Public spaces and the utilization of them on a cruise ship can enhance or detract from the overall cruise experience. As I was looking at cruise pictures, I started thinking about the form and function of my favorite public spaces. The following is my list of the most important public spaces on a cruise ship and my thoughts on how they can best be designed and utilized.
1. An Elegant Main Dining Room
I still love the elegance and service of fine traditional dining. On the older ships on which I first sails, these rooms were often in the lower areas of the ship with low ceilings and tight seating. I love the newer ships which have these rooms on higher decks often with two or three stories and an open elegant atmosphere. I think these rooms should be decorated with tasteful classic restraint and convey a sense that the diner is in store for some thing special. The ship designers should also keep in mind the functionality of these rooms allowing for an ease of flow in the service and convenience to the kitchen. The best example that I can provide of this kind of dining room are the Celebrity Solstice class ships (Pictured above), or better yet the older Millennium class ships with their floor to ceiling windows which really open up the dining space. The Solstice class ships offer a kind of cool elegance, and the Millennium class ships offer classic warmth. We have always found the service on these two classes of ships to be first rate. With the recent trend to allow some or all passengers to participate in open dining, the main dining rooms should be designed to allow flexibility in the arrangement of tables and the ability to handle peak dining times with out long waits. One of the things I liked about the Solstice ship was that on our Trans-Atlantic cruise on the ship they offered a special wine tasting dinner that was held in an unused corner of the main dining room.
2. An Observation Lounge
An observation lounge can meet many different needs of cruisers. During the day it can serve as a quiet relaxation area for readers and ocean watchers. At night it can serve as an out of the way disco, gathering place for events and contests, a venue of theme parties and so much more. This is usually the place to go to for those seeking a fun evening. Almost all ships have these areas, usually with panoramic ocean view windows. Ship designers should work to meet the needs of the entertainment staff when designing these spaces making sure that they are large enough to accommodate the number of passengers expected to turn up at specific events. I really enjoy the ocean views from this area during the day, especially when they can be enjoyed from almost anywhere in the room. At night passengers are often treated to glowing lights from passing land bodies or other ships.
3. A Centralized Pre-Dinner Gathering Place for Cocktails and Dancing
Back in the “Old Days” when I first started cruising, most of the ships on which I sailed featured one all purpose lounge. This is where passengers gathered for safety drills, important information, cocktails, dancing and even the live evening shows. What I’ve noticed on my recent cruises is that people do tend to want to gather in one central area, outside the dining venues, for cocktails and dancing. On some newer ships this space is filled to capacity, especially when the band is playing music for dancing. I can’t decide if the design of the atrium area, called the Grand Foyer, on the Solstice class ships was planned or an afterthought. They have a several story atrium with many different lounges surrounding it like the Martini Bar and Wine bar one level up from the atrium and the Passport Bar on the ground level. On the ground floor, between the back of the elevators, either the orchestra or party band play live dancing music which can be enjoyed from the open areas above the atrium including the Martini Bar and Cafe Bacio on the higher levels. The large marble landing area on the bottom floor is then transformed into a dance floor, as well as part of the Passport Bar. This set up allows for just about everyone who wants to listen to the live music before dinner to do so, but provides a very limited dance floor. It just seems like utilizing this area as a pre-dinner gathering place may have been an afterthought of which the Celebrity entertainment staff made the best use of the space that they had. I think it would make much more sense in ship design to pre plan this area a gathering place with a larger dance floor and band stand. I wish I had a larger frame of reference for how these spaces could work better. Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to sail other lines with differently laid out deck plans recently Perhaps some of our readers who have cruise other lines more recently can provide us with examples.
4. Dedicated Smoking Areas -Convenient but Out of the Way
If you have read our “Cruise Line Smoking Policies” Page, you know that this is one of the touchiest areas for both smokers and non-smokers. I think that most cruise lines will continue to have some sort of dedicated smoking area in order to be able to book passengers who smoke and large groups, but more and more cruise ships are moving towards more restrictive indoor smoking policies. If I was designing a new ship, I would include outdoor smoking areas that are out of the general traffic patterns but an easy step outdoors for those passengers who do smoke. This way non-smokers are not likely to encounter unwanted second hand smoke during their routine use of the ship, and smokers could easily step outside with out having to make their way up three flights of stairs and down a long hall. Maybe I’d even include some sort of indoor smoking area that would have double doors and an exhaust system. With existing ships which were designed before the implementation of the new policies and attitudes toward smoking, cruise lines should do their best to find a few places to designate as smoking areas that easily accessible, but out of the way of regular traffic patterns.
5. A Well Planned Pool Area with areas for Adults and Children with a Butler
I think all cruise ships should have a large open pool areas, with plenty of lounge seating, an area for swimming that is dedicated to younger ones, and a pool butler to prevent the day long saving of chairs, and. The poolside can be one of the most enjoyable areas of a ship. Some ships have pools located on the aft section of the ship that provide panoramic ocean views, others have them them centrally located with several levels of seating and often a band stand for poolside music. Either location works for me, but I do like it when the ships provide an area that is adults only and one that is designated for kids. That way when I bring my kids to the kids area, I don’t have to worry about them disturbing adults who would rather not be around kids. Though I still expect my kids to be mindful and courteous of the adults in the pool, I know that if they really want to, the adults can use the other pool. Some of the larger newer ship on family friendly lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean now include water slides for older kids and Tot water areas for the little ones. Most of us who read cruise blogs have heard about the infamous “Chair Hogs” who claim a prime deck chair for the day with just a book and/or a towel, and seldom return to actually use the chair. A pool butler could insure that the person with the chair reserved is indeed in the area, perhaps in the pool, or just a few steps away grabbing a quick lunch. If the person is no where to be found for more than an hour, then the chair should be cleared and allowed to be used by others. Having a ship with a well thought pool area can certainly enhance a cruise vacation.
6. Quiet Areas – free of charge
A new trend in cruising is the reserved cabana. These cabanas can rent for around $100 a day, and provide a peaceful sanctuary or retreat from the more active and noisy areas of the ship. Often these area are designated as adults only. Obviously these areas have been created in response of the requests of cruiser and also their potential as revenue generators. I would like to see more ships provide this kind of dedicated space free of charge. Any cruiser who is tired of listening to band music or noisy crowds should be able to find a little secret outdoor space for a few minutes and enjoy the peaceful relaxation that cruising offers.
7. User Friendly Buffet
For grabbing a quick bite for breakfast or dinner nothing beats the buffet area. However sometimes a buffet can be confusing. How many lines area there? Where is the start? Should I get my drinks first then go for food or vice-versa? Where do I sit? The efficiency and convenience or lack there of at a buffet area is one of the most reviewed items on cruising message boards. I think I enjoy the buffets the most on Trans-Atlantic cruises where ship is often booked to way less than full capacity. When I’ve cruised on these voyage I find it very easy to navigate my way through the buffet area. On more crowded cruises I often find my self wandering around with plate in hand just looking for my party or having to set down my plate and then return for my coffee. I know some cruisers who never utilize the main dining room during a cruise, so for those cruisers a well functioning buffet with lots of variety is even more important. A helpful staff, multiple serving stations, convenient beverage stations and ample seating create an enjoyable buffet dining experience.
Perhaps our readers can share their experiences the design of the public spaces on their favorite or least favorite cruise ships. If there are other public space that I have not mentioned that are important to you, please share your thoughts.