Interior Dialogue

File image courtesy CSIE

Published Feb 17, 2020 5:00 PM by Toby Walters, CEO, Cruise Ship Interiors Expo

A cruise ship’s interior is one of its defining features, and it represents an opportunity for the owner to create an identity for the vessel that expresses its brand values, whether they are centered on luxury, gastronomy, family, a spirit of adventure, sustainability or some combination thereof.

It has therefore been no surprise to see the cruise ships that have been specifically designed for Asian tastes differing considerably from counterparts aimed at European and American clientele. Bars, spas and deck chairs – staples of European and American lines – make way for more food halls, shopping choices and gambling facilities. 

Asian appetite

While the success of the Asian cruise market has been obscured for the moment, the recent events in China also serve to demonstrate the global nature of the cruise holiday as a tourist activity. The number of cruise destinations in Asia alone increased to 306 in 2019, up from 288 in 2018. 

Last year, the former P&O ship Oriana was repurposed for Chinese guests and rechristened Piano Land by Astro Ocean Cruise. The new owners describe themselves as "a cruise brand that better understands the Chinese people," and they are surely not alone. 

Costa Cruises, for example, has been operating in China’s cruise market since 2006, but it was only last year that the company took delivery of Costa Venezia. The ship’s entire interior has been designed for Chinese guests eager to experience the style and elegance of a visit to Venice from the comfort of a luxury ship cruising in regional waters.

Adventurous thinking 

Alongside the new fleets departing from Asian ports, there are an increasing number of expedition ships from which intrepid explorers can experience the poles in sheer luxury, while emerging cruise lines are targeting younger, trendier and more eco-conscious passengers. 

Indeed, the continued growth of the industry relies on the ability of cruise brands to attract new tourists and carve more market share from the committed cruise audience. While cruise line passengers now have a wider range of locations to enjoy than ever before, marketers know that the cruise attraction depends as much on the onboard experience as it does on itinerary.

Classical vs contemporary

Matching the right brand with the target audience is of critical importance, and interiors offer the opportunity to create mood and express brand aspirations. P&O’s heritage appeal to British guests is embedded in interiors that blend modernity with tradition; guests on Cunard ships, meanwhile, are seen to aspire to glamour and opulence, and to whiling away the hours in stately salons, grand ballrooms and dining room elegance. 

As the industry expands to serve emerging demographics, more knowledge and expertise is required on serving new and differing preferences. The addition of Virgin Voyages to the cruise pantheon opens the way for the Branson-owned brand to target millennials with a power that is perhaps out of reach for other marques. Accordingly, Scarlet Lady is big on live music and yoga sessions, the interiors are chic and ultra-modern, and cabins come kitted out with the latest tech but also eco-friendly accessories.

Conservation meets comfort

Meanwhile, the rise in eco-consciousness merits separate attention, with Arctic expedition operators particularly invested. Guests on such cruises are generally well-educated, affluent individuals who want to see the essence of conservation and adventure reflected not only in décor but in environmentally friendly and natural materials that evoke voyages past. 

However, luxury and elegance are valued as much in Arctic and Antarctic waters as they are in the Caribbean. As adventurous as they are, few passengers on these vessels would want to experience the conditions on pre-tourism polar voyages. An atmosphere that combines environmental responsibility and adventure with comfort and flair is therefore an essential ingredient in expedition cruising. 

Flavor of the month

There is also a mature market of guests already committed to cruising, whose loyalties need shaking with new attractions if owners are to secure extra market share. One ingredient that can prove decisive is the promise of new gastronomic experiences for an audience whose voracious appetite has become something of a cruise tradition. For the cruise ship interior designer, it can be a question of keeping up with cutting edge trends ashore: today, for example, Spanish tapas-style restaurants with a rustic, faux-industrial aesthetic are in vogue, while ‘street food’ served from mock market stalls is all the rage. 

Look no further than Princess Cruises’ Enchanted Princess for a French bistro conceived by the Michelin-starred Emmanuel Renault, for example. Again, today’s ‘expedition’ ship can set sail on the crest of a foodie wave: Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Endeavour has six gourmet restaurants, one of which is backed by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa.

As ever, the established cruise guest may simply demand attractions that catch the eye. The widely publicized "Magic Carpet" on board Celebrity Edge remains the only dining experience able to hover the equivalent of 13 stories above sea level. Carnival’s forthcoming Mardi Gras will feature the first at-sea rollercoaster, spanning 800 feet of deck space and reaching speeds of up to 40 miles per hour; it is unlikely to be the last. 

A platform for success

As new markets emerge, trends gain traction and aspirations change, cruise shipping’s younger brands and its established players are striving to keep pace. With new cruise shipbuilding and refurbishment both undergoing a boom, interior designers, architects, outfitters and cruise suppliers remain in demand. It was to service this market that the Cruise Ship Interiors Expo (CSIE) launched in Miami in 2019. Its success, and the subsequent success of an equivalent event in Barcelona in December, demonstrate that this is a market that has been crying out for special attention. 

In the wake of these debuts, CSIE is set to return to Miami Beach Convention Center on June 16-17, 2020. Preparation is already underway for its European counterpart to follow suit, with the second edition to take place at ExCeL London on December 2-3, 2020. For more information, visit https://cruiseshipinteriors-expo.com/.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.