Cruise & Ferry Review - Autumn/Winter 2023

152 INTERVIEW It’s all in the detail Royal Caribbean Group’s Claudia Machado gives Rebecca Gibson an insight into why perfecting the small design elements is key to delivering the best possible onboard experience 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, A rendering of the AquaDome on Icon of the Seas, which will debut in 2024