Do Looks Matter? (Ships)

When she first ended service, some commentators said the  NCL’s ‘Norwegian Epic’ was probably the ugliest purpose built cruise, ship ever built. This raises an interesting question: “Does the external appearance of a cruise ship actually matter”?

Norwegian Epic – Beauty or Beast? (NCL)

I’m sure many of you are thinking: NO, there are many other factors such as public rooms, facilities, food and service, ports of call and price, which are all much more important to a successful cruise than the ‘look’ of a ship. After all you do not see the exterior of a ship when you are on board do you?


Not a great beauty? Ventura in the English Channel 2008 (Photo by me)

It would also appear that the cruise lines do not think ‘looks’ are important either, judging by the number of new ‘boxy’ shaped cruise ships. Their vast walls of balconies make their ships resemble office blocks rather than nautical vessels. I assume that this is simply because a box type superstructure provides the maximum space for cabins and public rooms, which in turn generate income.

Now I appreciate that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, but most of the members agree that ships like ‘Normandie’, France’ and ‘Queen Elizabeth 2′ for example, are infinitely more attractive than the ships built in the past few decades.

There is of course the odd exception.  The ‘Queen Mary 2′, is considered by many to be more attractive than most other modern ships. Her impressive bow and step-down fantail shape at her stern, cleverly detracts from the now obligatory balcony cabins in between.


Cunard’s ‘Queen Mary 2’, now that’s a better looking ship!

Most new ships have sterns that look like the back of a bus when compared to the sterns of the great Ocean Liners. However a fantail and a slender superstructure just do not maximize profit.


An old pretty ship (but it unfortunately sank)

Funnels are no longer things of beauty either. In the past, they used to represent power and speed. For the shipping companies, the more funnels the better. The  Titanic  for example had four funnels, three were real and one was a fake.  Just look at the ‘SS United States’ Ocean Liner (1952) Her two funnels were fat and powerful as if they were on steroids.


SS United states (United States Line)

On today’s ships the single funnel is often just a geometric collection of exhaust pipes and vents.

Now maybe I’m a bit odd, but for me looks do matter. I would prefer not to book a cruise on an ugly ship that I regarded as ugly.  In the same way I could not buy a car which I though was ugly or in a colour that I disliked. Now I admit that I have sailed a few ships which were ‘the girl next door’ in terms of looks, rather than ‘sexy’, but rarely ‘ugly’.

It does seem that older ships are often regraded as more attractive externally, than newer ones. A bit like vintage cars. Each year more old tonnage is sent to the breakers yard and more newbuilds arrive. Therefore you might think that I am in danger of running out of ‘beautiful’ ships to cruise on.  Fortunately the definition of  ‘beauty’ can change over time.


QE2, many would say an even better looking ship.

For example P&O’s ‘Oriana’ (1995) and ‘Aurora’(2000) both looked a bit ‘too modern’ or even ‘unsightly’, when they entered service, compared to the classics ‘Victoria’ and ‘Canberra’. However with the passage of time they both now look like ‘classics’ in their own right, when compared to the new and forthcoming additions to the P&O fleet.


Canberra left and Victoria (P&O)

A ‘classic’ only becomes a ‘classic’ when time has passed. Many of today’s newbuilds, by definition, will be tomorrow’s ‘classics’. Inevitably, a few years from now we will again be complaining that the new ships are not as attractive as the ones that came before.

Malcolm Oliver

Below: A pretty ship?

3 Responses to “Do Looks Matter? (Ships)”

  1. Ken Alexander Says:

    Beauty, to me, is the ability of the ship to capture the history and nostalgia of ocean travel, in a way that acknowledges the power of the sea, and the desire we all have to enjoy it. In that way, I love the Cunard ships.

  2. Bobby Copper Says:

    I have to disagree with what timothy is saying. Modern cruise ships look like they do to have the room to have thousands of people. I personally think a lot of modern cruise ships are beautiful.. its just a new generation of ships that needs getting used to to be able to appreciate. The radiance class ships, from royal caribbean, i think is one of the best looking cruise ships (HAL’s ships and Disney are nice as well). But some, like the NCL epic, are just plain ugly.

  3. timothy pullen Says:

    Modern day cruise liners are ugly and top heavy – the folks that design them are not the creative old school types, they are CAD draughtsmen. To me they look like container ships crammed with too many people. QE is best ship running today.

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