Ocean Liners, They Still Exist: Here’s Everything You Need to Know


If you grew up in the wake of James Cameron’s phenomenally successful Titanic film and found yourself sobbing at the doomed relationship of Jack and Rose, you might have wondered (after drying your tears, of course), if ocean liners like Titanic still exist?

Luckily for you wannabe Kings and Queens of the world, the answer is yes.

Do Ocean Liners Still Exist?

Ocean Liners do still exist. There is only one Ocean Liner still sailing, the RMS Queen Mary 2, who regularly completes transatlantic voyages. Ocean liners have fallen out of favour in recent years due to the increase in cruise ships being built, but the experience of sailing on an ocean liner is still enjoyed by many people each year.  

It’s important to remember that Ocean Liners and cruise ships are two distinct things. They are different in both design and function.

What Makes a Ship an Ocean Liner?

Many people wrongly assume that just because a ship travels long distances, such as across the Atlantic, that they are ocean liners. This isn’t the case.

An ocean liner is designed, engineered, and built specifically for the purpose of crossing the ocean on a set schedule, as would a train, or a bus. It might boast similar amenities with cruise ships, but the build is quite different.

Fun fact: Ocean liners weren’t originally designed just for carrying people. The RMS in RMS Titanic stands for “Royal Mail Ship”, indicating that the ship held a license for the (lucrative) transport of mail between England and the United States.

How is the Design of an Ocean Liner Different to That of a Cruise Ship?

Difference in Bow Shape

Ocean liners feature a longer and more pointed bow. Why? Because they need to be able to travel through bad weather, while maintaining a high speed.

Cruise ships frequently try to avoid storms by doing things such as adding sea days to avoid bad, rough weather, but Ocean Liners are better designed to be able to deal with this. This is what makes Ocean Liners perfect for crossing long distances such as the Atlantic ocean.

Difference in How The Ships Sit in The Water

An ocean liner sits lower in the water than a cruise ship. Think of the ship’s lower profile and pointed bow as acting as a knife to cut through water and waves, without breaking a sweat.

Difference in Hull Thickness

An ocean liner generally has a thicker hull than a cruise ship, in order to be able to better endure the open ocean. The whole idea behind ocean liners is that they are built for the turbulent ocean passages.

Cruise ships can and do cross the Atlantic and other areas, but they aren’t designed to be repeatedly doing this journey after journey.

To learn more about the differences between ocean liners and cruise ships, check out this post:

Why Aren’t Ocean Liners Built Anymore?

Ocean liners are rarely built anymore because cruise ships provide a higher return on investment than ocean liners. There is also less demand for ocean liners from modern-day vacationers, when compared to cruise ships.

As a result, cruise lines have stopped building ocean liners and instead changed to producing cruise ships.

A political pundit once said “it’s the economy, stupid!”, and while that might have been a pithy turn of phrase, it’s also basically the answer to our question.

The design of cruise ships in modern years has changed dramatically. The average size of cruise ships has increased and demand for cruising has to.

There is Less Interest in Ocean Liners

Cruises on cruise ships (usually) begin and end at the same point. It’s akin to a floating city that tours you around an itinerary and then drops you off where you started from.

An ocean liner is designed to take guests from point A to point B. A voyage on an ocean liner may start in Southampton in the UK, and end in New York City.

To return home, guests need a separate flight or a second votage. From the perspective of the modern vacationer, a cruise is usually simpler and cheaper, than taking a longer trip on an ocean liner.

Repositioning cruises like this are good options if you’re wanting to cruise on a budget. Some of the best and cheapest cruises that I’ve ever been on have been repositioning cruises.

There is not a lot that I love more than going on a cruise, meeting new friends, and realizing that I paid considerably less than everybody else for the exact same cruise.

Grab your free training here to learn how you can cruise as cheaply and often as I do:
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Cruise Ships Are Able to do Repositioning Cruises

Cruise ships are able to do repositioning cruises similar to that which an ocean liner would traditionally do. For this reason, there is no need to keep building specific ocean liners.

The majority of cruise ships will complete a season in one location, then move to another, this is mostly dependant on where demand is highest.

Flights Are Easily Accessible

With flights becoming cheaper and more accessible, it doesn’t make sense to take an ocean liner across the ocean in the same way that it used to in the past. Flights are much cheaper and faster, so taking a cruise across the Atlantic or Pacific is usually reserved for those who do so for fun or don’t want to fly.

What Was The Golden Age of Ocean Liners?

If you’re thinking about the Golden Age of Ocean Liners, chances are you’re picturing the Titanic.

A LOT has changed in ship design since the Titanic was constructed. To learn how she compares to the modern Royal Caribbean fleet, check out this post:

Modern Cruise Ships vs The Titanic: Illustrated Size Comparison

Ocean Liners, a Brief History

Robert Fulton, an American inventor, designed and developed the first steam-powered ships in the early 1800s, and it wouldn’t be long that the idea of a steam-powered ship to cross the Atlantic came.

Reliable steamships, unlike those powered by wind-driven sails, which are obviously dependent on the wind, made the prospect of regular ocean crossings accessible, and more importantly, marketable.

A faster crossing meant a ship needed fewer provisions and that meant less weight and less fuel, which meant these companies were able to make a profit from selling ocean voyages.

When Did Ocean Travel on an Ocean Liner Become Accessible to Everyday People?

It still took some time, almost fifty years, for the technology to develop to the point where it was safe for the ship companies and practical for the average traveler.

The paddle wheels that you still see on riverboats in picture books, as well as back-up sails, went away, replaced by screw propellers that were safer and more reliable on the open ocean.

Which Companies Starting Building Ocean Liners?

Companies like Cunard and White Star (who would later build Titanic) emerged as England’s top shipbuilders. Germany, too, who had their own ambitions to surpass England as an ocean power, also began investing money building ocean liners, and each company always wanted to be able to say that they’d built the fastest ship.

Eventually, by the early years of the 20th century, ship speed had hit a plateau. It became obvious that going too fast above a certain point meant vibrations felt on the ship, which passengers found uncomfortable.

If every ship was more or less as fast, where could a company stand out?

Luxury.

This idea led to the creation of the Titanic. She was meant to be not only fast but to be unparalleled in her accommodations. It was said that her steerage rooms were more well-appointed than other lines second classrooms.

When she launched, she was designed to redefine what an ocean liner was and to put White Star Lines on the top of the shipbuilding world. But, as they sadly learned, even a massive steel ship with numerous safety features can suffer catastrophic damage when met with a massive block of ice, and the dream of Titanic was smashed to the bottom of the icy North Atlantic.

When Did The Great Ocean Liner Era Come to an End?

Two years after Titanic, the First World War broke out, which put the ocean liner business on hold. Some ships were repurposed to carry troops, and some of them were sunk by the German navy.

Combined with the later Great Depression, which was followed by a second, even more, destructive war, and then added to the advent of commercial aviation, and the era of the great ocean liners came to an end.

What Ocean Liners Are Still Sailing?

There is one purpose-built ocean liner sailing the seas: the RMS Queen Mary 2. The Queen Mary 2 is owned by Cunard and she regularly completes transatlantic voyages from the UK to the USA.

The Queen Mary 2 has multiple pools and hot tubs, a library with 8,000 books, a buffet restaurant that’s open 24 hours a day, the first-ever planetarium at sea, and numerous other amenities.

Fun fact: the QM2, as it is nicknamed, transported the first copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in a locked steamer trunk, from England to America!

Do Ocean Liners Still Sail Across The Atlantic?

The one remaining ocean liner the Queen Mary 2 regularly completes transatlantic voyages. She has also completed world cruises and other long trips. She is also used for more traditional cruise itineraries on occasion.

To conclude: The only remaining Ocean Liner is the Queen Mary 2. She regularly sails across the Atlantic. Ocean Liners are not built anymore as it is much more profitable for cruise lines to build cruise ships.

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Emma Le Teace

Hey, I'm Emma, an award-winning cruise blogger, and YouTuber. I share cruise tips, tours, and videos on this website to help you master cruising on a budget. You can learn more here: About Me.

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