What is the Difference Between a Cruise Ship and an Ocean Liner?

Ocean liner vs cruise ship? A liner is a ship that travels on a fixed route or between fixed ports. Liner ships include cargo and passenger ships, but “ocean liners” are especially used for passenger ships. There are some of the similarities between ocean liners and also cruise ships. Although both are large, seaworthy passenger ships,  ocean liners are generally larger, and cruise ships may be smaller. Ocean liners can also be used as cruise ships, but not all cruise ships can be used as ocean liners. We’ll see why below.

Ocean Liners

They are typically built for transcontinental voyages between specific ports. Such as the transatlantic voyage between Southampton, UK, and New York, USA. Cruise ships are used for short trips close to land and may call at many ports. They rarely, if ever, go out to sea. The main purpose of ocean liner vs cruise ship construction was essentially transportation. Before the advent of air transport, travel between continents was accomplished by sea using regular ships. Additionally, during the 19th  and early 20th centuries. Ocean liners were contracted to carry mail as part of the British government’s Royal Mail Service. For this reason, the names of many famous ocean liners were prefixed. with RMS for Royal Mail Ship, such as RMS Titanic and RMS Carpathia.

As air travel became cheaper and also more common. They gradually became obsolete. Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, Queen Victoria, also Queen Elizabeth 2, Queen Mary 2, and Marco Polo are some of the names of famous and legendary ocean liners. Currently,  the Queen Mary 2 is the only ocean liner used for transatlantic voyages. 

Recreational Purposes

On the other hand, cruise ships are used for tourism and recreational purposes rather than for transportation purposes. For this reason, most modern cruise ships are considered huge, luxurious floating hotels that house numerous restaurants, casinos, spas, clubs, and other entertainment facilities. ocean liners form the overall basis of today’s cruise industry.

Most of today’s major cruise lines started with large cruise ships. Even today, many cruise ship designs are still based on ocean liners. However, many people do not make frequent cross-continental trips, and some only travel seasonally. The reason for this may be simple economics. Cruise ships generate more revenue through guest-focused amenities. Most guests prefer shorter local tours to longer cross-continental trips, primarily due to lack of time and work. Additionally, ocean liners are more expensive than cruise ships due to their more rigorous construction and higher speed requirements. Therefore, it is more profitable to operate cruise ships. Both ships serve different purposes and, therefore, have very different designs.

Design And Construction 

Due to the nature of their operation, ocean liners are designed primarily with safety and watertightness in mind. Their construction is much stronger than that of a cruise ship, allowing them to withstand the extreme sea and weather conditions they are exposed to on long intercontinental voyages. Longbows, thick hulls, and much higher speeds (up to 30 knots) to stay on track even in bad weather are some characteristics of ocean liners. In contrast, cruise ships are designed and built with guests in mind, with a focus on hotel amenities, fun, and entertainment.

Some of These Differences are Explained Below

  1. Because ocean liners are located below the surface of the water, they are better able to withstand rough weather and rough sea conditions. Bows tend to be longer to protect the superstructure from waves. In contrast, cruise ships are generally located higher above the waterline, making them more susceptible to changes in weather.
  2. Ocean liners are made of extra-thick steel to withstand wave forces, increase stability, and support the weight. This steel is typically a few centimeters thicker than the steel found on cruise ships and is usually of standard thickness.
  3. Ocean liners feature a more aerodynamic design, allowing them to move quickly through the water. This is necessary to operate scheduled sailings between two ports that require higher speeds.
  4. Ocean liner timetables must be strictly adhered to despite changes in weather. Conversely, cruise ships have passengers on board, so the destination takes precedence over the experience itself. Cruise activities and experiences usually take precedence over the destination.
  5. The command bridge of an ocean liner is located as high as possible. This is to ensure good visibility and protect bridges and navigational equipment during storms and bad weather.
  6. Because the seas are rough on ocean liners, the deck of the boat is closer to the top of the ship, especially when sailing in winter, giving the boat better protection from the water.

 The Legacy of British Ocean Liners 

As this discussion concerns ocean liners, mention of the Cunard Line is essential. This British company has a proud history and tradition with ocean liners. Cunard is known today as a cruise company, but it was once a pioneer in the ocean liner vs cruise ship business,  dating back to 1840, and owning hundreds of ocean liners, with a history spanning more than 180 years. Cunard Lines originally started as a transatlantic mail and passenger service, revolutionizing the transport of passengers, goods, and mail between Great Britain and North America.

When airplanes were still relatively unknown, the main means of transportation between continents was by sea. Cunard’s heritage is based on safety, speed, and luxury. Historically, the company has prided itself on owning and operating some of the fastest and also largest ocean liners of its time. Already in the early 20th century, their ships, Lusitania and Mauritania, were considered the fastest ocean liners in the world.


The maximum speed reached her 24 knots and she was equipped with a modern turbine engine. Two of the most famous and iconic ships of the post-World War II era, the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary, were the epitome of luxury and were also considered the world’s fastest and largest ocean liners. Each she reached speeds of over 30 knots, which remains a masterpiece today. 

However, in the late 20th century, the popularity of ocean liners took a big hit with the advent of jet aircraft. As time became an important factor in people’s lives and economies, airplanes became popular because they could travel to different continents in a matter of hours, as opposed to ocean liners that took days or even weeks. This forced Cunard, also faced with the prospect of rapidly deteriorating business performance, to shift his focus from the ocean liner vs cruise ships overall business to cruise ships and leisure travel in order to secure his business.

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