PHOTO: Royal Caribbean International’s Empress of the Seas. (photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean International)

The sheer amount of new cruise ships coming online now and over the next several years is staggering. Most are still earmarked for the North American market, but more and more are destined for emerging markets.

The result might possibly be relatively young ships heading to the scrap yards sooner than later.

During the cruise industry’s slower years, fewer new-builds were slated for the North American market and fewer still for international ones. In decades past, it was more common for ships to serve their initial cruise lines for around 20 to 30 years before being handed off to a subsidiary within a larger corporation to accommodate outlying regions or fledgling markets.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited’s stake in Spanish-based Pullmantur Cruises works in this way to a degree. Royal Caribbean International’s old Monarch of the Seas and Sovereign of the Seas—as well as Celebrity Cruises’ old Horizon and Zenith—currently make up the Pullmantur fleet. Interestingly, Empress of the Seas was also included but was transferred back to Royal Caribbean recently where it operates Cuban cruises.

Then there are other brands that are entirely third-party like Cruise & Maritime Voyages in the United Kingdom, which operates a vessel formerly part of Ibero Cruises—Carnival Corporation’s own former variation on Pullmantur. Ibero had hand-me-downs from Carnival Cruise Line, and now Cruise & Maritime has a hand-me-down from Ibero.

However, that landscape is also changing.

Ibero Cruises merged with Costa Cruises, an Italian brand under the Carnival Corp. umbrella along with P&O Cruises for the UK market and AIDA Cruises for the German market. All three have been around for awhile and are continuing to build new ships for themselves.

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New emerging markets like China are also now demanding new-builds for themselves.

Gone are the days when other remaining ships once displaced from elsewhere might service these areas. Rather, cruise companies are constructing custom ships for Asia in full force.

One anomaly is Princess Cruises’ Majestic Princess, once set for Chinese cruising year-round and now slated for Australia as well. This is interesting given the ship now under construction for Carnival Cruise Line as its third Vista-class ship was once set to become a new-build for P&O Cruises Australia, another growing cruise region.

The brand down under will instead ironically be getting Carnival Splendor transferred to it in the old hand-me-down style.

READ MORE: Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas Sails to Miami, Cuba Likely Next

There are plenty of ebbs and flows that can continue to upset old balances, but the bottom line is that more markets require new ships over old ships.

Eventually, that will mean first-tier cruise lines will get rid of old vessels as new ones continue to be introduced, and they won’t have as much prolonged purpose.

There was once a period of transition between vintage ocean liners and modern cruise ships when relatively new liners could not be brought up to new standards, so they were scrapped. In much the same way, ever younger cruise ships without interested buyers are almost certain to begin heading to the scrapyards as well.

Steel is more valuable reused than wasting away and, besides, the material may find its way into new cruise ships in time.

Until then, we can only speculate as to which cruise ships will next be transitioned out of their first brands if not onto the chopping block. Carnival’s Fantasy-class is certainly getting long in the tooth with the titular Carnival Fantasy having been built in 1990. Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas is the same age and was already out until it was relevant again for Cuba.

In the mainstream at least, those are definitely some of the oldest and likely next to go, but in such a changing industry, you just never know what could happen for sure.

This post first appeared on TravelPulse.

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