Creating grand designs for grand passenger ships

Experts from Carnival, RCL and Stena explain how designing a ship is akin to planning a small city 

Creating grand designs for grand passenger ships
Carnival Vista has multiple innovative venues, inlcuding an IMAX cinema (Image: Carnival Cruise Line)

By Guest |

This article was first published in Spring/Summer 2018 issue of the International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Legendary American art director and graphic designer Paul Rand said: “Design is everything. And everything is design.”

In the travel industry, that’s an aphorism worth repeating: the look and feel of a hotel, aircraft or vessel determines the guest experience. A designer’s job is among the most important, particularly on cruise ships, which are more than just a means of transport, but rather the place the guests spend most of their time. In other words, their job isn’t just to design, but to orchestrate.

“We’re on a quest to create beautiful designs that are also highly functional and durable over time,” says Petu Kummala, director of interior design and architecture at Carnival Cruise Line. “A strong emphasis is placed on variety and choice, which guests greatly value. The more choices we can offer them, the more enjoyable their cruise experience will be.” Kummala wants to give guests new things to find, see, do and experience up until the last day of their cruise, particularly on longer voyages. With mostly dining, drinking and relaxing done on the ships – especially on itineraries with sea days – guests need to be kept entertained by, and attracted to, their surroundings.

How that manifests itself has been taking on ever-new guises in recent years, with cruise lines redefining ship design, and with it, the onboard experience. From family-oriented vessels, to six-star luxury and expedition ships, the past decade has seen remarkable ambition and change. According to Kummala, even subtle design changes can vastly change the overall experience, particularly when prompted by previous guests’ experiences. “Whether we’re enhancing the guest areas, food and entertainment offerings or how things are designed for the end user, guest and team member feedback plays a major role in developing beautiful and functional designs that are long-lasting,” he explains. “When it came to Carnival Horizon (launched in March), for example, we wanted to continue the success of Carnival Vista’s design by improving some of the existing features, while at the same time creating new designs, concepts and venues.”

“The inspiration for the ship’s interiors come from all over the world,” adds Kummala, noting how the likes of the Havana Bar, Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse and JiJi Asian Kitchen create an onboard cultural melting pot.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.’s vice president of newbuilding architectural design Kelly Gonzalez says that while design is often mistaken for simply interiors, it is much more than that. Flow and circulation – that is, how guests are able to move around the ship, particularly from stateroom to public areas – is fundamental to the overall experience. Each ship is a blank canvas at the start of the design process, she adds. “First, we have to decide what are the public spaces, what size will they be and where they will go. It’s only then we dig into the design of the individual spaces.”

Design innovation is in Royal Caribbean’s corporate DNA. “Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, pushes for architects and designers to think outside the box – he’s always saying: “go bolder, make no small plans”,” Gonzalez comments. “Innovation plays an incredibly strong role in each of the brands, but what that means can be very different brand to brand.” Celebrity Edge, the forthcoming flagship for the Celebrity Cruises brand, is an example of this. A notable feature is the ship’s headline-grabbing Magic Carpet, an outward-facing cantilevered platform. What started with a discussion about how guests get on and off the ship ended with the idea of creating an external area that that drifts between decks, providing different functions and experiences, at different heights, at different times of the day. Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean International’s ships are all very diverse, which is what makes working on them so much fun, says Gonzalez.

“What really defines the Oasis-class ships is the approach to the ship in terms of neighbourhoods, each with a ‘soul’ and a ‘character’,” she says. “A customer can feel that when they’re onboard the ship – and when moving between areas.”

Royal Caribbean International works with multiple firms to design and create what Gonzalez says is a “richer, more diverse” product. “We have an army of lighting, art and graphic consultants, water and landscape specialists, all managed by our internal team,” she notes. Interior design is important on passenger ferries too. According to Stena Line’s head of onboard services Per Ola Jonnerheim, these vessels must provide modern, clean, simple, but functional spaces – something that will last, without becoming outdated.

Stena’s fleet is being gradually upgraded based on a design manual, authored by Jonnerheim to provide “clear guidelines in terms of the colours, the materials, the furniture” for each ferry.

“When we need to update the cabin, or the restaurant, we follow the design manual,” he says. “It takes five to 10 years until all vessels are completely upgraded. The latest ships, which will arrive in 2019, will be the first to boast the new-look design. Working with several shipyards and other suppliers makes keeping a consistent design that is both simple and functional a continual challenge.”

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