SunStone Ships’ newbuilds are the first cruise ships to be built in China, which has large ramifications for its interior outfitting and design. The cruise owner and team behind the interiors explain
The fact that SunStone Ships’ new series of cruise ships are the first to be built in China had a big impact for its interior design and outfitting – the cruise owner’s chief executive Niels-Erik Lund highlighted the importance of using European contractors for the interiors.
The company chose Tomas Tillberg Design to manage the interior design and Finland’s Makinen for sourcing interior products and outfitting, both companies it has worked with for years. Mr Lund commented “It is very important to have long-term relationships, we know they do things on time and that they know about quality.”
“As we are the first ones to be building cruise ships in China, we had to take that into consideration and that is why we secured Tomas Tillberg Design and Makinen. It is very important to get a European product with European quality.”
He added “The challenges are on the interiors and technical side, not on the steel side, as [Chinese shipyards] build excellent steel.”
Alongside the cruise interior outfitting and design side, Norway-headquartered Ulstein has been contracted to provide the technical design and source the technical equipment.
The importance of the trio of companies is summed up, as Mr Lund said “We would not have ordered a ship in China without contracts with Tomas Tillberg, Makinen and Ulstein, without this combination it would not have worked.”
Looking ahead, he predicted the Chinese yard, China Merchants Industry Holdings (CMIH), would learn about interior construction from the SunStone ships, and in the future be able to manage this itself. “I am sure the shipyard is looking at it that way, they need to learn how to do this and build other vessels going forward, so they pick up the knowledge needed.”
Tomas Tillberg chief executive Tomas Tillberg described China as a “new frontier” for cruise ship building and added “Chinese yards have not built cruise ships before but by bringing an experienced European contractor to CMIH we can deliver the interior that a modern cruise ship should have.”
“It is not a small shipyard, it has built huge, costly and complicated tonnage before, such as tankers, oil platforms etc. So for them to build a cruise ship is not daunting from a technical or steel point of view. However, there is little or no experience with the hotel side – our job is to bring that to the shipyard.”
Speaking about the relationship, he said “All our colleagues at CMIH are very understanding and helpful and we enjoy a healthy professional relationship.”
Building long-term relationships with suppliers and designers is important to SunStone Ships. Mr Lund said the company had worked with Tomas Tillberg for years, across its current fleet, both on newbuildings and design retrofits. It has also worked with Makinen across its fleet.
Makinen chief executive Sameli Lähdesmäki told Passenger Ship Interiors & Refurbishment “Our co-operation with CMHI has gone surprisingly well. We recognise a common target and because of that we are going in the right direction.” He said a “strong partnership model” had been developed.
At the time of interview (August 2018), he said installation would start in two months. “It has involved a lot of planning and sitting together with the shipyard and trying to find the right way of doing the installation.”
Makinen currently has five crew based at the shipyard, a number that Mr Lähdesmäki said will grow.
The company is setting up an assembly factory at the shipyard to prefabricate cabins and furniture modules.
Speaking about the materials and products being selected, he said “Some is coming from Europe and some from China. Quite a few materials which are the right quality are being brought from China – these companies are also supplying cruise ships being built in Europe.”
Summing up the importance of bringing in a European contractor which has a longstanding relationship with the cruise ship owner, he said “I think it brings security to all parties that we are an experienced interior contractor. We know what SunStone is looking for and they know we can deliver what they require.”
Furthermore, he pointed out that the shipyard would gain experience within interior outfitting from working alongside Makinen.
Different charters, different interiors
Aside from being built in China, SunStone’s ships are interesting because they are intended for different charterers, which has an impact on the interiors.
Tomas Tillberg Design lead designer and managing partner Nedgé Louis-Jacques commented “From a design point of view, this series of vessels is very interesting. They are all the same ship basically but intended for different clients, so their designs are adapted individually. Charterers who will operate the ships have specific demands and they cater to certain groups of people, they know exactly who their customers are and what they expect, and we meet these demands.”
Singling out Aurora Cruises, she said that as the company was headquartered in Australia and many of its passengers were Australian, it had an impact on the design. “Australian passengers are a bit more casual than say the UK, it is a different attitude to cruising and is less formal, but still elegant and comfortable so there will be a very nice mix of interiors.”
The third SunStone ship is now under contract with a different charterer, Ocean Victory, where the preference is Scandinavian-inspired design. Tomas Tillberg vice president of design Debbie Breslauer said “We are excited to take this style to new innovative, contemporary heights, while being mindful of the special challenges that expedition cruising brings.”
Mr Lund added “Depending on the charterer, we have ships with different numbers of cabins, ranging from 120-200 passengers, ships with steam rooms and without, different colour schemes, for example some choosing dark wood panels and others light colours.”
Therefore, he said there were a number of meetings between SunStone Ships, Tillberg, Makinen and each charterer so that all parties agree on the interiors plan.
Mr Lund said that from an interior point of view, the new ships represented an upgrade compared to SunStone’s older ships. “There is more than one restaurant, much larger cabins and we have balconies,” he said.
Important areas include the mud room, where passengers come in and take off wet and heavy clothes, wash boots and clean up before going to the public area. Mr Lund said that from the mud room passengers will have access to four zodiac loading platforms. In the aft of the ships will be areas to store special expedition equipment, including kayaks, and two loading platforms for passengers to enter and exit the kayaks.
Speaking about the design of expedition ships in general, Ms Louis-Jacques pointed out that their designs are very different to those of larger cruise ships. “The focus on bigger cruise ships is more on the entertainment, food and drink, casino and other onboard revenue sources. On a small expedition ship the focus is completely different – the passengers are on the ship for the destination rather than the ship itself. They want a comfortable and upscale environment, but definitely don’t expect a Las Vegas show.”
Space is also used differently on expedition cruise ships – with the designer ensuring it is flexible. “You usually use spaces for more than one thing, so it needs to be flexible to meet a range of requirements.”
Ponant’s Explorers-class expedition vessels include interior features never before seen, such as its ‘Blue Eye’ underwater lounge. Its newbuilding director explains how obstacles were overcome to create the area
Ponant’s Explorers-class vessels have deployed interior experiences and design solutions that are a first-of-its-kind – especially its ‘Blue Eye’ underwater lounge.
The first of these ice-class vessels, Le Lapérouse, was built at Norway’s Vard Shipyard, a subsidiary of Fincantieri. At 131 m in length, it has 92 cabins and suites, with 110 crew members. The moderate size means the ship can access the most remote places.
The Blue Eye multi-sensorial underwater lounge is a world-first. Ponant explained it will allow passengers to discover and experience the underwater world via two portholes in the form of a cetaceous eye looking out on to the seabed, non-intrusive underwater lighting, hydrophones integrated into the keel that retransmit the “natural symphony of the deep water and body listening sofas, offering a unique sensorial listening experience by corporal resonance”.
Ponant newbuilding and R&D director Mathieu Petiteau told Passenger Ship Interiors & Refurbishment “Never before has such a thing been done, it is just incredible to me and a revolution in shipbuilding.”
He said creating the lounge within the hull involved a lot of challenges – the biggest was to demonstrate the strength of the complete system would provide the same safety level as using steel within the hull. Creating the Blue Eye lounge involved replacing some of the steel of the hull with glass. “We needed to demonstrate, in terms of grounding or ice navigation, there would not be less safety,” explained Mr Petiteau.
“It was the most difficult thing to demonstrate, but we believe now that the system is even stronger [then using steel in the hull].” He explained this was achieved by the “way the glass is integrated into the steel frame and how the steel frame was integrated into the hull”.
“We had to go through each individual material that composed this, we implemented all of these systems within the hull and looked at the impact on the window, we went far into the research and the design of this,” said Mr Petiteau. To this end, Ponant worked in close co-operation with the maker of the glass and with Hamburg University of Technology, which specialises in materials and finite element modelling.
Bureau Veritas classed the vessel and its global market leader, passenger ships and ferries Andreas Ullrich agreed the most challenging item was the Blue Eye lounge, as it is the first cruise ship to have glass below the water line. “At 6 m it is very large,” he commented, adding “Originally class rules said you have to use steel, but here we did a risk assessment and a lot of tests to confirm that it is as safe as using steel.”
Adapting yacht design
In terms of design, it was important for Ponant to “go further” with a yachting design than before.
“We really want our passengers to feel like they are on board a private yacht,” explained Mr Petiteau.
The ship has other distinct features: a marina has been deployed to allow guests to have close contact with the sea. At the back of the ship, a large hatch opens up to allow a ‘huge platform’ to be deployed. This platform can be adjusted to any level and can even go to 1 m below the sea. “It is a very customised design and designed by Ponant to allow customers to have close contact with the sea,” said Mr Petiteau.” While such a platform has been used before on small yachts, it has never before been used on cruise ships.
Ponant has also developed a lighting system. It developed an integrated solution for 28 spotlights on the back of the hull to light up the bottom of the sea. LED technology is used.
Each Explorers-class ship will have 88 balcony staterooms and four suites with bay windows and private terraces.