The Changing Face of Retail on Cruise Ships

What started out as duty-free items, souvenirs and basic travel necessities has now become a multi-million-dollar industry. Today, retail is a thriving and growing source of profit for cruise lines. From designer brands to retailtainment, the face of retail is constantly evolving to keep up with passengers’ ever-changing demands.

The growth of retail

Retail space on Quantum of the Seas

Retail accounts for a third of consumer dollars spent on board cruise ships. Going far beyond the small shops first seen on cruise, passengers can now visit large shopping spaces and choose from a variety of their favourite land-based brands all in one place. Here they can find unique deals, one-of-a-kind experiences and exclusive items. This, paired with sales staff’s ability to foster relationships with guests throughout the cruise has led to retail’s considerable success.

To match cruise retail’s growth, many cruise ship refurbishment projects are seeing significant players upgrade their retail spaces by adding new shops and refurbishing and redesigning their retail spaces on board. These include Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, P&O Cruises and more.

What goes into designing a retail space on cruise?

Shopping has become a significant part of the cruise experience, reaching high levels of footfall at 79%, therefore, its design is key. Onboard retail space designs must tackle the challenge of complementing the overall cruise environment while optimising limited space on board. Additionally, these spaces must be both memorable and exciting to compete with offshore port shopping.

Cruise ship retail designers are facing a new challenge of providing spaces that incorporate one-way systems, sanitisation stations, and social distancing. With limited space on board, this could prove to be a challenge, yet MSC Virtuosa’s open plan and interconnected shops make designing COVID safe spaces look effortless. Dubbed ‘the largest shopping area at sea’, MSC Virtuosa’s retail space spans an impressive 1,168sqm and features 250 brands. Its central promenade, Galleria Virtuosa, lies at the heart of the ship. Here, guests can navigate through the vessel’s 11 retail outlets with ease, following temporary one-way systems under an impressive 93-metre LED screen.

MSC Virtuosa’s central shopping promenade, Galleria Virtuosa

It is also important for a retail space to flow with the rest of the cruise design. Costa Cruises’ latest vessel, Costa Firenze, has a Florence inspired interior that beautifully complements its Italian destinations. This Italian style has also been applied to the vessel’s shops, which serve as a perfect backdrop to Costa Firenze’s authentic, Italian-style shopping experience. Costa Firenze hosts several Italian brands ranging from jewellery to handbags, with shop designs reflecting these brands’ Italian heritage. This immersive retail design allows passengers to enjoy Italy even on sea days.

Fostering experiences through retail design

Experiences and relationship building are now at the heart of retail, from providing multisensory experiences such as Celebrity Edge’s “sensory shopping journey” to retailtainment, like Costa Venezia’s Bulgari Jewellery Show. With such a strong focus on how passengers interact with the brands on board, how are retail spaces in cruise evolving to foster this engagement?

Carnival Panorama’s Cherry on Top candy store

Carnival Cruises’ candy shop, Cherry on Top provides a fun and multisensory space for its passengers. From the moment they enter, visitors are treated to vibrant displays of gumballs, cookies, lollipops and more. Cherry on Top also pairs this with the mouth-watering scent of candy to provide a treat for the senses. Loose pick ‘n’ mix displays and edible sand art stations provide a hands-on opportunity for passengers to not only touch but taste the sweet treats Cherry on Top has to offer. This tantalising design is one which passengers won’t forget.

The future of cruise retail design

As we continue through the digital age, encouraging engagement and interaction are being achieved through introducing technology to retail spaces. The first Lenovo store in Europe, designed by Grottini, offers a unique design which reflects Lenovo’s style while inviting visitors to immerse themselves in an interactive environment dedicated to the brand. The store is divided into stations including PCs, tablets, phones and AR/VR headsets, where visitors can trial Lenovo products. There are also areas dedicated to events and workshops, briefings, and meetings, as well as a café and coworking space.

Spazio Lenovo store, designed by Grottini

Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Edge and Celebrity Flora have introduced a similar hybrid retail space. Here, the iLounge, both an internet café and store, encourages passengers to experience the variety of Apple products on sale. Going forward, we expect to see these interactive, hybrid retail spaces featuring more in cruise retail design.


Grottini is an Italian leading brand creating experiences through designing retail spaces. The new Grottini Marine Team will be exhibiting at Cruise Ship Interiors Expo, where cruise design comes to life. Register for free and connect with the cruise interiors community at the Miami Beach Convention Center on 28 – 29 October 2021.

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