An unprecedented boom in the cruise industry has created a trend towards ever larger cruise ships. Some 40%of vessels now carry more than 2,000 passengers, and as demand continues to grow, large ships are truly the order of the day.

But what effect is this escalation in scale having on the design of ship interiors? Some have accused cruise operators of conservatism, a lack of ambition and a reluctance to look beyond the tried and tested and commission new designers and ideas from outside the sector.

However, managing director of SMC design Andrew Collier believes the opposite to be the case. “The bigger the ships get,” says Collier, “the more flexibility we have to work with. We will always be constrained by factors such as shape and ceiling height, but we now have more opportunity to add variety and consider design features that would have been unthinkable previously.”

SMC has worked on new builds for a number of operators, including Princess, Cunard and NCL. Collier highlights the installation of bowling alleys for NCL as an example of just how innovative some companies are being and the radical thinking that a large ship allows.

DESIGN DEVELOPMENTS

“Some have accused cruise operators of conservatism, a lack of ambition and a reluctance to look beyond the tried and tested.”

Another feature of design innovation that he is keen to emphasise is the development in lighting technology. “It’s come on leaps and bounds in the last few years,” says Collier. “Bringing in outside consultants can be invaluable. We are driving our designs for the future and want them to last a long time. These guys are extremely au fait with what will drive this.”

Collier is not only talking about new build projects. “When a new ship is added to a fleet,” he says, “it can often make other vessels seem rather uninviting. A lighting refit can bring the interior up to speed without the need for a complete overhaul.” Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Alex McCuaig, chairman and executive creative director of MET Studio, agrees. In 1994 and 1996, his company was installed as master planner, design coordinator and joint interior designer for the $19.8m refit of the QE2.

“We were looking at how to generate an atmosphere and positive feel throughout the ship,” he says. “I’d say that lighting had about 40% to do with it. We revisited all of the lighting throughout the ship and looked into how best it could move people through the vessel and generate excitement. We came up with a control programme that slowly closed down sections and drove behaviour. It worked in increasing onboard revenue, and that’s the name of the game.”

OUTDATED THINKING

“Bringing in outside consultants can be invaluable. We are driving our designs for the future and want them to last a long time.”

Surprisingly, despite the project’s success, the QE2 turned out to be MET’s only seaborne commission. When asked why, McCuaig tells a story that also serves to illustrate his frustration with the industry’s approach. “We pitched the new Queen Mary when Cunard sold it on,” he reveals. “We felt disappointed not to win the commission because the client seemed to be taking a step back. Instead of looking at new ways of doing things, they fell back on the Vegas-style approach.”

McCuaig is not alone in voicing such frustrations. Professor Anne Wealleans, a lecturer at Kingston University in the UK and author of last year’s Designing Liners: a History of Interior Design Afloat, believes there is a lack of imagination in the current crop of new liners. “You’d think that someone would take advantage of all these people outside the industry who can bring in new ideas,” she says.

“With the ocean liners of yesteryear, people were far more prepared to think outside the box. There was a real emphasis on finding designers with no seaborne background. Canadian Pacific’s Empress of Britain, for example, brought in Heath Robinson to design a cocktail bar. Identity was a major feature of interior design, and each ship was a floating microcosm of its country of origin.”

BREAKING THE MOULD

“With the ocean liners of yesteryear, people were far more prepared to think outside the box. There was a real emphasis on finding designers with no seaborne background.”

Wealleans believes that it just needs one operator to break the mould for the situation to change. “Somebody must come from the outside,” she says. “If you look through the history books, it has rarely been the naval architects and board members who have driven design change. The market is certainly open for someone to come in and do something new.”

Until then, do not expect to meet the professor sunning herself on the top deck. She says: “We quite liked the idea of a cruise but, when we saw the brochures and promotional DVDs, what was on offer really put us off: they were like floating casinos.”

McCuaig feels that the potential passenger base typified by the Wealleans is not being exploited. “The client needs to allow designers to take on challenges that a new generation is after,” he says. “The baby-boomers are coming through, and they’re familiar with rock concerts and rolling in the mud at the Glastonbury Festival in a way that a typical septuagenarian never will be. The cruise companies are sticking to what they know. They’ll say that they know their market, but it may soon be time to take a few more risks.”

So where should an operator wanting to take McCuaig’s advice start looking? Unsurprisingly, the MET chairman has a ready answer. “Cruise ships are in the experience business. Expos offer a fantastic chance to see how new technologies and experiences work with massive crowds. Many of the techniques and tricks used there can be translated into fixed environments. It is here that you will find many of the freshest and most innovative ideas.”

And would he like the opportunity of bringing the cruise experience to this new generation of consumer? Of course.