There are many reasons for the increasing size of ships: a bigger vessel means that more attractions and extra comfort can be provided; using innovation to separate a cruise line from its competitors will enhance the line’s brand message; more space on board means that the needs of all age groups can be met with a wide range of activities, including meeting areas such as melting pods.

As well as increased space, larger size also offers the advantage of scale to keep pricing in line, makes the ship the destination, and increases the safety and security of guests.


How big the ship will be is determined when the itinerary of the ship is known, since this limits the length, draft, air draft and sometimes the width of the vessel. From a regulatory point of view, the structural limits are clearly defined: safe operation, adequate fire safety and proven escape times are main factors.

Building costs and yard facilities should also be considered. If a ship becomes too expensive or yard facilities are inadequate, then the development will not be built. In the recent past, the dollar-euro exchange rate has been a major deciding factor, and the well-established yards in Europe have received the bulk of cruiseship orders.

“The design of a mega cruiseship is a monumental task and requires a highly skilled multifunctional team.”

The design of a mega cruiseship is a monumental task and requires a highly skilled multifunctional team of designers, architects, naval architects, marine engineers, structural engineers and electrical engineers to develop the project to the satisfaction of the customer/shareholder, within a given time frame and budget.

Safety, security and the environment are areas of constant improvement where hours are spent translating ideas into the most innovative designs. Formalised risk studies are a great tool to keep the team focused on the importance of this subject.

Staterooms and balconies are the main areas that influence passenger satisfaction and these are designed carefully to take account of customer feedback, recent trends and the latest ergonometric studies.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL)’s architects work under the clear guidance of responsible sponsor groups, of which one result was the introduction of promenade cabins on RCCL’s Voyager/Freedom Class. With the Solstice Class, the number of outside staterooms and balconies is the best in the industry for this size of vessel, and the Genesis Class represents yet another step forward.

Public spaces consume most of the design time, and are an ongoing challenge of blending traditional and modern spaces to give the desired ambience and functionality. Here, most of the sponsor groups are working with the designer/architect, and this is a time-consuming process.


A major must-have is the provision of a state-of-the-art pool deck and this includes the pool, Jacuzzi and sun lounges. Facilities must also include a section for families (water park), sport (flow rider, sport pool) and relaxation (solarium pool) – this is a huge advance on the pool facilities of only 15 years ago.

On board an RCCL cruise, not only do passengers expect the wide range of activities that they would normally enjoy at home, and the opportunity to try new ones. Before the ship is even designed, research is carried out with groups and experts to find out what should be provided.

Facilities range from mini golf, golf simulator, putting greens, running tracks, vitality courses and gyms, to rock-climbing walls, bungee trampolines, ice skating rings, inline skating rings, boxing rings and flow riders. These are not ‘extras’ to be paid for – guests can enjoy them as part of their booked fare.


A mega ship is like a small town, with around 6,000 people. RCCL has a built-in redundancy for all major systems should they fail to work, to ensure that the ship delivers services 365 days a year.

As well as providing all the activities that make a cruise the holiday of a lifetime, a mega ship must be a safe haven, and there can be no compromise on safety or security. Classification societies, SOLAS, flag states, ICCL and RCCL designers and naval architects are constantly analysing what can be done to further improve safety and security.

“Designers also have to work within existing limitations, while being creative and innovative in adapting the vessel.”

RCCL strives to be one step ahead of industry requirements, and environmental compliance is another important design factor. The cruise sector is the leader in the shipping industry for enhancements and developments in this area, in particular in the water cleaning of the liquid waste streams on board.

Over the last few years, RCCL has worked with vendors Advance Waste Water Plants to develop seven complete systems on board RCCL ships, which comply or exceed the most stringent discharge rules.

Regardless of how well the hardware is designed and built, this cannot be done without the shipboard crew, and their well-being is important. The crew consists of at least 50 different nationalities, and for three to eight months of the year, the ship is their home. Designing their accommodation and facilities requires a slightly different approach.

RCCL believes that a happy crew means happy passengers and so puts plenty of effort into new designs for the officer and crew areas. This is aimed at increasing job satisfaction and making their home as comfortable as possible, by offering facilities such as training areas and internet/phone access.


While the mega ships are the focus of a cruise line’s brand image, the fleet’s older vessels, some around 15 years old, require a major overhaul to become part of this new branding. This is the main challenge for fleet design groups in the cruise industry. There is no shipyard or group that could do this work in an efficient and timely manner, and this forces fleet design groups into the role of main contractors, providing all the required support functions.

Designers also have to work within existing limitations while being creative and innovative in adapting the vessel. This means copying the capabilities of shipyards using design spirals and project groups/systems, which are similar to large NB yards.

Another challenge when revitalising existing ships is the out-of-service time, which adds to the overall cost of the project. This also adds pressure to the timescale, since one week out of service adds approximately $2m to the overall costs of revitalisation. The RCCL team has reduced the out-of-service time, and has lowered project costs to $1m per day.

“Passengers expect the wide range of activities that they would normally enjoy at home and the opportunity to try new ones.”

Compared with any shoreside project, this work is done in one tenth of the time a similar project takes on shore. This requires over 2,000 people to do the work as well as sophisticated logistics since most of the materials are brought to the USA from Europe.

RCCL project managers are experts in shipbuilding, and projects teams include, on average, 40 to 50 shoreside members as well as the whole shipboard team (at the execution phase). To get the project confirmation the project team presents its proposals to a group that represents all departments in the company.

The design spiral – planning, design, prefabrication and transport – requires between six and 18 months before the ship goes out of service to minimise the execution risk.


For south Florida ships, the Grand Bahama Shipyard is the preferred location due to its excellent infrastructure for container traffic, which goes from Europe directly to the freeport harbour, just minutes away from the shipyard, and its ability to deliver the shipyard work on time.

For seasonal European ships, RCCL prefers to perform revitalisation and lengthening in Europe, since there are some price advantages, but most important, the vendor infrastructure for maritime projects works out at around $40m to $50m, and logistical risks are lower than in the USA or Bahamas.

RCCL has got all this right and successful projects include lengthening and revitalisation projects such as Enchantment of the Seas, Monarch, Empress, Sovereign of the Seas, Horizon (Island Star) and Century. Each of these projects have incorporated at least one industry first, and feedback has been very positive, which is why RCCL will continue to develop, revitalise and lengthen its fleet.

Feedback and RCCL’s lessons-learned process allows the cruise line to further optimise its products, and make them successful. Regardless of new prototype mega vessel or revitalisation/lengthening projects, the most important factor is the right partnering with design teams (internal and external) and the right industrial partners, which includes the shipyard, outfitting contractors, component suppliers.

Groups work efficiently together to reach this goal. RCCL hopes to maintain and improve the communication between its partners in order to develop even greater products for the benefit of its guests.