What is the Top Speed of a Cruise Ship Ever Recorded?

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Speed isn’t necessarily a priority for cruise ships. After all, you spend much time on the ship enjoying the amenities. In general, as long as they stick to the itinerary, speed is not an issue.

Nonetheless, have you ever wondered at what speed cruise ships actually sail and the reasoning behind it? You may be surprised to learn that cruise ships can go faster than they actually do but choose not to.

Keep reading to learn what the top speed of a cruise ship is and why they never go at full speed.

Top Speed of a Cruise Ship – How Fast?

Before jumping into the top speed of a cruise ship, let’s first discuss how to calculate it.

Ship speed is measured in knots. One knot is equivalent to one nautical mile an hour. What is a nautical mile? About 1.15078 miles or 1.852 km/h.

The average cruise ship will travel about 20 knots. Larger vessels may travel faster at anywhere from 21 to 24 knots. Royal Caribbean states that the average speed of their cruise ships is 18 to 20 knots. Cruise ships typically slow down as they approach the shore.

Cruise Ship Wake
Cruise Ship Wake (Photo Credit: Tony Steinberg / Shutterstock)

That said, the top speed of a vessel would be around 30 knots, which is about 35 miles per hour. Currently, the record for the fastest ocean liner in the world is held by the SS United States, with a speed of 38 knots. This was completed during the ship’s maiden voyage in 1952. The classic ocean liner had a total horsepower of 240,000 and four 18 ft propellers. The ship’s design and material also had an impact on the speed of the SS United States.

When it comes to vessels currently in service, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 can reach speeds of 30 knots. Cunard’s retired Queen Elizabeth 2 was rumored to have a top speed of 32 knots.

However, it’s important to note that the Queen Mary 2 is an ocean liner carrying passengers across the Atlantic, not necessarily a cruise ship. When it comes to cruise ships as we know them, there’s no official record.

Queen Mary 2
Queen Mary 2 (Photo Credit: Stephan Backensfeld / Shutterstock)

However, some vessels from popular cruise lines, such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean, are known to go over 25 knots from time to time. Despite this fast speed, most cruise ships will never even attempt up to 30 knots. Let’s find out why.

Why Cruise Ships Don’t Go Top Speed

Have you ever gone top speed in your car? Unless you’ve undertaken illegal drag racing, the chances are you haven’t. While this is partly because of safety concerns and law, your car also burns more fuel the faster you go. The same goes for cruise ships. 

As mentioned, the average cruise ship sticks to 20-23 knots. Cruise ships don’t generally go over 20-something knots for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, vessels keep a consistent cruising speed for fuel efficiency.

The faster a ship goes, the more it takes to propel it forward and the more fuel it burns. Fueling a ship is already costly, so to keep costs down, it’s a good idea to travel at a lower speed.

Cruise Ship Aft
Photo Credit: NAPA / Shutterstock

Another reason cruise ships don’t go faster is to minimize motion and sea sickness and ensure passengers have a smooth journey. While they want passengers to feel like they’re on a cruise ship, it’s also nice to be so comfortable that they forget they’re on a cruise ship.

Read Also: How Fast Does a Cruise Ship Propeller Spin?

Finally, a cruise ship maintains a certain speed to keep on schedule. If the captain goes faster, the ship may end up at the next port too early to dock, which may cause a delay, block other scheduled ships, and throw the itinerary off.

Early arrival also comes with extra fees for the ship. If the ship arrives early, it usually stops and anchors at sea until the port call time arrives. Sometimes, the vessel will sail around in circles just off the coast until cleared to enter the port.

Do Cruise Ships Ever Speed Up?

There are exceptions to the speed rule for cruise ships. The main exception is that a ship will speed up in the event of a storm or rough waters in hopes of passing through it quickly. The captain may sometimes decide to speed up if they know a storm is coming in hopes of outrunning it. 

Another time a cruise ship may speed up is if the wind is working against it and inherently slowing it down.


What affects the speed of a cruise ship?

Several factors affect the speed of a cruise ship, including the itinerary, weather, and distance to the shore.

Is there a speed limit for cruise ships?

Unlike highway traffic, ships generally have no specific speed limits. However, most cruise ships are capable of going up to 30 knots.

The Bottom Line: It’s Not a Race at Sea

The main takeaway is that although the fastest ship recorded traveled at a max speed of 30 knots, and many modern cruise ships can reach or even surpass that number, they don’t, nor have a reason to, for several reasons.

Even if your ship isn’t going at max speed, you can rest assured that you’ll always reach your destination on time.

Haiyan Ma
Haiyan Ma
I absolutely love cruising with my favorite ports of call being in the Caribbean. As a former crew member for Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival Cruise Line I can continue my passion by sharing my experiences with readers. Find out more about us here.


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