How a Ship Refurbishment Can Affect Your Cruise

cruise ship dry dock construction maintenance
A Carnival ship in a Bahamas dry dock. - Photo by Shutterstock/Ramunas Bruzas

What happens when a cruise ship goes into dry dock? And will it affect your cruise if you're sailing immediately before or after? The answer is, well, it depends.


Aside from the fact that ships are required by law to go into dry dock at least every three years, cruise lines will periodically dry dock their ships to make scheduled refurbishments that might include adding or swapping out venues, replacing fixtures and furnishings, and a number of other upgrades. Here are the most common upgrades ships will receive when undergoing dry dock refurbishments, and whether there’s a chance that type of work could affect the cruises before or following the dry dock:

1. Carpeting and other upholstery is replaced.

royal caribbean schooner bar carpet upholstery
Photo by Royal Caribbean

During a ship’s routine dry dock, furnishings around the public areas of the ship, such as carpeting, curtains, and decorative pillows are often replaced. These elements are used heavily and wear down quickly. Of course, there are things that are replaced regularly as needed while the ships routinely sail, too, like bedding and towels. The soft fixtures in cabins are refreshed too, but not necessarily during every dry dock because they don’t wear out as quickly. 

While furniture and other sturdier elements that make up a cabin or public area might be replaced, they’re usually repaired (if possible) in the ship’s woodshop or through other maintenance means. Then when they outlast their usefulness or become worn beyond repair, they can also be replaced as needed. When a cruise line wants to replace every desk, stool, or nightstand in the cabins, they will do this type of massive switch during a dry dock. 

Will it affect my cruise? There is a low chance that the replacing of carpeting and upholstery will affect the cruises following a dry dock, but you may notice some of this work beginning just before dry dock in less-trafficked public areas.


2. Technical upgrades and fixes are made, if necessary.

cruise ship navigational bridge technical system
Photo by Shutterstock/donvictorio

If the ship is going into an unplanned dry dock because something is broken and needs repair, obviously that fix is the top (and likely only) priority. However, technical upgrades and non-essential repairs are made during routine dry docks, too. Anything from software and hardware upgrades for bridge, galley, or engine operations to replacing aging parts in the various machines that keep the ship running smoothly will be included in the schedule at the shipyard. Some of these upgrades and repairs can be done while the ship is sailing regular itineraries with guests onboard, but others are too disruptive to be done while the ship is in service.

Will it affect my cruise? This isn’t anything to worry about, because whether or not these changes are completely finished during dry dock, chances are that passengers won’t notice the difference anyway.


3. Public spaces are refreshed or transformed, new concepts are added.

carnival redfrog rum bar lido deck venue
Photo by Carnival Cruise Line

This is where the fun kicks in! During dry dock, cruise lines often take the opportunity to add or reimagine things for the guests, such as restaurants, bars, and activities. It happens constantly, and Carnival’s Fun Ship 2.0 program was a perfect example. One by one, the line added venues proving to be popular on their new ships, to the older ones. These included Guy’s Burger Joint, Alchemy Bar, Punchliner Comedy Club, the RedFrog Rum Bar, and more. All of the major cruise lines reimagine existing spaces on their ships from time to time, whether it’s simply redecorating and renaming a current venue, or completely reconfiguring the layout for a whole new purpose. Other elements that change frequently are things like water parks, ropes courses, hot tubs, kids’ play spaces, and color schemes.

Will it affect my cruise? There’s a good chance that this type of renovation work will be noticeable several weeks before and after dry dock. The really heavy lifting is saved for when the ship is laid up, but don’t be surprised if you see or hear carpentry, painting, and drilling happening around the ship. Also, if new restaurants or bars are introduced, work may run into the first cruise after the dry dock, and it will likely take the crew a few sailings following the renovations to get the hang of the new menus and operations.


READ MORE: 5 Things You Didn't Know About Cruise Ship Construction


4. Cabins are added or current ones relocated (sometimes).

cruise cabin stateroom bed oceanview window

While it isn’t as common as the other things mentioned, sometimes cabins are actually added or shifted around during a dry dock. Lines will occasionally move cabins around because they need the space to add or redesign a public venue, but you won’t see completely new cabins added very often as additional cabins will take away from public spaces and increase the chance of potential crowding onboard.

Will it affect my cruise? Since guests actually, you know, have to stay in cabins, the risk factor is little to none for this one. The only cause for concern is that, like changes to carpeting and upholstery, they may start to do light surface work to get the space ready for its renovations just before dry dock (but it’s unlikely).


5. Maintenance occurs on the outside and bottom of the ship.

cruise ship dry dock exterior underside propeller
Photo by Shutterstock/Space_Cat

Cruise ship exteriors above the water line are regularly maintained and painted while the ship is in service, but the bottom of the ship can only be accessed in dry dock. While the bottom of the ship is exposed, it is inspected, and then pressure washed and blasted to remove rust and old paint, and new paint applied to protect against future corrosion. The ship’s anchor, chain, and mooring cables are also inspected for flaws and replaced where necessary.

Will it affect my cruise? This isn’t going to affect your voyage, because the underwater surface maintenance has to take place in dry dock.


BONUS: Sometimes ships are lengthened!

We’ve included this as a bonus because the situation is so rare, but when it does happen it’s truly an engineering marvel. Every so often, cruise lines have such big ideas for their older, smaller ships that they decide to actually cut the ship in half vertically, add a new section, and then put it back together. Royal Caribbean did this with Enchantment of the Seas, Silversea Cruises with Silver Spirit, Fred.Olsen with Braemar (shown in the video above), and MSC with all four of their Lirica class vessels. 

Will it affect my cruise? Since the ship literally couldn’t sail in two pieces, this type of renovation has little risk factor of affecting surrounding voyages at all. If you’re booked in one of the new cabins on the very first cruise after the ship is lengthened, it’s possible you might encounter some technical snafus.

Join the discussion

Have you ever sailed a ship immediately before or after a dry dock? How was your experience?


Posted by Indenono

Went on independence just after its refurb. It had turned into a children's paradise, , wont be going on that again. There should adults only cruises by rci weve had our kids and dont want to be surrounded by everyone else's

Posted by tmm127

We cruised on Zuiderdam right after it came out of dry dock. Ship was definitely not ready to take on passengers and sail. Pool still shut down for two days, safety features throughout ship still were being done (lights/railings), some electrical systems not working properly. Worst was that the ship had pipes bust causing cabins on three levels on the starboard side uninhabitable because of water. Long line of customers complaining with little to no resolution to their problems, due to all just listed. Every passenger was given $75 credit due to inconvenience. For passengers like us, our first cabin had furniture piled on top of each other, bed unassembled, and floor completely soaked. We ended up being rotated between five cabins in one day that were previously emptied because of other passenger complaints and had to end up staying in cabin with soaked wet floors (the cabin next door was empty as the furniture was piled up off of the floor in it as it was soaked too). Floor blower was used for five days (one knows how loud they are) to help get carpet dry, we kept shoes on all of the time, and needless to say we ended up sick because of moldy smell, etc. We just recently returned from Veendam cruise and ship was to go into dry dock as soon as our cruise was over. Towards end of trip, work began on replacing the carpeting, which was kind of fun to see the progress. Other workers could be seen or heard using their equipment. Immediately, after we docked and disembarked, workers took over beginning to refurbish the ship. Watching the renovations take place made us curious to see how it would all look after completion.

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