Was the Titanic a Cruise Ship or an Ocean Liner? (Differences Explained)

The Titanic is often referred to as a cruise ship, but was it really one?

According to most definitions, a cruise ship is designed to only carry passengers on voyages that generally run closer to coastlines and feature multiple ports of call.

This is opposed to an ocean liner designed to cross oceans and generally go between two fixed points without making stops along the way.

Titanic Ocean Liner

The Titanic was built as an ocean liner with the intention of making crossings between Southampton, England, and New York City.  As well as carrying passengers, it was also designed to carry cargo such as mail, including letters, parcels, and specie (money in the form of coins and bullion).

Modern-day cruise ships are different in that they are built purely for the leisure purposes of their passengers.  Ocean liners like the Titanic were built much more for transportation than leisure.

Titanic Compared to a Modern Cruise Ship

Key Design Differences:

Looking at the designs of typical ocean liners like the Titanic and modern-day cruise ships, we can see some key differences.

Long Bow: Ocean liners are relatively longer in proportion to height than a cruise ship which is built with as many decks as possible to increase capacity. This also results in the ocean liner having a much more sleek look, allowing it to cut through large waves in rough seas.

High Bridge: Ocean liners have their bridge high, usually on the highest top deck, giving the captain and crew a better view during stormy seas.   A cruise ship bridge is slightly lower, with passenger decks above them.

Stronger Hull: Ocean Liners are much stronger than cruise ships.  The hull is reinforced as they are designed to withstand large waves and bad weather crossing oceans.


The Titanic was a British ocean liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912 after hitting an iceberg during her maiden voyage.

Of the 2,224 people on board, more than 1,500 died in the disaster.

The sinking of the Titanic caused deaths by hypothermia, drowning, and entrapment that were greater than any other peacetime maritime disaster in history. It is considered one of modern history’s deadliest commercial peacetime maritime disasters.

It’s often one of the first ships people think of when they question how many cruise ships have sunk. 

However,  the Titanic was not a cruise ship.

The Titanic was an ocean liner built for crossing the Atlantic Ocean between Southampton, England, and New York City.

So while the Titanic may have had some features in common with modern-day cruise ships, it was not a cruise ship itself.

Although the Titanic was equipped with many features common on cruise ships of the time, such as restaurants, libraries, gyms, and a swimming pool, it was not built for leisurely travel like most modern cruise ships are.

One of 3 Olympic-class Ocean Liners

The Titanic was one of three Olympic-class ocean liners built by the British shipping company White Star Line.

The Olympic-class ocean liners were designed to be the largest and most luxurious passenger ships at the time.

  • RMS Olympic (1911)
  • RMS Titanic  (1912)
  • HMHS Britannic (1915)

At the time of its launch in 1911, the Olympic was the largest ocean vessel ever built until the Titanic, her sister ship, was even larger.

However, as you may know, not everything went as planned.

Of the three ships built, only the Olympic served as a passenger liner for 24 years until 1935, when it went to scrap.

The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912.

In 1915 the last of 4 ships, the Britannic, was completed but was never used as a passenger’s vessel.

Instead, in 1915 it was requisitioned and named HMHS ( His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) and turned into the world’s largest hospital ship until it sank in 1916 after hitting a mine.

Size and Luxury

Rather than speed, all 3 Olympic-class ocean liners were built for size and luxury for it’s highest paying passengers.

The Titanic was 882 feet 9 inches (269.06 m) long with a maximum width of 92 feet 6 inches (28.19 m), slightly larger than the Olympic.

It had ten decks with room for 2,435 passengers in first, second, and third class and a crew of 892.

Built for Distance

The Titanic was built with Trans-Atlantic crossings in mind.

A trans-Atlantic crossing is a journey between Europe and North America that generally takes around 7-10 days, depending on the weather and other factors.

The Titanic’s crossing from Southampton, England, to New York City was planned to take six days.

Modern-day cruise ships are typically built with coastline travel in mind and relatively short distances from port to port.

Built For Speed in All Weathers

Although for its time compared to its competitors, the Titanic was not particularly built for speed, ocean liner vessels, in general, are designed with speed in all weathers and rough seas in mind.

Ocean liners set off with a set point-to-point schedule and adjust the vessel’s speed accordingly to ensure they arrive on time.

If cruise ships fall behind schedule, they tend to go slower and instead may miss a port of call instead of going at a faster speed like an ocean liner.

The Titanic’s top speed was 23 knots.

Although modern cruise ships also tend to have a top speed of 23 knots, they normally cruise between ports at around 10 to 12 knots.

This is much slower than the Titanic’s designed top speed because cruise ships are not built to cross oceans but to hug coastlines.

One of the key differences is that in bad storms and rough seas, a cruise ship will tend to slow down, whereas an ocean liner would just keep going at a much faster speed.

Sometimes, a cruise ship might delay sailing if the weather is particularly bad. 

However, not all cruise ships are the same, and depending on their routes, some are built more robustly for bad weather conditions.

Mail and Cargo

One of the defining differences between an Ocean liner and a modern-day cruise ship was that an Ocean liner like the Titanic would carry large quantities of mail and other cargo.

The ship’s full name was RMS Titanic, with the RMS standing for Royal Mail Ship.

Back in the 1910s, communicating via telephone or email wasn’t possible, so people relied on sending letters and parcels via post.

The Titanic was no different, it carried thousands of sacks of mail when it set sail.

In fact 26,800 cubic feet of space was allocated in the holds for carrying mail-related items.

The Titanic was also designed to carry large amounts of coins, bullion, and other valuables, including jewelry.  Although it’s believed there was not much, if any, gold and other valuable items on the ship’s maiden voyage.

The Titanic was also equipped with several cranes and winches to move the cargo, which is machinery you wouldn’t require as much on a modern-day cruise ship.


Passengers traveling 1st and 2nd class on the Titanic were allowed to take huge amounts of baggage, taking up some 19,455 cubic feet of total space on the ship.

Passengers were able to transport large furniture items, including trunks and wardrobes. As well as large quantities of food types.

Some passengers were transporting works of art and other artifacts.

This is all because many of the passengers were transporting all their belongings with them to start a new life abroad.

Compare this to modern-day baggage restrictions in place because passengers only need to pack for the clothes they need for the vacation.

Transportation vs Vacation

Ocean liners were primarily used as a method of transportation between two distant ports.   Passengers weren’t typically on board for the sake of being on board and having a good time. 

In the early 1900’s travel by sea was the only option to travel from country to country because intercontinental flights for passengers did not yet exist.

Many passengers were using the ships as a means of migrating to America and Canada from Europe. 

Other passengers were traveling for business or to attend special events. 

Regardless of the reason for travel, the main focus of the Titanic as an ocean liner was on getting passengers from one port to another instead of providing a vacation experience.

This starkly contrasts modern-day cruise ships, designed purely to provide a vacation experience.

Cruise ships will typically spend a day in each port so that passengers can explore the local area and participate in excursions.

Cruise ships also have a wide range of onboard activities and entertainment for passengers when not in port.

Third Class Accommodation

Although the Titanic was built for luxury, this was not with all passengers in mind.  Only the wealthiest.

The Titanic had a third class for passengers known as the steerage (below-decks).   

These were quite cramped dormitory-like rooms sleeping four or more passengers and were often found below the water line on the ocean liners lower decks.  

There would have been no windows or bathrooms, passengers would have to use shared facilities.

Everyone in the third class dined together on rows of tables and chairs rather than individual tables. 

Although there were general rooms where passengers could socialize, play cards and read, etc, they were not allowed in other areas of the ship and were not allowed to visit the swimming pools, gym or any other entertainment on higher decks.

These passengers were not particularly traveling for comfort. They were traveling purely to reach a specific destination.

On a modern-day cruise ship you wouldn’t;t even find these types of quarters or conditions.  All passengers are traveling for pleasure and a good level of comfort.

Today cruise ships have staterooms with bathrooms and allow all passengers access to all facilities on the ship, albeit some may come at an extra cost.


While the Titanic was a luxury ocean liner, it hardly compares to the facilities available on a modern-day cruise ship.

The Titanic had one swimming pool, and this was for first-class passengers only.

It also had a gymnasium, reading room, smoking room, Turkish baths, and a library.

However, these pale compared to the offerings on a modern-day cruise ship, especially the mega-ships that offer thousands of passengers.

On a typical cruise ship, you will likely find much more, possibly including:

  • Multiple swimming pools
  • Saunas
  • Hot Tubs
  • Spas
  • Gyms
  • Tennis and squash courts
  • Basketball courts
  • Mini-golf
  • Table tennis
  • Video arcades
  • Pools tables
  • Shopping malls
  • Movie theatres

and much more.

There are also usually several bars and nightclubs on board and movie theatres.

Related Posts

Frequently Asked Questions

What Was Steerage on the Titanic?

The Steerage on the Titanic was the name given to the lowest decks used to house third-class passengers.  The term originates from when the ship’s machinery was located to effectively steer the ship.  On much larger vessels like the Titanic, there was additional space to accommodate passengers, albeit it was quite cramped and stuffy conditions.

Was the Titanic the first Cruise Ship?

The Titanic was an ocean liner rather than a cruise ship.  The Titanic was not even the first of its kind.  It followed its sister RMS Olympic, the previous largest ship afloat and marginally bigger.

The Prinzessin Victoria Luise is the world’s first cruise ship launched 12 years before the Titanic in 1900.

What Was the Titanic Passenger Liner Considered to Be?

The Titanic was an ocean liner, the largest ever built at its launch.  It was designed for trans-Atlantic crossing to transport people and cargo between Southampton and New York.


The main differences between the Titanic and a modern-day cruise ship are that ocean liners were primarily used as a means of transportation for people and cargo, while cruise ships are designed purely for vacation.

If you have any further insights or information, please feel free to share in the comments.

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