Machado and her team spend 12 to 18 months meeting with vendors and meticulously evaluating potential products and accessories
Whenever any of the brands in Royal Caribbean Group (RCG) unveils plans for a new cruise ship, much of the hype centres around major attractions such as the aqua parks, the theatres, the restaurants, the bars and the accommodation. However, RCG’s architectural design and quality standards manager Claudia Machado and her team are focused on much smaller, and often underappreciated, details.
“People are drawn to our cruise ships because of all the amazing venues and innovations they offer, but it’s actually the small elements they overlook – such as the carpets, furniture, soft furnishings and accessories – that make or break their onboard experience,” she says. “Although the chairs aren’t the focal point of a restaurant, guests won’t enjoy the dining experience if they’re uncomfortable to sit on or they’re the wrong height for the table. Similarly, issues like ripped carpets, broken furniture, faded curtains or rough towels in the bathrooms will negatively impact a guest’s overall experience and impression of the ship.”
To prevent this from happening, Machado and her team spend 12 to 18 months meeting with vendors and meticulously evaluating potential products and accessories against a set of strict criteria to ensure they meet the brand’s aesthetic, practical, cost, sustainability and regulatory requirements. This is a challenging task, particularly for a large ship like Royal Caribbean International’s latest newbuild, Icon of the Seas, which will have more than 13,000 pieces of loose furniture when it debuts in January 2024.
“We must strike a delicate balance between multiple factors when procuring commodities for a cruise ship,” says Machado. “For example, there are operational, cost and sustainability considerations that help guide the process. Our guests expect high-quality products, more now than ever before, and our intent is to go beyond what is expected to deliver the best vacation experience possible.
“First and foremost, carpets, furniture and other commodities have to complement and elevate the design team’s vision for each onboard space. Secondly, our ships are used heavily 365 days a year, so all items must be sturdy and made from durable materials that can be cleaned and maintained easily, while retaining their original appearance. “Thirdly, we evaluate the suppliers we work with and the products we procure to ensure there is a balance of quality, service, and social and environmental responsibility that reaffirms our commitment to sustainable sourcing.”
One of the biggest challenges is sourcing products that comply with the strict health, safety and other maritime standards required for use onboard ships.
“Maritime regulations are becoming stricter every year, which means vendors are being forced to change the materials they’re using and complete more tests to prove their products are compliant,” says Machado. “Some are finding this too difficult and expensive, so they’re dropping maritime products from their portfolios. “Meanwhile, other vendors in the market pitch their products to us but they don’t have the necessary approvals for use in a maritime environment – and often don’t fit with the needs of the customer and our unique design style – so we can’t work with them.”
Meeting with multiple vendors is a time-consuming but critical process, says Machado. “We must put the right piece of furniture made from the right material in the right place onboard the ship – for instance, a velvet chair wouldn’t work on an open pool deck where it will be exposed to the sun, salt spray and fluctuating temperatures, but it might be perfect for a luxurious cocktail lounge,” she explains. “We collaborate with vendors to understand the properties of their products, identify how best to use them and test prototypes in situ onboard one of our vessels to ensure they perform as expected. If necessary, we also work with them to adapt and customise their products to meet our specific requirements.”
Machado and her team continue to evaluate the performance of all products once vessels are in service too. “We constantly seek feedback from our onboard teams to find out what is and isn’t working and understand how our guests are reacting to the different products. If a product fails, we work with the manufacturer to identify why and develop a solution to improve it for future use. For instance, if we find that chair fabrics are fading too quickly or ripping easily, we might switch the material to prolong its lifecycle. We transfer the lessons we learn to our next newbuild project.”
Reflecting on the procurement process for her current newbuild project, Icon of the Seas, Machado says: “Building and outfitting a new ship is a very emotional process. We spend so many months finding the perfect products to deliver the most comfortable and impressive onboard experience for our guests, so we get increasingly excited and nervous the closer we get to completion. Icon of the Seas is the first in a new class, so it’s been a particularly challenging project but we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved and we’re confident that it will set new standards that exceed our own and our guests’ expectations.”