Today we arrived in Manila, Philippines where we are sitting at anchor outside the port. We happen to be sitting at anchor surrounded by 21 other cruise ships. So for today, we’re not going to talk about the intricacies of quarantine and testing protocol for yet another country. Today we’re going to talk about cruise ships, some aspects of their design, and some things to look out for if you ever see one floating on by.
Update Nov, 2020: This post was written on May 12, 2020. Since then a number of the ships referenced have been sold to other cruise lines. This includes, but is not limited to Holland America Line’s m/s Amsterdam going to Fred Olsen Cruises as m/s Bolette, the Costa neoRomantica going to Celestyal Cruises as Celestyal Experience, and Sea Princess and Sun Princess were sold to undisclosed buyers).
As a teenager some people obsessed about their hair or makeup or celebrities. I, as a totally normal teenager, was obsessed with cruise ship design. I used to dream of designing cruise ships and I studied the deck plans as if I was studying for a test.
So, when I woke up this morning and looked out my window (a different window, mind you – we had to move cabins yesterday because the Filipino government requires anyone in quarantine to have a balcony cabin) there were cruise ships – and a lot of them. About six or seven on our starboard side and another 13 on our port side with one anchored just to our stern. Take a look at this fun spreadsheet (yes, spreadsheets can be fun!) with some information on all the ships that are here. (And, no I have no idea how much internet I used looking all of this up.)
On it you’ll find out that we are the second smallest, that all of these ships combined can hold 58,951 people, and during normal circumstances would have 21,104 crew members onboard! (Note: for passenger capacity I used maximum capacity, not the double occupancy.)
For someone that grew up obsessing over cruise ship design I feel like I am a kid without a peanut allergy in a candy store. I spent 10 minutes explaining the progression of balcony design throughout the late 1990’s into the early 2000’s to Stuart earlier. He was… enthralled. It is a parade of cruise ship design, spanning from the Costa neoRomantica from 1990 to the Carnival Panorama that came out just last year. Demonstrating many era’s of cruise ships – from when lifeboats were on top decks, to the Panamax design trend of the early and mid 2000’s, to the mega-ships of Royal Caribbean. On all sides of my comparatively little ship (second smallest here) there is thirty years of cruise ship design history.
While I look around, binoculars glued to my face, at all of these ships, I do understand the situation for what it is, and it paints a bittersweet picture. All of these ships are here to bring crew members home either to the Philippines or to bring crew members from the same country together to get flights home. The other side of the coin is that most of the crew going home don’t know when or if they will have a job again. The economic realities of the impact this disease is having individually and for corporations is painted clearly with all of these cities at sea sitting still.
The 22 ships in port represent 9 cruise lines owned by three corporations. Princess, Costa, Cunard, P&O Australia, and Holland America Line are all owned by Carnival Cooperation. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises, and the Explorer Dream, of Dream Cruises is part of the Chinese based Star Cruises.
Over the years I’ve found some basic ways to estimate how many passengers a ship can hold what age each of the ships are by looking for tell-tale signs of design progression. I have had a wonderful time today looking at these ships, as well as looking up a bit of information about them as well.
How to tell how many passengers and crew are onboard:
- Count the lifeboats!
- For a good guess as to how many passengers there are onboard count how many lifeboats you see. Multiply that by two (two sides of the ship) and you have how many lifeboats. You used to be able to easily multiply this number by 150 (how many people in each lifeboat); however, some of the mega ships lifeboats can now hold upwards of 350 per lifeboat. For that reason, on large cruise ships count how many decks of balcony cabins there are – if there are more than 4 assume that the lifeboats hold 300 people) and you will have close to the number of passengers that could be onboard.
- To have a good guess at the crew number take the number of passengers and divide by between 2 and 3 depending on cruise line. A cruise line like Seabourn is going to have more crew on per passenger than a cruise line like Carnival. This has to do with the overall level of service that could be expected onboard. Also: this isn’t bashing Carnival. I’ve sailed on both Carnival and Seabourn and had a great time on each – they are just very different cruise products at very different price points. Anyways, now you have an idea of how many people might be onboard during normal non COVID-19 times.
- Note: Crew are not assigned to lifeboats to abandon ship (aside from those necessary to lower it down and drive it) crew are assigned to life rafts.
How to tell how old the ship is (mainly for mid-sized to mega-ships and not the smaller luxury brands):
- Balconies, balcony design, and location:
- Up until the mid 90’s (and even a bit later) balconies were not the norm. Most of these ships will have far more outside cabins than balcony cabins.
- Balconies were originally incorporated into the hull of the ship. Typically you can see the difference in this by seeing if the balconies look like a long line of glass with railings or if it looks like someone poked holes into the side of the ship. The older ones will typically also use metals railings versus glass railings. You’ll notice this if you look at a picture of the Voyager of the Seas and the Navigator of the Seas. When this class of ships was coming out it was largely when the transition happened. However, if you take a look at the Grand Princess (which came out before Voyager of the Seas) you’ll see that Princess had a bit of a leg up on bringing this design into fashion.
- Staterooms above where the bridge is. If you look at the ship and there are staterooms on the decks above the bridge, especially multiple decks above the bridge – you are probably looking at a newer ship. This became the fad somewhere in the past 10 years, but really took the world by storm in the last 5 years. This happened to increase the number of staterooms on a ship without extending its width or length. Putting them at the front is easier than towards the back of the ship. The back of the ship (mid-ship to aft) is where the smokestacks from the engines far below come up making it challenging to increase the cabins upwards without also increasing the height of the smokestack. This height is important because every once in awhile we do have to go under bridges!
- Deck usage:
- “Older” ships (before 2010-ish) would use up valuable balcony space by having public spaces.
- If you see a deck with windows that aren’t for cabins (especially above the lifeboat line), it is most likely an older ship.
- The main public spaces towards the bottom of the ship are on the decks covered by the lifeboats.
- Life boat location:
- If the life boats look like they are up towards the top of the ship instead of being along the mid to bottom half of the ship it is an old ship likely not built before the early 90’s.
- Most ships where this is a factor have been retired from service or sold to smaller subsidiary or country specific lines.
- The reason for this change is as ships got bigger the top deck got higher and higher, meaning it would take longer to lower the lifeboat to the water. The lower the lifeboat the faster it can get to water and the safer it is.
- Ship width is a tough one to visually see unless you have something to compare it to. To sum it up though, if a ship is less than 106’ wide it would have fit through the old Panama Canal.
- This means that if you identify a ship that is primarily balcony cabins that is in essence “long and skinny”, it is likely a “Panamax” ship and is probably from the early to mid-2000’s. Typically under 106’ wide and about 920-925 feet long (though could be as long as 965′). (Think of the Carnival Spirit class, Royal Caribbean Radiance Class, Princess Cruises Coral Class, Holland America Line/Costa/P&O’s Vista Class… there’s a lot of contenders)
- The reason for this was to allow newer cruise ships with more balconies and updated amenities transit the Panama Canal and not simply be stuck on one coast or another.
- The new size for Panamax ships is 1201 feet long and up to 161 feet wide. This means that even some of the mega ships can make their way across now and the advantages of building smaller vessels (which means less passengers) so they can transit the canal are pretty much gone.
- The stern:
- The ducktail
- the flat thing that comes out of the stern of the ship.
- The most modern ones tend to be less boxy than it’s mid 2000’s counterparts to make the ducktail look less odd.
- More tapered.
To sum up, the newest ships will have:
- A lot of balcony cabins, with glass railings, and have some up on several decks above the bridge.
- It is likely wider than the old Panama Canal.
- It doesn’t waste precious balcony space on public areas. You won’t see many windows for public rooms above the balcony line aside from the areas that are covered by lifeboats.
- The ducktail stern.
Needless to say, at least for the time that we’re here I am enjoying having some scenery other than the seemingly endless ocean. I will continue to have my binoculars out, looking for things I might not have noticed before – for instance, Carnival Panorama has a very interesting design for the lifeboat deck!
With so much to learn and to see… even being stuck onboard isn’t all that bad. Plus, just think of all the people on these ships that will get to go home and see their families soon.
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