What's up in the cruise ship industry? While passenger numbers were certainly down as global tourism sank to new depths last fall, the good news is that bookings are up again. More good news is that the construction of new ships has continued on schedule, with many new launches adding bigger and better-equipped venues to keep all those passengers entertained at sea.

Upgrades of existing venues are also underway. For example, the Disney Magic, one of Disney Cruise Line's two ships (the other is the Wonder) recently added to its audio package in the 2,000-seat, three — deck Walt Disney Theatre, installing a Yamaha PM1D digital audio mixing system, piloting EAW loudspeakers with amplification by Crest Audio. Orlando, FL-based sound and systems contractor Pro Sound handled the upgrade as well as ongoing system maintenance.

a sketch of the main lounges aboard the new Holland America Vista class ships.

“Disney wanted to make sure they had Broadway-quality repeatability for all six of the shows running in The Walt Disney Theatre,” explains Bob Owens, Pro Sound managing director, who is a former Disney audio director. “With 16 tracks of playback, many open mics, tight turnarounds, and different actors doing the show, C'est Magique II was going to be a much harder, more challenging production to implement. They wanted a larger automated console, especially since different operators were going to be working on two — to six — month contracts. Repeatability was essential and that's where the PM1D became a key element.”

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's luxury liner, Radiance of the Seas, joined their fleet last March, and was built at the German Meyer Werft shipyards, along with its new sister ship, Brilliance of the Seas, which will make its inaugural cruise in Europe in July 2002. The Radiance class is a smaller class than RCCL's Voyager class, in which the newest entry, Navigator of the Seas, will launch in November 2002.

“We try to do as much as conceivably possible within the confines of the budget,” says Christopher Vlassopulos, RCCL's entertainment systems specialist. “We don't do it by half. In fact, we have better-equipped venues than almost all land-based theatres, with Flying by Foy in almost every one.” Martin Professional automated lighting rigs are on many of the ships, in both indoor and outdoor venues, including the three-deck-high Aurora theatre on the Radiance of the Seas. “We used to be a small industry, but now almost every major manufacturer has a dedicated marine team,” notes Vlassopulos.

In Radiance's Solarium, an African-themed, climate-controlled, quiet indoor/outdoor pool and bar area, four Martin Exterior 200s are installed discreetly amid the various decorative plants and cascading waterfalls. At night, the brush of color provides an atmospheric touch to the Solarium's rich earthy tones. “The lighting is really the icing on the cake,” adds Vlassopulos. Lightspeed Productions supplied the Martin lighting, and LDs such as Hillary Knox and Peter Moore are brought in to do the programming.

Also packed with gear is the Radiance of the Seas Starquest Disco in which the UK-based Wynne Willson Gottelier (WWG) designed an automated lighting system incorporating MAC 250+ moving heads, RoboScan Pro 918s, and Martin Acrobats to provide dynamic stage and dance-floor effects. RCCL is looking to add Martin's new Viro Station to the pool deck in a retrofit of its Majesty of the Seas, to add color and movement to the lighting.

Miami-based MAVCO engineered the digital video systems for the sophisticated Broadcast Control Centers that provide ship-wide video services on the Radiance and Brilliance. MAVCO works with local German companies Diskowski Marine for installation support, and with Funa GmbH for lighting and sound systems.

UV fixtures aboard the Radiance and Brilliance transform a 12' × 30' dual-image muslin painting that was created at the UV/FX shop in Vernon, CA. The painting transforms to become part of a club, the Viking Crown, at night. “The idea was to let people see the fantasy-based art during the day and have them experience it under UV light at night; the entire room transforms with the art being the showcase of that nighttime club look,” says Richard Green of UV/FX Scenic Productions.

Rose Brand, based in New York City, supplies fabrics to the Cincinnati-based River City Scenic for use aboard various cruise ships, including the recent RCCL projects. “We help select the fabrics and work with River City to fabricate such things as fiber-optic star drops,” says Rose Brand's Roger Claman.

Thomas Gregor Associates in El Segundo, CA, a consultant with Princess Cruises, has a new contract with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) for the shipwide paging and local entertainment systems (i.e., audio, video, show control, special effects, and lighting) aboard Princess Cruises' next two grand class luxury liners, the largest ships ever built by Princess and the first ones built in Japan.

Thomas Gregor Associates will engineer, fabricate, and program the systems, and supervise the installation at MHI's Tokyo shipyard. The new ships are due for delivery in July 2003 and May 2004 respectively, and are part of an expansion program to double the size of the Princess fleet over the next five years, and support the expansion of Princess into the Caribbean.

Thomas Gregor Associates also furnished and installed the technical entertainment systems for two Grand Class Princess Cruises ships, where the design utilizes a Peavey MediaMatrix system to link all 27 venues via a fiber-optic network that distributes multiple channels of audio and paging throughout the ship.

“There are tremendous benefits in using the MediaMatrix system,” says Jane Hall, the design manager for Thomas Gregor Associates. “The ship will have far greater control of musical content shipwide, and the centralization of the system is much more efficient in terms of equipment and manpower.”

Carnival Corporation (Carnival Cruise Lines' parent company, which operates six cruise companies worldwide including Carnival, Costa, Cunard, and Holland America) has at least 12 new ships in the works. Nautilus Entertainment Design Inc, based in La Jolla, CA, serves as entertainment facility consultants, designing systems for the most recent series of Carnival ships, the 2,124-passenger Fun Ship fleet built at the Kvaerner Masa-Yards in Helsinki. The first in the class, the Carnival Spirit, sailed in April 2001, followed by the Carnival Pride last December. Carnival Legend, the third in the series, follows in August 2002.

The main lounge on the Fun Ship fleet (called the Taj Mahal on the Pride and Pharaoh's Palace on the Spirit) seats 1,100 people in a “cocktail table” setup on the main floor seating level and theatre seating in an upper balcony. The flexible lighting rig includes High End Systems Cyberlights®, Vari*Lite VL5s, a mix of ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and Source Four PARs, Altman 1K cyc lights, two Lycian 1,200W followspots, eight Wildfire UV fixtures, High End AF1000 strobes, Pani 2.5K HMI projectors, and lots of Wybron scrollers. ETC Sensor dimmers, an ETC Expression, and a Wholehog II console provide control.

The audio package ranges from Midas consoles and LCS LD88 audio effects routing matrix to effects processing by Yamaha, Lexicon, and Eventide. Speakers include units by EAW, Macpherson, Renkus-Heinz, and Altec, with Crest amplifiers. A video package includes an Extron video matrix and Barco projector with AMX control. A Richmond Show Control system runs the show, with Le Maitre fog machines for atmosphere.

As is typical in cruise ship design, Kvaerner Masa-Yards uses local contractors to install the various entertainment systems. In this case, lighting systems installation is by Foki, the rigging and stage mechanics by Riskotec, the audio and video systems by Lightinen, and the broadcast systems by the Finnish division of HMS.

Holland America is launching the new 1,848-passenger Vista class of ships, with the Zuiderdam delivering in November 15, 2002, and the Oosterdam in June 2003. Three more in this class are scheduled for April 2004, October 2005, and May 2006.

These ships are built at Fincantieri Yards in Italy in conjunction with the French offices of HMS, with extensive equipment packages, featuring ETC and Wholehog consoles in the light booth to Vari*Lite VL 2202 and 2401 fixtures adding the flexibility of moving lights to the otherwise conventional rig of ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and PARs, with Wybron scrollers. “We may have the largest Vari-Lite rig afloat,” says Ken Albano, Holland America's entertainment manager. “There will be 72 to 92 VL series 2000 fixtures on the new ships, replacing the VL5s and VL6s we have on our existing fleet.”

Holland America is also converting the former Seabourn Sun into the 38,000-ton, 794-passenger Prinsendam, whose maiden voyage from New York to Southampton, England, is June 3, 2002. Swedish architect Tomas Tillberg, who designed the ship's original decor and led the 1999 update, is in charge of the renovations.

Also on the horizon is Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 (QM2), expected to sail in late 2003 with a planetarium, a college at sea, and broadcast/production facilities. Sailing on the Art Deco decks of the QM2 evokes the old charm of luxury liners while the latest in production design and technology confirms the commitment of the cruise ship industry to include entertainment venues that equal, or surpass, Broadway and Las Vegas.