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Australia's largest cruise operator P&O has abandoned ships to find inspiration on land for its new fleet.
Tillberg Design of Sweden art director Fredrik Johansson said his company had looked to hotels and restaurants to create the radically different residential design feel for P&O's new ships Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden.
The additional ships, formerly part of the Holland America Line fleet, will boost P&O Cruises' fleet to five from November 25, offering hundreds of departures from ports right around the country. Australia was recently named the world's fastest growing cruise market in the lastest cruise industry report.
"It was a specific request from the owner to begin with that they wanted to move away from this formal upright mass-market look and much more into the private, intimate, more like a boutique hotel or a residential style," Johansson said.
Johansson and his design partner Petra Rydberg were in Oslo last month to tour the ms Ryndam which will later this year go into dry dock in Singapore to be transformed into Pacific Aria – one of P&O's new generation cruise ships.
"Historically it's been a lot about designing timeless elegance because it is a big investment and the design has to last for a long, long time because you can't refit it easily," Johansson said.
"I think the cruise industry is beginning to realise that it has to follow the pace of land-based establishments where there is a much quicker turn-over of themes, concepts and food. Styles are much more short lived.
"I think if we design something here and now to be launched next year, it will last maybe three or four years before some of it will feel outdated and will need to be replaced. That's the new approach a lot of cruise owners are going to take. Design something that looks fresh and really inviting right now.
"That's what it takes if you want to attract the new passengers, the younger clientele, people who would otherwise go to a design hotel or a fashionable resort."
And that's exactly what Tillberg Design has done.
Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden are smaller than P&O's other ships – the Jewel, Dawn and Pearl. The new ships will cater for about 1500 guests and the number of children passenger has been capped at 10 per cent which will no doubt influence the position of these ships in the market.
The designs for Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden, while not pretentious, are very residential and guests will feel like they holidaying in a high-end resort hotel.
The colours throughout the ship are calming, the furnishings relaxing inviting you to bring your book, sit down and relax as the bartender pours you your favourite drink.
They will also be clearly looking to take advantage of Australia's love affair with food. Pacific Aria will offer at least 13 different daily dining options with the boldest decision being to dump the infamous cruise ship buffet in favour of its game-changing Pantry.
The Pantry, eight fresh food outlets and a bar, is more like a upmarket food court with funky chairs, communal benches, cluster seating options and contemporary cafe design.
The menus will include modern Australian cuisine like pulled pork burgers, fresh sandwiches, mouth-watering Mexican, delicious Asian broths and curries from India, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
Diners will be served their meals encouraging them to eat what they enjoy rather the traditional buffet approach of eating as much as you can.
The main dining room, traditionally a giant cavernous space, will be split into three restaurants: the Waterfront; Angelo's, an elegant Italian dining option; and the exciting Pan-Asian Dragon Lady.
Both Angelo's and Dragon Lady, only open at night, and like P&O's signature Salt Grill by Luke Mangan, will cost an additional small charge. The new ships will also offer a Chef's Table 14-person degustation dining option.
"People want more freedom," Johansson said. "We have to design for that. You are not having a five-course meal anymore."You are dining at several outlets and having a much more diversified experience. It's people eating what they want and where they want it. It affects the whole planning of the ship and that's a huge challenge. You have to re-consider the flow of people because they now move in different patterns. They have different habits."
The Tillberg Design team, world leaders in maritime design, have no doubt that the new look of Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden will make the ships more attractive to a younger (or younger at heart) cruising demographic.
"Definitely a much younger age group than the average cruise ship. It is a deliberate step we have taken," Johansson said.
"I think it is less about physical age and more about being being young at heart and young in the mind. That's the kind of approach that we have taken.
"It's not specifically designed for any age group it's more about how you are as a person. It's about raising the quality of eating, drinking and entertainment. Something that works for all age groups."
The cabins and main theatre won't be renovated during this stage of the ship's transformation. But cruise passengers will notice the new sense of fun and style as soon as they step on board, especially in areas like The Blue Room which has been modelled on a New Orleans speakeasy. With rich velvet and chrome furnishings and instruments turned into artwork adorning the walls, this area will will become a music hub especially for lovers of jazz.
P&O has also modified its itinerary structure to include more short breaks launching a series of music-themed cruises and regional sea breaks.
"We have one of the best backyards in the world and our five-ship fleet is cruising from all over the country to take guests from Port Lincoln to Papua New Guinea," said Sture Myrmell, P&O cruises senior vice president commercial operations.
"While we are showing off the best of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, our guests can enjoy the latest in onboard innovations making our ships an exciting destination in their own right."
Pacific Aria 10-night cruise from Brisbane on departing December 17, 2015, is priced from $1499 per person quad share. Pacific Eden 12-night Christmas at sea cruise from Sydney departing December 16, 2015, is priced from $1599 per person quad share (including up to $250 onboard credit per room). See www.pocruises.com.au
The writer travelled as a guest of P&O.