As a boy, Njal Eide would watch the old transatlantic liners set sail from his native Norway on their voyages to the USA. This vision of powerful water-borne splendour intrigued him. Now Eide is one of the world’s foremost cruiseship designers, whose career has both mirrored and shaped the rise of the modern cruise industry.

From his base in Oslo, Eide has worked with a range of cruise companies and been the chief architect for the Royal Caribbean organisation since the early 1980s, helping transform the shape and style of the cruiseship. With over 20 ships designed for Royal Caribbean alone, the process continues to challenge him.

Looking at the elegant lines and mighty bulk of a modern cruiseship, it is hard to believe that it is such a recent creation. “Modern cruiseships only came into vogue after the mid-1960s,” says Eide, reflecting on the revolution in international transport and its impact on the shipping industry and ship design. “While companies such as Cunard gained fame for their good on-board facilities, liners were still primarily a means of transport. Then modern aircraft transformed travel and many ships were converted into cruise liners. This became a new business.”

“Eide is especially proud of the Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas, which features the highest known atrium with a bar at the top.”

Then came the age of the specifically designed cruiseship in which Eide was to gain international renown for his sleek, bold designs. “Royal Caribbean had one of the first purpose-built cruiseships, which was constructed in Finland and delivered in the early 1970s,” he recalls.

The new liners were more than just newly built classes of vessel. Factors that influenced design included the idea of sun and fun. “Ships were planned for multipurpose cruises with large public rooms but smaller cabins,” he recalls. “The public rooms were bigger and had to cater for a variety of functions. Ships needed pool decks and Europeans especially wanted to be outside in the sun.”

Today, cruiseships have more facilities than can be found in land resorts, Eide notes. “A cruiseship is like a compressed town, but with some interesting logistics to consider. For example, the dining room is part of the panoply and tradition of the cruiseship and now caters for everyone. When you’re designing you have to work out how the ship will manage the numbers. You have to design around all this onboard lifestyle, incorporating a range of facilities and events, including swimming pools, galleries and shops.”

With the increased diversity of onboard life came the need for specialist design. In the early days, Edie designed about 60% of the interiors, but now specialists are required in a range of fields. Some designers are experts in cinemas, gyms and theatres. These days, he says, his job has become designer of some areas and a coordinator of the design of others.


Eide has found fame as the man who introduced the atrium to cruise-liner design. It was, he says, a response to the changing size and life of the ships. The inspiration for it came from both the ancient world and the new. “Old liners such as the QE2 had impressive entrances and halls,” he says. “When bigger ships were being built, the owners wanted them to resemble hotels as much as possible.”

But following that model, ships could end up with long, boring corridors intersected with some small reception places. Edie and his team looked at modern hotels for ideas and saw the need for a central meeting place, something that was prevalent in ancient Roman town planning – the forum.

The result was the multilevel atrium, which broke up the long interior of the ship and provided light and an interesting focal point. The first appeared on the Regal Princess and was three storeys high. Then a five-storey atrium, called the centrum, was part of the Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign of the Seas.

Now three Sovereign-class Royal Caribbean ships have atriums providing the necessary free space in the middle of a ship. Eide is especially proud of the Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas, which featured the highest known atrium, with a bar at the top.


In his work, Eide takes inspiration from the airline industry and from large public buildings such as stadiums. And though he is known to be ideologically opposed to nostalgia as part of design, he confirms his respect for tradition.

“In his work, Eide takes inspiration from the airline industry and from large public buildings such as stadiums.”

He recalls one project where his design was used for the ship’s exterior. “I was invited with other companies to design a new ship about ten years ago for the Walt Disney Company,” he says. “We all came up with proposals and had to present to Michael Eisner. He didn’t want to go with any of the designs he saw. So I went home to Oslo and made a model of something new. As a boy I used to draw the old ocean liners with two funnels. I made a drawing like that and used the colours the old liners once used: a black hull, a red bottom, which were some of the Mickey Mouse colours – and incorporated the orange of the lifeboats.”


Despite Eide cutting down on his workload, he remains inspired. “I’ve had a great time and am still part of the thinking of the future,” he says. “I always want to do new things and try to go forward as architects should.” He is working on several ships as well as ideas that are still waiting to be realised. One is for the Floating Island, a large, barge-like structure that could float in shallow water, for which he first drafted plans in 1985. When this will be built is just a matter of when someone dares to make it a reality, according to Eide. “It will come, and when it does, people will discover that they don’t have to pay for the site,” he says with a laugh.

A passion for design and creation, it seems, does not diminish with time.