This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver takes a look at how cruise companies are using funnels as part of the product branding.
"The Walt Disney Company plans to expand its successful cruise business by adding two new ocean liners Scheduled to launch in 2011 and 2012".
"Similar to the original Disney Cruise Line ships, the new ships will be a modern interpretation of classic ocean liners of the 1930s. Disney Imagineers drew their inspiration from the original trans-Atlantic ships that featured a dramatic black hull with two funnels and porthole windows. The profile of the ships, with its gentle curves at the stern combined with sleek angles at the bow, are reminiscent of the art deco designs of the era"
How ironic that one of the few cruise lines that actually seems to care about the external design of their ships should be one of the newer cruise entrants and a unique one at that - 'Disney'. In fact there are Cruise talkers (members of our on-line chat forum) that think the original two Disney vessels, 'Disney Magic' (1998) and 'Disney Wonder' (1999) are externally, two of the most attractive modern ships.
Most new cruise ships appear to be built from a purely functional perspective. If you want evidence, you only have to look at the number of new 'boxy' shaped cruise ships entering service. With many of these new ships, their vast walls of balconies give them the appearance of office blocks rather than nautical vessels.
NCL's 'Pride of America' (2005) is a prime example. She may well be a swan internally, but externally she is one very ugly duckling. NCL do not appear to have spent a moment considering the design of her profile, especially the forward superstructure under the bridge and her very short ungainly bow.
As with many travellers in the past, I do enjoy a good funnel on a ship. In fact, with me, the more funnels the better. Funnels were once a symbol of power and pride onboard the great ocean liners. They were iconic in design. A 'four stacker' ship was the ultimate 'power house' that could cut through all the North Atlantic could throw at her. She could cut through even the most challenging conditions like a hot knife through butter.
In some instances this was despite the fact that the fourth funnel was a 'dummy' as per the Titanic and put there purely there to impress. Another ship with impressive funnels is the 'SS United States' of 1952. The two funnels on the fastest ship in the world look like they had been pumping iron and taking steroids. Like wise the original 'Queen Mary' (1936) had three gigantic red iconic tubular funnels.
Most modern ships have one single short funnel which is often peculiarly shaped and rarely attractive. They are just a functional collection of exhaust pipes and vents. However, funnels still play an important role in the cruise lines banding.
As many ships are now built upon a similar template, such as Carnival's Vista class (Carnival, Cunard, P&O, HAL and Costa) only the funnel design, colour and ship livery differentiate the external look of the vessels. Perhaps the best contemporary examples of distinctive funnels are Carnival's 'winged' funnel and Cunard's 'QE2' style funnel now incorporated on the 'Queen Mary' 2 and 'Queen Victoria'.
'Disney Magic' and 'Disney Wonder' are two of a very small number of ships in service to have two funnels arranged in an ocean liner configuration. The look is not the only thing in common with the liners of the past as one of the Disney funnels (the forward one) is a dummy and houses a club for teenagers. Disney's two new ships will also have two funnels.
Some of the HAL ships technically have two funnels, but they are small 'chimney pot' style and arranged side by side, rather than along the length of the hull.
Initial artist impressions of Celebrity's two newbuilds also shows two small funnels located at the rear of the ships. In my opinion however, these create a very aesthetically unbalanced profile.
Personally I was really disappointed that the world's greatest modern ocean liner, the 'Queen Mary 2' only had one funnel. Although there are technical reasons why a ship should not have two, such as weight and aerodynamics, I think Cunard missed out an opportunity to include a charming and nostalgic design feature.
After taking a shot at NCL's 'Pride of America', I feel that I should at least give them the credit for 'Norwegian Dream' and her ingenious folding funnel. Because of her unique itinerary, the top half of the funnel is hinged and can be folded in down to allow her to fit under the bridges of Germany's Kiel Canal. This Kiel Canal is often used as a shortcut from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea and can cut as many as 280 nautical miles from an itinerary.
As a final thought, let me say that I am prepared to forgive 'Disney;' for referring too their proposed new cruise ships as 'Ocean Liners' in the above quoted text from a press release.
After all 'make believe' is what Disney is all about. For example the Disney cruise terminal at Port Canaveral is inspired by Southampton's original and beautiful Art Deco 'Ocean Terminal'. It's not genuine, but it's still more attractive than Southampton's existing QE2 terminal.
However, I cannot not forgive Cunard who have referred to their new cruise ship, 'Queen Victoria' (2008), as an 'Ocean liner' because they should know better than to try and fool their passengers.