It all started when Farcus was a child, sketching boats and ocean liners he saw docking at the port in his hometown of Miami Beach, Florida. His love both for ships and entertainment grew from there as he took on various hospitality jobs, all the while learning the rudiments of the tourist industry. Floating around Miami’s hotels and bars, Farcus began to understand precisely what it was that visitors to the city were looking for: they wanted to have fun.

Fortuitously, ‘fun’ was the brand name Farcus walked into after completing his architecture degree and dabbling in ship design on Carnival’s first ever cruisers – the Mardi Gras – which set sail in 1972, and the Carnivale in 1975. His work on these ships with Carnival founder Ted Arison led to him becoming the cruise line’s chief naval architect in 1977. And with the position came the slogan that would guide and unleash Farcus’ talent for cruise ship design in the years to come.

Carnival: The fun ships

“If that’s your slogan, then you’d better deliver,” says Farcus from his home office, still in Miami Beach. And deliver he did. Inspired by people’s desire to have fun while on holiday, Farcus began creating environments that had more than just aesthetic appeal. His designs reached further, inviting and spurring people to take their enjoyment to that next level: to leave the everyday behind them, let down their hair and have fun.

“It’s not just a slogan, it’s a reality,” says Farcus. “I think design that allows an adult to see things again through a kid’s eyes is a very meaningful thing. Maybe it’s because I’m a grandfather now and seeing little kids again, but you see what real unadulterated fun is. We as adults never lose that; it just gets buried under stuff. So, fun, to me, is not trivial – fun is a fundamental thing.”

And while the concept of “fun” on Carnival’s ships has changed over time, becoming more sophisticated and targeting a broader range of guests, Farcus says there is a basic underlying humour in his designs that has stayed the same.

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The liner’s latestvessels – the Carnival Splendor: a 113,300tonne, 3,006- capacity megashipwhich debuted inJuly 2008; and theCarnival Dream: thelargest Fun Ship ever,accommodating
3,646passengers and set tosail in September 2009– demonstrate theevolution of what “fun”has become for thecruise line.

The architect’s design process works like this: he takes a central idea – which may or may not be the name of the boat – then conceives the various public rooms in accordance with that central storyline. The rooms then sprout like wild flowers from a common stem: all different, yet all cohesive.

The rooms in Carnival Splendour, for example, each in their own way reflect the concept of “splendid things”. The string of Black, Pink and Golden Pearl Restaurants are adorned with magnificent, shining, pearl-like ornamentations; while in the Royal Flush Casino, the playing cards that comprise the flush come alive in three dimensional images.

“This is not a piece of art on a wall in a museum – this is a functioning space for people to use,” Farcus says. “I try to make environments that are different to anything they’re used to in normal life. I think that is a key ingredient in cruise ship design.”

Appealing to different generations

“I’m a believer that the guests’ enjoyment [on a cruise ship] is interrelated with their interest in the environment around them,” says Farcus. In effect, the architect sets himself the massive task of appealing to the funny bones of a multi-demographic customer base through his design – but how is that realistically possible?

“The aim is not to provide everything for everybody – it’s to provide significant things for everybody so that everyone will find a cruise enjoyable,” he says. With the full spectrum of generations on board – from waterslide-loving children to single 20-somethings and adult wine connoisseurs – and all with unique interests, the designs must be anchored to functional features such as good food, a good gym and spa facilities, and comfortable spaces – what Farcus calls the “software” of the ship. From there, it’s a matter of appealing to that other common denominator: fun.

Hitting the spot with the younger generation is easy with Carnival’s three key kids’ zones: Camp Carnival for under 10s, a colourful crafty space designed for nothing but play; Circle C Club for pre-teens, a site for cool activities like video games and talent searches; and Club O2 – a collaboration with Coca-Cola where young adults can hang out in mock bars and sip “Coke-tails”.

The aquatic entertainment area, Carnival WaterWorks, which features a four-deck-high waterslide, has also won over this age group since it opened in 2007 on two of Carnival’s Fantasy-class ships. “Kids are a very important part of cruising now,” notes Farcus. “Kids of all ages have been given a primary spot in the design of the ship,” says Farcus. “And it’s not just that it will allow parents to take their kids onboard, but those kids are going to become cruisers later on, because they’re having fun.”

And as for that elusive passenger stratum of single young adults without children – Farcus has designed an adults-only relaxation zone. “If you have enough facilities that allow the 20s age group to create their excellent cruise experience within the framework of the ship, then it works,” he says. “The key is walking that fine line to provide for almost everybody.”

Trend-setting

Carnival was arguably the pioneers of the concept of the cruise ship as a destination in itself. Farcus himself was one of the masterminds behind this groundbreaking invention, but ironically he does not see himself as an industry trend setter.

“Whether Mojitos are popular today, where it used to be the Martini – that’s for others to deal with,” he says. “I don’t design to fashion. “When you look at great art and architecture, there are buildings and art works that have persisted over centuries that have equal or more relevance now than they did in their day. I think the most I can do to achieve that goal is to not design for fashion.”

While he does not design according to what is in vogue, Farcus always tries to introduce unexpected and original elements into his design, always with passenger expectation in mind. “I try to make [designs] better, more relatable, with a greater appeal, and I’m always creating things people have not seen before,” he says. On the Carnival Dream for instance, passengers will be privy to a new extensive outdoor sun deck that is closer to the sea, as well as scenic Jacuzzi whirlpools that cantilever over the ocean giving guests spectacular views of the cruise’s natural highlight – one that is too often forgotten about.

“When you’re on the sea, and there’s nothing but horizon all around you, it’s a very special psychological feeling,” Farcus notes. “It’s so satisfying to go to the rail of the ship, and watch the world go by with no buildings and cars – it’s almost mystical in a way – which is a very important part of the cruise that nobody talks about. That’s always in the back of my mind with all my designs.”

Profitable design

Creating environments that are both fun and affordable has always been one of the greatest design challenges for Farcus, especially in the last seven years since the respective rise and fall of the euro and US dollar. But sticking to the budget dictated by Carnivals’ demographic of average-to middle income earners sometimes puts a lid on design possibilities.

“We have plans for ships that haven’t been realised because they’re too expensive,” says Farcus. On the flipside, the budgetary boundaries force the architect to be more imaginative with his use of space, materials and amenities. Designing for Carnival’s market also brings about another kind of profit – the humanistic satisfaction that comes from being an architect of life experiences for everyday families.

“You don”t have to be some wealthy person in a nice house driving fine cars to afford [to sail on Carnival],” he notes. “This level of quality and interest is available to the average person, which is a civilisation-enriching phenomenon that I’m happy to be a part of. I try to make all of that better, with a greater appeal.”

Future with Carnival

Having been with Carnival for the liner’s entire lifespan, Farcus’ name and design style are synonymous with the brand. So what’s going to happen when the time comes to disembark? Farcus is quick to point out that that’s not happening any time soon. “I’ll stay as long as they’ll have me,” he says. “I couldn’t be more satisfied in what I do, and frankly speaking, I’m getting more recognition: it just gets better and better.”

But while his ship design is getter better, it doesn’t mean it’s getting any easier. The opposing forces of increasing design complexity and increasing costs require a lot of strength and perseverance to deal with. “Normally you think that when you get older you don’t want to deal with those anymore. But the personal rewards in terms of making and realising the designs makes it worthwhile. And the good news for me is – as you have more experience, you use your experience to handle the design problems in a better and more coherent way,” he says.

Farcus is sanguine about retirement. “One day it’ll happen, but I don’t know when that will be,” he says, “but right now it’s still all incredibly satisfying.”