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, some ships can hold up to thousands of passengers, not to mention they boast their own shops, restaurants, theatres and casinos, as well as pools and even, in some cases, zip lines or rollercoasters.

New cruise ships launch every year but what happens to the older vessels in cruise lines’ fleets? When they’re no longer needed, they’re ‘retired’ from service.

This year, a number of ships are being retired – some earlier than planned due to the pandemic.

For example, TUI’s Marella Cruises is retiring Marella Dream, while Fred. Olsen has said it will retire ships Boudicca and Black Watch and welcome two new ships instead. Carnival Cruises is also looking to retire up to 18 ships across its fleet, and replace some of them with more efficient vessels.

But what exactly does retirement entail for a cruise ship?

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.

New ship Borealis joins the Fred Olsen fleet

Fred. Olsen bought two new ships earlier this year from Holland America, which will serve as its new ships Bolette and Borealis.

Meanwhile Carnival Cruises announced earlier this year that it had sold two ships, Carnival Fascination and Carnival Imagination, although the company didn’t disclose their buyer, so it’s unclear as to whether this was a shipyard or cruise line.

2. 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.

Queen Elizabeth 2 has been transformed into a floating hotel

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 Beah in California, where she serves as a tourist hotspot complete with restaurants and a museum.

3. 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There comes a time in a cruise ship’s life when it simply can’t be repurposed, or its systems are simply outdated.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.

Beached ships at a breaking yard in Turkey
Beached ships at a breaking yard in Turkey

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.

A ship being broken in a cruise ship graveyard

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.

Chittagong in Bangladesh

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.


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