Breaking Records: The Biggest Passenger Ships since 1831
The Titanic lives large in our minds, but it’s probably not surprising that the world record for biggest passenger ship has been broken many times since its era. In fact, today’s largest passenger ship can now hold over 6,000 people—more than double the Titanic’s capacity.
This graphic by HMY Yachts looks at which vessels held the title of the world’s largest passenger ship over time, and how these vessels have evolved since the early 19th century.
Different Types of Passenger Ships
Before diving into the ranking, it’s worth explaining what constitutes a passenger ship.
Passenger ships are vessels whose main purpose is to transport people rather than goods. In modern times, there are three types of passenger ships:
- Cruise ships: Used for vacationing, with a priority on amenities and luxury
- Ferries: Typically used for shorter day trips, or overnight transport
- Ocean liners: The traditional mode of maritime transport, with a priority on speed
Traditional ocean liners are becoming obsolete, largely because of advancements in other modes of transportation such as rail, automobile, and air travel. In other words, the main priority for passenger ships has changed over the years, shifting from transportation to recreation.
Now, luxury is the central focus, meaning extravagance is part of the whole cruise ship experience. For example, the Navigator of the Seas (which was the largest passenger ship from 2002-2003) has $8.5 million worth of artwork displayed throughout the ship.
A Full Breakdown: Biggest Passenger Ships By Tonnage
Now that we’ve touched on 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 vessel on the list is the SS Royal William. Built in Eastern Canada in the early 1800s, this ship was originally built for domestic travel within Canada.
In addition to being the largest passenger ship of its time, it’s often credited as being the first ship to travel across the Atlantic Ocean almost fully by steam engine. However, some sources claim the Dutch-owned vessel Curaçao completed a steam-powered journey in 1827—six years before the SS Royal William.
In 1837, The SS Royal William was dethroned by the SS Great Western, only to change hands dozens of times before 1912, when the Titanic entered the scene.
|SS Royal William||1831 – 1837||1,370 GRT||155 passengers|
|SS Great Western||1837 – 1839||1,340 GRT||128 passengers, 20 servants, 60 crew|
|SS British Queen||1839 – 1840||1,850 GRT||207 passengers|
|SS President||1840 – 1841||2,366 GRT||110 passengers, 44 servants|
|SS British Queen||1841 – 1843||1,850 GRT||207 passengers|
|SS Great Britain||1843 – 1853||3,270 GRT||360 passengers, 120 crew|
|SS Atrato||1853 – 1858||3,466 GRT||762+ passengers|
|SS Great Eastern||1858 – 1888||18,915 GRT||4,000 passengers, 418 crew|
|SS City of New York||1888 – 1893||10,499 GRT||1,740 passengers, 362 crew|
|RMS Campania and RMS Lucania||1893 – 1897||12,950 GRT||2,000 passengers, 424 crew|
|SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse||1897 – 1899||14,349 GRT||1,506 passengers, 488 crew|
|RMS Oceanic||1899 – 1901||17,272 GRT||1,710 passengers, 349 crew|
|RMS Celtic||1901 – 1903||20,904 GRT||2,857 passengers|
|RMS Cedric||1903 – 1904||21,035 GRT||1,223 passengers, 486 crew|
|RMS Baltic||1904 – 1906||23,876 GRT||2,875 passengers|
|SS Kaiserin Auguste Victoria||1906 – 1907||24,581 GRT||2,466 passengers|
|RMS Lusitania||1907||31,550 GRT||2,198 passengers, 850 crew|
|RMS Mauretania||1907 – 1911||31,938 GRT||2,165 passengers, 802 crew|
|RMS Olympic||1911 – 1912||45,324 GRT||2,435 passengers, 950 crew|
|RMS Titanic||1912||46,328 GRT||2,435 passengers, 892 crew|
|SS Imperator||1913 – 1914||52,117 GRT||4,234 passengers, 1,180 crew|
|SS Vaterland||1914 – 1922||54,282 GRT||1,165 passengers|
|RMS Majestic||1922 – 1935||56,551 GRT||2,145 passengers|
|SS Normandie||1935 – 1936||79,280 GRT||1,972 passengers, 1,345 crew|
|RMS Queen Mary||1936||80,774 GRT||2,139 passengers, 1,101 crew|
|SS Normandie||1936 – 1946||83,404 GRT||1,972 passengers, 1,345 crew|
|RMS Queen Elizabeth||1946 – 1972||83,673 GRT||2,283 passengers, 1000+ crew|
|SS France and SS Norway (1962-1980)||1972 – 1987||66,343 GRT||2,044 passengers, 1,253 crew|
|MS Sovereign of the Seas||1987 – 1990||73,529 GT||2,850 passengers|
|SS Norway||1990 – 1995||76,049 GT||2,565 passengers, 875 crew|
|Sun Princess||1995 – 1996||77,499 GT||2,010 passengers, 924 crew|
|Carnival Destiny||1996 – 1998||101,353 GT||2,642 passengers, 1,150 crew|
|Grand Princess||1998 – 1999||109,000 GT||2,590 passengers, 1,110 crew|
|Voyager of the Seas||1999 – 2000||137,276 GT||3,138 passengers, 1,181 crew|
|Explorer of the Seas||2000 – 2002||137,308 GT||3,114 passengers, 1,180 crew|
|Navigator of the Seas||2002 – 2003||139,999 GT||4,000 passengers, 1,200 crew|
|RMS Queen Mary 2||2003 – 2006||148,528 GT||2,640 passengers, 1,256 crew|
|MS Freedom of the Seas||2006 – 2007||154,407 GT||4,515 passengers, 1,300 crew|
|Liberty of the Seas||2007 – 2009||155,889 GT||4,960 passengers, 1,300 crew|
|Oasis of the Seas||2009 – 2016||225,282 GT||6,780 passengers, 2,165 crew|
|Harmony of the Seas||2016 – 2018||226,963 GT||6,780 passengers, 2,300 crew|
|Symphony of the Seas||2018 – present||228,081 GT||6,680 passengers, 2,200 crew|
The Titanic was one of three ships in the Olympic-class line. Of the three, two of them sank—the Titanic in 1912, and the HMHS Britannic in 1916, during World War I. Some historians believe these ships sank as a result of their faulty bulkhead design.
Fast forward to today, and the Symphony of the Seas is now the world’s largest passenger ship. While it boasts 228,081 in gross tonnage, it uses 25% less fuel than its sister ships (which are slightly smaller).
COVID-19’s Impact on Cruise Ships
2020 was a tough year for the cruise ship industry, as travel restrictions and onboard outbreaks halted the $150 billion industry. As a result, some operations were forced to downsize—for instance, the notable cruise operation Carnival removed 13 ships from its fleet in July 2020.
That being said, restrictions are slowly beginning to loosen, and industry experts remain hopeful that things will look different in 2021 as more people begin to come back on board.
“[There] is quite a bit of pent-up demand and we’re already seeing strong interest in 2021 and 2022 across the board, with Europe, the Mediterranean, and Alaska all seeing significant interest next year.”
-Josh Leibowitz, president of luxury cruise line Seabourn
Mapped: Second Primary Languages Around the World
This fascinating map highlights the second most commonly spoken primary language in almost nearly every country.
Mapped: Second Primary Languages Around the World
After the primary language, what second languages are used as native tongues in your country?
The answer reveals a lot about history and location. Whether through immigration, colonization, or local culture, a primary language can either spread around the world or remain rooted in place.
This map from MoveHub shows the second most commonly spoken primary language in most countries, using data from the CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia as of February 2021.
The Difference Between Primary and Secondary Languages
First, it’s important to differentiate between primary languages and secondary languages.
A primary language—also known as a first or native language—is the language we use most frequently to communicate. These are languages we are usually born with, have a lot of exposure to, and use at home.
On the other hand, a secondary language is one we learn or pick up after our primary language. In many countries, English is the most commonly learned, with close to 1 billion speakers.
But a map of common second languages can simply show just how many countries prioritize learning English, the de-facto international language in many organizations. Instead, this map highlights the movement of people by showing the second-most common primary language.
The Second Most Common Primary Languages by Country
Even when filtering by primary language use, however, English and other Indo-European languages dominate the world.
With 55 countries speaking it as the second-most common primary language, English came out on top.
|Top 10 Most Popular Second Primary Languages||Number of Countries|
The use of English as a second primary language was primarily concentrated in Western Europe, Northern Africa, and Southeast Asia and Oceania.
Similarly to second-place French with 14 countries and third-place Russian with 13 countries, English was most common in proximity to English-speaking countries or where there was a history of immigration.
Other second-most common primary languages highlighted different cultures within countries, such as China’s second-most common language Cantonese. Alternatively, they showed the primary indigenous language before colonization, such as the Quechua languages in South America.
What other interesting or surprising language patterns can you spot in the map above?
Mapped: Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface
This detailed map looks at where humans have (and haven’t) modified Earth’s terrestrial environment. See human impact in incredible detail.
Mapped: Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface
With human population on Earth approaching 8 billion (we’ll likely hit that milestone in 2023), our impact on the planet is becoming harder to ignore with each passing year.
Our cities, infrastructure, agriculture, and pollution are all forms of stress we place on the natural world. This map, by David M. Theobald et al., shows just how much of the planet we’ve now modified. The researchers estimate that 14.6% or 18.5 million km² of land area has been modified – an area greater than Russia.
Defining Human Impact
Human impact on the Earth’s surface can take a number of different forms, and researchers took a nuanced approach to classifying the “modifications” we’ve made. In the end, 10 main stressors were used to create this map:
- Built-Up Areas: All of our cities and towns
- Agriculture: Areas devoted to crops and pastures
- Energy and extractive resources: Primarily locations where oil and gas are extracted
- Mines and quarries: Other ground-based natural resource extraction, excluding oil and gas
- Power plants: Areas where energy is produced – both renewable and non-renewable
- Transportation and service corridors: Primarily roads and railways
- Logging: This measures commodity-based forest loss (excludes factors like wildfire and urbanization)
- Human intrusion: Typically areas adjacent to population centers and roads that humans access
- Natural systems modification: Primarily modifications to water flow, including reservoir creation
- Pollution: Phenomenon such as acid rain and fog caused by air pollution
The classification descriptions above are simplified. See the methodology for full descriptions and calculations.
A Closer Look at Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface
To help better understand the level of impact humans can have on the planet, we’ll take a closer look three regions, and see how the situation on the ground relates to these maps.
Land Use Contrasts: Egypt
Almost all of Egypt’s population lives along the Nile and its delta, making it an interesting place to examine land use and human impact.
The towns and high intensity agricultural land following the river stand out clearly on the human modification map, while the nearby desert shows much less impact.
Intensive Modification: Netherlands
The Netherlands has some of the heavily modified landscapes on Earth, so the way it looks on this map will come as no surprise.
The area shown above, Rotterdam’s distinctive port and surround area, renders almost entirely in colors at the top of the human modification scale.
Resource Extraction: West Virginia
It isn’t just cities and towns that show up clearly on this map, it’s also the areas we extract our raw materials from as well. This mountainous region of West Virginia, in the United States, offers a very clear visual example.
The mountaintop removal method of mining—which involves blasting mountains in order to retrieve seams of bituminous coal—is common in this region, and mine sites show up clearly in the map.
You can explore the interactive version of this map yourself to view any area on the globe. What surprises you about these patterns of human impact?
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