Cruise ship design takes the spotlight

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A rendering of the entrance to the Pink Agave Mexican restaurant on Virgin Voyages' upcoming ship. The restaurant was designed by London-based Tom Dixon, part of the line's "Creative Collective" of design firms that are all new to the cruise industry.
A rendering of the entrance to the Pink Agave Mexican restaurant on Virgin Voyages' upcoming ship. The restaurant was designed by London-based Tom Dixon, part of the line's "Creative Collective" of design firms that are all new to the cruise industry.
Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

Recently, the role of design in marketing cruise ships has been at the forefront, as lines such as Celebrity Cruises and Virgin Voyages assemble teams of top-shelf designers to distinguish their ships from the crowd.

Now there's validation that design is important, in the form of the first Cruise Ship Interiors Expo, taking place June 18 to 20 at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Some 285 exhibitors have paid to display their wares at the show -- exhibitor space sold out in six months, according to Toby Walters, CEO of Elite Exhibitions, an events-organizing company based near Brighton, England. The event is open to representatives from the cruise and design trades.

Walters said he got the idea for such a show about 11 months ago, but he didn't know if there was one already. To find out Walters called Carnival Corp.'s director of interior design, Petu Kummala. "He said it's been waiting to happen for a long, long time now," Walters recalled.

During the two-day expo, top-name cruise design firms, such as Wilson Butler Architects and CallisonRTKL will participate in panel discussions.

Executives in charge of design decisions at cruise lines such as Holland America Line, Seabourn and Virgin Voyages will also attend, along with personnel in hotel operations and vessel refurbishment.

Architecture firms, interior design firms and companies in the supply chain for the interior design sector round out the expected attendees.

Interior design has taken a front seat in marketing ships such as the recently delivered Celebrity Edge, where Celebrity hired a "design ambassador," to speak specifically to the quality of the ship's interior appearance. Well-known New York designer Kelly Hoppen was responsible for the accommodations on the ship and Tom Wright, designer of the iconic Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai, did many of the exterior areas.

Walter said that about 65% of the expo exhibitors will come from outside the U.S., mainly from Europe, but also from as far away as China and Singapore. He said the June dates were picked because it is the month that the fewest number of ships are in drydock, and therefore "everyone is available to attend."

The show has been such a quick success that Elite Exhibitions is already organizing a European expo for Dec. 4 and 5 in Barcelona.

CORRECTIONS: This report has been updated. Although entry is free to registered attendees of the show, it is a not open to the public. In addition, event space sold out in six months; incorrect information was previously published.

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