Dee Cooper is speaking in the Keynote session: Design Leadership – We Are One Cruise Industry, at Cruise Conversations Live, the Cruise Ship Interiors Expo conference. As a founding member of the Virgin Voyages team, Dee’s creative vision has helped guide the brand since its inception. As Senior Vice President of Design and Customer Experience, Dee helped curate an ‘Epic Sea Change’ with Scarlet Lady by leading the brand’s Design Creative Collective, a team of some of the world’s most noteworthy modern interior designers – many of whom had never designed for the cruise industry before.
Design Leadership – We Are One Cruise Industry features the cruise design industry’s leaders and will explore how they see the future of cruise interiors and the guest experience. Where is their gaze right now? Where do they see their priorities? Which opportunities are opening up in the new paradigm? What’s important for the guest experience and how can design play its role as passengers return on deck? Find out in the Keynote Session at Cruise Ship Interiors Expo.
Thanks for your time today Dee – tell us about your current role, and what it entails on a day-to-day basis.
So I am in charge of design, SVP of Design for Virgin Voyages, and I’m lucky enough to be in charge of the design of our ships. Currently Virgin has got four ships – Scarlet Lady is in the middle of entering service. She’s just arrived into the Bahamas, and is coming to Miami on Sunday. [CSI: Scarlet Lady has since celebrated her ‘MerMaiden’ voyage out of Miami, October 6th]. She’s going into her first revenue service in October, which is very exciting. And then we have the Valiant Lady, and ships three and four, that are still in production. So I oversee the design of everything that is a public area, cabins, anything that is crew or customer facing – so I do the crew communal areas as well as all the customer (or Sailors as we call them) areas.
Can you tell us about the projects you’re working on right now?
As you can imagine with the soft launch of Scarlet Lady, we‘re learning lots of things, we’re working out how to make sure she’s as great as she can be. The other thing keeping me busy at the moment is the Virgin Voyages beach club at Bimini, where I’m in charge of design and construction. The revenue service will sail out of there in October, so we’re making sure that’s ready – 900 sun loungers to put out!
Then finally we have our terminal project – so in the short term we’re sailing out of Terminal G and Terminal F in Port of Miami, but in the longer term, in 2022 we’ll be launching a brand-new terminal called Terminal V (for Virgin), which is right at the end of the Miami port island. Terminal V faces back over downtown area, so has awesome views of Miami city skyline, as well as being a project we’re very proud of. Our concept, which we called Palm Grove, was based around palm trees and the amazing variety of palm trees you get in the Florida area.
As you can imagine we get involved in uniforms and meal services and spa services and all of those things – everything that the customer touches, to make sure everything delivers to the Sailor experience, and adds value and supports the crew to do a great job. So we’re very busy at the moment as we come into real service, which is really exciting.
Could you tell us more about the design intent behind Terminal V, and the designers you worked with?
We called the concept Palm Grove, and we were inspired by the fact that these islands around Miami were used for farming, and for orchards. We had a lot of fun creating beams and structures throughout the terminal which have a tree bow, trunk-type shapes, working with manufacturers that can bend metal, instead of crimping it over, which has been really great fun. The canopy is all fretted, and we have ceiling lights throughout the canopy, which are either lights or clear glass so you can see through them as though you were walking through a wood glade, and shafts of light are falling down around you.
The terminal is three floors, and we decided to do an outdoor/indoor design. You come in on the ground floor and are faced with a wonderful big digital art piece. When you go up to the second floor, before you go through security checks and have your bags X-rayed, we created a waiting area inside, and also a waiting area outside. There’s planting inside, but we also allow people to go outside. If you’re a Floridian you have a habit of staying in the air conditioning, but if you’re coming from Northern Europe or Northern America, you enjoy going outside and breathing those warm tropical breezes, and again, we get an amazing view over the intercoastal waters, so you can see all the other cruise ships and pleasure and leisure vessels that come into the Miami harbour intercoastal area. We made sure that people enjoy the view. Being on holiday in Miami, sailing in the Caribbean, it is all about being able to connect to the water, the sunshine, the palm trees, the waves, and all those things – they’ve been important for us both in the creation of the ship and the creation of the terminal.
We worked with Arquitectonica on the original bid document, so they created the concept of the palm grove with us. On the ship we tried to work with some amazing contemporary architects and designers, just to have a different view of what a cruise ship could be.
We were just in New York where we did some events and tours with travels agents (or first mates as we call them) and press, as well as influencers – we even had Paris Hilton on the ship, as a mega influencer. All the feedback about the ship has been really positive, as it’s more modern glamourous in it’s style, and we’re very excited to have all that positive feedback.
What trends have you seen emerging recently, or are expecting to emerge, in the cruise industry?
Sanitisation and covid management has been of paramount importance to us and the cruise industry. In some ways we had a bit of a head start, because the cruise industry has always been very good at managing issues on the ship that they’ve learnt from norovirus. This just means that they’re very good at cleaning and having rotas and rationales around restaurants and stairs and public areas. It’s fantastic to see compared sometimes to what happens on the ground.
Want more Virgin Voyages content? Check out the write-up from our visit onboard Scarlet Lady last year…
We were lucky to have chosen on purpose not to have mega restaurants, the 600-plus-seaters and buffets. Our restaurants are around the 180-220 capacity, which people feel a bit happier to be in, in these smaller spaces, still with social distancing as necessary or how people feel comfortable. We decided not to do a buffet because we didn’t want to have that queue situation, but we wanted to enjoy more of a farmer’s market/stall-type choice, where I could get an all day breakfast, and my friend could get a bento box, and my other friend could get tacos, or salad. So having more of a food market approach to food, where the food was made fresh to order – we were lucky that we chose to do that, from a CDC or hygiene point of view, that’s a much more hygienic way to manage food.
At a larger trend level, giving customers good information about protocols and what they need to do – you need to have been vaccinated to go on our ship, and you will also be tested when you go on the ship, so you have two levels of protection for people. I think people just want to understand that, and have that communicated clearly to them before they book the holiday, and equally when they’re at the terminal or on the ship, they want to understand what protocols are in place.
The more interior design-focused trend that seems to be coming through is warmth and craft, intimacy, that people want to feel comfy and familiar in spaces. As such that need for the finishes and details that give a human touch, and a bit of thoughtfulness and character, seems to be valued. We’ve all been living with covid and everything became so sterile, almost hospital-like. Also because we were all in our homes for so long, we started caring more about our home environment – people start to make their quality of living nicer, and we’ve seen that in how people want to be on the ship. They want to feel great, but they want to be comfortable and included, and that attention to detail will carry on in design over the next few years.
People want their holiday to be nicer than their homes, whether it’s the cabin, the sea terrace room, or the communal spaces, they want it to feel nicer. The good thing we’ve seen, especially in the UK, is that there’s this pent-up energy, people wanted to have fun, spoil themselves, and enjoy being out again, so offering great services, great food, great drinks, choice of bars, different restaurants, places to go dancing, were all very valued by the Sailors as well. That’s all quite exciting for us, that choice and that ability to feel glamourous, whether you’re feeling relaxed glamourous, or dressed up glamourous, is important to people. When I was on the ship last week, a lot of people were saying ‘I haven’t worn high heels for a year!’ – that sort of thing. So how do we make sure people have a great time, and have places to wear their high heels, in a safe way.
Cruise Ship Interiors Expo is coming up very soon – what are you most excited for about CSI?
I just think it’s fantastic that we’re having the Expo this year, and the ability to meet the industry, and my colleagues from the other cruise lines, and from all the suppliers that help us to build these amazing ships, is a real testament to you guys, that we’re able to go ahead with the event. I’m very excited and very proud to be part of the event, and to be reminding people how important and great the cruise industry is to the world and equally to Florida and South Florida. There’s a lot of ships down here and we want to get fully back into business, and the event will help promote that.
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