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Ventura refit Q&A with Alison Clixby


As Carnival UK’s director of hotel design and projects, Alison Clixby has been a creative force behind a number of ship refits across the P&O Cruises and Cunard fleets. Ahead of Ventura’s refit, we spoke with Alison about the design inspiration, the benefits guests will see, and how the refit will enhance the overall cruise experience.


Ventura, a family-friendly, larger ship

What is your role in the Ventura refit?

As design director, my role is to bring to life the brand and operational vision, then specify what changes should be made in the guest and crew environment. We’relooking at anything the guests might see, touch and feel, and investing in the crew at the same time.


Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I have a degree in interior design at Nottingham Polytechnic. Back then, I didn’t even realise designing ships was a job, but my first role was working for a company that was refitting the Queen Elizabeth 2. I learnt it’s a fascinating world – every day is different. So I stayed in that field and became quite specialised in maritime design. I worked as a designer for over 25 years before coming to Carnival.


Can you tell us about some of the other design projects you’ve worked on?

I’ve had a long history with Carnival. When I was an external design consultant, I worked on the new builds for Aurora and Azura. Britannia was my main focus when I came in-house to lend my design expertise to external consultants who had never worked on a ship before. Since then, I’ve worked on all ship refits since 2015. At the moment, I’m also working on the new P&O Cruises ship, set to launch in 2020. For Cunard, I’ve worked on big refits for the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria.


As a designer, where do you begin with a ship refit? What are the first steps?

We start by looking at the condition of the ship and figuring out if there are structural changes we need to make to improve the product or environment. Alongside that, we have the brand vision – where are they looking to take the fleet, and the ship in particular? That might involve listening to guest feedback on things they think would improve their experience, or maybe introducing a new concept in a restaurant.We’re also trying to be mindful that we’ve got a great identity in P&O Cruises that focuses on the British guest, so we consider how can we start our guests’ journey. Obviously they know they’re stepping onto a P&O Cruises ship, but we want them to feel that the moment they walk in.

All the ships across the fleet are very different. They have different styles, ages and sizes, and in the past they’ve been visually quite disparate. We’re trying to create amore cohesive experience between the ships in the fleet. We can never standardise 100 per cent, and I don’t think we want to in terms of design in all spaces, but these ships have a personality and a guest profile as well. So we look at how we adapt that P&O Cruises look and feel and put that into the ship.


What role do guests play in the refit process?

We take note of the guest feedback that the on-board team receives at the end of a cruise. Often these comments are about condition or other elements that guests aren’t completely satisfied with, so we aim to improve those. We can learn a lot from guest feedback.


What’s the most challenging part of refitting a cruise ship?

 I’d say it’s the timescale. We’re in dock for a very short time, and we’re trying to achieve a huge amount in that window. To get people and materials there, and in and out of the ship, is really challenging. On the budgeting side, the most difficult thing is figuring out how we can best spend our money for the biggest impact.Also, although a ship is similar to a hotel in many ways, there are quite a lot of constraints you have to work within, with an obvious one being that a ship is not static – it’s a moving hotel, if you like.


What parts of Ventura will see the biggest change in this refit, and how will it enhance the experience for guests?

 Number one will be retail spaces – we’re trying to make that much more experiential,and more of a personal experience for our guests. We’re opening up some of the shops, putting in big new windows in deck seven – just trying to elevate that experience and the products on offer. Dufry, our new retail partner, is a huge company to work with, so that’s really exciting. From an entertainment perspective, the experience of the new LED screen in the theatre will be transformative. We already have it on Azura and Britannia, and it creates a spectacular experience for the guests. This will definitely add a big ‘wow’factor.

We’ll also see quite a refresh in the 24-hour Waterside buffet and in The Beach House, which is Ventura’s fun and informal Select Dining restaurant – that’s where we’re looking at bringing in a design scheme across the fleet, which we’ve already introduced on Arcadia and Oceana. Every cabin is going to have new carpet, which should really uplift them. We’re not making huge changes to every space on Ventura, but she’ll start to feel more like she did when she was launched 10 years ago – that high-end,contemporary feel that guests expect.


What do you love most about Ventura?

I like the internal flow she has, where you’re transitioning through internal corridors and moving between spaces quite seamlessly. I also like the fact that she has a large covered pool to enjoy, whatever the weather.


What part of this refit project are you most proud of?

I’m proud that we’ve all worked really collaboratively as a team to make it happen.We’ve worked day and night to try and make the best of those retail spaces in particular. I’m proud of the fact that we had a great team spirit and drive to get that through.


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