Costing a whopping $1.2 billion, Royal Caribbean's flagship liner, MS Allure of the Seas - spanning 16 decks and holding up to 5,400 passengers - is the largest cruise ship in the world.
It also pushes the boundaries in terms of design, along with its sister ships in the Oasis Class, the Oasis of the Seas and Independence of the Seas.
Holistic design features
Allure represents the pinnacle of holistic interior design and layout for cruise ships, through its themed neighbourhood concept, revisited following its successful debut aboard the Oasis.
The central premise of the concept is that entertainment, amenities and activities aboard the liner are divided into seven themed neighbourhoods, including:
- Central Park, which features boutiques, fine dining restaurants and bars, as well as the first living park at sea, boasting more than 12,000 plants and 56 trees, which meanders through the ship's shopping and dining district.
- Boardwalk, boasting a hand-crafted carousel and a 750-seater 'AquaTheatre', home to the largest freshwater pool afloat on the world's oceans.
- Royal Promenade, which is lined with restaurants and shops and can be viewed from a mezzanine level above.
- Youth Zone, providing a sanctuary for younger guests, and is home to a computer gaming centre and even a science lab.
The lapping of luxury
Luxury is another important facet of the cruise industry. The majority of guests aboard cruise liners expect grandeur and lavish settings.
Luxury is often found in the smallest details, such as in the Martini Bar aboard Celebrity Cruises' liners (where guests can choose from more than 100 types of vodka over the chic ice-frosted bar) or the adjacent Crush, an intimate alcove sheltering fabulous vodka and caviar pairings on an ice-filled table.
Luxury also encompasses the passenger disembarking process, which is why Celebrity Cruises (Celebrity) announced in October that it would be offering a new 'Extend Your Stay' programme, with later check-out times and other benefits to enjoy on the last day aboard.
According to Simon Weir, Celebrity's Director of Hotel Operations: "Being able to relax onboard in luxurious surroundings rather than rushing to disembark on the last day of one's cruise epitomises what 'modern luxury' is all about," adding that this reinforces Celebrity's cool, contemporary design and warm spaces, as well as dining experiences where, according to the company, "the design of the venues is as important as the cuisine."
With more and more holidaymakers taking to the high seas aboard cruise liners, the challenge faced by cruise ship interior designers is now, more than ever, to not only provide something for everyone, but to come up with novel design concepts that set their creation apart.
The perfect example of this was announced by Celebrity Cruises in June 2011, the industry's first interactive, open-air grilling restaurant, the Lawn Club Grill, aboard the Silhouette liner.
Jacques Van Staden, Celebrity's Vice-President, Culinary Operations, said: "People tend to associate grilling with the relaxing, carefree mood of summer - exactly what a Celebrity vacation is all about. What can be better than experiencing something that's popular among so many cultures around the world, while relaxing near a lawn of growing grass, surrounded by an endless view of the sea?"
The proof of the design can be found in the details once again, with a highlight being the opportunity for guests to serve as their group's 'Grill Master', by being paired with a chef to gain a unique, firsthand lesson in proper grilling techniques.
"Our guests consistently tell us that fresh, exciting culinary experiences are essential to their enjoyment of their vacation, and we are always looking for new ways to deliver that to them," said Van Staden, pointing to previous initiatives such as the use of iPad-based menus to design unique, unexpected individual culinary journeys in the Qsine restaurant aboard the Celebrity Eclipse cruise liner.
Celebrity Cruises' Infinity, Millennium and Summit liners each house a botanical conservatory, boasting designs by renowned Parisian silk flower designer, Emilio Robba.
Guests can simply enjoy the greenery and beauty of the natural surroundings, or learn the art of flower arrangement, while select Celebrity liners offer another stylish design innovation in the Cellarmasters Wine Bar, in the form of the revolutionary 'Enomatic' wine serving system, which allows guests to select wines by the glass at the touch of a button.
Just one of the novel design features aboard Allure and its sister 'Oasis Class' liners, meanwhile, is the presence of the themed, landscaped tropical garden tended by an on-site horticulturalist. Another impressive feature designed for Oasis and Allure is the Rising Tide bar, which moves slowly up and down between three decks in the themed Central Park neighbourhood.
IT-compatible - the 'it' technology
'IT-compatible' has become something of a catchphrase in the cruise industry in the last few years. Engineers and designers have devised some innovative and ingenious solutions to bring these floating resorts into the technological age. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class liners.
But not only do cruise liners need to be 'brought online' in terms of technology and connectivity, but they also need to make provisions for future developments. With this in mind, the platform on which the Oasis of the Seas' day-to-day working is built is the Cisco Unified Wireless Mobile Network, designed to allow Royal Caribbean to integrate new technologies into the system as and when they become available.
Bill Martin, chief information officer for Royal Caribbean Cruises, believes this move will mean that if and when the network's performance, availability and security need to be upgraded, this can be done with little fuss. "The network provides everything from the crew's Wi-Fi phones to point-of-sale devices," he said.
A spokesman from Cisco Technical Services, meanwhile, highlights a further advance aboard the Oasis of the Seas: "State-of-the-art Cisco Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) gateways can support more than 40 simultaneous satellite phone calls. This allows guests and crew to make calls directly from their cabin phones."
Martin explains it was the guests themselves - via feedback, where they asked for even more activity, entertainment and dining options than before - who played a major role in advancing innovation aboard Royal Caribbean's cruise liners.
He said "by leveraging technology" on Oasis and its sister ships, Royal Caribbean is now able to provide guests with a simplified, seamless experience to ensure they have the best holiday possible.