YSA Design uses creative solutions for river cruise ships

Jan Krefting outlines how YSA Design overcomes the challenges of river cruise ship design and explains why he thinks the sector will recover faster than the ocean cruise industry

YSA Design uses creative solutions for river cruise ships
YSA Design carefully considered every piece of furniture and decorative element to optimise space when designing the Explorer staterooms onboard Viking Idun

After accumulating 13 years’ experience of designing spaces onboard ocean-going passenger vessels, YSA Design (YSA) received its first commission from a river cruise line in 1998. The task was to design the cabins and public spaces onboard Viking River Cruises’ first vessel, the 150-guest Viking Danube. 

Since then, the river cruise operator has called on YSA’s expertise to design all its vessels built for operation in Europe, Russia, China and Egypt. Thanks largely to this fruitful relationship, YSA now has a wealth of experience in the sector, a varied portfolio of river ship projects and a thorough understanding of the challenges involved in vessel design.

The need for space efficiency onboard will always be a significant factor influencing river ship design. According to Jan Krefting, partner and senior architect at YSA, the tension between the demand for larger vessel capacity and the limits of the waterways has become particularly apparent in recent years owing to the consequences of climate change.

“In addition to waterway-related size restrictions, river cruise ships face challenges such as changing seasonal water levels, bridges and locks,” he explains. “Although ships have been getting bigger, there are still strict limits on how long, wide, deep and tall they can be – and this has called for creative solutions and a clever use of space.”

A vessel featuring a small gym or shallow pool on deck, for example, will require sunshades, but they add height to the ship. “One solution is to reduce the height of the cabins below, but we don’t want guests to feel cramped or claustrophobic,” says Krefting. “A better solution is flexible shading that can be collapsed before the ship passes under a bridge and raised again afterwards. However, these structures also add height and even 100 millimetres in height has an impact for the decks below.”

Contemporary projects sometimes require the hull of a river ship to be designed to maximise deck space. Viking River Cruises, for instance, builds its European vessels with a flatter, wider bow similar to that of a freight barge, leaving room for an additional forward area. This venue – named Aquavit Terrace – now features on all Viking Longships and has been designed by YSA to offer 180-degree scenic views.

The low square footage of river ships also affects the types of itineraries cruise lines can offer. 

“Onboard entertainment spaces are limited, and guests spend more time on land,” says Krefting. “While ocean-going passenger ships are essentially all-inclusive resorts on the water, river cruise vessels are more like small, floating hotels. Passengers disembark in the heart of town and visit the local bars, restaurants, shopping centres, museums and theatres.”

This kind of holiday experience benefits from a stronger relationship between a ship’s identity and the itinerary it serves, says Krefting. Hence, styling and vessel interiors must be in complete harmony with brand aspirations.  

“YSA creates an authentic experience for guests by designing interiors to reflect the culture and architectural style of the region the ship is cruising in, but we also consider the preferences of each audience,” he says. “While European passengers generally prefer an onboard experience more representative of the area they’re visiting, the American market tends to cherish its home comforts, so flexibility is crucial.”

Other regional considerations are related to necessity rather than style. However, this can sometimes result in a more harmonious design. “For example, in China, Southeast Asia and Egypt, heat and humidity demand mosquito nets to prevent uninvited visitors from tarnishing the onboard experience,” explains Krefting. “Fortunately, when implemented properly, mosquito nets can be used to emphasise the exotic atmosphere that cruises in these destinations provide.”

Krefting believes that one unanticipated outcome of Covid-19 may be that it encourages growth trends in smaller-scale river cruising which outpace its ocean-going counterpart. “New drivers include a greater willingness among domestic tourists to try out the cruise experience and a preference for cruising that is never far from a point of disembarkation.

“River cruises have traditionally catered to older generations, so operators have always placed special emphasis on safety and hygiene. As an example, we worked with antimicrobial materials on Viking River Cruises’ ships long before the Covid-19 outbreak. Now, these types of holidays are attracting younger audiences and, post-pandemic, this clientele is likely to prioritise these matters too.”

Krefting adds that cruise operators are likely to further enhance safety and hygiene, especially in terms of air quality and onboard testing and isolation facilities. 

“These solutions will help river cruising to return to pre-pandemic guest occupancy levels, hopefully in the very near future. With its relative safety and economic advantages, this form of tourism will go from strength to strength.”

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2021 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
03 December 2021

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