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2012/03: Fundamentals of Cruise Ship Design PDF Print E-mail


cruise_design-title.gifBetween the debilitating generator fire that prompted the towing of the Costa Allegra to an island in the Seychelles and the disaster that was the Costa Concordia running aground off the coast of Italy, the cruising industry has recently taken on some water. Despite these highly publicized incidents, however, cruises continue to be a popular vacation option for hundreds of thousands of pleasure seekers worldwide. Of late I was fortunate enough to have taken an excursion with family on one of the newer ships, the Carnival Magic. Owned by the same company that owns the two aforementioned vessels, the liner was a floating resort of 1,300+ crew and 1,845 staterooms accommodating up to 3,690 guests. As the wear-and-tear on its systems, furnishings and materials is unrelenting, the ship’s designers had to keep design, durability and maintenance in mind.

A cruise ship sailing on the high seas is a moneymaker, so designing it in such a way as to operate efficiently, prevent excessive upkeep, and thwart disruptive repairs is essential. High traffic demands high performance materials that clean well and help slow the spreading of germs. When it actually comes time for a major remodel, the process must be fast (think 30 days!), so modularity via a kit of parts approach is a must: sinks integrated into countertops, light fixtures integrated into furniture, etc. Equally as important and similar to almost all hospitality venues, the design must be energetic, eye-catching, and a little over-the-top to fulfill guests’ expectations of an exotic escape.

With these objectives in mind, the fundamentals of cruise ship design consist of the following:

PERMANENCE | The less things move out of place, the less things have to be moved back into place, which not only cuts down on labor time, but also serves as a measure of safety. When waves pitch the ship to and fro, it is preferable for barstools, cocktail tables, lounge chairs and the like to stay anchored.


PATTERN | Patterns help hide flaws, create rhythm, and offer unlimited opportunities for riffing on a theme. The main drawback is that certain patterns may cause dizziness in some passengers, especially the elderly or – even more commonly – the inebriated.


PIZZAZZ | Most cruise ships are like Las Vegas, Broadway and Disneyworld all rolled into one big shimmering disco ball. Vacationers are looking for a little flash to transport them out of their ordinary lives and into a fantasy world, so iridescent, shiny, glittery and sparkly surfaces tend to be popular.


EASE OF ACCESS | Modular ceiling tiles are a maintenance crew’s best friend. Mechanical, plumbing, electrical, fire protection, data, sound, and security systems live between decks, but ship designers know how not to draw attention to them via – you guessed it – more pattern.


PRACTICALITY | Because they are easy to clean and allow technicians to get to the heart of the problem in minimal time, wall panels are also popular with the folks in Facilities. Likewise, raised floors with integrated floor grates allow water to drain exactly where needed for passengers’ protection.


SAFETY | Since litigation is hardly ever anyone’s idea of fun, safety is a primary concern on cruise ships. Designers pay a great deal of attention to paths of travel in hopes of preventing trips and falls. Smooth transitions between materials, non-slip surfaces, high-contrast finishes, lighted stair treads, and sturdy handrails abound.


EFFICIENCY | Conserving energy is not only good for the environment – it is good for ship owners’ bottom line as well. Technological advances in LED lighting have allowed the cruise lines to be green, save green, and feature green, along with any other color in the rainbow, which only adds to the Wow Factor.


WAYFINDING | Navigating one’s way around 14 decks of restaurants, bars, theaters, casinos, libraries, staterooms, shops, spas, fitness areas, pools, etc. can be overwhelming. If passengers don’t know where they are going, they won’t have as much fun and, more importantly, won’t spend as much money.


REFLECTIVITY | If designed poorly, marine vessels can be quite claustrophobic, especially if motion sickness sets in; therefore, designers go to great lengths to create the illusion of openness by integrating reflective surfaces and as much glass as possible so ailing passengers can look for the horizon to help settle their stomachs.


TEXTURE | Part and parcel to pattern is texture, and the vertical surfaces on cruise ships are swathed in it. Stone, ceramic tile, mosaic tile, heavily embossed vinyl wallcoverings, and pre-fabricated panels are there for the touching in corridors, waiting areas, lounges, spa treatment rooms, and beyond.


COLOR | Integrated into every interior aspect is color. Vibrant hues contribute to celebration and joy, so cruise ships use it everywhere they can. From the murals and artwork to lighting and window treatments, from floors and ceilings to upholstery and countertops, color goes a long way to make a cruise ship sail.


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