The largest ocean liners in the world from 1831 to today


  • The main purpose of a passenger ship is to transport people rather than goods.
  • There are three types of passenger ships: cruise ships, ferries, and liners.
  • The infographic below from HMY Yachts shows which ships held the title of the world’s largest passenger ship since the 19th century.
  • While COVID-19 has caused setbacks for the cruise industry, experts believe it will rebound in 2021.

an infographic showing a timeline of the largest passenger ships in the world, from 1831 to the present day

They are the largest liners in the world from 1831 to the present day.

Image: Visual capitalist

Records beaten: the biggest liners since 1831

the Titanic lives big in our minds, but it’s probably no surprise that the world record for the largest passenger ship has been broken several times since its time. In fact, today’s largest passenger ship can now carry over 6,000 people, more than double the Titanic capacity.

This graphic from HMY Yachts shows which ships held the title of the world’s largest passenger ship over time and how these ships have evolved since the turn of the 19th century.

Different types of passenger ships

Before we dive into the rankings, it’s worth explaining what constitutes a passenger ship.

Passenger ships are ships whose primary purpose is to transport people rather than goods. In modern times, there are three types of passenger ships:

  • Cruise ships: used for vacations, with a priority on amenities and luxury
  • Ferries: typically used for shorter day trips or overnight transport
  • Cruise ships: The traditional mode of maritime transport, with priority given to speed

Traditional liners are becoming obsolete, in large part due to advances in other modes of transport such as rail, automobile and air transport. In other words, the main priority of passenger ships has changed over the years from transportation to recreation.

Today, luxury is at the center of attention, which means that extravagance is part of the cruise ship experience. For example, the Sea navigator (which was the biggest liner from 2002 to 2003) has $ 8.5 million value of works of art exhibited throughout the ship.

A complete breakdown: largest passenger ships by tonnage

Now that we’ve covered the definition of a passenger ship and how they’ve evolved over the years, let’s take a look at some of the largest passenger ships in history.

The first ship on the list is the SS Royal guillaume. Built in eastern Canada in the early 1800s, this ship was originally built for domestic voyages in Canada.

As well as being the largest passenger ship of its time, it is often considered the first ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean almost entirely by steam engine. However, some sources claim that the Dutch ship Curacao completed a steam voyage in 1827, six years before the SS Royal guillaume.

In 1837, the SS Royal guillaume was dethroned by the SS Great West, to change hands dozens of times before 1912, when the Titanic entered the scene.

a table showing the largest ships, including their tonnage and capacity

This is a full breakdown of the largest passenger ships by tonnage.

Image: Visual capitalist

Showing 1 to 10 of 42 entries. To view the full interactive graphic, click here.

the Titanic was one of three Olympic-class ships. Of the three, two of them sank — the Titanic in 1912, and the HMHS British in 1916, during the First World War. Some historians believe these ships sank because of their faulty bulkhead design.

Fast forward to today, and the Symphony of the Seas is today the largest passenger ship in the world. Although she has a gross tonnage of 228,081, she uses 25% less fuel than her sister ships (which are slightly smaller).

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The impact of COVID-19 on cruise ships

2020 has been a difficult year for the cruise ship industry as travel restrictions and onboard epidemics halted the $ 150 billion industry. As a result, some operations were forced to downsize – for example, famed cruise operation Carnival removed 13 ships from its fleet in July 2020.

That being said, the restrictions are slowly starting to loosen and industry experts are hoping things will be different in 2021 as more people start to come back on board.

Article edited by Iman Gosh.


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