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Ocean Liners vs. Cruise Ships

Updated on November 20, 2014

Are Cruise Ships the same as Ocean Liners?

Do you know the difference between Ocean Liners and Cruise Ships? Many people don't!

The airline industry brought about the decline of the need for regular transatlantic crossings by passenger vessels, and that decline might be credited with the eventual birth of today's cruising industry. But today's beauties are not simply modern versions of the grand ladies of the golden age of sea travel.

Luxury liners have a storied past, and many have disappeared into the annals of history. A few are still in regular use. However, most people who 'go cruising' do so on a cruise ship, NOT an luxury passenger vessel like those that once crossed the ocean regularly.

So, then, what IS the difference? After reading this lens, you'll know a little more. Then, next time you hear someone refer to a cruise ship as an ocean liner, you'll be able to educate them about these two classes of "transportation." (One really was. The other - not so much.)

Some Basic Differences

Between the Two

Look closely at the two photos in the introduction. The first is of the Queen Mary 2, an ocean liner. On the bottom is the Carnival Triumph, a cruise ship. You can clearly see the difference in the freeboards of the ships in those two pictures.


Do you see the row of orange lifeboats in each photo? Notice that they are higher up, and thus farther from the water line in the QM2? The lifeboats on each ship are on the first (lowest) 'open' deck. The distance from the water to the lowest open deck is called the FREEBOARD. Ocean liners have a higher freeboard than cruise ships. They need this for the rougher waters of open seas.


Another difference is in the construction of the hull.

Vintage Travel Poster, showing a bow view of the hull of a Beloved Ocean Liner -  The SS Normandie
Vintage Travel Poster, showing a bow view of the hull of a Beloved Ocean Liner - The SS Normandie | Source

The Hull of an Ocean Liner

The hull of an ocean liner is heavier, thicker, and stronger than that of a cruise ship. It is contoured to afford the vessel both speed and stability in open seas, particularly the rough North Atlantic shipping lanes. Remember - at one time, ocean liners were the only transport between England and America, so speed was important. Even today, ocean liners are built to sail at faster speeds than cruise ships.

Such concentration on the hull construction also makes that part of the ship a much bigger expense for ocean liners than for cruise ships.

A MOST Famous Ocean Liner - The RMS Titanic

The Titanic was a four funnel Ocean Liner
The Titanic was a four funnel Ocean Liner | Source

Yesterday's Titanic vs. Today's Oasis of the Seas

In her day, which was so tragically brief, she was the largest ocean liner ever built, and also one of the most opulent. However, she would have been absolutely dwarfed by today's cruise ships. Here is a comparison of some statistics for the Titanic and the Oasis of the Seas, one of Royal Caribbean's newest ships, which debuted in late 2009.

RMS Titanic:

46,328 grt; 9 decks; 884 ft long; 92 feet wide; ~ 3500 passengers and crew

MS Oasis of the Seas:

225,282 grt; 16 decks; 1,187 ft long; 198 ft (widest point); ~ 8400 passengers and crew

Because the Titanic had been billed as unsinkable, the sinking of the RMS Titanic, just four days into her maiden voyage in 1912, was world-wide news. Her story has riveted generations of sea-farers and non sea-farers alike.

The ship rested, disturbed only by sea life, on the ocean floor, until her discovery in 1985 by an American and French expedition funded for the purpose fueled renewed public interest in her story. A subsequent movie was seen by millions, and has spawned a new generation of titanic afficianados.

Titanic - The Movie

Have you seen the 1997 movie, Titanic?

See results

For Titanic Fans

The fascinationwith the story of the Titanic continues today. And if you are one of the fascinated ones (or know someone who is) then you may be interested in this book, published to commemorate the one hundreth anniversary of the tragic ocean liner's sinking.

If you're old enough to remember LIFE, you'll know photographs were a particular strength of that magazine. So it is with this book. But, there's compelling information accompanying the stunning photos, too.

Stilt walking entertainer on the Mariner of the Seas cruise ship
Stilt walking entertainer on the Mariner of the Seas cruise ship | Source

Transportation vs. Destination

A Difference of Purpose

Ocean Liners are purpose-built for transportation. These remarkable and stately vessels still make regularly scheduled point-to-point 'runs,' most commonly round trip Southampton to New York. However, they ply other itineraries from London's or Southampton's docks, such as Northern Europe and the Med, as well as the occasional World Voyages. In true ocean liner tradition, these are voyages on vessels made for voyaging, and elegantly so.

Cruise ships, on the other hand are often seen as destinations in and of themselves. They are floating resorts. Some offer non-stop entertainment and an endless array of venues for excitement and gratification.

The picture at right? Well, that's one of the roving entertainers who greeted us shortly after we boarded the Mariner of the Seas cruise ship a few years back. I don't think you'd find such a thing on an ocean liner!

Photo: my own (all rights reserved)



On an ocean liner, there seems to be an emphasis on sophisticated elegance while maintaining the best of the tradition of the golden era of the great ships of the past. You'll find the best of appointments and d├ęcor, and guests who appreciate the nicities of decorum. Walk across the gangpank, and enter a world gone by, yet not passed by where modern conveniences are concerned. The ships are the finest built today, with meticulous attention to detail.

This is a Cruise Ship


Atmosphere - Cruise Ships

CRUISE SHIPS There's no single way to describe a 'general' atmosphere on a modern cruise ship. Some are laid-back, casual, and quiet. Others are mamouth non-stop playgrounds for young and old alike. The one thing the industry as a whole offers is variety. This means it sometimes takes a bit of research to find the line and class of ship that best suits you personally. But, rest assured, it's there for the finding.

Below, you'll find two segments - a video and a slide show - which will give you a taste of the world of the ocean liner and that of the cruise ship. Just bear in mind that the cruise ship slide show represents only one type of ship atmosphere out of the many to choose from.

Cruising and Cruise Ships 2014 Edition

Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2014
Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2014

Travek author Douglas Ward spends more time at sea than he does on land. His comprehensive revielws of cruising ahd cruise ships will give you detailed answers to questions you didn't even dream of asking. If you want to know which cruise line and ship is the best fit for you, look here.


Cunard's Queen Mary 2 - A Modern, Classic Ocean Liner

Cunard's Queens - Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, and the new Queen Elizabeth - carry on in the tradition of the ocean liner. They are all about voyaging in sophisticated elegance. There's something quiet, comforting, and timeless about the world that Cunard creates aboard their liners. It's a world apart, and while it's not for everyone, those who sail Cunard are loyal Cunarders... and there are many more who would like to be!

On Board the Queen Mary 2

Allure of the Seas - Focus on FUN

In colorful contrast to the video of the Queen Mary 2, this one, showcasing Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas gives you an idea of how different the focus is on a large cruise ship. The focus is on fun, fun, fun - with almost limitless choices of things to do.

Not all cruise ships are as large (or as busy) as the Allure of the Seas. Some are smaller, and more intimate. Some cater more to active families, and others to older adults. So, just as there are many choices on this particular cruise chip, there are also choices in styles of cruising from line to line, and even from ship to ship within some lines!

On Board the Allure of the Seas

Vote Your Preference

Now that you've seen a little bit about the differences between Cruise Ships and Ocean Liners, let's see what everyone's preferences are.

Would you prefer to sail on an Ocean Liner or on a Cruise Ship?

See results

Next Article

See Queens of the Ocean Past - stories of three great ocean liners of an elegant bygone era


Titanic's Sisters - Britannic and Olympic for the stories of famous Titanic's lesser known sisters.

Please leave a comment, even if it's just to say hello. I do read - and appreciate - all comments!

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      @meggingmad: qe2 horn (older) is better than newer

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      i love Qm2 and oasis of the seas and queen victoria

    • Ibexing profile image


      5 years ago

      I have to say I have been on many cruise ships and I didn't realize there was a difference between a cruise ship and an ocean liner. Very interesting.

    • meggingmad profile image


      5 years ago

      The QE2 "Rocked"!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I love the ocean I would love to sail on Titanic, Britannic, Olympic, Lusitania, Mauretania, Aquitania, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth 2, Nomadic, Traffic, Carpathia, Oceanic and others! :)

    • blestman lm profile image

      blestman lm 

      6 years ago

      I love to travel in style so these ships are delightful to me. Thank you for this lens.

    • Cynthia Haltom profile image

      Cynthia Haltom 

      6 years ago from Diamondhead

      I am a water lover, take me on any kind of water vessel.

    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 

      6 years ago

      I learned something interesting today. Thank you! I'd prefer a cruise ship if it weren't supposed to be a resort, because I would like to stop at the places they stop, but I doubt seriously if much of what they have to do on cruise ships would interest me.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Love cruise ships, ocean liners, and boats of all sorts! If it goes on water - count me in!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hi.. I have never been aboard a ship. I have read about the great liners of the past. I would love to be aboard an ocean liner.

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 

      6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Blessed by a Squid Angel.

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 

      6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I didn't know there was a difference. Thanks for sharing this info.

    • NightMagic profile image


      6 years ago

      I've never been on either one. After reading your lens, I think I will try the Ocean Liner first.

    • CruiseReady profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from East Central Florida

      @NightMagic: Your choices are limited. Book the Queen Mary 2 for a voyage on a true ocean liner. While Cunard's other two queens will provide the flavor of the ocean liner experience (simply because they ARE Cunard) the QM2 is the only one of the three that was BUILT as an ocean liner.

    • salele profile image


      6 years ago

      Never been on any of these. Could be terrific.

    • victoriahaneveer profile image


      6 years ago

      Loved Oasis of the Seas (cruise) but never been on a liner. I love the entertainment on a cruise but I guess a liner would be good too.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I've been on one of each and liked the style of the ocean liner better. Cunard versus Carnival.

    • LisaDH profile image


      7 years ago

      I learned something new today!

    • SciTechEditorDave profile image

      David Gardner 

      7 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Nice.... Learned some new stuff. I've been on a cruise ship (to Alaska), but now you've got me wanting to try some more open seas! Congrats on a Squidoo masterpiece!

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      7 years ago

      I think it might be fun to go on an ocean liner someday - now I know how to do it. Pinned to my board "This I want you to Know."

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      7 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Makes me want to hop on an ocean liner for Southampton! Lovely information!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      i didn't even know the term ocean liners existed. great job

    • LouisaDembul profile image


      7 years ago

      Really interesting. I had never thought of the difference between ocean liners and cruise ships, you explained it very well.

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image


      7 years ago

      Very neat lens! I learned a lot here, as I didn't know there was even a difference between the two. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

    • sarahrk lm profile image

      sarahrk lm 

      7 years ago

      I just got back from a cruise on Oasis of the Seas. It is really too big.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Love this lens! My husband and I are avid cruisers but I never knew the difference between a cruise ship and an ocean liner. My Mom sailed on QM2 from England to New York a few years ago and said it was amazing. I'll have to put the QM2 on my bucket list!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      7 years ago from United States

      Fascinating! I admit it, I thought they were the same :)

    • SayGuddaycom profile image


      7 years ago

      This is one of the most interesting things I have ever read, great work!

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 

      7 years ago from Canada

      Nicely done. I didn't know there was a difference.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Cruise ship? I've been on nothing bigger than a boat for fishing:)

    • efriedman profile image


      8 years ago

      I am new to your writing but will come back - lots of good things to see. This is an excellent lens on cruise ships and ocean liners - really enjoyed it.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      8 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I didn't realize there was really a difference, I thought that Cruise Ships were the new breed of Ocean Liner. I saw the Queen Mary in Long Beach, my cousin stayed on board there. Saw the QE2 in Wellington, New Zealand, and have seen lots of others in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Southampton where I now live. Excellent lens, and I left a little something behind.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I never thought of the difference between an ocean liner and a cruise ship until I saw your lens title. There are major differences but I would be happy on either one! Loved the Titanic question. Happpy cruising!

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 

      8 years ago

      I bombed on the quiz - good thing you've made a lens about the differences between ocean liners and cruise ships- I didn't have a clue!

    • BestRatedStuff profile image


      8 years ago

      Hi, I did get to know the difference between the two. Cheers :)

    • jvsper63 profile image


      8 years ago

      Well now i know the difference. I have never been on either wish i was,one day maybe, but I got 100 on the quiz..Thanks for sharing...Nice lens:)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      before this lens, I didn't know there was a difference!

    • CruiseReady profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from East Central Florida

      @anonymous: Indeed. And it's quite true that the line can be a bit blurry.

      Ironically, though Cunard seems to want to tenaciously hold on to the ocean liner designation, it was they who may have begun the blurring of the line when, in the mid 60's, they refitted the Queen Elizabeth specifically so that she would be more suited to sail cruise itineraries.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Don't forget the classic Marco Polo. A true ocean liner, over forty years old and still going strong.

      Back to the article though, whilst I understand the differences, practically to a passenger there is little or no difference between the two. The liner will handle rough seas better. There is quite some snobbery about liners vs cruise ships I feel, much of it originating from the marketing team at Cunard. Much of the time, the QM II is not plying the Southampton to New York run, but doing "regular" 5-ports-in-a-week sailings. So, basically she's (used as) a cruise ship. Still, I appreciate that it at least has the ability of a liner.

      Clever people at Cunard and Carnival....

    • CruiseReady profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from East Central Florida

      @anonymous: I'm afraid you may have missed the point, which was about the freeboard, not the lifeboats. The lifeboats in the two photos were referenced for a visual reference point to help find the height of the freeboard on those two particular ships. Ocean liners do have and need a higher freeboard. If you check, you'll see that the section to which you refer is titled "Freeboard," not "Lifeboats." Sorry if this confusted you. There is no 'thesis' about lifeboats in this article.

      Everything else presented is to give a start for general differences and general rules of thumb, rather than technical points for someone who already has a high dregree of expertise in the field.

      Also, you are right that there is truly no comparing the wonderfuyl liners of yesterday to the gargantual cruise ships of today. Thank you for re-emphasizing that point.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Bit of a rubbish article. QM2 had special dispensation for her lifeboats to be so high. They wanted them the same as the rest. So on your basis if they hadn't agreed she'd be a cruise ship. Also what about the likes of ships which are NOT floating resorts? I'm afraid to say you clearly show ignorance of passenger vessels in general. Comparing QM2 to an RCI or Oasis to Titanic is like comparing Oasis to ferry. Two completely different products and incomparable. Aurora and Oriana are liners with their lifeboats the same as the rest. Canberra, a former liner doing runs to Australia (there was more to liners than just crossings to New York), was the first to have her lifeboats that low down. Using your thesis she was a cruise ship which just happened to have a deep draft and did line voyages. Yet there you are calling the Vistas liners because they're Cunard even though using your argument they couldn't possibly be because of the position of the lifeboats. Hmm well Arcadia also has the so-called stronger hull since that was meant to be QV so are you saying that's a cruise ship or a liner? There is only one liner and that's QM2, which, like her predecessor, QE2, was built as a dual-purpose cruise ship. It's just Cunard snobbery which tries to claim things which aren't, such as the cruise ship Vistas. And Southampton is NOT a London port. It is in the middle of the south coast of England. London is the south-east and can't get most of these ships in because it's too small.

    • mahimattphoto profile image


      8 years ago

      Great lens, I love boats and the ocean although i don know that much. I learned a lot here, Thanks.

    • CruiseReady profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from East Central Florida

      @anonymous: Yes, absolutely - at only 26', her draft is much shallower than that of the other two Queens.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      A very well written lens. The hull shape of an ocean liner allows it sit in the water, a cruise ship sits on the water. This means an ocean liner has better sea keeping abilities. Speed is very important for an ocean liner, not just for getting from A to B fast but for making up lost time. If an ocean liner gets behind schedule she needs to have a reserve of speed to make up for the lost time, she canât just drop a port. I will admit to being biased as I about to embark on my 23rd Cunard voyage. Just to confuse matters though I am on Queen Victoria which is a cruise ship that thinks itâs an ocean liner.

    • jp1978 profile image


      8 years ago

      You're right, I thought they were the same thing.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great Lens!


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