The cruise industry is great at innovating and bringing ‘firsts’ to sea. Many newbuild cruise ships are designed to inspire the wow factor. However, refurbished ships and cruise ship conversions are not to be overlooked. We’re not just talking about new carpets and refreshed cabins – some ships have been cut in half to add new features or completely refurbished from a naval vessel to a glitzy yacht-like ship.

Here are just a handful of the most interesting, latest cruise ship conversions…

Aqua Blu

It’s not often you associate a former British naval vessel with a private yacht. However, Aqua ExpeditionsAqua Blu ship has lent itself to both monikers over its storied past.

Today offering luxury cruises around Eastern Indonesia, Aqua Blu started life in 1968 as HMS Beagle, before becoming the yacht of choice for a European aristocratic family. In 2019 Dutch yacht designer Cor D. Rover oversaw the renovation which turned her into a contemporary five-deck, 15-suite luxury cruise ship with brass and ivory interiors, a palette of greys and neutrals, original oak flooring, and a gorgeous open deck, all while meeting the latest SOLAS regulations.

Star Breeze

In the words of parent company Windstar Cruises, Star Breeze underwent “more than a paint job” in 2019. As part of an eye-watering $250m renovation programme she was ‘stretched’ by being cut in half, before having an 84ft section added in dry dock at Fincantieri. During the conversion she was also fitted with new engines to make her a more environmentally-friendly cruise ship.

The new and improved vessel features two new restaurants, including an alfresco venue – making the most of the increased deck space – in partnership with television host and culinary writer, Steven Raichlen. The extra section meant that 50 new cabins were added, along with a spa and fitness centre.

Kruzof Explorer

What this refurbishment lacks in scale it more than makes up for in ingenuity. The Kruzof Explorer was originally built as a humble crab fishing boat. One refit later and she is now a unique small expedition cruise ship exploring Alaska. Made for outdoor experiences, this former Deadliest Catch vessel has just six cabins and is an ideal choice for cruise travellers looking for wildlife and adventure on the water.

The 2019 refit for Alaskan Dream Cruises included contemporary but simple furnishings and a spacious dining and bar area for guests. Ingeniously, her five-tonne crane – which once hauled king crab pots – is now used to lift expedition equipment on and off the ship.  

Ultra-small expedition vessel Kruzof Explorer on a cloudy grey day
Ultra-small expedition vessel Kruzof Explorer on the water

MS Richard With

Some ships are made for exploring. Hurtigruten’s MS Richard With is one such vessel. A full refurbishment of the expedition ship in 2018 saw it emerge with fully upgraded cabins featuring larger windows to soak up more of Norway’s spectacular coastal landscapes. It also saw new dining and leisure offerings – all while ensuring there was a contemporary elegance to the interior décor. In May 2021 Hurtigruten slated MS Richard With as one of the first in its fleet to receive significant environmental upgrades to battery-hybrid power with the installation of new low-emission engines and large battery packs.

Cruise ship Richard With sailing on icy waters
Hurtigruten Richard With in Raftsundet

Rembrandt van Rijn

Steeped in history, Rembrandt van Rijn began life as a herring lugger last century. After various ownerships, name changes, added engines and lengthening, she took the form of a three-mast sailing ship in the 1990s. Her itineraries included sailing on the coast of the Netherlands, Spitsbergen and the Galapagos. 

Fast forward to 2011 and she underwent a total rebuild and refurbishment to continue sailing as a 16-cabin vessel for Oceanwide Expeditions. As well as tasteful interior changes, all navigation equipment was completely overhauled to meet the latest SOLAS regulations.

Key decision makers, architects, and designers of cruise ship refurbishment and newbuild will be attending Cruise Ship Design Interiors Expo Americas. Learn more about this leading cruise trade show here.

Written by Kelly Ranson