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Fastest Cruise Ships and Ocean Liners in the World

Savio is a resident of Mumbai, India. Cars, bikes, and everything fast are his passion, and he writes about them on many sites.

Learn about the fastest and most impressive cruise ships and ocean liners in the world.

Learn about the fastest and most impressive cruise ships and ocean liners in the world.

Are Cruise Ships and Ocean Liners the Same Thing?

The terms "cruise ship" and "ocean liner" are frequently used interchangeably—and today this may not be incorrect. However, in decades past, there was a clear distinction between the two.

  • Ocean liners were specifically constructed to travel from port A to port B, and usually those two ports were located in different countries. These ships were designed to travel long distances quickly.
  • Cruise ships were designed to give guests a leisurely cruise along the coastline of a country and then return to the originating port.

Speed-wise, ocean liners were designed to be fast—and in fact, there were various prizes for liners capable of crossing the Atlantic in record time. This led to competition between various countries to manufacture the next fastest liner. On the other hand, cruise ships were designed to travel at a leisurely pace to give guests time to relax and enjoy the scenery.

With the advent of passenger airplanes that could travel nearly 20 times faster than ocean liners, the need for speed for ocean liners became less important. Today, ocean liners continue to be as fast as they were in the 1950s, but no specific attempt is made to make them any faster. This explains the more recent convergence of ocean liners and cruise ships.

With leisure travel extending beyond the port of origin, cruise ships started traveling between ports (after all, guests could fly home if they were in a hurry), and in many cases, cruise ships changed ports depending on seasonal demand. This means that both types of vessels now have similar purposes and comparable speeds. In fact, few were called by both names like the Queen Elizabeth 2. And that's how these two terms have became more or less synonymous.

Now, talking about speed, ocean liners and cruise ships will not be setting a scorching pace as compared to the fastest boats and navy ships. It is interesting, however, to consider weight. In terms of displacement, cruise ships are heavier than the heaviest aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford-class. We will discuss more about the comparison between cruise ships and aircraft carriers below.

Let’s get started!

SS United States docked at Philadelphia since 1969

SS United States docked at Philadelphia since 1969

1. SS United States

The SS United States holds the record for the fastest ocean liner ever built. As explained in the introduction section, we are talking about a time when liners were competing with each other to do the fastest time across the Atlantic. In her maiden voyage in 1952, the SS United States did the fastest time by shaving-off 10 hours from the time of the previous record-holder, Queen Mary. The Blue Ribband, awarded for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic, still belongs to the SS and that is a record here to stay with no new ocean liners coming up in the near future.

  • Ship: SS United States
  • Type: Ocean liner
  • Top Speed: 39 knots [44.87 mph or 72.24 kmph] [claimed top speed - 43 knots]
  • Sustained Speed: 35.59 knots [40.95 mph or 65.92 kmph] [During the record sail]
  • Displacement: ~47,300 tons
  • Capacity: 1900+ passengers + 900 crew
  • Year built: 1952
  • Year of record: 1952
  • Status: Retired. Plans to revive

The SS has some interesting history. It created the speed record in its maiden voyage and it was built strong enough to be used by the Navy in case of a war. That, however, was not required but the SS changed hands multiple times as it struggled to be profitable. In 1969, it was docked at Philadelphia and remained there ever since. There are now talks of reviving the SS which can go either way. The hull is in good shape but the restoration itself will be a herculean task. The question at the moment is if the current owners will be able to find the money or an investor who would share the same passion as the owners of having the SS revived. All said and done, it would be interesting to see this giant come back to life!

Queen Elizabeth 2

Queen Elizabeth 2

2. Queen Elizabeth 2

Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) was built for the Cunard Line. It was replacing the aging Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, yet tackling competition from air travel; a losing battle at that time. Despite all odds, work on Queen Elizabeth 2 started and her maiden voyage was in 1969, the same year that the SS United States was docked for good. It continued service for nearly 40 years before being retired in 2008.

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  • Ship: Queen Elizabeth 2
  • Type: Ocean liner cum cruise ship
  • Top Speed: 34 knots [39.18 mph or 63 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 30 knots [34.52 mph or 55.66 kmph]
  • Displacement: ~49,800 tons
  • Capacity: 1900 passengers + 1000 crew
  • Year of build: 1968
  • Year of record: 1987 [After engine upgrade]
  • Status: Retired in 2008. Now is a floating hotel in Palm Jumeirah, Dubai

Much like the SS, the QE2 also had a fair bit of history. It carried the name from Cunard Line’s earlier liner, RMS Queen Elizabeth, and for the most part of her service life was the flag bearer until the Queen Mary 2 was introduced in 2004. It served mostly as a luxury cruise ship traveling between countries but ensured that the transatlantic sail every year was done as per schedule. After its retirement, it started a second lease of life in 2018 as a floating hotel in Dubai.

Queen Mary 2

Queen Mary 2

3. Queen Mary 2

The Queen Mary 2 (QM2) succeeded Queen Elizabeth 2 as the flagship of the Cunard Line in 2004. At the time of its construction, it was the longest and largest ship until the 'Freedom of the Seas' [Royal Caribbean] was introduced in 2006. The QM2 was built to be a liner and is the only liner in the world carrying out transatlantic sails, as of today. Much like the norm in most cases, it continues cruising and has an annual world cruise. Though it may have ceded the largest ship tag, it still retains the record for being the largest ocean liner and from the looks of it, that record may not be broken.

  • Ship: Queen Mary 2
  • Type: Ocean liner cum cruise ship
  • Top Speed: 30 knots [34.52 mph or 55.66 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 26 knots [29.92 mph or 48 kmph]
  • Displacement: ~79,300 tons
  • Capacity: 2700 passengers + 1250 crew
  • Year of build: 2003
  • Year of record: Since 2004 [Multiple times]
  • Status: In active service

Much like an ocean liner’s structure, the QM2’s hull is built for high wave piercing required for her transatlantic sails. It is faster than a cruise ship and there are jokes doing the rounds that the QM2 can reverse at a faster speed than most modern cruise ships can go forward.

Norwegian Gem

Norwegian Gem

4. Norwegian Gem

This is one ship that is not built for the Royal Caribbean; otherwise, most ships in the cruising world are assumed to be of the Royal Caribbean’s fold. The one common history that it shares with the Radiance class [of Royal Caribbean ships] is that it was built in the same shipyard—Meyer Werft, Germany. As the name indicates, the Norwegian Gem was a cruise ship of the Norwegian Cruise Line.

  • Ship: Norwegian Gem
  • Type: Cruise ship
  • Top Speed: 26-27 knots [31.1 mph or 50 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 25 knots [28.76 mph or 46.31 kmph]
  • Displacement: ~49,500 tons
  • Capacity: 2400 passengers + 1050 crew
  • Year of build: 2007
  • Year of record: Since 2007 [Multiple times]
  • Status: In active service

The Norwegian Gem was the newest of the cruise ships with the Norwegian Lines until the Norwegian Epic was launched in 2010. However, speed-wise the Gem is the faster cruise ship while the Epic is capable of 22 knots.

Harmony of the Seas

Harmony of the Seas

5. Harmony of the Seas

Harmony of the Seas is an Oasis-class cruise ship built for the Royal Caribbean International. Most of the cruise ships built for the Royal Caribbean are bigger than the biggest - the Voyager-class, Freedom-class and now the Oasis-class. Even in the Oasis-class, the Symphony of the Seas is larger than Harmony of the Seas which in turn is larger than the Allure of the Seas. The record for the largest cruise ship in the world is held by the Symphony of the Seas. Interestingly, the last of the Oasis-class vessel will be delivered in 2021 and it will be larger than the Symphony. Talk about size, although, it is not the size that we are talking about here as much as the speed!

  • Ship: Harmony of the Seas [Others in the Oasis-class family – ‘Oasis of the Seas’, ‘Allure of the Seas’ and ‘Symphony of the Seas]
  • Type: Cruise ship
  • Top Speed: 25+ knots [28.76 mph or 46.31 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 22 knots [25.31 mph or 40.76 kmph]
  • Displacement: 120,000 tons
  • Capacity: 6800 passengers + 2300 crew
  • Year of build: 2015
  • Year of record: Since 2016 [Multiple times]
  • Status: In active service

The size gives readers a perspective to the fact that these ships are humongous in dimensions and yet fast. To give a comparison, the Harmony is larger than the largest aircraft carrier, Gerald R. Ford in terms of displacement, and yet only about 5 knots slower.

Of course, the ocean liners on the list will be faster for the way their body is constructed, otherwise, for the mammoth size and shape which is not much aerodynamic or hydrodynamic, the cruise ships do a good job of moving fast.

Currently, the ‘Harmony of the Seas’ is the second-largest cruise vessel in the world and was the largest before the Symphony was launched.

Radiance of the Seas, part of the Radiance Class

Radiance of the Seas, part of the Radiance Class

6. Radiance-Class Cruise Ships

The Radiance-class is a class of cruise ships built for the Royal Caribbean. While these are big cruise ships, they don’t compare as much with the others like the Voyager-class which was before it or the Freedom and Oasis-class which came after it, in terms of size. The size of this class of ships was to specifically allow it to cross the Panama Canal. Though relatively small, it is still bigger than most aircraft carriers in the world and fast too.

  • Ship: Radiance-Class [Ships of this class: ‘Radiance of the seas’, ‘Brilliance of the seas’, ‘Serenade of the seas’ and ‘Jewel of the seas’]
  • Type: Cruise ship
  • Top Speed: 25 knots [28.76 mph or 46.31 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 25 knots [28.76 mph or 46.31 kmph]
  • Displacement: 120,600 tons
  • Capacity: 2500 passengers + 860 crew
  • Year of build: 2004
  • Year of record: Since 2004 [Multiple times]
  • Status: In active service

The difference in the ships of the Radiance-class is only the size and dimensions and not the speed. They are all built for a top speed of 25 knots.

Disney Fantasy

Disney Fantasy

7. Disney Fantasy

Now, who would have thought that we would come across Disney Cruise Lines? Yes, the Walt Disney Company that we know about owns the Disney Cruise Lines. There are four cruise ships in total with them – two of them were built in the late 90s while the other two around 2011-12. The Disney Fantasy and the Disney Dream are the ones that were launched in 2011-12 and they share most of their physical parameters. The difference is only in internal features which are better in the Fantasy. Of course, Fantasy is the last of their ships. Here are some interesting stats.

  • Ship: Disney Fantasy [Disney Dream shares same parameters]
  • Type: Cruise ship
  • Top Speed: 24.7 knots [28.41 mph or 45.75 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 22 knots [25.31 mph or 40.76 kmph]
  • Displacement: 65,298 tons
  • Capacity: 4000 passengers + 1450 crew
  • Year of build: 2012
  • Year of record: Since 2012 [Multiple times]
  • Status: In active service

The interesting aspect of these ships is that their horns can play popular Disney songs. Not only that every aspect of the cruiser is around the Disney theme. Kids will literally go berserk. There is only question that I have and that is how could Disney come up with such an interesting cruiser and still make it so fast?

Disney Wonder

Disney Wonder

8. Disney Wonder

The next ship on the list is the elder sibling of the Disney Fantasy and Dream which we just saw. The Wonder too was constructed along with another sibling, the Magic. The Magic started operations in 1998 and Wonder in 1999. They both share most of their external parameters having been constructed almost at the same time.

  • Ship: Disney Wonder [Disney Magic shares same parameters]
  • Type: Cruise ship
  • Top Speed: 23.5 knots [27 mph or 43.52 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 21.5 knots [24.7 mph or 39.8 kmph]
  • Displacement: 43,915 tons
  • Capacity: 2400 passengers + 945 crew
  • Year of build: 1999
  • Year of record: Since 1999 [Multiple times]
  • Status: In active service

A bit of trivia here: the Disney Wonder became the first passenger ship to cross the Panama Canal. Take a look at the video to see it being pulled across the canal by the tugs.

Allure of the Seas

Allure of the Seas

9. Allure of the Seas

The Allure of the Seas is part of the Oasis-class of cruise ships built for the Royal Caribbean International. With the Royal Caribbean having nearly 30 cruise ships and the largest market share in the cruise world, it is obvious that most of the fastest cruisers will belong to the same brand. The Allure of the Seas was second to be built in the Oasis-class and is capable of doing speeds of 22.6 knots.

  • Ship: Allure of the Seas [Harmony’s and Symphony’s sister ship]
  • Type: Cruise ship
  • Top Speed: 22.6 knots [26 mph or 41.85 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 20 knots [23 mph or 37 kmph]
  • Displacement: 100,000 tons
  • Capacity: 6300 passengers + 2300 crew
  • Year of build: 2009
  • Year of record: Since 2010 [Multiple times]
  • Status: In active service

The Allure of the Seas is dead equal to the Gerald R. Ford Class aircraft carrier in terms of displacement. It is slower than the Gerald, though.

Symphony of the Seas

Symphony of the Seas

10. Symphony of the Seas

It would be sad to conclude this article without covering the Symphony of the Seas, currently the largest cruise ship in the world. Luckily for us, it is fast enough to be included here. It is nearly five times the size of the Titanic and dwarfs any ship in the cruising world by miles. It has 18 decks making it nearly as tall as a 20-25 story building. Interestingly, within a few years her sister ship which is currently under construction, belonging to the same Oasis-class, will become the largest cruise ship once launched. Needless to say, therefore, watch this space!

For now, let’s look at the vital stats of the Symphony

  • Ship: Symphony of the Seas [Harmony’s sibling]
  • Type: Cruise ship
  • Top Speed: 22 knots [25.31 mph or 40.75 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 22 knots [25.31 mph or 40.75 kmph]
  • Displacement: 120,700 tons
  • Capacity: 6680 passengers + 2200 crew
  • Year of build: 2017
  • Year of record: Since 2018 [Multiple times]
  • Status: In active service

There are very few ships longer than the Symphony. At 1,181 feet, it is longer than the longest navy ship ever built, the USS Enterprise. The Seawise Giant, at 1,500 feet, the Batillus Class Supertankers, at 1,300 feet, and the Pioneering Spirit at, 1,250 feet are few of the known ships longer than the Symphony. With the Royal Caribbean coming out with cruise giants, these length records may not stand for too long!

Back to Port

Now, there are many cruise ships that may fall in the same speed category as the ones on this list. I have covered the famous and known ones and should the sequence change, it will be updated here. The ocean liners, at least, as of now, will not be disturbed considering that not even one is expected to be built in the near future. Also, a cruise ship reaching ocean liner speeds seems unlikely, but then we will keep ourselves open to that, and if it happens then rest assured that it will be covered here.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Savio Koman


Savio Koman (author) from Mumbai, India on May 14, 2019:

Hello Aurelio,

The ship not only holds the record but the chances are that we will see her sailing again. Obviously, a new ocean liner coming up is a remote possibility, and cruise ships with their bulk will no longer fight for the top spot; that means, the SS United States will remain there for a very very long time..

Thanks for stopping by! :)

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on May 13, 2019:

Even with all the advanced cruise ships coming up, it's heartening to know that a ship from the golden age of cruising still holds the top position. I did not realize it was still around, though, so hopefully they can restore it.

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