Creating ferry interiors with long-lasting appeal

Rebecca Gibson asks four ferry executives how they design vessel interiors that enable them to deliver an exceptional onboard experience and achieve their business goals

Creating ferry interiors with long-lasting appeal

Tallink Grupp

The Sunset Lounge on Tallink Grupp’s Silja Serenade is a popular spot with guests

Ferry operators have significantly boosted the interior budget for their newbuild and refurbishment projects, but they are still faced with the challenge of creating appealing, yet durable, spaces that will withstand the demands of daily service. We ask executives from Irish Ferries, Spirit of Tasmania, Tallink Grupp and Viking Line to share their insights.

How do your brand values impact interior design and outfitting decision-making?
Bernard Dwyer, CEO of Spirit of Tasmania: Spirit of Tasmania is one of Australia’s most iconic travel experiences and provides a vital connection between mainland Australia and the island state of Tasmania. When we extensively refurbished our iconic red-and-white ships Spirit of Tasmania I and Spirit of Tasmania II in 2015, we engaged Swedish designer Richard Nilsson of Figura and asked him to create interior spaces that were fresh, contemporary and comfortable to help us continue to deliver an exceptional onboard experience.

Gustaf Eklund, head of business development at Viking Line: Viking Lines’ customer promise is to deliver the best value on the Baltic sea. Over the years, our customers have also added signature attributes such as red, Nordic, fun, warm, welcoming, easygoing, folksy, affordable and pioneering (particularly in terms of sustainability) to our brand. We discuss all these characteristics when planning major interior design and outfitting projects. When designing our new Viking Glory (due for delivery in 2021), we took our interior architect on a cruise and discussed our company values, our market position and what our customers think about us. This helped us define the core goals of the project and all our design decisions were made with these in mind. Any experienced interior architect can produce an attractive design, but the interior design will be more relevant and long-lasting if it’s closely tied to our brand and ethos.

Andrew Sheen, managing director of Irish Ferries: We want to create comfortable, pleasant and airy spaces with neutral tones that align with our thoughts around modern classic design to ensure the vessel stands the test of time. We put our customers at the heart of all our interior design choices and give them options about the level of accommodation they require. Above all, we want to deliver the romantic idea of sailing on a high-quality vessel that has been specifically designed for the route.

Captain Tarvi-Carlos Tuulik, head of ship management at Tallink Grupp: We consider the needs and preferences of all our customer segments when designing and upgrading interiors for our vessels – we aim to familiarise them with our products and services but offer them pleasant surprises where possible. For example, we’ve contemplated our brand positioning, what is important for our customers and what factors will influence their onboard behaviour during the design process for our newest shuttle vessel MyStar (due to debut in early 2022). The key brand promise for our shuttle vessels is that they are effortless, reliable, fast and modern, so we try to incorporate this into the interiors too.

What are your fundamental priorities when making interior layout and design choices?
BD: The comfort and safety of our passengers, alongside durability and long-lasting design, were our key priorities for the recent refurbishments on our ships and as a result, we have practical and functional spaces that are open, inviting and contemporary. The upgrades were designed to give passengers more onboard experiences to enjoy and even more reasons to fall in love with sea travel. We’ve ordered two new steel monohulls from Finnish shipbuilder Rauma Marine Constructions to replace our existing vessels and we’ll use everything we learned during their successful refurbishments to guide the design principles for the interior design and layout for the new vessels.

GE: Business performance must naturally be our priority but it’s possible to create synergies between business and interior design goals. Every square metre and design choice onboard a newbuild must be optimised to ensure profitability, but it’s crucial that we don’t forget to consider our customers’ preferences. We must ask ourselves how our interior design choices will speak to them – will they find it attractive? Will it prompt them to book a travel experience with Viking Line?

AS: It’s always a balance between form and function. We aim to deliver a ship that aligns with our customers’ expectations, but also has functional spaces that allow for service flexibility. For example, Boylan’s Brasserie self-service restaurant and Café Lafeyette serve as the main passenger throughput areas when W. B. Yeats is operating at full passenger capacity. However, we can also run the ship’s full café, bar and meals services from these two venues during off-peak periods when we have lower passenger numbers. This allows us to close off the vessel’s main bar, à la carte restaurant, freight drivers’ lounge and club class facilities. Similarly, we can run a full food and beverage service from the freight drivers’ lounge if we’re sailing in freight-only mode.

TCT: We operate both cruise and shuttle vessels, and people travel on them for different reasons, so we must consider different factors when designing interiors. Our shuttle services must be fast and reliable, so it’s important to have facilities to make the embarkation, disembarkation, check-in and boarding processes are as quick and simple as possible. On a cruise vessel, our priority is to provide a relaxing atmosphere, functional buffet areas and soothing interiors with a variety of services to make the onboard experience enjoyable.

What onboard passenger experience and atmosphere do you seek to deliver through your interior design choices?
BD: Our interior spaces are all designed with our passengers’ needs in mind. Our team put a lot of thought into how to improve the natural flow of passengers as they board via the passenger decks. The key information hub and reception are located close to the main entry point so our crew can assist passengers, and lounge sitting areas are located alongside the expansive windows so passengers can maximise sea views. We’re also committed to featuring Tasmanian products, so the interior timber is made from Tasmanian Oak and our bars and food outlets serve some of the state’s finest local produce.

GE: When we’re planning how to use space, we prioritise offering panoramic views over our beautiful archipelago and aim to create vessels where every customer can find a favourite spot and enjoy the onboard experience. Specifically for Viking Glory, we’ve created a folksy, timeless design that represents our pioneering Nordic maritime heritage.

AS: Our aim is to create a relaxing atmosphere for all our tourism, business and freight customers. We want to bring a romantic aspect to the travel experience and make it something passengers enjoy, rather than something they feel they must endure (as many people do with airline travel). As part of this, we work hard to make our ships feel spacious and ensure that our public areas are largely open to allow people to flow freely through the vessel, with each area appearing to blend seamlessly into the next.

TCT: Customers on our cruise vessels want to create memorable experiences with family and friends, so we focus on creating interiors that provide a soothing and enjoyable voyage. Meanwhile, our shuttle vessels are mainly used by customers needing to quickly travel between Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland, so we focus on providing modern comfort and an environmentally friendly travel option. When MyStar starts service on the route alongside Megastar next year, we’ll create a ‘green link’ between the two cities, with both shuttle vessels operating on LNG fuel. Hence, MyStar’s interiors will be themed around sustainability.

Do you ever have to compromise on interior design to ensure that your vessels can withstand the rigours of a busy ferry operation?
GE: We have ships on routes with very high passenger volumes each day, so we must be sure that the interior design can withstand constant use and endure over a long period of time.. AS: We have found that material choice has significantly improved over the past decade, so we’ve had fewer issues with compromising on durability. Of course, we often discuss material colour selection with interior architects.

TCT: The vessels must always comply with the requirements outlined in the Safety of Life at Sea convention, which naturally imposes some design constraints. For instance, there are limits on the length and height of different open areas, materials must have Marine Equipment Directive certificates and furniture must be fixed to the floor or walls. Durability is also important because the vessel will be in service for decades. Consequently, designing an attractive vessel that customers will love but that also meets all these requirements and does not become dated quickly is quite challenging. We can’t include design elements on a whim – we must always think years ahead.

Which space or interior feature onboard your ship(s) receives the most praise from your passengers?
BD: We know that passengers love the lounges and bar areas onboard our ships – especially Bar 7, which has a downtown bar-style design, and the Top Deck Lounge, which has a beach club lounge feel. This is where our passengers can relax, enjoy a Tasmanian beverage and meet fellow travellers.

GE: We’re sure that many of our passengers will love the spaces onboard our new Viking Glory when she debuts later this year.

AS: The à la carte Lady Gregory restaurant onboard our award-winning W. B. Yeats often receives high praise from our passengers. The restaurant is furnished with contemporary décor and is an attractive and opulent space with deep velour carpets, as well as a textured, mirrored metal ceiling designed to resemble waves by Minima of Ireland.

TCT: Some of our customers who enjoy shopping really love our Megastar Superstore, which is the biggest floating supermarket on the Baltic Sea. Others adore the Sunset Lounge that we added to Silja Serenade a few years ago, while the children always love our fantastic play areas. We offer so much choice on our vessels that there really is something for everyone.

This article was first published in the 2021 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
10 June 2021

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