Rethinking a typically Arab adventure

Aroya Cruises is teasing future passengers with the prospect of the “Khuzama Experience” aboard its first Aroya ship, which it defines as “a touch of luxury” that “speaks of the Arab identity and its unique characteristics.” Delivering on this ambitious promise with a ship built for an entirely different market is a giant undertaking.

“We’ve been involved in this project for over a year now and we have a huge team working on it,” says Alan Stewart, director of SMC Design. “We spent two weeks on the ship in Singapore to scope out the job and it quickly became clear that this was no small refit job, with the planned overhaul covering all public guest areas . This led to design work with Aroya Cruises to develop the overall arrangement, guest experience and facilities, and from there we gained permission to proceed.

With a gross tonnage of 151,000, a length of 335 meters and carrying 3,364 passengers in 1,678 cabins, the project required a first-class team. Columbia Blue has been appointed as the ship’s manager while SMC Design is the lead architect responsible for the design of the entire ship, designing most of the public and accommodation areas. They also worked with Partner Ship Design for the spa and several high-end public spaces, as well as Heineman and Brand Creative for the onboard retail.

“Columbia Blue will manage the hotel operations, as well as the technical management, and therefore will take care of the food concepts, menus, purchasing and some of the owner’s sourcing for the F&B locations,” explains Stewart . “We also work with some of the best outfitters in our industry. » MJM Marine is responsible for outfitting approximately 75% of the vessel, including public areas up to deck eight and all main accommodation decks, with some of their work subcontracted to Trimline Group, as to them, work on public spaces from Deck 16 onwards, taking charge of areas such as the Royal Suite and Super Suites.

The Marka Café was enhanced with traditional Saudi arts and crafts

“We take great pride in leading design projects: coordinating different design teams, supervising work, managing transitions between spaces, and managing client meetings,” says Stewart. “SMC Design had a team of “around 40 people working on this project who designed around 80% of the interiors.”

He continues: “It helped us to have all the original drawings of Genting Dream on file, as we designed the ship during its initial construction. With such a quick turnaround to redesign the entire ship in six months, having access to all the original drawings helped us meet our design deadlines. This was significant because we believe this may be the largest renovation of a cruise ship ever undertaken by a cruise operator! »

Aroya Cruises is the first Arab cruise line and Aroya will be the first ship designed for the Arab market. As a result, the redevelopment required SMC to develop a distinctive design approach, several new cruise locations and a completely unique design identity.

“There’s a lot of expectation for the design and I hope we’ve done it justice,” says Stewart. “We learned a lot during this process – about Arab culture, architecture, patterns and artwork. Our design goal was to find a way to translate environmental elements and cultural heritage into design – taking inspiration from the sun, sea, sand and flora as well as the patterns, textures and geometry that are truly synonymous with the country.

Aroya’s interiors had to offer an authentic representation of the country, so the in-depth research and attention to detail was intensive.

“The landscape of Saudi Arabia is much more diverse than you might think,” says Stewart. “From the coast to the mountains, deserts and scrub, lava fields and highlands, inspiration is everywhere. »

Cultural elements provided an equally rich source of inspiration, not only guiding artistic and design choices, but also shaping the onboard experience.

“Onboard spaces must align closely with Saudi culture, informing decisions around restaurants, cafes and lounges, entertainment venues and cabin facilities,” says Stewart.

There are countless industrial firsts associated with Aroya. One in particular required SMC to make a new class request to make it a reality.

“Shisha is a hallmark of Saudi culture, but the pipe uses hot coal,” says Stewart. “We were happy to be able to find a way to get approval from the class, since this is a very popular cultural pastime.”

SMC Design curated the art collection on board, staying local as much as possible to align with the brand’s ambitions.

“We are fortunate to have Arabic-speaking staff on our team and we have had good local support, including, for example, an art consultant who helped connect us with local artists “, explains Stewart. “We brought in as many Saudi artists as possible, which represents more than 60 percent of the works selected. Arabic art places a lot of emphasis on patterns, textures and shapes, which we have been able to translate into interior architecture.

“We were also responsible for the exterior works and the livery, which is a geometric interpretation of the sparkling sea, as well as all the graphics and signage throughout the ship,” he adds. “They needed a complete overhaul because the majority of the signage was in Chinese and designed for a Chinese market. Everything had to be revised in Arabic.

The exterior changes are subtle: modifications to the glazing, adjustments to the Royal Suite and rearrangement of certain deck activities to take into account the weather.

“As it is very hot in the Red Sea, we decided to move an outdoor buffet indoors so that it could benefit from air conditioning,” says Stewart. “Every design decision considers the customer experience.”

Alan Stewart, Director of SMC Design

Stepping out of its comfort zone to embrace Saudi Arabia’s design heritage has been a test for SMC, and Stewart is grateful to its partners for their help throughout the process.

“Designing for a different culture can be challenging, but we have had incredible support from Cruise Saudi, the Public Investment Fund and the Ministry of Culture,” he says. “As this country’s premier cruise ship, it’s really important that we get it right.”

This article was first published in the 2024 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at time of printing but may have since changed. Subscribe for FREE to receive the next issue straight to your inbox.

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