Sea Odyssey: A Journey Through Cruise Ship Design

by Kim Lanza, ICRAVE

When the word “cruise ship” comes to mind, you may envision the vast indigo blue sea with its soft crashing waves, the first class service where the waiter knows your preferred drink, and the endless activities at your fingertips. For many taking a cruise, this is the purest form of rest and relaxation.

In designing “the most luxurious cruise ship ever built”, I found myself challenged and inspired to dig into times past that once dominated and was perfected to the highest standards of luxury. I had the opportunity to learn a new way of designing not only driven by maritime regulations, but also by gaining a new appreciation for a way of traveling times past. Through extensive research on the history of ocean liners and cruise ships, I discovered that passengers at the turn of the 20th century had a very different experience from what we know today. Passengers would dress to impress, categorizing the voyage as a special event. The attention to detail and refinement was the main focus, making the travel experience truly breathtaking.

Original antique Victorian Print, 1896 London News

Originally, travel by sea was not always glamorous. Transatlantic crossing was for cargo purposes only and ships were employed purely for transport, delivering goods from point A to point B. It wasn’t until 1818, when the comfort of passengers was considered, and the idea of the transatlantic voyage became a leisurely activity. By the 1840s, the romance of a sea excursion came with the introduction of steamships, and the idea of pleasure cruising evolved with forms of entertainment.

Segregated into classes, our ancestors traveled from Europe to America looking for a bright, new future for themselves and their families. The idea of boarding an impressive vessel with the hopes and dreams of entering a new world was their goal. Beginning in the 1920s, also known as the “Glamorous Years”, the standards high were set high. As cruising became a more popular choice for vacationing, various cruise lines were born, each competing against each other for who was the fastest, biggest and best.

M.S. Vulcania First Class Ballroom, prior to WWII
The experience of cruising was considering luxurious, top of the line and carefree.

The official decline of this form of vacationing came in the 1950s with the introduction of air travel. Cruise line companies had to devise ways of rejuvenating their business and appeal to various audiences. The modern cruise industry began, and the term “cruise” ship was coined. This revitalization was enhanced by Hollywood and popular programming like The Love Boat. The audiences’ point of view toward cruising, which was currently shadowed by air travel, shifted and leisure cruising became a new vacation interest once again.

The Aqua Theater, Royal Caribbean Allure of Seas

From the 1970s-1990s, the look and feel of the ocean liner was replaced with the modern cruise ship designs known today. Luxurious and ornate detailing was substituted with simpler materials. The experience was not necessarily focused on the design and detail of the space, but rather the offerings — entertainment and abundance of cuisine. The lack of attention to detail led to the idea that cruising is not a high end experience comparable to other travel options, as noted in this Condé Nast Traveler piece.

Now, we are arriving in an exciting new chapter of the cruise ship experience, where the bar of elegance has been raised, not only through forms of entertainment, types of cuisines, and varieties of activities, but most importantly (in my designer opinion) through the design of the space. Industry leaders are now looking to the past at the heyday of the ocean liner and its designs. Bringing back elegance and mixing up it up with the modern way of traveling is not only a nod to the historical significance of cruise ship design, but is adapting to the evolving expectations and needs of guests.

Bringing back elegance and mixing up it up with the modern way of traveling is not only a nod to the historical significance of cruise ship design, but is adapting to the evolving expectations and needs of guests.

The increased use of ornate architectural elements, elegant fabrics and state of the art technology are setting the tone for the future of cruising and what to expect in the upcoming years of cruise ship design. For example, on ICRAVE’s project the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, floor to ceiling LED screens fill the stage in the Constellation Theater, giving guests unprecedented visuals.

Constellation Theater

My team at ICRAVE also incorporated transitional lighting to create multiple mood settings. From a golden warmth before the show to an indigo glow at lights down, the cabaret-seating with individual table lamps allows for a truly unique experience not typically seen on other ships. ICRAVE designers selected luxury materials like Murano hand-blown glass and crystal throughout multiple restaurants including Chartreuse and Prime 7, marking the importance and care of attention to detail.

While there are mega cruise lines with aerialists and impressive atriums, fleets like Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth and Crystal Cruises’ Serenity are shifting their focus away from the blatant wow-factor spectacular, to the intricacies and architectural detailing that has not been seen since the “Glamorous Years” of cruise ship travel. We’re in a Renaissance period of cruise ship travel that is appealing to more age groups and various types of travelers. Now when you think of cruising, what do you think of?

Have you booked your next cruise yet? There’s no better time than now.

Kim Lanza, Project Manager
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