Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. chairman Richard Fain delivered some thoughts in a recent conference call with Wall Street analysts on how cruise ship design has evolved since the modern industry set sail in the 1960s.

In the 1970s and 80s, there was a dramatic shift in the way cruise ships were designed and built, Fain contends.

"Instead of ships being designed as a form of transportation, we shifted to ships that were designed specifically for cruising," he said. "Our aspirations at the time were for ships to be more yacht-like."

That led to designs like Royal's Song of Norway or Norwegian Caribbean Lines' Seaward.

The next step was to build ships modeled after hotels, Fain said. One model was Atlanta's Regency Hyatt House, designed by architect John Portman in 1967 with a then-unique soaring atrium.

"We started to design ships with more spacious public areas, better outfitting and more amenities onboard. We wanted the ships to feel more opened, to have more things to do and to have more luxurious feel of a modern hotel," Fain said.

At the same time, in a trend unmentioned by Fain, ships in their horizontal dimension began to resemble shopping malls, starting with the 1999 delivery of Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas.

Moving on from hotels, Fain said the latest design model is the city.

"Today, our ships have more of the features of cities with a cornucopia of activities, amenity and design. We don't simply check the box with bars and restaurants and discos: we talk about designing parks and gardens and neighborhoods and quiet spaces," he said.

That model is most easily seen in Royal's giant Oasis-class ships, the fourth of which will be delivered next year.

Two more design models that Fain omitted could be added to the timeline. One is the amusement park, which encompasses water slides, go karts, laser tag games, ropes courses and recumbent bicycle tracks. Fain long resisted the model, before adding slides to the Harmony of the Seas last year.

The other model is the European food hall, which is becoming increasingly popular in U.S. cities. The latest ships, with their bevy of alternative restaurants, suggest the new emporiums that are taking food courts to the gourmet level.  MSC Cruises even makes an explicit nod to the model on its MSC Divina, which features a small version of Eataly, which started in Turin, Italy in 2007 and soon spread to New York and other locations.


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