Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

It's no secret why cruise ships keep getting bigger. The larger they are, the better the economies of scale, the more profit to the cruise line.

Big ships offer the sailing public a tremendous value, providing a ton of amenities and features at an unbeatable price.

But as cruise ships get bigger, they start looking a little distorted. Those stacks and stacks of decks, the enormous frontal profile, and the recreational assets sprouting from the top deck -- it makes them look like something other than a ship.

From the front, some look like those overly large turkeys that have been selectively bred for their breast meat and therefore seem like they're about to topple over when they walk. They just don't look like birds anymore.

Functionally, there's nothing wrong with big ships. As cruise executives have pointed out, cruise passengers are a small share of the 24 million annual visitors to Venice, where the No Big Ships movement got its start. But as with many things in modern life, it's the optics that hurt. Seeing ships go gliding by so much taller than most of the Venice skyline dwarfs the venerable destination and makes it feel diminished.

And it's cool sometimes to see the impressive size of cruise ships. There's nothing that big that also moves. But maybe it is time to start disguising the bulk of vessels that serve as delivery vehicles for more than 5,000 people at a time.

After they had built skyscrapers for awhile, the architects of modern buildings hit upon ways to make them seem less imposing. When New York passed a building code to ensure more light and air reached the street, builders made step-backs as their towers rose in height. Later, they used mirrored glass to diminish a tower's presence, put high-rises on stilts so they didn't reach all the way to the ground and recessed the corners of the buildings to make them less block-like.

All of these were visual tricks that didn't hurt the square footage or the economics of the buildings.

During World War I, navy ships were painted with dazzle schemes: jagged geometric shapes that made the ships look like nautical zebras and disguised their size, direction and type from the enemy.

While I doubt we'll see dazzle schemes on cruise ships anytime soon, (okay, maybe on Virgin Voyages), there must be ways that big ships could be made to at least appear a little more diminutive so that the dismay expressed about how many tourists are onboard isn't really a complaint about how big the ships look.

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