Why Do Some Cruise Ships Have “Wings” on Their Funnels?

Updated: Jul. 04, 2023

Many travelers prefer a leisurely cruise to a packed airplane. So why do some cruise ships have wings?

Even if you’ve never cruised before, you can probably visualize a cruise ship pretty easily. They’re tall and wide, with a pointed bow. Lifeboats are stacked on the sides, along with wraparound walking decks, and they’re filled with story upon story of windowed cabins and crowned with open decks (and maybe even a rollercoaster or water slide). But have you ever wondered, Why do cruise ships have wings?

You may already know about the big balls on cruise ships or be aware of some of the other hidden features on cruise ships. But there’s an essential part of the ship you might not have noticed before. It’s called a funnel, and it’s tall and colorful and usually sits on the very top of the ship, toward the stern (or back). On some ships, that funnel looks like wings.

It’s not the same answer as how do cruise ships float, but we just had to find out why some ships look ready to take off into the skies. (We also wanted to know more about cruise ship code words.) The possibility of flying cruise ships was too good to pass up, so we’ve thoroughly investigated the form and function of these “wings” to find out what’s going on with them.

Why do cruise ships have a funnel?

Ocean-going ships have had funnels on them since the early days of steam-propelled travel. When sails were replaced with coal-burning boilers, ship engineers needed somewhere to send all that smoke and exhaust from the engines below deck. Smoky decks would definitely ruin the romance on singles cruises!

Funnels acted as chimneys, taking the fumes from the boilers up through the ship and expelling it out into the open air. As well as offering all-inclusive cruises, today’s cruise ships are much cleaner than those old coal-burning steamships. But they still need funnels to expel the exhaust from the engines away from passengers and crew.

Just like the stabilizer fins found on the bottom of all cruise ships, the funnels are an essential part of the ship’s operations. Usually, the number and size of the funnels relates to the size of the engines, although over the years ship designers have used funnels as a way to delineate cruise ship branding, provide extra space for guests and more. Disney Cruise Line even has a fake funnel with a youth club inside! That’s just one of the Disney cruise secrets we found out.

Why do cruise ships have wings?

Is it a bird? (Or a cruise duck?) Is it a plane? Is it a flying ship? If you see a cruise ship with wings, there’s only one cruise line it could belong to, and that’s Carnival. There’s a reason they’re one of our favorite cruises. The hugely recognizable “whale tail”-shaped funnel first appeared on the Tropicale Carnival ship in 1982, and it’s been a staple on every ship since.

The split-wing design directs engine emissions out to either side of the ship, instead of simply up into the air like a traditional funnel. However, Carnival didn’t come up with the iconic funnel design all on their own. An earlier ocean liner from 1962, the SS France, also featured funnels with wings. This kind of insider cruising knowledge can help you figure out how to save money on a cruise.

Why do Carnival ships have wings?

Why do cruise ships have wings? Because they make the ship’s brand immediately recognizable. Even though it’s not on the biggest cruise ship, the distinctive wings on Carnival ships can be seen for literal nautical miles around, and the classic red, white and blue paint stands out as well against the white of the ship, creating a distinctive look that couldn’t belong to any other cruise line.

In fact, Carnival actually holds the patent on its funnel design to make sure that no other cruise line can copy it. Before designer Joe Farcus crowned the Tropicale with wings in 1982, Carnival operated for eight years using repurposed second-hand ocean liners that they converted to cruise ships. The Tropicale was the company’s first purpose-built cruise ship, so it’s not really surprising that the brand has featured those recognizable wings on every Carnival ship ever since.

Do other cruise ship funnels have wings?

Although many other cruise ship lines have iconic funnel designs, no other cruise ship has wings on the funnel. Costa cruise ships are recognizable by their bright yellow funnels, and Disney cruises by their red ones, while other cruise ship lines such as Norwegian and Princess have their logos on their funnels. Take a look from the deck of the best Alaska cruise and you’ll see any number of iconic funnels.

Royal Caribbean has taken funnel design a step further by using the funnels on their ships as a base for an aerial lounge, either cantilevered out from or wrapped around the funnel to provide gorgeous views of the ocean from way up in the air. Check out the Royal Caribbean Icon of the Seas, their newest ship, for more details.

If you see a cruise ship with wings, it’s definitely one from the Carnival line—unless that ship is actually flying, in which case, please let us know immediately. Now that you know why cruise ships have wings, learn how to book smarter with the lowdown on the best rooms on a cruise ship.


  • Navim Group: “Iconic features or functional items? Let’s talk about Cruise Ships Funnels!”
  • High Seas Cruising: “Carnival Celebration Receives Her Iconic Funnel”
  • The Points Guy: “Fire-damaged Carnival cruise ship returns to service with missing ‘whale tail,’ and fans ask: Will it grow back?”
  • ShipLife.org: “Carnival Cruise Line”
  • The Points Guy: “This Carnival cruise ship made history. Now it’s being scrapped.”