Carnival Cruise Line senior director of hotel refurbishment Lisa McCabe unveils the cruise operator’s refurbishment strategy in an exclusive interview
Adding cabins is a huge focus for Carnival Cruise Line when it comes to its refurbishment strategy.
Indeed, it is a “really big thing keeping me busy”, its senior director of hotel refurbishment Lisa McCabe told Passenger Ship Interiors & Refurbishment in an exclusive interview.
Ms McCabe heads up a team that handles the larger, more challenging refurbishment projects, including rolling out branded areas, upgrading existing areas including water parks and adding cabins.
Ms McCabe explained that the cruise line had been looking for opportunities to add berthing to ships. “Along with that comes more dining venues or areas to accommodate the added guest count. In some of our older ships, we have even added a deck of cabins on the ship,” she added.
She commented that this was a trend for cruise operators. “Cruise lines look for spaces that are not as optimised or that can become multi-purpose to take over some of the functions of spaces made into cabins. Or they might look at adding outdoor decks to add cabins.”
Some of Carnival Cruise Line’s recent refurbishment projects have included adding cabins and balconies. Carnival Elation and Carnival Paradise were both refurbished at Grand Bahama Shipyard, in 2017 and 2018 respectively. In each, 98 new balconies were added and a deck with 32 new cabins and four suites. The cabins were added to the top of the forward part of the ship where there used to be a mini golf course, which was replaced by an open deck on which a structural block containing the new cabins was added.
There was also an aft lounge that was “not utilised much”, used to create space for the extension, so other areas in the cruise ship were repurposed to take over this function.
Focus on stability
Ms McCabe said “We need to make sure that ships can handle the additional weight on the stability side.” The balconies added to the ships required heavier shell plates to be installed; this and adding the new cabins meant a ducktail needed to be added for buoyancy.
Taking away older materials to compensate for the additional weight of new cabins is also an important consideration. Ms McCabe said “Older ships have different layers that we try and clean up and remove weight to compensate for new items, this is important. Whether it is the addition of products or materials it all adds up, especially when adding cabins.”
Speaking of areas where materials might be removed, or lighter materials added, she said “It is more the sub-street materials behind the scenes, for example, there are bulk head panels available in different materials with some that are a little lighter and cabinetry can be done in honeycomb.” Another way to save weight is when renovating bathrooms, tiles are taken out rather than just going over them with new decorations.
In 2019, Ms McCabe and her team will travel to Cadiz, Spain, to oversee a US$200M refurbishment project that will transform the existing Carnival Triumph to the newly renamed Carnival Sunrise. The project will involve adding more than 100 cabins and many new food, beverage and entertainment venues.
As well as adding cabins, renovating cabins is an important part of Carnival Cruise Line’s refurbishment focus.
Ms McCabe commented “There is no formula equation, but generally large cabins when they hit the 15-year point need more expansive cabin work. Others have a timeless design, so we do soft goods and lighting refurbishment.” She said in some of the older ships, a lot of fixed furniture, carpets, drapery and loose furniture were replaced.
All cabins and suites were renovated on Elation and Paradise, while the company carried out a large project on Victory where bridge wing suites were installed at the start of 2018. “There were four cabins with not very good views which we replaced with 10 cabins with beautiful forward windows.”
Other recent projects include a refurbishment of Carnival Spirit, which was drydocked in Singapore. “This is geared a little more towards the Australian market, so there is a larger video arcade in a more prominent location and we added new family areas geared towards that market.” This included the Cove, a family area and an arts and crafts area, which is something new Carnival is trying out.
Another important area that Ms McCabe and her team have focused on for the last six years is rolling out branded areas including a pool bar, branded bars such as the Alchemy bars and food areas.
She added “We are also upgrading existing areas, like water parks in the older ships and doing something more exciting with those areas.”
Indeed, Carnival is one of a number of cruise lines updating water parks. “It is a big project in a short period of time as it involves a lot of steel work and heavy structure, plus water and pump rooms.”
Speaking about some of the main issues when it comes to a refurbishment project, Ms McCabe singled out cost, feasibility and time to do the project. “The big equation is the time out of service that it takes to do the project.”
Speaking about Carnival’s relationship with interior refurbishment outfitters, Ms McCabe said “It is all about preplanning, we work on this for six months to a year prior to a project commencing. We are always looking for vendors who are organised manufacturers. We are always looking for new vendors – we like to test people out with smaller projects and often outfitters like to start with smaller projects and get to know how Carnival works and build up. If they do a good job, then we repeat.”
She also highlighted the importance of logistics when it came to vendors. “We could have 600 containers, so it is important that vendors know what is packed in containers and they know when to bring them on because if the wrong one is brought on it could cause the project to fail.”
Ms McCabe appears to relish her work. “It is an exciting time and challenging – new ships have a longer timeframe to achieve projects. Ours (refurbishment) is a shorter time so you really feel the accomplishment when you finish a project, as you see it come to life in such a short timeframe.”
A 30-year veteran of the maritime industry, Lisa McCabe joined Carnival in 2009 as director of refurbishments and was promoted to her current position, senior director of hotel refurbishments in 2012.
In this capacity, she leads a team of project managers responsible for the majority of the cruise line’s large-scale drydock projects throughout the fleet that include the addition of new branded food and beverage venues, stateroom renovations and additions, water parks and upgrades to crew spaces. During her time at Carnival Cruise Line, Ms McCabe has been responsible for over 250 refurbishment projects in shipyards throughout US, The Bahamas and Singapore.
Ms McCabe studied interior design at Florida International University and worked for several firms that specialised in cruise ship refurbishments as well as designing and managing projects for Royal Caribbean in its refurbishment department.
Almaco outfitted Carnival Elation and Carnival Paradise – and highlighted the importance of saving weight and building modular cabins on the shipyard site.
Almaco vice president service division Herve Touzard highlighted the main considerations in the project. “If you add more weight to the upper deck, then you can have a stability issue.” To counteract this, not only was a ducktail added, but MrTouzard explained that Almaco decided to construct the cabin block out of aluminium rather than steel to save weight. The block – of around 500 m2 – was divided into seven sub-blocks that were then fitted to the open deck of the ship.
“What is really important in this kind of project is the preparation and pre-outfit of the block – doing as much as this as we could before the ship arrives, to make the drydock as short as possible as otherwise it is a loss of revenue for the cruise ship owner,” emphasised Mr Touzard.
To this end, Almaco built modular cabins at the shipyard and once the block was welded onto the ship, slid in the cabins. “Building the cabins on site is faster and more efficient, owners see a lot of value in this. It is cheaper for the cruise operator and they can control the schedule better as the cabin building is happening on site.”
Mr Touzard said this differentiated Almaco to other outfitters and was one reason why cruise ship owners want to use the company for technically challenging projects or jobs with a difficult schedule.
Mr Touzard said Almaco works with a cruise operator before a project to add cabins is even triggered. “Our internal resources look fleet wide, looking at where to add cabins, and if adding more cabins in a new block, how this affects passenger flow and the number of restaurants. We help cruise lines by calculating the revenue they will make with new cabins, where they should be placed, how many, and the cost of them versus not doing anything so they can make calculations.”
Almaco has recently worked with other cruise operators to add more cabins, including Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, which was drydocked in April 2017 at Grand Bahama Shipyard. “It’s a real trend and we will see this more and more in the future,” Mr Touzard said.
“Cruise operators try to add cabins in many places, from conference rooms to libraries – anywhere which does not generate much revenue,” he said.
Mr Touzard flagged up that a particular challenge was that drydock lengths have shrunk, from five weeks 10 years ago to three weeks currently, with future aims based on 14-17 days. This has led to a trend to finish the job while the vessel is cruising. “The operator can just close off one area for light finishes rather than having a longer drydock which is very expensive for them,” he explained.