful.
  4. Launching the Cruise Ship – Once the frame is constructed and cabins are installed, the ship is put into the water. It is floated out and relocated to another section of the company’s shipyards so that additional fit-outs can be completed.
  5. Trials at Sea – Insurance representatives and shipyard officials board the cruise ship for the sea trials. Government agency representatives responsible for the shipbuilding will join the group to verify the cruise ship can be sailed.
  6. Handover Ceremonies – The cruise ship is given to the owner.
  7. The Shakedown Voyage – The cruise ship is relocated from the shipyard to the homeport.
  8. Christening – A “Godmother” is selected to reveal the cruise ship’s name.
  9. Maiden Voyage – The cruise ship is ready to receive paying passengers on the first voyage out at sea.

While most major cruise ships take 12-18 months to build, some take even longer. For example, Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas took three years to complete, although this was partially due to COVID delays.

What Companies Build Cruise Ships?

Major cruise lines do not employ people in-house to create their fleets. This is due to the high costs of the equipment needed to build them, which adds to the cruise ship cost.

There is also a great level of expertise and knowledge required to build them. There are numerous specialist shipbuilders responsible for putting mega-ships together. The major shipbuilders include Meyer Werft in Germany (also owns Meyer Turku in Finland), Fincantieri in Italy, and Chantiers de l’Atlantique in France.

These shipwrights own massive shipyards located in riverside and coastal towns. They construct multi-million-dollar ships from the sea up to the surface prior to sailing.

Meyer Werft Shipyard
Photo Credit: MartinLueke /

When we look at the location, there are only four major shipyards in existence that can create large cruise ships. We’ve already mentioned the first three, but there is also Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Another shipyard to take note of is the MV Werften in Germany, which was owned by the now-bankrupt Genting Cruise Lines.

Fincantieri is in Italy. It created its first cruise ship in 1990. Today, it is the largest European builder. Meyer Werft is a family-owned business in Papenburg, Germany, which also owns the popular Meyer Turki shipyard in Finland.

Meyer Werft began creating cruise ships in the mid-1980s. The shipyard is in a unique location as there is no direct access to the ocean. Ships need to be transferred via the Ems river going to the North Sea.

Chantiers de l’Atlantique is formerly known as STX Europe/France and is based in France. The shipyard is well-known for the construction of the Oasis-class cruise ships for Royal Caribbean and larger vessels for MSC Cruises.

What Materials Are Used?

High-strength steel and aluminum are used to keep a low center of mass despite the cruise ship’s massive size. The heaviest items, like propellers, engines, and fuel tanks, are housed in the lower part of a cruise ship.

Fincantieri Shipyard
Photo Credit: Mark Hu / Shutterstock

Despite a top-heavy look, shipbuilders evenly distribute the cruise ship’s weight to ensure its stability. Lightweight materials help to reduce emissions and fuel consumption. They also help the cruise ship to perform well in challenging sea environments.

Carbon fiber and fiber-reinforced plastics are frequently considered. Theoretically, they can lessen the cruise ship’s mass, thereby bringing the center of gravity down and reducing weight above the vessel’s waterline.

Towering Structures

With some vessels reaching 500 feet high, putting these vessels together requires structural engineering. The hull is the first part constructed while on dry land. This is the vessel’s base. It must be watertight prior to placing anything on top.

Superstructures are built in smaller blocks remotely, then placed on the hull piece by piece, almost like a massive Lego build.


Cruise ship cabins are magnetized. This increases storage and helps organize items more efficiently. Magnetism is also important to the construction process.

Carnival Sunrise Stateroom
Photo: Copyright Cruise Hive

Cabins tend to be created separately from the rest of the cruise ship. The construction is like a car factory wherein every aspect is added, which includes fitted furniture and plumbing. Once done, they are taken to a shipyard. This is where they are slotted into the cruise ship using magnetic force.

Water Tests

Water control systems are included, allowing crews to build the ship outside and inside the water. It allows them to simultaneously test the newly constructed hull for water tightness. It also allows engineers to do any work necessary on the underwater sections.

Incorporating man-made dams allows the shipyard team to empty and fill their construction site as often as they choose.

Final Touches

Major cruise lines place the finest decor and details that money can afford. By employing experienced interior designers and top artists, they ensure cruise ships appear to be high-end resorts rather than simple transportation vessels.

Once finished, the cruise ship will be a floating, luxury vessel that will amaze a plethora of new guests. Cruisers will be taken in by the latest technologies, amenities, restaurants, and entertainment.

Read Also: How Much Does It Cost to Build a Cruise Ship?

The length of time it takes to build a cruise ship depends on its size and the amenities required to create it. The duration also changes based on the experience of the shipbuilders.

The most experienced team will get the work done more quickly than one with a moderate amount of experience. Regardless of the cruise ship size, there is a basic timeline involved based on actual experience.

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