Ship talk: RPW Design on the Oceana and Arcadia refits


Arcadia and Oceana are both undergoing refits this autumn, and RPW Design is the team behind the scenes. Here, we talk to Director of Projects Elizabeth Lane, who tells us all about the refit experience, from inspiration through to execution

Arcadia will return from Hamburg with a fresh new look

Arcadia will return from Hamburg with a fresh new look

This autumn, Arcadia and Oceana both hit the shipyards in Hamburg for a refresh. The company in charge of the refits is London-based RPW Design, one of the world’s leading hospitality interior design practices. Here, we talk to Elizabeth Lane – head of the design team working on the projects – who gives us unique insight into the inspirations, challenges and rewards of the assignment.


You’ve worked with major luxury hotel brands, including Fairmont and Hilton. How do these experiences compare with working for P&O Cruises?

Our core background is in high-end hospitality interior design, so we have worked on some incredibly luxurious hotels. That knowledge and design experience translates perfectly to a cruise ship, which is essentially a floating hotel where guests expect a beautiful experience that enhances their holiday. With ship work, however, there are unique challenges to factor in. The main difference being that ships, unlike hotels, move constantly. This brings a whole new level of technical issues that need to be taken into consideration. Plus, there are logistical challenges as the ships are never in the same place, which makes site visits and planning more complicated.


Did you spend time on board the ships before the design work began to get a feel for their personalities and character?

We get to know the ships and see and experience everything on board first hand. We visited both Arcadia and Oceana in Southampton. But they are working ships, so we had to go wherever they happened to be for some site visits – we joined Arcadia in Hong Kong on her World Cruise. We also met Oceana in Venice and enjoyed a mini cruise in the Mediterranean. You have to get a solid understanding of the space and how people use it. There’s a certain feel to the overall brand, but each ship is unique with its own personality and character. Every time we went on board we got more of a feel for Arcadia and Oceana’s DNA. Importantly, being on board during a cruise lets you feel the mood and the buzz of what’s happening operationally, and how the guests interact with the spaces.


What role do the guests play in your preparations?

 The guests who know and love the ships play a huge part in the refit thinking. This is one of the biggest differences between hotel work and working on a cruise ship project. Guests know the ships so well. They have their favourites, they know what makes each one different, and they are incredibly loyal and passionate. We spoke to lots of people on board; they were all so interested in what we were doing. They told us what they liked and disliked, and spoke with incredible knowledge, having been on so many cruises on either Arcadia or Oceana. Their insights were incredibly valuable and stuck with us as we took the designs forward.


Where do you start with the design ideas?

With hotels, front of mind is always giving the design a sense of place. Ships, however, constantly move to amazing destinations, so in that sense, the levels of service and the experiences of being on board are the driving factors. Everything must be geared towards making wonderful spaces and experiences. After doing all our research, we start with high-level concepts and pull together inspiration imagery that helps us to express our vision. Then begins a process of presenting ideas, taking in feedback and refining our thinking. Eventually there comes a point when everyone’s happy and we start to look at how the details add character and personality to the space. Of course, there’s also the matter of technical requirements and strict regulations. There’s so much to think about – it’s not simply a case of making everything look pretty!


How is Arcadia’s character brought out in your design vision?

If Arcadia were a person, she’d be a modern Audrey Hepburn. She’s stylish, sophisticated, timeless and little bit extravagant. She’s exclusively for adults, so we wanted to bring out these luxurious qualities in our design story. There’s also the sense of travel and adventure, which may sound obvious, but it’s a strong design motif with maps and memories of places visited coming into play. Take the carpet in the Atrium: the design references global travels with overlaid patterns and textures that you may see on those travels. Each section of the pattern is then taken into the landing area carpets so there is a common link to the circulation spaces. It’s about where you’ve been and where you’re going – in style, of course.

Elizabeth Lane, director of projects at RPW Design

Elizabeth Lane, director of projects at RPW Design

And Oceana’s?

Oceana’s a fun ship. As she’s a family ship, she’s more youthful and colourful as a personality. Everything’s a bit bolder in our design approach in terms of colours. She’s bright and sunny and we placed great importance on the outside decks. We wanted to enhance this unique aspect of Oceana and get her ready for seasons in the Mediterranean next year and the Arabian Gulf in 2019.


What about the actual refit?

Unlike hotel deadlines, which usually slip and slip, a ship refit deadline is set in stone. There’s a window in a shipyard when the ship is in a dry dock and that’s when all the major work takes place. Everything has to be lined up and ready, and you have to be incredibly focused. Teams of contractors are involved and they each have their specialist areas to focus on. As the project director, I have to answer lots of questions on all these areas. We have to work and find answers to any problems incredibly quickly. Whatever happens, that ship will be sailing! We’ll be joining Arcadia and Oceana in Germany for the sail-backs to Southampton to make sure everything’s in place and to oversee the finishing touches.


With huge projects like this, do little details make a big difference?

The details and finishing touches can turn something good into something great and really interesting. Take the wallpaper we’ve designed for Arcadia’s Atrium. It features all the destinations overlaid on to a world map in different ways. It’s not as simple as looking and saying, ‘Oh, we’re here’. You have to look at it and interact with it. It’s become a feature.

The Spinnaker Bar is another example of taking the theme of a sail and working it into the details in interesting ways. Look at the carpet and see a sail motif. Look at the curtains and you’ll see references to how sails are made. It shouldn’t be obvious, but it underpins the overall mood.


Which area of Arcadia are you most looking forward to seeing?

I can’t wait to see the Belvedere restaurant. We’re introducing a lot more contrast in that space. It’s a big space so we really tried to give it small pockets of interest within the large space. There are fresh textures and patterns that we’re really excited to see. Plus, I’m really looking forward to seeing the Suites. They’re going to have a lovely fresh colour palette with lots of subtle nautical details to reinforce the notion of ocean travel in a luxurious environment.


And on Oceana, what areas excite you most?

The outdoor areas are going to be special with bold colours, bright features and lots going on. I’m really looking forward to seeing the Terrace Bar. It’s hopefully going to be the destination that people really want to go to – it has an exclusive feel to it.

By contrast, I’m also keen to see The Yacht & Compass bar. It’s going to be a real British-style pub, but we had lots of fun playing with the nautical theme with a name like that.


What are you and the RPW team most proud of?

Although it’s not a complete refit, we’re really proud of making some quite dramatic changes. We want guests to come on board and say, ‘Wow! Something’s been happening here’.

The two ships are so diverse and we’ve loved the opportunity to make a difference and do something special. We’ve had to be clever in our thinking to make it look great and address the technical challenges. It’s been exciting to be made to think a bit harder about the design.

It’s all about giving the guests something new and exciting. It’s also about giving the crew something that they are really proud of and that helps them deliver such exceptional standards of service. I really hope we’ve achieved both goals – and that’s definitely something to be proud of.




Loyalty and Cruise Sales

We’re pleased to announce that the Loyalty and Cruise Sales areas on Arcadia and Oceana will both be refreshed during the refit process. Arcadia’s, which can be found on Deck 1 near reception, will have a welcoming new look and feel. Oceana’s, meanwhile, will move from Deck 5 to a new and much more spacious area on Deck 7 near Starlights, offering additional waiting space and improved privacy for guests. Come on by and see for yourself!

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