When Celebrity Cruises boasts holding the top four spots in the 2006 Condé Nast Traveler's annual readers' survey ranking “The Best Cruise Ships in the World,” the line knows of at least one way to keep the accolades coming: constant maintenance and renovation. Celebrity's GTS Infinity and Mercury recently upgraded poolside and club lighting to keep this edge, with design and installation provided by New York- and Montreal-based Michael Riotto Design, LLC (MRD).

Working closely with Celebrity's own people on Infinity, including William Price from Marine Operations and Brian Lunsford from Hotel Operations, Riotto and his team knew the condition of some of the equipment, especially at the poolside, was not in the best order. “The salt water air and conditions had gotten the best of the fixtures, which were standard, steel outdoor PAR64s,” says Riotto. “They were rusted beyond recognition, with the gel frame clips rusted off. Gels were gaff-taped around the unit. They looked sorry and were certainly out of place on such a beautiful ship.”

Pool Of Light

With many space restrictions to consider, including the cruise line's mandate to move toward more energy efficient solutions all around, Riotto's team consulted with Celebrity on changing over some incandescent sources onboard to LED sources. This meant replacing the black steel PAR64s at 1kW each with an LED system comprised of 30 units at 40W each — a system of 30 Coemar Panorama LEDs for the pool area. “This brought it down from 48,000W to 1,200W,” says Riotto. “The numbers were staggering in terms of what the company spent annually on power, lamps, gels, even fixtures and what they would be spending with the new LED fixtures, not to mention the flexibility and aesthetic possibilities.”

In order to use DMX-controlled LED fixtures in an area lacking DMX locations, wireless became the solution. The poolside area is entirely DMX wireless via Interactive Technologies Radio DMX units and controlled from an IT Cue Server rackmount controller. According to Riotto, the Cue Server was chosen as it is easy enough for onboard staff to use, but it also has an integrated time clock for preprogrammed looks to occur nightly. Lead programmer and DMX integrator Mathieu Poirier did the programming.

“The wireless DMX was the key, by far,” Riotto says. “With the ship in normal operation, we did not have the luxury to run all cabling from the lighting positions back to the dimmer room racks where the console is located. It was my first time using the wireless, and it was rock-solid." The plan is that the Cue Server will eventually be connected to the ship's Ethernet to allow for direct access to the system from anywhere in the world. “I can be at home in New York and program and/or monitor the system when the ship is in Alaska, South America, anywhere. Anytime a program needs to be updated or a time clock cue adjusted, it's a matter of minutes before all changes are made,” he adds.

Even using wireless DMX, installing the system still posed a challenge where cabling was concerned. In order to run the 10' to 15' of DMX cabling from the DMX wireless receivers up to the fixtures, the crew had to strip down the decorative wood from the support columns and their stainless steel capitals to gain access to the pipe, which was clogged with rust and debris. “It took six guys about four hours just to get the one cable up to the first unit,” says Riotto.

Maintenance was also a huge consideration at poolside. The conditions at sea, coupled with the daily duties of the onboard staff, meant that the fixtures selected needed to be as self-sufficient as possible. “After working with LED fixtures extensively for the past few years, both in theatre and architectural applications, the Panorama was by far the best choice, in terms of construction and durability for the working conditions, coupled with output,” says Riotto. “Also important was its auto-sensing ability on power, extremely important on a vessel with fluctuating power with drops or spikes in the +/-20v range.” To assist with the radio DMX transmitter and receivers, a Furman power conditioner was also installed inline to assist with the power fluctuation, as well as to protect the hardware from extreme voltage spikes.

Riotto worked with DeAnna Padgett of Barbizon Miami for most of the equipment on Infinity, with Rob Johnston of Interactive Technologies for the wireless DMX system and antenna placement, and with Michael Graham of Coemar for the Panorama LEDs.

Celebrity Fit Clubs

While working poolside on the Infinity, that ship's club space, Constellation, was also in need of a renovation, a task that Riotto's team had no problem undertaking, as they had also recently revamped Mercury's Navigator Club. Poirier programmed both of these spaces, as well.

For Constellation, which incorporates a 14'×8' stage for live performances as well as a dance floor, most of the older gear was taken out. Twelve Coemar ParLite LEDs replaced much of what had been used above the stage. For the dance floor, some equipment stayed, as it just required maintenance, including six Martin Professional MAC 500s and five MAC 600s. Newly added to that are a Martin Magnum hazer, two High End Systems Dataflash® AF1000 strobes, and four ETC Source Four® PARs with Wybron Coloram IIs, which were left over from the stage area. For club control, a Flying Pig Systems Hog® 500 was installed, and it has become Riotto's standard for Celebrity renovations. A custom Da-Lite screen complements the stage and architectural structure of the room, protruding from below the proscenium to out and over the dance floor.

A few months earlier, Riotto had worked with Price on Mercury's Navigator Club, a project he says “started out as an emergency fix, which turned into a redesign.” With architectural elements that had not worked since nine months after the ship was launched in 1996, including a neon dance floor and fiber optics, a full redesign became a more realistic proposition. Revitalizing the lounge and bar areas to make them more inviting to cruisers was also a major goal. “This was to help get more guests to the bar and to improve revenue, as well as to help reinforce the consistency and quality found throughout the rest of the public spaces,” says Riotto.

As with Infinity, one primary objective was to eliminate incandescent sources wherever possible and replace them with LEDs. Barbizon Miami also provided lighting gear here, which now includes 16 Color Kinetics ColorBurst® 6s with a City Theatrical PDS-750 power supply, 12 ColorBurst 4s with a Color Kinetics PDS-150e power supply, three Pathway Connectivity Opto-splitters, and an extensive parts package for maintenance of 24 Martin RoboScan Pro 518s.

In a pretty straightforward installation, only a minor challenge presented itself: “running homeruns from all the Color Kinetics units back to the power supply through the ceiling space,” says Riotto. In addition, a Hog 500, a Pathway Connectivity DMX Manager, a Martin Magnum Hazer, two CITC Director fans, and loads of DMX cables, connectors, and hardware were installed.

Since Royal Caribbean-owned Celebrity Cruises established an energy conservation mandate last year for all its ships, Riotto and his team at MRD, as the main lighting consultant on the line's renovations, will continue to look for efficient solutions. Whether they're working on ladders in the middle of a windy night at poolside or updating a waning cruise club scene, look for MRD to help Celebrity keep getting greener.

What He's Using Now…

While Michael Riotto and his team are busy working on renovating spaces for Celebrity Cruises, there's one piece of gear that's invaluable to this seasoned designer: “I never leave home without my Microtech DMX tool from Interactive Technologies, and due to the complex routing of existing theatrical lighting systems, plus the architectural accents, the tool became very useful for sifting through everything and locating what-was-where, etc.”

Riotto Design Team:

Michael Riotto, designer and project manager
(Infinity and Mercury)

Mathieu Poirier, lead programmer and DMX integrator
(Infinity and Mercury)

Benoit DeCarufel, head repair technician
(Infinity and Mercury)

Dominique Morissette, lead installation technician (Infinity)