From the paddle wheel steamers of the mid-19th century to the megaships of today; cruise ships have evolved beyond recognition over the past 150 years – even if their purpose remains the same as ever. Transporting cargo and holidaymakers across the seas (and sometimes moonlighting as warships); these cruise ships were some of the most important landmarks in the industry.
Britannia Class
One of the oldest cruise line operators still in existence, Cunard Line have overseen the industry change from a primarily mail and cargo-carrying service to a multi-billion dollar leisure trade. The line’s original six-strong fleet of Britannia Class ships were all built between 1840 and 1845. 
Including two Blue Riband holders (the award for passenger liners crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the quickest time), the six ships beckoned a new age of maritime travel.
By 1845, these six ships carried half the passengers crossing the Atlantic Ocean, with Cunard Line completely dominating the industry. The ships were propelled by a Napier two-cylinder side-lever steam engine and paddle wheels.
None of the six ships – Britannia, Acadia, Caledonia, Columbia, Hibernia, Cambria – remained in Cunard’s service for a particularly long time, with two ships sold to the North German Navy, two to the Spanish Navy, one to Italian owners and one wrecked.
RMS Titanic
Easily the most famous addition on this list, the Titanic was the largest cruise ship in operation during its brief time on the seas in 1912 (taking over from sister ship, RMS Olympic). The 2,435 passenger capacity is still larger than many cruise liners in operation today, more than a century later. Intended to revolutionise the cruise industry, the White Star Line ship looks more like modern cruise ships than its contemporaries.
Powered by two three-blade propellers and one four-blade propeller – the ship was intended to welcome in a new era of luxury cruising, but we all know how it ended.
Still considered by many to be the last of the great transatlantic liners, the Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2 to her mates) oversaw the cruise industry’s growth from the holiday choice of the rich and wealthy to an industry which caters for all tastes and budgets. As Cunard Line’s competitors concentrated on changing the dynamic of the industry to appeal to new generations with additions of massive waterslides, the QE2 still offered a passage back to the golden age of cruising up until she left service in 1998.
The famous old ship has been replaced by her spiritual successor, Queen Mary 2, which is perhaps the sole purveyor of early 20th century cruise elegance – despite being just over a decade old.
Specialist cruise agent, Cruise1st, explains the lasting draw of the QE2: “We still get people asking for the QE2 experience, yearning for the timeless sophistication provided by the beautiful old ship.”
Quantum of the Seas
Royal Caribbean have taken up the responsibility of pushing the very limits of the cruise industry in recent years – creating the world’s largest and most technologically-advanced vessels on the open seas. When the Quantum of the Seas entered into service in late 2014, it was dubbed the world’s first smartship with a range of features designed to provide the most futuristic ocean-faring service ever.
The ship was peppered with world-first features including the Bionic Bar (robotic bartenders mixing up cocktails ordered on iPads), the RipCord by iFly (skydiving simulators at sea) and intelligent apps and infrared bands which revolutionised how passengers paid for all services aboard the ship and even simplified to process of locking and unlocking cabins.
Harmony of the Seas
Despite currently operating seven of the world’s 10 largest ships (including the top four), Royal Caribbean will again break records next year when the Harmony of the Seas enters service. The ship will narrowly edge ahead of sister ship Allure of the Seas as the largest ship on the seas, with a total length of 1,188ft and a maximum capacity of 6,360 passengers.
The floating behemoth is currently nearing completion at the STX shipyard in France, before entering into service in summer 2016.


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