The great ocean liners of the 19th and 20th centuries were magnificent icons of their age.
Proud emblems of national prestige showcasing a country’s modernity in artistry, design, naval architecture and engineering, their story is told in a fascinating new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). Vast gilded ballrooms adorned with Art Deco Lalique glass were fitted with grand staircases so that the aristocracy could descend in their haute couture. Engineers made them the sleekest, fastest carriers to the new world and marketing men competed to showcase theirs as the most à la mode.
Today, with passenger jets squeezing in a little more legroom for the well heeled, our contemporary ocean liners are enjoying a renaissance thanks to dining on deck, swimming pools, spas and even jogging tracks.
Speed, of course, is no longer of the essence; but how a ship looks and feels is just as important as it ever was. Here are three of the best modern interpretations of the golden age of the ocean liner.
For cosy Scandi-chic
Launching 20 years ago with river cruises, and now with a raft of small ships for ocean voyages (the fifth of which launches this year), Viking is the home of Scandi-chic afloat.
Décor and dress-codes are relaxed with the emphasis on voyages of discovery. Ship design maximises light, bringing the outside into interiors that are calming and contemporary.
Natural materials and Scandi design classics abound, creating interiors that resonate with how we live today. “Textures of limestone, granite, glass and natural woods work with handmade textiles, reindeer pelts and soft woollen throws to create comfortable, relaxing spaces,” says Wendy Atkin-Smith, managing director of Viking UK. “Scandi-fresh colours take their inspiration from the sea, the sky and the earth.”
Wooden wall panel from the Beauvais
For cutting-edge glamour
The first new Celebrity Cruises’ ship in six years, Celebrity Edge floated out of dry dock two weeks ago to begin her fit-out. As befits her “celebrity” name, designer Kelly Hoppen is bringing her brand of clean-lines and a pleasing neutral palette with splashes of colour to the stateroom interiors.
Designer Patricia Urquiola has filled the ship’s eye-popping Garden of Eden with plants, and parent company Royal Caribbean is pushing the boundaries of naval design to make this 2,900 passenger ship into a class of its own – all hail the Magic Carpet, the world’s first cantilevered deck protruding from deck 16 at night offering “dinner on the Edge”, which lowers to deck 2 in the daytime for disembarkation.
For modern-day traditionalists
The flagship vessel of the Cunard fleet and the ninth-longest ship in the world, Queen Mary 2 had a £90m re-fit in 2016 and now has 1,340 staterooms.
Cruising all over the world, she is perhaps best known as the world’s last remaining regular transatlantic liner, travelling from Southampton to New York, providing guests with a leisurely seven days of onboard relaxation uninterrupted by excursions.
As on the original Queen Mary (now at rest in Long Beach, California) QM2 features acres of traditional wood, all of which was refreshed. The sheer size of the ship has required 10 football pitches worth of new carpets, 4,000 new artworks, 15,000 litres of paint and 10 additional dog kennels.
Ocean Liners: Speed and Style is at the V&A until 17 June (vam.ac.uk)