Art, signage, utility; lighting performs multifaceted functions on board cruise ships. Lighting installations range from statement-making exercises in branding to the simple but essential bedside lamp. Cruise ship lighting is also at the forefront of rapid technological change, creating a kaleidoscope of thrilling possibilities for the cruise ship interiors designer. We reached out to CSI+ Members We are Light and ETC to discuss existing challenges, new technologies and their predictions for the future of cruise ship interior lighting.

Confines and challenges 

It’s important to establish the baseline of normality before exploring the technology that’s pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Cruise ships are challenging structures to light. While standard lighting design would usually factor in location, including climate, weather patterns and the path of the sun, cruise ships are moving structures. Vincent Krohn, CEO, We Are Light, explained how this would impact lighting design. He said, ‘A cruise ship moves across the world’s oceans through different climate zones with varying sun positions and daylight conditions. An automated lighting control requires intelligent adaptation to such factors, for example, using special daylight sensors.’

In addition to this challenge, cruise ship lighting faces other limitations. Cruise ship interiors have low ceilings, and are subject to stringent regulations and certification requirements. Alongside other fixtures and furnishings, cruise ship lighting must work to make the spaces appear welcoming and spacious. Guests should be wowed by their surroundings and, to the fullest extent possible, be unaware of the limitations of the design. This means tapping into the lighting design to create the feeling of height, using artfully arranged lighting systems to transform a large space into a series of intimate nooks and utilising dynamic lighting to transition a space from day to night.

Making the switch

LED light bulbs are installed as standard on newbuild cruise ships, but some cruise lines are still undergoing projects to make the switch from halogen and incandescent bulbs to LED across their older tonnage. When, in 2015, Costa Cruises partnered with Philips to upgrade the lighting fixtures across 10 ships, they predicted that by changing the 300,000 fixtures they would use up to 80% energy. With sustainability targets in the mix for newbuild and refurbishment design briefs, it’s important that cruise line design teams stay current on lighting technology. LED lighting technology is installed as standard on newbuild ships, but some older stock are still undergoing lighting fixture switchovers while they conduct dry dock and refurbishment updates. 

Although there are compelling business reasons to make this change, making the switch isn’t as easy as it might seem. Daniele Peroni, Global Cruise Ship Sales, ETC said, ‘Perhaps the biggest challenge [when implementing lighting systems for cruise ships] is updating the electrical system on an existing ship. With newer technology comes a need for updated infrastructure. In order to get the benefits of an upgraded LED system, cruise ships have to put the time and money into overhauling the electrical system. The good news is that the energy savings of an LED system always pays for itself in the long run.’ 

The future of lighting design

Cruise ship interior designers have plenty to be excited about when it comes to the future of cruise ship lighting. Products currently working their way towards commercial availability include LiFi, MicroLEDs, transparent LED screens, and illuminated textiles. Integration is one of the key trends currently driving lighting design forward; the exciting possibilities opened up by minaturisation lead towards lighting being integrated into architecture and even furnishings.

Vincent sketched out how some of these innovations might look and act in the future. He said, ‘For instance, LiFi offers high-speed data transmission through light, facilitating integrated communication and connectivity within lighting systems. Thanks to LiFi, guests can be tracked directly but also individually directed to the next attraction on the ship. All you need is your cell phone. Integrating illuminated textiles expands design possibilities, allowing for interactive and customizable lighting solutions within furniture or flooring. Imagine a simple table lamp in which there is no longer a classic LED lamp, but the shade material lights up on its own.’

While these possibilities are exciting, lighting designers and cruise brands have to engage in a deep level of trust when working with cutting edge technology. Daniele shone a spotlight on the inherent challenges of showcasing the newest lighting technology on board newbuild cruise ships. He said, ‘Lighting design companies have to see into the future. Once the ship owner has signed a contract it is very difficult to make any changes without incurring significant added costs. And of course, each new ship wants to be more impressive than the one before. With a new ship coming along every 18 months, ship designers really have to keep their finger on the pulse of what new technology is on the market from manufacturers.’

What’s exciting right now? 

Cruise ship lighting designers have plenty to be excited about while they wait for a wider range of illuminated textiles, more efficient and miniaturized LEDs and even more intelligent lighting controls to enter the commercial space.

For Daniele, it’s ETC’s F-Drive LED Driver system and Navis downlight luminaire that’s worth shouting about. He said, ‘The F-Drive puts LED drivers into a central location instead of with each luminaire or pixel tape device. The LED drivers are no longer wedged into ceilings or in niches that must be specially created, so your design, construction, and installation are all streamlined and economized. Plus, should anything go wrong with a driver, you have a centralized, accessible position to troubleshoot anything. A centralized location also means you get easily interchangeable, industrial strength power supplies.’

Vincent highlighted how current trends are focused on creating ever more captivating environments with light. He said, ‘ These environments are created using a wide range of decorative luminaires, luminous architectural elements or media façades adapted to the purpose of the space. Therefore, the improvement of LED is an important strategy that, like miniaturization, offers the possibility and flexibility to use it in more complex projects. In addition, kinetic installations are on the rise, transforming environments by changing shape and supporting projections and sound, driven by advances in electrical motors and lighting control technology.’

Want to stay up to date on the latest cruise interior industry developments and trends? CSI+ is the exclusive platform for Members-only networking and product sourcing for the global cruise interiors community. Not a Member yet? Get in touch with the team to learn more.