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Some Cruise Ship Funnels Have Wings, The Truth Behind Why

When you picture a cruise ship funnel you probably imagine a very simple shape. The majority of cruise lines do stick to basic funnel designs but there are some funnels that look like they have wings.

Carnival Cruise Line has this wing-like design onboard all of their ships. On Carnival cruises, the funnel is referred to as the whale tail.

Why do Some Cruise Ship Funnels Have Wings?

Some cruise ship funnels have wings as this improves airflow and acts as a recognizable design element for the cruise line. At present Carnival cruise line hold the patent on this winged funnel design.

Carnival cruise line isn’t the only cruise line to have ever had a funnel with a wing-like design.

The First Ship to Have a Funnel With Wings

Carnival may be the cruise line with the most well-known winged funnel design but they are not the only cruise line to have done this.

The SS France was built in France and launched in 1962. At the time she was the longest passenger ship ever built.

It is difficult to see her length in this photo but the photo below was taken just before she was scrapped in 2006. Note the wings on her funnels.

SS france wings on funnel
SS France – By aks1189 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The SS France was bought by Norwegian Cruise Line in 1979 and renamed SS Norway. In 2003 the ship’s boiler exploded killing eight crew members and injuring seventeen more.

The SS Norway sailed out of New York 6 days before 9/11 in 2001. Her passengers found out about the terror attack while crossing the Atlantic.

In the below photo you can see the funnel design, although quite different to the modern winged funnels we see on Carnival cruise ships, the idea is the same.

SS Norway cruise ship funnel wings
SS Norway – Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden, CC BY 2.0

It is said that Carnival Cruise Line designer Joe Farcus drew inspiration from the SS Norway when designing the funnels of Carnival cruise ships.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line has a US patent for this style of cruise ship funnel. The patent was issued in 1989 and the initial term of the patent was 14 years. You can see the full patent here.

This means that only Carnival cruise line can use this design.

The parent company Carnival also owns P&O Cruises, Princess, Holland America, and many more cruise lines so, in theory, I’m sure that these cruise lines could use the design if Carnival wanted them to. But because it is such a design symbol for Carnival cruise line it’s unlikely any other lines would use this.

carnival cruise line patent for funnel design

In 1982 Carnival created their first purpose built cruise ship, the Tropicale. This was the first ship where the funnel with wings design was used. All ships since in the Carnival fleet have had this distinctive design.

What’s Inside Carnival’s Whale Tail Funnels?

On the majority of Carnival’s cruise ships the whale tail is purely functional and guests are not able to see anything thats inside it.

On Carnival’s Spirit class however there is actually a glass part of the funnel where a speciality restaurant is located.

Guests are able to dine below this glass area and the funnel is lit up at night

Carnival Miracle Funnel Restaurant
Photo: Jim Zim – source.

The below photo shows the funnel at night, diners will be enjoying their dinner below this area.

carnival funnel lit up at night
Photo: Jim Zim – source.

Air Benefits of a Funnel With Wings

The shape of the wings on the funnels increases the uplift on the funnels exhaust.

The idea behind the design is that both sides of the funnel would lead exhaust fumes into the ship’s slipstream where they would be carried away far from the passengers on the passenger decks below.

In reality, the airflow benefits are minimal when compared with the design benefits. Carnival Cruise Line primarily uses the funnel as company branding.

Photo: Andrew McAlpine 2020

Design Benefits

The main reason why Carnival has this funnel design on all of their ships is that it has become instantly recognizable, not only to Carnival cruisers but to everybody who has seen one of their ships.

This unique design makes the ships recognizable even if it is just the silhouette of the ship shown.

Carnival’s logo even includes the funnel design because it is so iconic.

Fun fact: In the early days of cruising some people used to believe that the more funnels a cruise ship had the more powerful and faster it could go. Some ships had fake funnels for this reason, including the Titanic.

The funnel design makes Carnival ships stand out when compared to other cruise ships. Here is a Carnival cruise ship stood besides a Holland America ship.

holland america cruise line carnival ship side by side cruise ships
carnival cruise line whale tail

I asked members of our Facebook group if they knew which cruise line had a winged funnel design. Amazingly over 98% of respondents correctly named Carnival.

I did ask a cruise related Facebook group this question so it isn’t a typical survey of the general population but even still, this shows within the cruise industry how well known the iconic funnel shape is.

Have Carnival Ships Always Had The Whale Tail?

Carnival’s first cruise ship Mardi Gras didn’t have the iconic ‘whale tail’ funnel design that we are used to on Carnival ships.

The Mardi Gras was launched as the RMS Empress of Canada in 1961. She was bought by Carnival in 1972.

Although the funnel was painted in classic Carnival colors they hadn’t at this point designed the funnel with wing designs that are we used to.

Carnival Mardi Gras Original Ship
Carnival’s Mardi Gras

Other Ships That Have Funnels With Wings

You may see other cruise ships sailing for other cruise lines with the iconic funnel with wings design. The ships with Carnival style funnels were previously owned by Carnival and as a result, have kept the distinctive shape of the funnel.

An example of this was CMV’s Magellan. The cruise ship was originally built as Holiday for Carnival Cruise Line in 1985. Despite CMV painting the funnel the Carnival design is still evident.

CMV Magellan
By Ivo Brasil – Pexels, CC0

The CMV Magellan was sold in 2020 when CMV went into administration. To learn more about what happened to her next, and what happened to the other 32 cruise ships sold in 2020, check out this video:

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