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Princess Cruises: The Art of Elegant Design


5 March 2010


While many operators are looking to overhaul their design strategies and introduce innovative on-board features, the philosophy of Princess Cruises focuses on its stylish heritage. Rai Caluori and Teresa Anderson tell Elly Earls how the cruise line is going against the grain and keeping an eye on the past as it moves forward.


Princess Cruises places a huge amount of faith in its long-serving team of in-house interior designers, giving the brand an impressive consistency across its fleet. While other lines focus on revolutionising the look of their ships, vice-president of interior design Teresa Anderson remains unconvinced of the wisdom of a comprehensive overhaul, concentrating instead on maintaining the timeless elegance which has become the cruise line’s signature.

That is not to suggest that the luxury line is stuck in the past. Indeed, Anderson, who has handled the development of the fleet’s interior design since 1995, describes Princess as an evolutionary cruise company. "We continue to expand upon our design philosophy when it comes to interior décor," she explains. "With our Grand class, for example, we had a similar area ‘footprint’ as our earlier ships, but it was our goal to introduce new and innovative features."

"Because of the success of the features of the Sanctuary, the Piazza and the Crown Grill Steakhouse, we sought to take what have now become icons of Princess and retrofit them to older vessels."

For Rai Caluori, executive vice-president of fleet operations, the concept of "comfortable elegance" is the defining philosophy of the line’s approach to interior design.

"We want our passengers to know that they’re on a Princess ship," he says. "So we committed to a particular design approach and stuck with it; a motif that is going to stand the test of time."

There has always been an Italian feel to Princess’s cruise ships, due in part to the company’s long history with the Fincantieri shipyard, and the inspiration for the most significant upgrade to the fleet came from Mediterranean Europe. "We introduced the Piazza on deck five of the atrium initially on the Crown Princess in 2007," Caluori explains.

"Our atriums have always been very well received but we thought we could take it to another level, so we changed the materials, primarily the flooring, replacing carpet with tiles, and tried to create an Italian town square-type of feel.

"It really has transformed the functionality of the space. What was previously a quiet area after dinner has been converted into a space where people hang around having coffee or dessert and enjoying the entertainment. It’s busy from morning through to late at night." The Crown Grill Steakhouse, a New York-inspired open kitchen venue, and the Sanctuary, an adults-only retreat based on the concept of an exclusive beach resort, have been similarly successful since their introduction.

The last Grand-class vessel to be delivered, however, was the Ruby Princess in 2008 and since then Princess’s interior designers have had little opportunity to see their creations writ large. According to Caluori, this is not necessarily a bad thing. "We’ve had this hiatus for a few years, so we decided to embark on a strategy of enhancing our existing ships," he says. "Because of the success of the features of the Sanctuary, the Piazza and the Crown Grill Steakhouse, we sought to take what have now become icons of Princess and retrofit them to older vessels."

Consistency is the cruise line’s number-one priority. While Caluori recognises that there is an industry-wide move to match many of the trends developing in the shore-side hospitality industry, he is keen to point out that Princess will not follow fads.

"We have a phrase that we use here, ‘evolution rather than revolution’, and that’s Princess," he states. "Ultimately the passenger wants to have a comfortable experience and feel that a space is accessible, warm and inviting. The concept of architecture as an entertainment form is not something we agree with. We’re going back to older ships and updating them a little based on the success of the features of our newer ones, but we’ve never really felt obligated to make unilateral changes."

Based on the feedback Princess has received so far, their guests have little cause for complaint. "We may not get the award for the most innovative of spaces," Caluori acknowledges, "but we get a lot of kudos for the level of comfort and the style. People enjoy the sophistication without feeling intimidated."

Evolution rather than revolution

Achieving this balance has not been easy and, with space at a premium, the interior design team have developed four key strategies to overcome the limitations they face on board.

"Firstly, we try to create the feeling of more space with the use of voids, a prime example of which is the atrium," says Caluori, who is actively involved in the design build process. "Secondly, we do our best to raise the ceilings and the deck heads where possible."

This involves careful coordination with the shipyard and must be decided upon during the design phase. Consequently, close dialogue between the shipbuilders and Anderson’s team is essential.

"We want to remind people that being at sea is a very unique experience."

"Having an in-house department enables us to work closely with the various operational and technical departments involved in a new ship delivery," Anderson says.

"This facilitates a speedy and comprehensive resolution of design, technical and operational issues. Over the course of a new build project we typically make three or four visits to the shipyard to review drawings, approve materials and inspect mock-ups."

The third technique on Caluori’s checklist is the clever use of materials, particularly mirrored surfaces, which can enhance the psychological feeling of being in a larger space.

Finally, architectural lighting is key; backlit ceiling panels, skylights, glazed boxes and openings all contribute to the finished effect. "In the spaces where we may have challenges in terms of ceiling height, we’ll look at how we can improve the feeling through the use of glazed rather than solid ceilings," Caluori adds. The use of space supports the cruise line’s overall philosophy of comfortable elegance. "We’ve never designed our ships thinking that we have to seat half the passengers in the theatre or half the passengers in the restaurant," Caluori notes. Rather, the company adheres to its ethos, ‘big ship choice, small ship feel’.

Looking to the future, Caluori does not anticipate any radical changes. "Ultimately there will be new ships, but they’ll demonstrate an evolution of our current design, nothing revolutionary," he admits, noting that the cruise company does not favour using a wide range of designers. "They need to have a period of integration with our strategy before we’ll have the confidence to give them a whole space."

As the industry begins to place more emphasis on leisure activities and subsequently on the design of spas and gymnasiums, Princess plans to expand the Sanctuary concept, enhancing the passenger experience on the open deck. The company stalwartly refuses to succumb to one of the main trends developing at sea.

"We’ve noticed that our competitors increasingly feel the need to create the feeling of a shore-side resort," Caluori reveals, "whereas we want to remind people that being at sea is a very unique experience. You’ll therefore see much more usage of floor to ceiling glass where possible."

Anderson agrees: "Within the marine environment I also feel it is important to acknowledge the rich maritime tradition of bygone eras. I like to extract and adapt elements from ocean liner history and combine these with contemporary design."

While recently-built cruise liners introduce sprawling shopping centres in an attempt to simulate the experience of being on land, Princess is going in the opposite direction, focusing on intimate, quiet, relaxing spaces in order to further cement its design philosophy. "And thank goodness for that," concludes Caluori. "As long as other lines design ships that are different to ours, we will continue to encourage them."