Inside the class of 2016

Interior innovations abound, both on ships under construction and on those undergoing refurbishment. Bill Becken reports on the latest trends

Inside the class of 2016
A rendering of the Havana Pool design on Carnival Vista
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

The work of interior designers and others involved with space planning and interior design for both newbuilds and refits increasingly centres on creating lively and surprising new public spaces intended as profitable revenue centres.

For almost any cruise line’s building and interior specialists, the aim is to diffuse throughout the fleet, as soon as practicable, any changes or innovations that seem to work well once installed on a state-of-the-art newbuild or refit.

Carnival Cruise Line’s new vessel, Carnival Vista, due for delivery at the end of April, is the first new ship for the brand in quite a few years – and the first in a new series. “We will also be working throughout 2016 and 2017 on her sister ship, Vista 2. Also, we will spend time planning and conceiving potential future ships,” says Petu Kummala, director, interior design and architecture, Carnival Cruise Line.

“On the refurbishment side, we have 24, soon to be 25, vessels that involve many projects of varying degrees – from simple repair and maintenance work to full-blown refurbishment projects during drydock,” adds Kummala. “So there is a lot going on there as well. Often, a brand’s desire to add new features to existing ships involves a lot of work and complexity – but we’re quite ready.”

Holland America Line (HAL) is revamping its fleet with a similar focus on high-quality refit work, says My Nguyen, deputy director of interior design, Holland America Group: “Historically, a line’s newbuild would have the latest and greatest,” she says. “The existing fleet would have more standard upgrades. This year, 2016, is exciting, for not only have we developed great concepts for our ships – in particular the Eurodam (a renovated Signature-class vessel that completed drydock in December, at Freeport, Bahamas) and the Koningsdam (a newbuild to debut in April, 2016 – the line’s largest vessel ever); but we’re actively implementing changes fleetwide, putting significant ideas and funding into changes/improvements across the fleet.”

A smaller but distinctive and upscale operation like Norway’s Hurtigruten hopes to ride a similar tide with refit and newbuild activity. The intention is to satisfy – and create repeat customers among – its guests with new spaces intended as profit centres.

“In 2016, Hurtigruten will be refurbishing four coastal vessels – three in the first quarter and one in the fourth quarter,” says Thomas Westergaard, senior vice president, hotel operations and product development. “The Nordkapp, Nordnorge, Polarlys and Kong Harald will all have major refurbishment. This incorporates a new look, which we have named the New Arctic Interior. We are also rebuilding and converting a newly acquired vessel into a brand new, 200-berth expedition ship, the Spitsbergen, to become operational in early May.”

As part of its US$300 million ‘brand enhancement initiative, HAL is primarily engaged in transforming suites on the line’s Signature-, Vista- and R-Class ships. The next ship to follow the Eurodam in refurbishment is the Oosterdam, a member of HAL’s four-sister Vista-class. She will head into drydock in April at the Fincantieri shipyard, Palermo, Sicily. Eight more vessels will receive the suite enhancements as they complete drydocks scheduled over the next few years.

Nguyen points with particular pride to the changes on the Eurodam, starting with the staterooms. “I don’t know if traditionally cruise lines across the board actually paid enough attention to staterooms, due to this kind of mentality: ‘Why have people staying cosily in their staterooms when we want them spending money in public areas?’ But I feel that Holland America is investing to make sure that all of its venues are enticing and fantastic. And so, when you set foot in your stateroom, it will still feel like you will be enjoying your own space in a luxurious hotel.

“Maybe it’s because of my background in design, but when I’m booking a vacation, I always look to see what the room looks like and what the bathrooms look like. Because for me that tends to indicate how, in my personal environment, with my eyes open or closed, I’m going to feel there. Am I going to feel pampered or is it just kind of a forgettable space that is not really going to contribute to my vacation? And I think that is what Holland America is doing now with all of our upgrades – approaching things holistically,” she says.

Kummala echoes such a sentiment. “People appreciate design innovation more than ever,” he says. “It is what they have come to expect. That certainly applies when they go on vacation. So we also have to be able to provide that. It’s a ‘trend’ having a positive impact within cruise ship design.

“One thing I think will be reflected in 2016 is the fact that design in general is much more prevalent and appreciated nowadays – not only in the cruise industry but shoreside and everywhere. Ten to 15 years ago, for example, the buildings being built were basically just maximising the square footage without a lot of thought going into design. Now they’re much more interesting. That reflects within our industry as well.”

As for new public areas, thanks to their revenue potential, they are targets of higher-tech innovation – even for a smaller cruise concern like Hurtigruten. “It is all about creating an onboard programme – with both ingenuity and better onboard technology – consisting of more activities and with more options to choose from, in light of our guests’ many different tastes and needs,” says Westergaard. “We are moving into multiple concepts on our vessels to serve up a wider variety of products for a new generation of more experienced travellers.” Some existing cafés have been upgraded to the equivalent of upscale fine dining venues, with menus focusing on local Norwegian foods. Norwegian spirits and beers from the Arctic are available to accompany the guest experience of the northern lights or the midnight sun, while onboard shops sell more outdoor gear than previously.

HAL’s new onboard spaces play to a more mainstream market than Hurtigruten’s and to a more premium market than Carnival’s. But they are no less intended to elicit excitement, interest and, depending on the site, revenue. Nguyen notes that, on the Eurodam, Koningsdam, Oosterdam and other ships to follow, “not only have we been engaged in some pretty significant upgrades when it comes to the hotel side, but we have relied on brand partnerships.”

The Koningsdam’s trademark Music Walk area will present the fruit of at least two such Holland America Line partnerships (present on the Eurodam, too, and to appear on the Oosterdam when it completes its drydock in April) – Billboard Onboard (with Billboard Magazine), offering a sing-along piano/guitar spot centring on hit music from many eras and across such genres as rock, pop and country; and Lincoln Center Stage (with New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts), a collaboration featuring classical music quintets.

“We took existing real estate, previously an adjacent sports bar and piano bar, gutted it and installed the Billboard Onboard concept,” says Nguyen. “So not only is the new space branded, it’s a brand new space. The point is, if you were on the Eurodam in 2015 and you walked back onto that part of the deck in 2016, it would look very different…but it would still feel like you’re on a Holland America ship.”

Nguyen says the trend at the brand is to take “small enclosed spaces and open them up to create dynamic open concepts. We designed our spacious suites and found the balance between function and pure elegance. Experience and décor go hand-in-hand: we approached the designs holistically by enhancing the interiors to complement the guest experience upgrades.”

Meanwhile, at Carnival, Kummala points with pride to a stern- and ship-girdling, wholly new space aboard the Carnival Vista (not a Vista-class vessel) – the Havana Bar & Pool area. All spaces will be Havana-themed, including a new category of staterooms with special Lanai balconies boasting hammocks and tropical décor. “These are balconies that have access to the Lanai deck, which goes around the whole ship and also to the aft pool area,” says Kummala. “It is in a great location, you’re closer to the sea and the aft of the ship, with a beautiful view of the ship’s wake.

“The area will be very popular. The Lanai deck in general, being close to the sea and very wide, is a great new feature. It gives us an opportunity to have covered interior spaces extending to outside with the ability to walk along the deck. We’ve had similar designs in the past but this an exciting amplification of the concept that will feature multiple outdoor dining areas. We think guests will really enjoy it,” he says.

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Bill Becken
By Bill Becken
Thursday, April 7, 2016