SunStone Ships designs its ships to the specific demands of each charterer based on factors including their company profile, passenger demographic and cruise itineraries
Working with the first company to build international cruise vessels in China has proved to be a unique and ground-breaking experience on many levels, says Tomas Tillberg Design managing partner Tomas Tillberg.
Last year saw the launch of Greg Mortimer, SunStone Ships’ first Infinity-class expedition vessel constructed at China Merchants Heavy Industry (CMHI). The shipyard will deliver six more sibling vessels to SunStone over the next three years.
“First of all, it is a great pleasure for our whole team to work with SunStone on this amazing project,” says Mr Tillberg. “Together we are really sowing the seeds for cruise ship building in China, hand in hand with the Finnish contractor Makinen and the CMHI shipyard. Our company has done work in Asia before when, a few years ago, we completed the designs of a passenger ferry which was built at Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering in South Korea. It is the largest passenger vessel built in Korea, so we’re not entirely new to the region. It is exciting to be a pioneer, sometimes frustrating, but always rewarding when we see the end results.”
Rather than being operated by one cruise line, the vessels are going to individual charterers, including Aurora Expeditions, which operates Greg Mortimer and is taking delivery of Sylvia Earle in 2021, and Vantage Deluxe World Travel, chartering Ocean Explorer and Ocean Odyssey from next year and 2022, respectively.
Consequently, each vessel has to be designed to the specific demands of each charterer based on factors including their company profile, passenger demographic and cruise itineraries, explains Mr Tillberg.
“We very carefully listen to what would be the ideal concept for each vessel. Then we create an initial presentation for a kick-off meeting where the designs are discussed in more detail. This dialogue continues as we progress through the designs to always make sure we meet and exceed expectations and all the while keeping budgetary guidelines in mind.
He says that although the basics remain the same, each ship is unique. “An example is Sylvia Earle. Because of the unique Ulstein X-Bow there is a large two-level space at the forward end of the ship. This opens up possibilities for new and special uses. With Sylvia Earle it left room for a beautiful and highly functional science centre.”
Destinations, the onboard atmosphere and use of space are all factored into the Infinity-class design process.
Mr Tillberg says “The itinerary is always a factor that is considered. As this series of ships are all expedition ships, the relationship to the exterior environment is important. All windows are maximised in size so that it doesn’t matter where you are on board, you will always have a spectacular view. Polar regions have a specific atmosphere, light and colours, so our designs are naturally influenced by that.
“With the SunStone vessels, the general feel is a casual, comfortable yet elegant design. A lot of thought goes into the functions of each area. For example, the main lounge is not really an entertainment venue, but foremost a lecture lounge and therefore needs to be the very best in this regard. There are also spaces that you would not normally find on a cruise ship, such as the mud room where passengers gather before leaving on Zodiac expeditions. Kayaks and diving activities also originate from here and this space has to be intensely practical to accommodate these activities.
“Artwork plays a big role on board each vessel. Greg Mortimer is a veritable art gallery with carefully selected images photographed by well-known Australian photographers. Each headboard on Greg Mortimer has a spectacular image reflecting the areas the vessel is visiting. Throughout the design process great care is taken to find sustainable, long-lasting materials that are also, which is paramount today, easy to sanitise. We work closely with our suppliers to always stay on the front line with new materials that help us fulfil these requirements.”
He points out that the Infinity-class vessels take expedition ships – once basic in design – to new levels with features including swimming pools, hot tubs and glass walls that can turn sections of the restaurant into al fresco dining areas when sailing in warmer climates.
“The pool area, main lounge, a beautiful library, the two-storey atrium-like space, the spectacular observation lounge, the outdoor/indoor restaurant and other areas on board are all spaces with designs that make these vessels unique and offer an unforgettable experience for the guests. Not forgetting the incredible and once-in-a-lifetime destinations they visit.”
Turning to accommodation, he says “The cabins and suites are generous in size, with all the comforts one would expect of a modern cruise ship. Great care is taken for the safety of the guests and there are no sharp corners on furniture. Drawers and wardrobes close securely and there are additional handholds to grab onto if needed. The designs are light with nice accents and beautiful chairs and sofas. The headboards, with amazing high-resolution images, have become quite a feature on some of the vessels.”
He adds that working with trusted experts is crucial to an efficient design process. “We have relationships with more than 400 suppliers from all over the world. Most are specialists in marine products and understand their special requirements for quality and regulatory demands.”
Summing up the experience of being an integral part of the international team spearheading an all-new shipbuilding concept, Mr Tillberg concludes, “Working with a shipyard that has never built a passenger ship before has been challenging at times. But CMHI is very resourceful and ambitious, so any challenges have been overcome. For each ship the process has become more and more streamlined and we have a lot of respect for the yard and its capabilities.
“This series of expedition ships that SunStone is building makes SunStone not only the first owner to successfully build cruise ships in China, but also the world leader in the expedition market. It’s an exciting time for our company and we are very thankful for the opportunity SunStone and its charterers have given us.”