While it was anticipated several years ago that Royal Caribbean would eventually overtake Carnival Cruise Line as the largest cruise line in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic hastened the change.
Carnival Cruise Line was forced to trim its fleet considerably, selling off several of its ships as part of a wider fleet reduction across the entire Carnival Corporation parent company. That left Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line on-par with 25 ships each.
However, Royal Caribbean operates the Oasis-class goliaths, the largest cruise ships in the world, and its next-largest class of cruise ship, the Quantum class (pictured above), is just 20,000 gross tons short of Carnival’s largest cruise ship, Mardi Gras.
Royal Caribbean’s larger cruise ships make it the largest cruise line in the world by passenger capacity, with an annual passenger capacity of 3-million, while Carnival Cruise Line has just short of 3 million.
Carnival’s parent company, Carnival Corporation remains the dominant cruise company, with nine brands across several continents, including Princess Cruises, the largest premium cruise line.
Royal Caribbean’s premium cruise line Celebrity Cruises remains the second-largest premium cruise line after Princess.
The gap between Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corporation is expected to widen in the years to come.
They’ll be the largest cruise ships in the world by gross tonnage when they’re launched, and the other four Icon class cruise ships will be comparable in size at 200,000 gross tons. All will carry between 4,000 to 6,000 passengers.
Carnival Cruise Line has another Excel class cruise ship on order, Carnival Celebration, which will be 183,900 gross tons like her sister ship Mardi Gras.
The other large cruise line in the mass market segment in North America are Norwegian Cruise Line, with an estimated 1.8 million passengers, followed by Disney Cruise Line with 700,000, and newcomer Virgin Voyages at 143,000 in its startup year.
Based on passenger capacity and fleet size, MSC Cruises is now the largest independent cruise line in the world, with 19 ships in operation and 11 on order through 2027, including four 205,000 gross ton World class cruise ships that will be second only to the Oasis class for size.
It’s also launching four luxury cruise ships for its new luxury arm, with the first due in 2023.
During the pandemic MSC Cruises consistently ruled out the possibility of selling off any of its ships, and was one of the first cruise line’s to return to service with roundtrip itineraries out of Italy.