Rapid evolution marks ship design

12/22/2012 12:00 AM

12/24/2012 3:32 PM

The Celebrity Reflection that arrived at PortMiami last month had changed so much from the original ship in its class that it was two feet wider in order to balance the weight of an additional deck and other new features.

Carnival Breeze, which also arrived last month, is only the third ship in the Dream class, but its public spaces are very different since they incorporate features from Carnival’s new Fun Ship 2.0 program, launched after the first two Dream-class ships were built.

Both are the last ships in their class.

Of 2012’s three new ships, only Oceania’s Riviera is not significantly different from the first ship in its class. Frank Del Rio, chairman and CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings, Oceania’s parent company, says he’ll use the same design to build the next Oceania ship, although that will be at least two years off.

In the world of cruise ships, the end of this year will mark a graduation of sorts. Most major U.S.-based lines have wrapped up one ship design and are moving on to a new one.

Why? Guests demand changes, technology allows for features that didn’t used to be possible, and ships need to keep up with the competition — or get out in front of it.

The result: Ship designs are more fluid; there are more differences between ships built from the same basic blueprint, and older ships are sent into dry dock to be retrofitted with features from newer ships.

Among the features on the last class of ships that seem to be keepers are more elaborate water parks and sports decks, Norwegian’s cabins for the solo traveler, spa-linked staterooms, exclusive luxury areas on non-luxury ships, more niche bars and ever-more-specialized restaurants.

“One thing they all have in common is increasing options, especially for dining and drinking,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic. “Norwegian Cruise Line has been the innovator here, and now others are following suit in significant ways. It’s recognizing that travelers don’t want to be limited to set dining hours.

“Definitely the increasing use of outdoor spaces during the night as well as the day is a really great new innovation, a nice change from the days when people went inside at sundown. Princess Cruises gets a lot of credit for jump-starting this; its Movies Under the Stars has led to other really cool uses, from Celebrity’s Lawn Club (where live jazz, under the stars, is a highlight) to Royal Caribbean’s high dive acrobatics and its Central Park.”

Ship design changes reflect the lifestyle that passengers have on shore, Del Rio said. Just as homes are bigger than they were a generation or two ago, his line’s ships are bigger and so are staterooms. Dining is healthier and has more of a gourmet flair, the ambience and dress are more casual, and the stateroom has more amenities.

Carnival already has a larger ship with a new design on order. So do Princess, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Holland America. Not all the old blueprints are being thrown out. In addition to its two new “Project Sunshine” ships on order, Royal Caribbean is negotiating for construction of a third Oasis-class ship, the mega-ship that carries 5,400 passengers, to be delivered in 2016.

But most lines are looking for change.

“We’re always looking at how to improve,” said Gus Antorcha, Carnival’s senior vice president for guest commerce. “Guests are expecting more. They expect more choices and they expect more value from their vacation. That has really forced us to think a lot about the product, how to keep pace with consumer preferences. With Fun Ship 2.0, that’s what we have been doing. We have been focused on improving the dining experience, bars, entertainment, and the outer decks.

“Our product is very fun in the sun,” Antorcha said. “Our guests want to be in the pool and in the sun.” So Carnival beefed up the experience around the pool deck with Fun Ship 2.0 , expanding the water park, adding outdoor seating on a lower deck, bars and eateries, including Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint, interactive Hasbro game shows and new entertainment. The line is also retrofitting more than a dozen older ships with some of the amenities.

Or consider the Celebrity Solstice-class ships, a design so popular that most of the line’s older ships have been retrofitted — “Solsticized” — with some of its features, including spa staterooms, several new bars and restaurants, and the iLounge, a computer center. Even within the Solstice class, the ships continued to evolve. On the last two, the Lawn Club Grill was added in space formerly occupied by the Corning glass-blowing shop, and cabana-like alcoves were added to the Lawn Club.

Celebrity wanted more high-end suites on its newest ship, said Harri Kulovaara, executive vice president of Maritime & Newbuilding, so it added a deck. That allowed the company to add 42 suites, including 34 AquaClass spa suites (a new category) and Celebrity’s first two-bedroom suite, which also has a glass-enclosed shower cantilevered out from Deck 14 and a tub on the veranda.

But there’s not necessarily consensus about the changes. One of next year’s two new ships, the Royal Princess, will have a larger, three-deck atrium that will hold a pizzeria, wine bar, coffee bar and other features designed to turn it into the ship’s central hangout. Norwegian’s new Breakaway, on the other hand, will put its hangout space outside on new promenades that have waterfront restaurant seating intended to increase the passengers’ connection with the sea, said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian’s CEO.

The line will continue to build cabins for singles that were introduced on the Norwegian Epic — smaller inside cabins designed for one, with portholes looking out on the corridor and access to a lounge exclusively for guests in those cabins.

“To me that [solo stateroom] was a very important thing,” Sheehan. “As in the rest of the industry .. there is a large market of people who want to travel alone and we didn’t have an alternative for them.”

Now, he said, Norwegian is adding solo cabins on the Pride of America while it’s in dry dock and will add them to other ships, although older ships won’t have the lounge.

At the same time, he said, the standard balcony stateroom that debuted on Norwegian Epic has been redesigned after widespread complaints about the bathroom, which had been deconstructed into separate parts — toilet, shower, sink — and offered minimal privacy.

The company has already done away with another feature that debuted on Norwegian Epic, a faux ice skating rink that no one used, but that took a lot of labor to set up and take down every day. Sheehan learned about the problem from a co-worker who didn’t recognize him when he spent two weeks posing as a crew member for the CBS reality TV series, Undercover Boss. He immediately got rid of the rink.

Del Rio said Oceania also made mistakes. Designers didn’t anticipate the popularity of the Barista coffee bar — which, unlike most ships, offers free specialty coffee drinks — or the Bon Appetit Culinary Center, which offers hands-on cooking classes for a fee. And he’s disappointed that a 10-person private dining room, Privee, initially available for $1,000 a night but knocked down to $250, did not get much use. On the next ship, he said, the culinary center and the coffee bar will be larger, and Privee will be eliminated.

An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect history of the Lawn Club on Celebrity Cruises ships.

Join the Discussion

Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service