There was a time when even the biggest passenger vessels were sleek and streamlined to cut through the waves. They often had gracious curves and elegant superstructures. But those days are long gone. As cruise ships have gotten bigger over the years, they've also gotten boxier and less appealing to the eye. Some might even call them ugly -- at least as they appear from the outside. Here, Royal Caribbean's one-year-old Harmony of the Seas -- the world's biggest cruise ship.
Capable of carrying up to 6,687 passengers, Harmony of the Seas is not only the biggest cruise ship at sea but the fattest. It has a width of nearly 216 feet. Soaring 18 decks high and built with little sloping to its stern and sides, it's one of the boxiest ships afloat. Harmony's sister vessels Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas are similarly boxy.
It's no accident that cruise ships are getting bigger and boxier. The trend is being driven by the cruise industry's focus on adding ever more on-board activities to vessels -- everything from multiple pool zones (Harmony of the Seas has four) to giant water slides. Bigger ships also are more efficient to run.
Harmony of the Seas isn't the only recently unveiled Royal Caribbean ship with a notably boxy appearance. The two-year-old Anthem of the Seas features a stern that rises almost vertically. Anthem's sister vessels, Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas, have a similar look.
Royal Caribbean's latest ships are far taller, wider and boxier than such early Royal Caribbean vessels as Majesty of the Seas, which has been sailing since 1992. It's currently the oldest ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet.
Even Royal Caribbean's Vision Class of ships, rolled out between 1996 and 1998, have a much slimmer and more elegant profile than the line's newer vessels. On the flip-side, they hold far fewer passengers and offer fewer public venues.
Royal Caribbean isn't alone in churning out ever bigger and boxier ships. Even more boxy in some cases are the recent ships of Norwegian Cruise Line. The seven-year-old Norwegian Epic, shown here, is famous for a blocky, two-deck-high suite complex at its top that seems like an afterthought and gives the vessel a top-heavy look.
Even bigger than Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Cruise Line's two-year-old Norwegian Escape also has a blocky suite area at its top as well as rows of balcony cabins along its side that gives the ship a condominium-at-sea look.
A view of Norwegian Escape as seen from its front. The 4,248-passenger vessel is chock full of amusements ranging from a massive water park to the largest ropes course at sea.
Norwegian Cruise Line's newest ship, the China-based Norwegian Joy, has a similar profile to Norwegian Escape. The vessels are sisters from the same series.
The boxy look of today's mega-ships is in stark contrast to the graceful profiles of the grand passenger vessels of the 20th century. Here, Cunard's original, super-sleek Queen Mary, an icon of the 1930s that survives as a hotel and museum in Long Beach, Calif.
Like other grand passenger ships of its time, Queen Mary cut an elegant profile with a long and narrow hull that boasted a piercing bow. At 118 feet, its beam was nearly half that of world's biggest cruise ship Harmony of the Seas, giving it a slender look.
A few cruise lines in recent years have bucked the trend to boxier vessels with new ships that evoke the elegant profiles of the past. Cunard's 14-year-old flagship Queen Mary 2, for instance, shares the long, piercing bow of the original Queen Mary and a gracefully raked stern.
While still among the 20 biggest passenger vessels in the world, Queen Mary 2 retains a sleek and streamlined profile that would have been more common half a century ago.
To the frustration of some Cunard fans, the line's next new vessel, the 2007-built Queen Victoria, did not have the same graceful exterior lines as Queen Mary 2. The ship was built on the same boxy Vista Class frame used for several ships at sister lines Holland America and Carnival.
Another line that has taken great pains to design its ships with an elegant exterior profile is Disney Cruise Line. Disney's 1,750-passenger Disney Magic, shown here, was given an extended bow, twin funnels (one is faux, just for looks) and a raked stern to evoke ocean liners of old. Some cabins near the front of the vessel that could have had balconies were given port holes to preserve the vessel's look.
A later Disney ship, the 2,500-passenger Dream, also boasts a relatively sleek and streamlined profile that was consciously designed to retain the elegant of earlier passenger vessels.
Another line that has been rolling out bigger and boxier ships in recent years is MSC Cruises. Here, MSC Cruises' new MSC Meraviglia, the fourth largest cruise ship in the world.
The boxy look of MSC Meraviglia is a result of the enormous amount of public space that it offers, including a massive water park area on its top deck.
As is the case with other mega-ships, MSC Meraviglia's boxy exterior is the secret sauce that allows for more space for interior and deck-top public areas, including this massive pool area.
Another new crop of mega-cruise ships scheduled to debut over the coming year will continue the trend toward boxier ships. Here, an artist's drawing of Norwegian Cruise Line's next ship, Norwegian Bliss. It's scheduled to debut in April 2018.
While it may look boxy from the outside, Norwegian Bliss will boast a wide array of fun zones in its interior and deck-top spaces that include a two-deck-high racing track -- a first for a North American-based vessel.
Boxy in a similar way to Norwegian Bliss will be a new Norwegian Cruise Line ship to be called Norwegian Encore. It's due in 2019.
The boxy look of Norwegian Cruise Line's recent ships is in sharp contrast to the slender profile of one its early icons, the SS Norway. Originally built in the 1950s as the SS France, the ship sailed for Norwegian from 1980 to 2008.
Another early Norwegian Cruise Line ship with a far sleeker profile than the line's modern vessels was the Skyward. It sailed for the line from 1969 to 1991.
A new Celebrity Cruises ship scheduled to debut in December will have an even more bizarre exterior profile due to the presence of a movable bar, lounge and entertainment space that will be cantilevered over its side. Dubbed Celebrity Edge, the vessel will be the first in a series at Celebrity.
As cruise ships get bigger and boxier, some lines are embracing the new look as a feature. In marketing its new Seaside Class of ships, shown here in an artist's drawing, MSC Cruises touted a "Miami Beach condominium" style to their design.
MSC Cruises' new Seaside Class features rows of balcony cabins that evoke the condominiums that line the waterfront of Miami Beach.
The profile of cruise ships is about to undergo another evolution as cruise lines experiment with new bow designs that are expected to improve stability and hydrodynamics. Here, an artist's drawing of a new class of ship that MSC Cruises plans to launch starting 2022. It'll be able to hold up to 6,850 passengers.
Start-up line Virgin Voyages, scheduled to debut in 2020, also is building its ships with a new bow design that will give it an unusual profile.
Some smaller ships that have been developed by niche lines in recent years have bucked the boxy trend and retained an elegant profile. Here, a small expedition-style ship called National Geographic Orion that originally was built in 2003 and now is operated by adventure-focused Lindblad Expeditions.
A feature of older ships that has been disappearing in recent years is a raked, or sloped, stern as seen here on luxury line Crystal Cruises' Crystal Symphony. Visually pleasing when seen from a distance, the raked stern allows for a cascade of sun decks down the back of a vessel -- a feature not found on many newer ships.
Sailing since 1995, Crystal Symphony is considered one of the loveliest of today's luxury ships with a sharply raked bow, sleek lines and relatively low, well-proportioned superstructure.
In contrast to the sculptural raked stern found on Crystal Symphony, newer ships such as MSC Cruises' MSC Meraviglia often have sterns that are almost completely squared off. The boxy design allows for more interior public space and cabins.
Seen from the side, many of today's mega-ships, such as as Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, have the air of a land-based condominiums.
In general, older cruise ships have a sleeker profile with fewer decks rising up from the hull. Here, Windstar Cruises' 1989-built Star Breeze. Designed by Oslo-based architects Yran and Storbratten, it offers a graceful, nuanced look marked by a unique funnel casing at its back.
Carrying 212 passeners, Windstar's Star Breeze originally was built for luxury line Seabourn. Seabourn sold the vessel and two sisters to Windstar as it transitioned to larger ships.
Seabourn Cruise Line's newest ship, Seabourn Encore, is more than twice as big as the older vessels the line sold to Windstar and carries nearly three times as many passengers. While sharing some exterior design features, it is much more boxy than its predecessors.
The enormous width of recent vessels such as Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas is evident when looking at them from the front.
Iconic passenger ships of half a century ago, such as the SS United States, offered a much narrower profile that recent vessels such as Harmony of the Seas. Long retired, the SS United States currently is docked in Philadelphia.
Another trend that is changing the way cruise ships appear from the outside is the development of elaborate "hull art" for vessels. Here, Norwegian Cruise Linne's Norwegian Breakaway, which is emblazoned with art showing a New York City skyline and the Statue of Liberty designed by artist Peter Max.
The extra space created by making ships boxier has resulted in a new crop of unusual features on ships, including interior play zones with bumper cars. Bumper cars first debuted on a ship in 2014 with the arrival of Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas.
The great changes that have occurred in ship design over the decades is clearly evident when looking back at photos of the original Pacific Princess, the ship used in the filming of the famed 'Love Boat' television series in the 1970s.
Contrast the sleekness of the original Pacific Princess of 'Love Boat' fame to the chubbiness of one of Princess Cruises' newest vessels, Royal Princess. Here, the vessel's stubby bow is shown in the background with 'Love Boat' captain Gavin MacLeod and a phalanx of 'royal princesses' in the foreground.