Your favorite cruise ship may never come back: 23 classic vessels that could be laid-up, sold or scrapped

Gene Sloan

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Brace yourselves, cruise fans: Some of your favorite ships could soon be heading to the chopping block.

With most cruise departures around the world halted due to coronavirus concerns, and a quick comeback for cruising no longer in the cards, some of the industry’s biggest players are starting to talk about permanently retiring parts of their fleets.

On Thursday, cruise giant Carnival Corporation — the world’s biggest cruise company with around 100 ships — said in a regulatory filing that it had preliminary agreements to dispose of six of the vessels in the next 90 days. It said it also was working to remove additional ships from its fleet.

Carnival Corporation didn’t name any of the ships that are on the way out, or the brands that operate them. Carnival Corporation is the parent company of nine brands including its namesake Carnival Cruise LinePrincess Cruises, Holland America and Seabourn.

Carnival Corporation also didn’t say whether the ships that it planned to remove from its fleet would be scrapped. Some may just be sold to less prominent lines around the globe that can’t afford new vessels. But just days before Thursday’s announcement, in an exclusive, hourlong interview with TPG, Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald hinted that at least some of the ships were headed for dismantling.

“There will be an acceleration of retirement of ships, there’s no question about that,” Donald told TPG founder and CEO Brian Kelly. “I’d go so far as to say it’s highly probable that you are going to see some ships actually scrapped as opposed to just moving to secondary or tertiary markets.”

The CEO of the world’s third-largest cruise company, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, also recently told TPG that ship retirements in the industry were likely.

A shortlist of ships that could go

For now, most cruise companies are being cagey about which ships will leave their fleets. But some have offered clues about the vessels on their shortlists for removal. In some cases, lines have listed ships that they clearly no longer want for sale. In other cases, they’ve stopped scheduling new sailings for ships or new overhauls in dry dock.

Age is one obvious marker of whether a vessel is on the way out from a fleet. It’s not uncommon for major lines to sell off older vessels after they reach 20 or 25 years of age. Carnival, for instance, removed two ships from its fleet (Celebration and Holiday) during the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009 that were 21 and 24 years old, respectively. The last Royal Caribbean ship to leave its fleet, Legend of the Seas, was 22 years old at the time.

Such ships usually don’t disappear right away. They’re often sold to smaller lines that can’t afford newer vessels for at least a few more years of operation. That said, cruise ships don’t last forever, and it’s not uncommon for vessels to be scrapped after 40 or 50 years of service.

A sudden retirement of a wide swath of older vessels would be bad news for cruisers who love smaller ships. At nearly every line, the ships built in recent years are much bigger than those built more than 20 years ago. Royal Caribbean’s two-year-old Symphony of the Seas, for instance, is nearly five times bigger than the line’s oldest ship, Empress of the Seas.

Below is a list of the vessels we think are the most likely to disappear from their respective lines in the coming months. In some cases, they might just be sold by their current owners to a less-prominent brand. But at least a few of these ships, we suspect, will never return to sailing.

Note that the list does not include vessels from some overseas lines that operate in languages other than English, such as Germany’s Aida Cruises. Aida, a part of Carnival Corporation, has several older, smaller vessels that would be logical candidates for removal in a companywide purge of older and smaller vessels.

Carnival Fantasy

Christened in 1990, this is the oldest ship in the Carnival fleet, and there are hints that the line is ready to let it go. For starters, Carnival hasn’t announced sailings for the vessel beyond January 2022. By contrast, the line has announced sailings for every other one of the 27 ships in its fleet through at least April 2022.

Unveiled in 1990, Carnival Fantasy is the oldest ship in the Carnival fleet. (Photo by Andy Newman courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line).
Unveiled in 1990, Carnival Fantasy is the oldest ship in the Carnival fleet. (Photo by Andy Newman courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line).

Carnival also has not released a date for the next dry dock for Carnival Fantasy. Cruise ships usually go into dry dock for routine maintenance every couple of years, and Carnival Fantasy hasn’t undergone a dry dock overhaul since January 2019.

Carnival Fantasy is the first of eight Fantasy Class vessels at Carnival that debuted between 1990 and 1998. While innovative for their time, they are smaller and less efficient than modern-day Carnival ships. They also lack a significant number of balcony cabins that many cruisers today desire. That said, many Carnival fans love the small size of the Fantasy Class ships. At 70,367 tons, Carnival Fantasy is about half the size of Carnival’s newest ship, Carnival Panorama.

Carnival Elation

Like Carnival Fantasy, this is a Fantasy Class ship at Carnival that dates to the 1990s. It’s a bit younger than Carnival Fantasy, having debuted in 1998. But it has popped up on ship broker sites, such as Yacht World, which is a sign that Carnival is ready to remove it from the fleet.

Carnival Elation sails out of Port Canaveral, Florida.

Carnival Inspiration

This is another Fantasy Class ship at Carnival that shows up at ship broker sites, suggesting that Carnival is ready to part ways with it. It dates to 1996 and sails out of Long Beach, California.

Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Inspiration. (Photo by Andy Newman courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line)

Of course, just because Carnival has listed a ship for sale doesn’t mean the vessel is immediately on the way out. Cruise lines sometimes have ships listed for sale for long periods.

Empress of the Seas

Royal Caribbean’s oldest ship is increasingly an outlier in the line’s fleet, which every year becomes more dominated by giant mega-ships that are chock full of amusements. At 48,563 tons, it’s nearly five times smaller than the line’s big Oasis Class vessels, and it only holds 1,602 passengers at double occupancy.

Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Called Nordic Empress when it originally debuted in 1990, Empress of the Seas is now 30 years old, which is old for a Royal Caribbean ship. Royal Caribbean already has removed it from its fleet once before, in 2008, when it transferred the vessel to the Royal Caribbean-affiliated Spanish line Pullmantur. But Royal Caribbean brought it back to its fleet in 2016 to operate sailings to Cuba, which due to port limitations could only be done with smaller vessels. Cruises from the U.S. to Cuba have since ceased due to changing government policy.

Grandeur of the Seas

Unveiled in 1996, this is the third oldest of Royal Caribbean’s 26 ships, and it’s already scheduled to leave the line’s fleet in 2021. The line said last October that it would transfer the ship to Pullmantur. But on Monday, Pullmantur announced it was insolvent and reorganizing under Spanish insolvency laws. It’s now unclear whether the transfer still will take place.

Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Grandeur of the Seas is one of Royal Caribbean’s Vision Class ships, which the line has slowly been removing from its fleet. Two other Vision Class ships — Splendour of the Seas and Legend of the Seas — already have been transferred in recent years to British line Marella Cruises.

Another Vision Class ship, Rhapsody of the Seas, also could be on the shortlist of vessels that Royal Caribbean hopes to remove from its fleet. It appears for sale on some ship broker sites.

Majesty of the Seas

Sailing for Royal Caribbean since 1992, Majesty of the Seas is the second-oldest ship in the line’s fleet and its only remaining Sovereign Class vessel. The other two were transferred years ago to Royal Caribbean-affiliated Pullmantur.

Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Measuring just 74,077 tons, Majesty of the Seas is about a third the size of Royal Caribbean’s biggest vessels and popular with Royal Caribbean fans who prefer smaller ships. It carries 2,350 passengers at double occupancy. It sails out of New Orleans.


Holland America’s oldest and smallest ship is listed for sale on ship broker sites and has no sailings scheduled beyond September 2021.

The Holland America ship Maasdam. (Photo by Tamme/Adobe Stock)
The Holland America ship Maasdam. (Photo by Tamme/Adobe Stock)

Christened in 1993, Maasdam is now 27 years old. It’s part of a class of four vessels that Holland America began transferring out of its fleet in 2014. Just two of the ships remain in the Holland America fleet — Maasdam and younger sister Veendam, which debuted in 1996. Veendam is another logical candidate for removal from the Holland America fleet.

Costa Victoria

Unveiled in 1996, this 1,928-passenger vessel has spent its entire career sailing for Costa Cruises and is one of the line’s oldest ships. European news outlets in recent days have said the vessel is being sold to a shipyard in Genoa, Italy, perhaps to be used as a floating dormitory for crew from ships undergoing maintenance work.

A spokesperson for Carnival Corporation would not say what vessels in the Costa fleet or other Carnival Corporation-owned fleets have been sold in recent weeks.

Costa neoRomantica

Costa Cruises’ oldest ship dates to 1993 and measures just 56,869 tons, making in an outlier in the Costa fleet. Costa’s newest vessel measures more than 185,000 tons.

With the departure of Costa Victoria from the Costa fleet, Costa neoRomantica will be a full 10 years older than the next oldest Costa ship.

Another smaller Costa Cruises ship, the 2003-built Costa Mediterranea, is scheduled to transfer to a Carnival Corporation-affiliated Chinese cruise company in 2021.


Originally built for Royal Caribbean as Sovereign of the Seas, this 2,282-passenger ship is an icon of the cruise world. Billed as the world’s first “mega-ship” when it debuted in 1988, it featured a five-deck Centrum with glass elevators, sweeping staircases and fountains in marble pools — a revolutionary concept at the time. At around 73,000 tons, it was the biggest purpose-built cruise ship ever, though it has been eclipsed in size many times over during the past three decades.

Sovereign of the Seas sailed for Royal Caribbean until 2008 when it was transferred to Spanish line Pullmantur and renamed Sovereign. In the wake of Pullmantur’s filing for reorganization on Monday, reports already have surfaced that Sovereign is being stripped of valuables — a sign that it may be heading for a scrapyard.


Unveiled in 1991, this is a sister ship to Sovereign that also is now in the Pullmantur fleet. Like Sovereign, it originally sailed for Royal Caribbean, where it was called Monarch of the Seas. It left the Royal Caribbean fleet in 2013. In the wake of Pullmantur’s insolvency filing on Monday, there are reports that this ship, too, is being stripped of its valuables.

Pacific Princess

Far smaller than any other Princess Cruises ship, Pacific Princess has been an outlier in the line’s fleet for some time. Measuring just 30,277 tons, it’s nearly five times smaller than the latest Princess vessels such as the eight-month-old Sky Princess. It holds just 680 passengers at double occupancy — more than 80% fewer than the newest Princess ships.

Pacific Princess, Sydney, Australia
The Princess Cruises ship Pacific Princess in Sydney, Australia. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

Princess hasn’t said anything about removing Pacific Princess from its fleet, and fans of small-ship cruising love the vessel, but it’s surely an oddity for the line to keep operating. Built in the late 1990s for long-defunct Renaissance Cruises, it’s a sister to seven other vessels that now form the core of the fleets of Oceania Cruises and Azamara, and it’s built more for the sort of intimate, smaller-ship, destination-focused cruising that those two lines offer.

Two other Princess vessels that would be logical candidates for removal from the line’s fleet are its two Sun Class ships: Sun Princess and Sea Princess. Unveiled in 1995 and 1998, respectively, they are the oldest vessels in the Princess fleet and relatively small, with room for just 1,990 passengers at double occupancy.

Celestyal Olympia

Originally built for Royal Caribbean as Song of America, this is another vessel that is listed for sale on ship broker sites. It debuted in 1982 and is now 38 years old.

Celestyal Olympia is part of Cyprus-based Celestyal Cruises, which is known for sailings around Greece and Turkey. The line currently has just two ships. In addition to Celestyal Olympia, the line operates Celestyal Crystal, a 40-year-old vessel that originally was built as a cruise ferry for the ferry company Viking Line (not to be confused with the cruise line Viking). It was completely rebuilt in 1990 after a fire and then rebuilt again in 1994 after a partially sinking.

Given its age, Celestyal Crystal is another vessel that could be a contender for retirement.

Marella Celebration

British line Marella Cruises in April said this 1,254-passenger vessel will not reemerge from the coronavirus shutdown and is being retired early. Dating to 1984, it’s a former Holland America ship that sailed under the name Noordam for many years.

Marella didn’t say whether the ship would be scrapped or sold to another cruise operator.

Marella operates five other ships, all built in the 1980s or 1990s for other lines. The oldest, Marella Dream, dates to 1986, making it 34 years old and another candidate for early retirement. The ship initially sailed as Homeric for the long-defunct Home Lines and later for Holland America (as Westerdam) and Costa Cruises (as Costa Europa).

Pacific Dawn

Originally built for Princess as the Regal Princess, this 29-year-old vessel is the oldest ship in the P&O Cruises Australia fleet. Princess and P&O Cruises Australia are sister brands.

Pacific Dawn is scheduled to be transferred to British line Cruise & Maritime Voyages in February 2021, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it never sails again for P&O Cruises Australia. Australia is one of several destinations around the world that may limit cruising for some time.

Cruise & Maritime Voyages also is scheduled to take possession of another P&O Cruises Australia vessel, Pacific Aria, in early 2021.

A wildcard for cruise ship retirements: Cruise & Maritime Voyages itself operates several older vessels that also are logical candidates for any shortlist of ships that could be retired in an era of fewer vessels.