What happens to old cruise ships including giant ‘graveyards’ with hundreds of vessels

Cruise ships have been getting bigger and more impressive in recent decades.

Nowadays they can hold up to thousands of passengers, not to mention they boast their own shops, restaurants, theatres, casinos, pools, and even zip lines and rollercoasters.

There are some epic things to do on cruise ships, including some pretty impressive water parks.

Of course this comes with a pressure to stay updated, from new tech to modern furnishings. So what happens to older vessels in cruise lines’ fleets when they’re no longer needed?

We take a look at some of the options when a cruise ship is retired from service…

  1. Sold to another cruise line

Newer ships tend to be sold off to other cruise lines, and then given a makeover to start afresh under a new brand.

For example, Marella Celebration was originally built for Holland America in 1984, before being sold on to TUI (at the time it was Thompson) and its Marella Cruises venture.

Fred. Olsen’s newest ships Bolette and Borealis, which made their debut earlier in 2021, were both bought from Holland America and refurbished.

Meanwhile just last year Carnival Cruises announced that it had sold two ships, Carnival Fascination and Carnival Imagination although the company didn’t disclose their buyer.

It wasn’t the only cruise line to announce the sale of multiple ships.

Princess Cruises also announced that it had sold two of its ships, Sun Princess and Sea Princess, to undisclosed buyers in 2020, while Royal Caribbean has sold Empress of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas.

  1. Turned into a hotel or tourist attraction

This is more of a rare scenario, but in some cases, ships can be transformed into attractions in their own right.

An example is Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2 is now a floating hotel in Dubai, while the line’s Queen Mary was retired in the 1960s and has since been permanently moored at Long Beach in California, where she serves as a tourist hotspot complete with restaurants and a museum.

Meanwhile, Fred. Olsen recently retired its Black Watch and Boudicca ships, which are reportedly due to be turned into ‘accommodation vessels’ (these typically are not hotels for the public).

  1. Being sold to a cruise ship ‘graveyard’

There comes a time in a cruise ship’s life when it simply can’t be repurposed, or its systems are simply outdated. This usually happens after 10-20 years of service, with several factors including a ship’s size coming into play.

However, a cruise ship’s sheer size means that it can’t just be easily docked somewhere.

Instead, older ships are sold to ship breaking yards, where they are stripped and their parts sold on.

Usually the ship ‘breaking’ process begins at the bow, with workers making their way through the ship until they reach the stern.

The process usually takes around six to eight months.

There are a number of these ‘cruise ship graveyards’ around the world, with famous spots including Alang in India, Chittagong in Bangladesh and the Aliaga ship breaking yard in Turkey.

These yards aren’t specifically used for cruise ships. Usually they will feature hundreds of giant ships including cargo ships, tankers, and even old floating hotels.

This is often used as a last resort when a cruise line has retired one of its ships.