Cruise ships: The architecture of overstimulation.

Cruise ship architecture
Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign of the Seas. Like John Lautner. Only blingier. (Photos by C-M.)

Over Labor Day, I took my first Caribbean cruise. (Long story.) And it was on a ship that the cruise line is about to retire. Which means that I spent 72 hours completely immersed in an environment that was considered the shit in the ’80s. As is to be expected, it was totally nuts in a big-hair-and-shoulder-pads kind of way. The sensory effect was amplified by the cruise ship architecture, which was never less than over-the-top (and which borrowed liberally from starchitecture). There were lots of shining environments engineered to wear you out. Kinda like a floating strip mall, with buffets and a lot of bronze. Not that it was all bad. I very much enjoyed the soothing, upholstered nature of Schooner’s Bar and being able to say I ate Johnny Rockets at sea.

Click images to supersize. More after the jump.

Cruise ship architecture
This visual craziness is accompanied by thumpingly loud music, preventing anything that remotely resembles thought.

Cruise ship architecture
The interior atrium, which came equipped with a Seattle’s Best Coffee and a bunch of gift shops shelling glass dolphins and jewelry. It all had a South Coast Plaza kind of vibe.

Cruise ship architecture
The floor at the base of the atrium.

Cruise ship architecture
The mini-mall area: Like an ’80s airport lounge. But on water.

Cruise ship architecture
Parked in the Bahamas. Those black clouds in the background are the outermost edges of Hurricane Gustav.

Cruise ship architecture.
A Norwegian cruise ship parked next to ours: The details were very Santiago Calatrava.

Cruise ship architecture
Cruise ships as far as the eye can see: There’ are so many things going on here, I don’t know where to start. The giant red fin belongs to the Carnival Cruise liner parked two boats down. The Starship Enterprise-type structure in the middle is part of the Norwegian ship whose Calatrava-esque wings are shown in the preceding picture. And, on the right, also on the Norwegian liner, is an air horn that looks as if it were channeling Frank Gehry. The sunbathers in front? They would belong to my glorious vessel. Now, all this mess needs is a light show!

Cruise ship architecture.
The fish shape reminds me of another Gehry structure: the fish cage in Barcelona. Which leads me to think…Gehry should just do a cruise ship already. It’d be totally insane.

Cruise ship architecture
And the best part of cruising: the belly flop competition. Well, that and the piña coladas that came with the flashing lights.



  1. Christine

    I don’t think you ‘park’ ships. You do something else with them… not sure what, though.

  2. Indian River Fruit Lady

    Don’t lie. I was there. You loved it. You kept a diary. Won the belly flop competition. Led the limbo. Don’t lie to the good people just so you can keep your new “go-to” place all to yourself. There was plenty of room at the Schooner Bar for everyone.

  3. c-monster

    @ indian river lady: what can i say? i’m selfish. i don’t want the joyous secret that is schooner’s to get out into the world.

    @ shane: it doesn’t already?

    @ christine: it’s “docking.” i was just taking a bit of license with the language…

  4. robin hill

    I worked on The Sovereign of the Seas back in the late 80′s when it was the world’s largest cruise ship…our nickname for it was ‘sovereign of the sleaze’…for reasons other than the Architecture! However…back in the day we all complained that it looked like a large wedge of cheese especially compared to the older liners which used to grace the seas, like the Normandie or the Norway whose elegant lines remind me of poetic Architecture such as Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen. The sovereign clamoured for greatness but its wedge shape never allowed its lines to breathe…The 7 story centrum at the time was a new ‘wow’ factor that had one looking up and all around and its space allowed a lot of social interaction to take place…the ship was wildly successful as a profit making enterprise…and its basic form has been borrowed by many other ships since…There have been a couple of well known architects that designed ships…Renzo Piani designed the Crown and Regal Princess, which looked like a pair of dolphins and Morris lapidus was Ted Arison’s Architect of choice when he started Carnival Cruise Lines.

  5. robin hill

    not his best work…the design remained unfinished because of a funding problem…so the front of the ship looks like a dolphin and the back looks like the back of a garbage truck…scintillatingly contradictory….

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