Designing a ship for the new era of experience-first travel

Studio DADO celebrates the launch of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Prima, which boasts an elevated design that rivals anything on land

Designing a ship for the new era of experience-first travel
The Penrose Atrium is Prima’s ‘Great Space’. Its overlapping planes and organic curves create a visceral sense of wonder and arrival – it’s a place to see and be seen

Norwegian Prima is a first of a kind – not only for Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) fleet but also in terms of design concept for the cruise industry. Chosen as the designer of six signature restaurants, multiple public spaces and staterooms onboard the vessel, Miami-based Studio DADO has worked with NCL to help make Prima the most experiential ship to ever set sail. Together, the companies aim to evolve the cruise industry and create the kind of experiences that will turn travellers into lifelong cruise enthusiasts. 

DADO applied the same experience-first mentality when designing both the guest accommodations and grand spaces such as the atrium and the restaurants onboard Prima. In every space and for every design concept, the team considered what a guest would carry with them after their trip  not just the memory of great food and excellent service, but also the feelings they experienced. And design is a crucial component to sparking that emotional response. 

“The NCL team gave us a great deal of latitude to implement our creative vision and help bring Prima to a new level of sophistication – one that rivals the most distinctive and exciting destinations in the world,” says Yohandel Ruiz, one of Studio DADO’s four founders.

“Great cuisine is something that touches the soul,” says Ruiz. “It elicits an enduring memory that speaks to culture and romance, which is why the dining spaces are so integral to the Prima experience and the NCL brand. It’s also why we designed the kinds of restaurants that would be considered ‘destination dining’ on land in any great city in the world – they just happen to be on a cruise ship.” 

Each of Prima’s restaurants has its own design language, but each one feels genuine and authentic. Whether the cuisine is Japanese, Mexican or French, DADO’s focus was to give guests a true and lasting impression. To achieve this, they used lighting, custom artwork, attention to detail and culturally resonant materials – and the team did its homework.

When creating Prima’s Mexican restaurant Los Lobos, for example, DADO researched Mexican modernist design, used authentic Mexican materials, and flew in Mexican artist Jet Martinez to create a striking mural. The entrance walls are framed with hand-carved alebrijes, the brightly coloured sculptures of mythical creatures, setting the tone for a unique experience within. Bold colours and simple volumes define an aesthetic that is modern but welcoming, comfortable and fun. 

Authenticity is also at the core of the design for French restaurant Le Bistro. It is a dramatic, sophisticated space that is undeniably French. The furniture, herringbone parquet floors and wall panelling all convey elegant, clean lines that contrast with the extravagance of three floor-to-ceiling chandeliers that dominate the space. And, as it does in every restaurant, DADO has created a layout that will allow everyone to have a good seat. There are booths near the windows with gilded dividers, offering ocean views and a more private dining experience. The banquette seating on the other side of the room uses a well-placed mirror so that those with their backs to the room can see the activity behind them and soak in the ambience. 

In Teppanyaki restaurant Hasuki, DADO drew inspiration from traditional Japanese pottery and textiles. Every seat has a view of a beautiful piece of artwork. Meanwhile, at sushi restaurant Nama, DADO was inspired by the rich, orange colour of masago. And at Cagney’s Steakhouse, it created a bold, mid-century space that captures the essence of American cuisine, all the way down to details inspired by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Rounding out the dining options is NCL’s second Onda by Scarpetta, a collaboration with the renowned Scarpetta restaurants in New York, Miami and London. The space’s striking arches and elegant materials pay homage to both the traditional and modern culinary experience of Italy.

Prima is layered with a series of experience-rich spaces that would feel at home on land, but with the bonus of being on a ship that visits multiple exotic locales. One such space, the multi-storey Penrose atrium, was conceived by DADO as an “architectural and engineering marvel never before attempted on a cruise ship.” 

“It really is something we’re quite proud of,” says Zack Niphatkosalsilp, the DADO designer credited with making this 3D jigsaw puzzle work. The atrium, which blends stunning contemporary architecture with the principles of a great public space, is truly emblematic of this Prima experience. It leaves guests wanting more. 

This article was first published in the 2022 Autumn/Winter issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.   

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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
08 September 2022

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