What is a cruise ship porthole?

When I was just 4 years old, I boarded my very first cruise ship. My family and I sailed on the Big Red Boat, which was basically a Disney cruise to the Bahamas.

To this day, our cruise on Le Grand Bateau Rouge is one of my earliest childhood memories. I remember being terrified of Tweety Bird and the characters around the ship. I remember one day with rough seas where the pools had big nets on top and we couldn’t swim.

I also have fond memories of our spacious cruise ship cabin. It was huge and featured bunk beds (every toddler’s dream!) and a wooden crib for my little sister.

However, one of my most vivid memories was imagining that our porthole would somehow dip into the sea where we would observe sea creatures and mermaids! I thought it would be like The Little Mermaid.

Of course, in hindsight, that’s not how most portholes work on modern cruise ships. These large windows inside a cruise ship cabin are not submerged in the sea to give a view of the underwater world like a submarine.

So what is a cruise ship porthole? If we can’t see mermaids and sea creatures, what good are cruise ship portholes?


Since the beginning of navigation, ships have been designed with portholes. Essentially, portholes are large, circular-shaped windows on a ship’s hull that allow in natural light. They are usually made of glass and mounted on a brass metal frame.

Portholes have been circular in shape since the 15th century, in which the windows were actually designed to fit the cannons. At the time, the guns were too big to fit on ships, so they had to drill large holes to store them properly on the ship.

Eventually, ships did not need to have cannons on board. Once the guns were removed, the remaining portholes could be opened and allowed sailors to take a breath of fresh air in good weather.

Throughout history, it was difficult to get enough light and air on board a ship. With sailors spending weeks below decks in rough seas, portholes provided much-needed light and air aboard the ship.

Classic cruise ships

Once the cruise ship industry started, ships were mostly built with cabins that had portholes.

For these older and smaller cruise ships, portholes are a key part of the ship’s design. These cabins are often sold as ocean view cabins and feature one or two large portholes.

For some, having a porthole in the cabin of their cruise ship is the perfect choice because it is very affordable. Ocean view staterooms are usually only a little more expensive than an inside stateroom, but still less expensive than a suite or balcony. Select ocean view cabins also offer more space for families without the high price tag of a suite.

Regarding the size of the portholes, these can vary depending on the ship. Most portholes are usually between 12 and 21 inches in diameter, which can be a nice source of natural light in the cabin of your small cruiser!

Modern cruise ships

For modern cruise ships, cruise lines are ditching portholes to add more balconies and suites aboard mega ships. Ocean view cabins are increasingly difficult to find on newer ships, although they can still be found when booked early enough.

The largest ship in the world, Wonder of the Seas, has several decks of balcony cabins. On the other hand, only one or two decks on board are dedicated to cabins with an ocean view and always have portholes.

Improvements in engineering and design have allowed cruise ships to safely install balconies and doors in staterooms. On modern cruise ships, there are far more balcony cabins than ocean view cabins, which is more profitable for the cruise line.

Due to advances in technology, portholes are no longer needed as a source of light or air. In fact, most cruise lines continue to replace functional portholes with similarly shaped designs throughout the ship’s hull to maintain a classic cruise ship aesthetic appeal.

Some interior staterooms on newer ships actually feature faux portholes with a virtual ocean view.

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