Photo Credit: TW Illustration by Thomas R Lechleiter

Floating lots ofbright ideas

November 04, 2015

When guests make their way to Deck 19 of the new Norwegian Escape later this month, they will find four hot tubs bumped out over the edge of the vessel where there are none on its sister ship the Norwegian Getaway.

Two flights down on Deck 17, the Spice H20 nightclub area will have a large waterfall grotto.

Both water features will serve as alternatives to gathering at the main pool, distributing the Escape's 4,200 guests so they don't all end up bunched in the same place at the same time.

Engineering how passengers circulate through the ship is one of the hidden drivers of ship design today. Ships that are wider, longer and more voluminous than in the past challenge designers to find ways to prevent passengers from feeling cramped or crowded.

And bigger size is but one of many trends influencing how cruise ships look and function in the 21st century.

Over the next five years, 40 new ships will be introduced starting with the Escape, which begins sailing from Miami in mid-November. The queue next year includes Holland America Line's (HAL) Koningsdam, Royal Caribbean International's Harmony of the Seas and Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Vista.

Each will be the biggest the line has sailed so far, and each will differ from its predecessor in crucial ways.


It's not easy being big

For one thing, there will be more family and single staterooms. There will be new activities on the pool deck. The trend toward more alternative dining venues will continue, while suite designs, especially on luxury ships, will become more lavish than ever.

What's more, some public rooms will be used in multiple ways, determined by the time of day, enabling cruise lines to get as much mileage as possible out of each precious space.

Most of these trends are evident on the Escape, starting with the pool deck high above the waterline.

Since the arrival of the Norwegian Epic in 2010, the number and size of waterslides on Norwegian ships has grown significantly. The latest model, on the Escape, is a large diameter slide called Aqua Racer that can be used either with passenger rafts or without.

"It is a little faster with the rafts, and it has a capacity of 1,000 passengers an hour," Christer Karlsson, senior vice president of newbuilding at Norwegian, said on a shipyard tour in September.

Karlsson said ship designers have discovered that amenities like waterslides and ropes courses absorb hours of passenger activity during the day but don't add much weight to the top of the ship.

On the Escape, Norwegian has for the first time created a three-level ropes course, which includes five zipline segments and 99 total elements, up from 50 elements on the Getaway.

At Carnival Cruise Line, designers have come up with another original adaptation for the top deck: SkyRide offers a bird's-eye view as guests pedal around an 800-foot oval, suspended beneath a track in a recumbent bicycle wrapped in an aerodynamic racing shell.

With dual tracks, riders can race each other if they wish. Carnival is calling it a "pedal-powered go-mobile," and it brings a small-time amusement park feel to the Carnival Vista.

"It certainly breaks the mold in terms of what can be offered on a cruise ship," Carnival Vice President of Shipbuilding Ben Clement said. The Carnival Vista is set to begin cruising in May in Europe.  

At Royal Caribbean International, designers have had six years to think up improvements to the blockbuster Oasis class of ships, the first of which debuted in 2009. The third in the series, the Harmony of the Seas, will be the first Royal ship of any kind to have waterslides.

The Harmony will be the largest Royal ship yet, about 1% bigger than the Oasis of the Seas. "A larger ship can give you more mass and more opportunities with the real estate," said Harri Kulovaara, executive vice president of maritime and newbuilding at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

So the Harmony will get the Perfect Storm, a trio of waterslides that start high above Central Park, the outdoor garden area that is the signature feature of Oasis-class vessels.

The Harmony will also have a slide at the rear of the ship, Ultimate Abyss, that Royal hasn't discussed much. "It's still behind the veil," said Kelly Gonzalez, vice president of newbuild architectural design, who would confirm only that it is 10 stories tall and is not a waterslide.

Bring the kiddies

Since slides attract more families, the Harmony has a broader collection of family suites than on previous Oasis-class ships. As ships get bigger, they seek to attract greater demographic variety.

HAL's Koningsdam for the first time will have five-person staterooms with two bathrooms, intended for families. Also for the first time, HAL is offering 12 cabins meant for solo travelers (the Harmony has 14).

Cyril Tatar, vice president of newbuilding services at HAL, said the solo cabins are a bit of an experiment.

"It's 12 cabins out of 1,300, so it's definitely not the main strategy to accommodate the solo traveler," he said. Nevertheless, it broadens the appeal of a bigger ship to another type of customer.

The Carnival Vista is taking its family accommodations to the next level by clustering them in a low-traffic area of the ship on Deck 2.  There, a Family Harbor Lounge is accessible by key card and surrounded by 96 family staterooms ranging in category from interior to balcony to suites.

"We chose Deck 2 for Family Harbor, as it provides families with a secluded space that is designed as the ultimate family hangout," Clement said. The cabins come with one free evening in a late-night program at the children's camp and free meals for kids under 12 at Vista's specialty restaurants.

Alternate dining will continue to evolve on the next generation of ships.

The Vista will host Carnival's first Seafood Shack, a casual indoor/outdoor eatery with a New England theme and menu items priced a la carte starting at $4. The Vista will also be the first U.S. ship on which beer will be brewed at sea.

The Harmony will import the Wonderland restaurant from the Royal's Quantum-class ships but will make it two stories instead of one, while the Koningsdam will also get a new seafood concept, a French brasserie called Sel De Mer.

While size is driving innovation at the contemporary cruise lines, players in the luxury segment are following the outlines of the existing ships in their fleets but adding a few twists.

Luxury gets more luxurious

With their strong focus on destination and service, luxury vessels aren't compelled to make radical innovations in ship design, executives said. 

The Seabourn Encore emerges next year as the fourth in a series of ships that started with the Seabourn Odyssey in 2006. The Encore follows the Odyssey template but adds an extra deck of cabins, boosting capacity from 450 to 600 passengers. Designs for Silversea Cruises' new ship, the Silver Muse, due in 2017, have yet to be made public.

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The Regent Seven Seas Explorer, set to debut in July in Monaco, will be distinguished by the lavishness of its interiors and the spaciousness of its suites, including the 3,875-square-foot, $10,000-a-night Regent suite, which comes equipped with its own spa area. 

The 750-passenger Explorer is only a little bigger than the 2003-vintage Seven Seas Voyager, but at $450 million, it will be one of the most costly cruise ships on a per-berth basis ever built. It will be several feet wider than the Voyager, space that will be used in part to extend the size of its balconies.

Also growing will be the Crystal Cruises fleet, starting in 2018. Although contracts with the Lloyd Werft shipyard have yet to be detailed, Crystal has said its new class of ships will emphasize spaciousness, with 8-foot ceilings and a minimum cabin size of 400 square feet.

The 100,000-gross-ton, all-suite ship will be built to provide 100 tons of space per passenger, about a third more than Regent's existing ships.  

Royal Caribbean's Kulovaara said he thinks that as ships get bigger, it gets easier to make sure passengers flow around the ship and not hit bottlenecks, such as at the entrance to the dining room or theater.

The Harmony will feature at least 11 bars and 18 restaurants. The Norwegian Escape will have at least 10 bars and 16 food venues.

"That's helping a lot with the flows, so that people are not going on the ship into one dining room, into one entertainment venue, into one deck," Kulovaara said.

Room to experiment

As ships get bigger, they also get wider, which has allowed for several design innovations. 

The Seven Seas Explorer is 102 feet wide, eight more feet than the Seven Seas Voyager. That allowed for, among other things, wider balconies on the all-suite ship, designers said.

On the Harmony, "We put effort into lengthening and expanding the size of the staterooms," Gonzalez said.

There are also more two-story spaces on the next generation of ships due to the extra stability a broader platform gives.

The Perfect Storm waterslide, coming to the Harmony of the Seas in 2016.
The Perfect Storm waterslide, coming to the Harmony of the Seas in 2016.

On the Norwegian Escape, five feet wider than the Norwegian Getaway, the segregated luxury area, the Haven, will for the first time have a two-story courtyard with an elegant spiral staircase connecting the two levels.

On the Koningsdam, the swimming pool, enclosed with a retractable magrodome, will also for the first time be a two-story space. The lower level will offer traditional poolside elements while the upper level will be a mezzaninelike lounging area new to Holland America.

The pool area becomes a theater at night, as the Koningsdam will get an outdoor movie screen, a first for the line. The addition of poolside movies is one of several ways that cruise lines have been changing the use of various ship spaces according to time of day.

The two-story Queen's Lounge on the Koningsdam will function as a theater and a night club with the ship's largest dance floor, Tatar said, as well as housing a B.B. King Blues Club.

"The nightclub [used to be] put on a ship, and it's a piece of real estate, and it's only used four hours a night," he said. Now, it is combined in a multifunction room that hosts dance lessons, late afternoon teas and a meetings space for groups, freeing room for other uses elsewhere on the ship. The Koningsdam will also have a culinary center for cooking lessons and demonstrations during the day that transforms into a farm-to-table restaurant at night.

The Carnival Vista's main theater, called Liquid Lounge, will have movable seats so it can be used as a dance club after shows. The concept was first tried on the Carnival Sunshine.

Kulovaara said passengers are comfortable with less formal rooms.

"Our homes are changing," he said. "We don't have a dining room and a living room and a kitchen anymore. That's all kind of blurred. And we see that trend coming."

But Royal Caribbean, he said, also believes in optimizing some space for a particular use, especially on a ship as large as the Harmony. For example, the ship's main theater is primarily intended to showcase Broadway musicals.  

"We have had to learn in our company that multipurpose becomes multiuseless," Kulovaara said.

Another trend in ship design is an effort to get passengers back in touch with the sea. This is especially true on ships designed with the Caribbean in mind, such as MSC Cruises' planned MSC Seaside, due in 2017. Renderings show a promenade wide enough for cafe seating on the first passenger deck, with a broad fan of deck at the aft for a pool.

Also low to the water will be an aft pool area on Deck 5 of the Carnival Vista in a Havana area of the ship that will feature new "cabana" rooms with patios big enough for hammocks.

On Deck 6 will be the Vista's multiplex area, which includes a three-story movie screen big enough to display IMAX-format movies, the first at sea.

Other distinctive theater designs being planned include a dinner theater on the Norwegian Escape designed to present a show based on the films of John Hughes and a circular World Stage on the Koningsdam that will surround the audience with two-story, programmable LED screens.

Carnival's multiplex area will also offer a multisensory Thrill Theater with moving seats to provide kinesthetic effects and a themed concession stand for popcorn and candy sales.

"It's really going to be a one-of-a-kind experience onboard," Clement said.