By Emily Eastman

Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ Vasco da Gama has gone through a few iterations. Acquired by the British-based line just a few months ago, back in April, the ship previously sailed as part of P&O Cruises Australia’s fleet, in her then incarnation as Pacific Eden. Before that, she had entered in to service in 1993 as Holland America Line’s MS Statendam, built for the line by Fincantieri, Europe’s largest shipbuilder.

When P&O Australia took possession of the ship in 2015, it oversaw a complete refurbishment – a look that CMV has maintained, undertaking only minor changes and livery application during a short docking period in Singapore, from where she launched her maiden voyage. Swedish firm Tillberg Design was hired to reimagine the ship, bringing a new visual identity and attracting a new crowd to the vessel.

Tasked with creating functional interiors crafted to impress, Tillberg Design credits its solid experience for its ability to meet high and shifting demands in design processes.

Built across 12 decks, the 1,500-passenger Vasco da Gama – named after the great Portuguese explorer – has all the amenities cruise-goers have come to expect. The line’s vessels are adult-only (barring specifically advertised multi-generational cruises, added to the itinerary based on demand from regular customers) and the interior is distinctly grown-up.

Inside, the space is tasteful, contemporary and well-considered, with passenger flow and requirements positioned at the forefront of the 2015 renovation works.

Interior appeal

The two-tiered show lounge, Hollywood’s, hosts daily ‘big-show’ entertainment and oozes old-Hollywood glamour. Framed portraits and abstract, monotone art hang above the curved twin staircases, which lead to plush, deep-green seating bathed in warm lighting from Speakeasy-style lamps.

The Dome resides on the top deck, a bar and lounge offering panoramic views that transforms into a nightclub by night. The aesthetic here lends itself to a multifunctional space: furnishings in nautical colour palettes (chairs and footstools are upholstered in blue and white-striped fabrics) keep the space light and airy by day, and chic and welcoming by night – there’s plenty of room to dance around the DJ booth, and a choice of lounge areas to soak up the atmosphere with a cocktail in hand.

Those wishing to relax with a drink are spoilt for choice. Ocean Bar on deck 8 maintains the feeling of spaciousness with low white wall dividers – which also serve to soak up noise – creating an area that offers high capacity without feeling crowded. Here, the colour palette shifts to green, with hints of myrtle, jade and fern complemented by live plants.

The cumulative effect is one of cohesiveness, and yet the spaces are still distinctive. Guests can socialise on luxurious sofas in The Study, or lounge atop velvet daybeds in the Captain’s Club. In the Blue Room, midnight-blue wall panels rise up from presidential-shaded carpet flecked with gold. Royal blue, deep-seated armchairs and richly toned, velvet circular couches provide 360-degree viewing of the musical performers entertaining here.

Vasco da Gama’s dining venues have also been brought to life with ambience and flexibility in mind. The ship’s trio of Waterfront Restaurants – Waterfront Restaurant (clean and classic, with cream tones and metallic accents), Waterfront Mediterranean (a cream palette set with elegant tablecloths and tableware) and Waterfront Eurasia (rich furnishings and dramatic lighting interrupted with bursts of white) – offer variety in both cuisine and setting. The Grill and Chef’s Table are Vasco da Gama’s two speciality restaurants, the former featuring a classic chequered floor, white tablecloths and deep-red drapes, the latter offering accents of wood and glass amid opulent seating.

For a more informal affair, Club Bistro on the Lido Deck serves buffet-style meals in a light, bright and airy setting. According to Tillberg Design’s Petra Ryberg-Bid, while cruise ship buffets may be traditionally about eating as much as you can, Tillberg instead wanted to introduce a concept of different counters serving different cuisines – a concept that CMV has upheld in the Club Bistro. It’s a concept that Tillberg Design pioneered in its work for P&O Cruises Australia, marking a departure from uniform seating and mismatched menus. Instead, there’s a focus on individuality and eating what you want – the result is effective, more food court than buffet.

There is a flow to the ship that sees passengers move with ease from lounge to bar, shopping galleria to casino, and restaurant to cabin. Throughout, the colour palette reinforces this, with complementary shades working alongside tones, textures and fabrics that offset one space from the next.

Home from home

Perhaps one of the most crucial areas of a ship is the accommodation, and here, the intention has been to utilise and emphasise natural light with white and cream bed linen. Lighting is strategically situated to enhance the space, while accent hues are introduced to pleasing effect, providing colour that is unobtrusive yet still serves to add subtle depth. Carefully selected works of art catch the eye, adding interest and a unique sense of home – crucial aboard a ship that occasionally sails months-long itineraries.

Up on the Lido Deck, a sizeable pool sits beneath a retractable roof for all-weather swimming. With plenty of inviting blue and white-striped loungers dotted about, the overall effect is more beach club than cruise ship. This deck is also where guests will find the Jade Spa, a cleverly considered space comprising clean lines, reflective surfaces and indulgent furnishings.

A bar, grill and, for those feeling more active, fitness centre, are also situated on the Lido Deck. Up one deck to the top of the ship, there’s a jogging and walking track and sports courts.

Though CMV didn’t design the ship, the interiors are well-suited to its target market: a demographic of over-50s which, according to the line’s head of marketing Mike Hall, is expanding – the next five to 10 years will mark a golden period of people in this age bracket retiring on good pensions. “We acquired the ship because it reflected our market requirements,” says Hall. “Although it’s a little early to comment on the popularity of facilities, in general our guests love the wide choice of lounges, entertainment venues and dining options.”

Against the tide

CMV’s business philosophy tends against the grain of current industry thinking, which is seeing major lines overhaul their offering to appeal to families and new-to-cruise – an undertaking that reaches deep into the interiors world. The operator has revealed that it wants to grow its fleet more internationally, and has a new ship in the pipeline. Hall notes that although CMV isn’t into shipbuilding, it will acquire one that matches the tastes and demands of its growing customer base.

It’s an interesting point for the ship interiors industry. At a time when many are focusing attention on brand new cruise liners, there remains a sizeable market for redesign and upgrades – although it’s a well of work that may be drying up as future-proofing designs and techniques improve. For the foreseeable future, at least, opportunity exists for transformations that employ contemporary design and materials.

Tillberg Design has said in the past that designers need to be more multidisciplinary and responsible, digging deep into the needs and aspirations of clients. Staying ahead of the curve requires keeping one eye on new design trends and the latest technology – ongoing research into what passengers want is essential and, with operators such as CMV catering to a specific market, knowing your audience is also business-critical.

It is a line that CMV treads well. Having now joined CMV’s fleet of small and mid-sized ships, Vasco da Gama will help boost its source markets in Germany this summer before repositioning to Australia for the southern-hemisphere summer. Evidently, it’s a ship with international appeal – a great investment for CMV that’s already paying dividends as the line revs things up a gear.