Have you ever wondered how fast a cruise ship goes? It’s hard to imagine a massive vessel, complete with rooms, restaurants, entertainment centers and possibly hundreds, sometimes thousands of passengers, moving swiftly. But, if you’ve ever set sail before, you know large ships make it from port to port somehow without sprinting across the water. In this guide, we’ll answer some speed-related questions and explore factors that impact a ship’s cruising rate.
Cruising Speed vs. Top Speed
Most of the time, cruise ships operate at cruising speed, which is sometimes referred to as service speed. Cruising speed is not the highest speed a boat can reach, but a rate that provides a smooth, comfortable ride and saves fuel. Therefore, if you’ve even worried about a cruise ship hightailing it over rough water to make it to a port on time, have no fear. Cruise ships aren’t meant to fly through the sea, but instead, function to enhance the comfort of its passengers while also improving fuel efficiency.
How Fast Does a Cruise Ship Go?
The average cruise ship cruising speed is about 20 knots per hour. A knot is a form of measurement that equals one nautical mile. A nautical mile is a bit longer than a statute, or land-measured mile. One knot is the same as 1.15 statute miles. So, if a cruise ship is sailing at a speed of 21 knots, you might compare that to roughly 24 mph.
A cruise ship can typically reach a speed of around 30 knots, about two to three knots higher than its cruising speed, but it’s not likely to go that fast. Cruise ships rarely hit top speed and will usually only do so if necessary.
Why Do Ships Measure Speed in Knots?
The word “knot” traces back the 1600s when seafarers used an instrument called a chip log to determine the speed of their vessel. A log consisted of rope with uniformly set knots attached to a piece of wood. The device would float behind the vessel and release the rope as the boat advanced. After a specific time passed, sailors brought the rope back in and counted the knots between the boat and the wood. Today, most ships use GPS to measure speed.
What Factors Impact Speed?
Even if passengers wanted their captain to surge through the sea as quickly as possible, it wouldn’t be the best idea. Captains take their time for several reasons — if they do decide to pick up the pace, it’s to serve some sort of purpose. Here are some of the top factors that affect cruise ship speed:
- Itinerary: Depending on where you’re going, your ship may sail a little slower or a bit faster than the usual rate. For example, if you’re crossing the Gulf of Alaska, your cruise ship might slow down to prepare for marine-life encounters or to maintain stability in potentially choppy waters. Sometimes the captain might idle so passengers can take in the amazing scenery and snap photos of features like fjords, volcanoes or ancient coastal towns. You’ll also notice a reduced speed when it’s time to maneuver into a harbor and dock. However, if you’re cruising over open water, the ship may move at a faster speed, especially if the destination is far away.
- Fuel consumption concern: Perhaps the main reason cruise ships move at slow, comfortable speeds is to conserve fuel. Unlike cruising in your car down the highway, ships have to plow through a lot of water resistance — this takes a ton of energy and burns fuel fast. And, the faster a ship goes, the more the resistance increases. Consider that a cargo ship might burn around 225 tons of fuel per day traveling at a speed of 24 knots. If the same ship decreased its speed to just 21 knots, its fuel consumption would drop to 150 tons per day — about 33 percent. Slowing down makes sense from both an economical and environmental viewpoint.
- Weather: The weather impacts speed in a few different ways. First, the force and the direction of the wind can either work with the ship or against it. For example, if the wind pushes against the boat, it’ll need to use more power and fuel to move forward, which makes it challenging to maintain speed. Another factor is the weather forecast. A captain may decide to hit top speed to steer out of a storm’s path and into calm waters. In either case, cruise ship captains make informed decisions prioritizing guests’ safety and comfort.
- Emergencies: A ship may increase or decrease its speed to respond to an emergency. For example, in a “man overboard” situation, a ship typically slows down and turns around to initiate a rescue. On the contrary, if the captain receives a distress call from another vessel, they’ll most likely move as quickly as possible to assist.
How Does Size Affect Speed and Fuel Consumption?
Just like the cars we drive, cruise ships vary in size. Size affects speed and the amount of fuel a ship uses. Generally, the heavier any vehicle is, whether it’s a car or a boat, the greater the force required to accelerate. More force requires more fuel.
Cruise ships that are massive in size take a lot of fuel to maintain an average cruising speed. Large cruise ships constructed in the 1970s weighed between 20,000 and 30,000 tons, but by the 21st century, some cruise ships weighed as much as 220,000 tons.
Of course, enormous cruise ships can’t run without substantial fuel supply. Larger cruise ships can use up to 250 tons of fuel per day and burn a gallon of fuel every 30 to 60 feet traveled — that’s over 80,000 gallons of gasoline a day.
However, small improvements in efficiency make a significant difference on a cruise ship. Smaller ships, for example, require far less fuel than massive ones to travel the same distance — though they generally travel at the same speed. Cruise ships at Windstar are significantly smaller than the average vessel, which means less fuel consumption and fewer passengers onboard.
While the average large cruise ship has the capacity to hold as many as 3,000 to 7,000 passengers — the size of a small floating town — at Windstar, our largest ship carries no more than 342 passengers. This provides a much more welcoming and intimate atmosphere, where you can expect attentive staff and spacious suites. You’ll also enjoy access to unique, uncrowded ports that gigantic ships must skip due to their size.
How Fast Do Windstar’s Ships Go?
If you’re sailing under the northern lights, for example, you probably don’t want your ship to zoom ahead while you’re still scrambling for your camera. Nor would you want to buzz through Norwegian fjords without getting to take in the scenery. A cruise is about enjoying the voyage and the natural beauty surrounding you just as much as the destination. It’s about slowing down, taking time to disconnect from work and reconnect with life. Cruising is part of the experience — not just a means to get where you’re going.
Slower speeds also promote comfort — you’ll want to enjoy smooth sailing while you dine, relax in the pool or get a massage. As you drift from one dreamy destination to the next, you’ll experience a more stable and less noticeable ride. Lastly, our ships are designed to increase passenger safety, which is always a priority.
So, how fast do the small vessels at Windstar go? Let’s step inside each ship and take a look:
- Wind Surf: Wind Surf is our 617-foot-long sailing ship, with seven triangular computer-operated sails. Wind Surf is our largest vessel and designed to carry 342 guests. This ship cruises at 10 to 12 knots when it only uses its engines. With the help of the wind, Wind Surf might reach up to 15 knots. While passengers leisurely sail to tropical islands throughout the Caribbean or coastal gems along the Mediterranean, they can enjoy spacious, comfortable suites, unlimited use of the fitness center, take a dip in the pool or have a relaxing massage at the spa.
- Wind Spirit: Wind Spirit feels more like a private sailboat than a cruise ship. Wind Spirit can accommodate 148 pampered guests and has four wide teak decks and six self-furling sails. All of Wind Spirit’s staterooms have ocean views and cozy queen-sized beds. Like our other ships, passengers enjoy unlimited access to the fitness center, pool and watersports platform. The Wind Spirit sails passengers to paradisal jewels throughout French Polynesia at a comfortable speed of 10 knots, or up to 15.8 knots with the wind. Arriving at idyllic destinations aboard a small ship with billowing sails feels like a dream.
- Wind Star: Imagine cruising through the Caribbean or Mediterranean on an elegant and intimate ship that can only hold 148 passengers. Welcome aboard Wind Star. Like Wind Spirit, Wind Star is a small, sleek sailing ship with four teak decks and six sails. This 440-foot-long vessel travels at a speed of up to 10 knots or 15.8 knots with wind assistance. You’ll feel at home in the relaxed, chic-but-casual atmosphere as you explore the library, enjoy a meal in the veranda or lounge in the hot tub.
- Star Pride: Our Star Pride vessel has just enough to keep you entertained, but is small enough to feel like a personal retreat. Our Star Pride sails at a speed of 15 knots, features six decks and two new dining venues. Guests aboard our Star Pride can enjoy onboard entertainment, visit the Bridge to view navigation charts with the ship’s captain, burn off dessert at the fitness center or unwind in one of two whirlpools. This newly renovated ship takes passengers to some of the most desirable destinations in the world, from the turquoise waters of the Virgin Islands to the whitewashed villages of Greece.
- Star Breeze: Star Breeze is designed to comfortably carry 312 guests to bucket-list locales scattered across the globe. Cruising at a speed of 15 knots, guests can relish the views of fjords and glaciers as they explore Alaska or watch the sunset in awe as they head to Mexico. Star Breeze offers all of the amenities our guests love, but can still fit into secluded coves and tiny harbors. Guests aboard the Star Breeze will enjoy many new renovations, including two new restaurants, an infinity pool and a redesigned and expanded veranda.
- Star Legend: Our Star Legend, along with Star Pride and Star Breeze, is also part of our initiative to renovate our all-suite Star Class ships. Our goal is to offer guests greater comfort and more amenities without sacrificing the pleasures of small-ship cruising. Star Legend, which cruises at 15 knots, provides guests with new public areas, an infinity pool and new bathrooms in every suite. Now designed to hold 312 guests, the Star Legend maintains an intimate atmosphere as it takes travelers to must-see ports, including gems of the Baltic Sea and the French Riviera. You may even choose to cross the Atlantic in the Star Legend, for an experience you’ll never forget.
Step Aboard Windstar’s Ships
Sometimes speed is important, like when you’re running late for work or need to get to the store before it closes. Other times, such as when you’re on a cruise, speed is something you want to avoid, or at least, not think about. Luckily, for travelers who love to see the world by ship, a cruising vessel has to go slower than what we’re used to with cars or planes. Otherwise, a cruise ship would burn too much fuel and zip past gorgeous scenery.
At Windstar Cruises, we’re proud to take our guests to breathtaking ports, both large and small, in fascinating places around the world. We only sail in small ships to give our passengers an escape from crowds and access to tiny ports they’d otherwise miss on massive vessels. Each of our ships is designed to enhance the comfort of our guests and make them feel pampered as they cruise and take in the surrounding scenery. If you’re interested in bypassing clichés and embracing the extraordinary, we welcome you aboard. Browse our thrilling itineraries or contact one of our Vacation Planners for more information.