This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver revisits the subject of how a ship's appearance can affect the overall cruise experience.
It's what's on the inside that counts?
A few months ago I wrote an article entitled 'Do Looks Matter', which focussed on the external appearance of modern cruise ships. After debating the subject with myself, I came to the conclusion that 'Yes' they do matter, if you are a ship aficionado, and 'No' they probably don't if you are just interested in a vacation afloat.
In the interest of thoroughness, I have decided to revisit the subject - but this time from a slightly different perspective. Specifically, let's take a look at the question: "Does the internal decor of a cruise ship matter"?
Initially one might think 'No'; surely it is the overall experience (food, entertainment, ports of call etc.) that is important. However, most cruise lines must think that the interiors of their vessels really do matter, as they all spend a fortune on the internal decoration of their ships. The only exception that I can think of is 'EasyCruise' who have very minimalist decor and will sell you a 'no frills' cabin for a few pounds per night. (They are selling more of a floating youth hostel experience, than a cruise one).
Interestingly the average mass-market Hotel will often have quite unexciting décor. However, the average mass market cruise ships are an explosion of glitz, colour, neon and art works. Just have a look at images of the interiors of Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise line vessels. So why is this?
Traditionally we have always associated travel by ship as being the pursuit of the very well off (…overlooking for unpleasant experiences of the millions of steerage passengers). We have all seen the photographs and movies of the rich occupying Titanic or Queen Mary's opulent public rooms and enjoying the finest food and service. Even today the word 'Cruise' is still associated in the publics mind with 'luxury'. The modern cruise lines are happy to perpetuate this association. In fact they are often keen to 'exceed our expectations' and deliver a product that is bigger and brighter than we could imagine.
It was the American cruise lines that made cruising the global mass-market pursuit that it is today. In order to make the product more accessible to the general public, the cruise lines replaced the more traditional styles of maritime decor to ones that emulated 'Las Vegas', 'Hotel Resorts' and 'Theme Parks'. After all, that's who they are directly competing with when they sell cruises to the masses.
The master of such decor is Joe Farcus who creates his mind-blowing "entertainment-architecture" for the Carnival Cruise Line and the Costa Cruises. It is astonishing, over-the-top, mega-glitzy, inspiring, confusing, and migraine inducing, all at once! It really has to be seen to be believed. The intention is to not only physically transport you to exotic ports, but to mentally transport you to a fantasy world. For example, Carnival Legend has a theme of 'Myth and legends', which are depicted in the 'fantasy' décor.
In fact, in recent years we have increasingly seen the creation of 'themed' ships. There are the 'Disney' ships for example, NCL have an 'American' themed ship (with public rooms based on the USA's great landmarks) as well as two 'Hawaiian' themed vessels. Cunard's forthcoming cruise ship Queen Victoria will have an 'Ocean Liner' theme.
Most modern cruise ships also have vast amounts of art onboard, giving the passengers the feeling that they are in a 'classy' floating Art Gallery. This art may be quite traditional in style featuring sculptures, and or oil and watercolor paintings of landscapes and historic ships. Alternatively it may feature vast modern pieces of art, which fill the ships atriums like some kind of giant Triffid.
Interestingly, you do not need to understand interior design, or art for that matter, for it to have an affect on you. We are all sensitive to our environment. Interior design has the power to inspire you or leave you decidedly unimpressed. Some ships and their public rooms will be to your liking and feel very welcoming and others will not.
Now I would not go as far as saying a ships decor alone could make or break a cruise. However, I do think it is important when choosing a cruise to match the onboard experience, which includes the decor, to your personal tastes. In short 'loud' décor often means a 'loud' cruise, likewise understated décor signifies a more refined experience.
Ask yourself if you would be happy to spend a week on a floating 'Las Vegas' (i.e. Carnival or RCI) or would you prefer a more sedate or traditionally decorated ship (i.e. HAL or Cunard)? Fortunately there are a whole host of ships/lines out there to choose from, each offering a different onboard experience. And how do you do the research you may well ask. I can answer is one just one word "CruiseTalk" - Travelpage.com's cruise chat forum.