Pioneering Women in Cruise Design: Interview with Dee Cooper of Virgin Voyages
Brand new cruise ships are incredible feats of engineering, but they’re also incredible feats of design and creativity. From the color schemes to the furniture and decoration, designing a cruise ship from top to bottom is a full time job and the people charged with the task have a whole lot to take into consideration.
For Dee Cooper, Senior Vice President of Design and Customer Experience at Virgin Voyages, the process involved collaborating with some of the world’s top designers, whether or not they had worked on a cruise ship before. Cooper joined Porthole Cruise and Travel Magazine Editor-in-Chief Bill Panoff to discuss her career at Virgin, what it takes to design not just one, but three brand new cruise ships and some of her favorite design features on board. Check out the full interview below!
How Did Dee Cooper Get Started at Virgin?
To get things started, Cooper was asked about her history with the Virgin brand and how she got into cruise ship design.
“I’ve been working with the Virgin brand for a very long time, I think over 21 years or something crazy like that…I started working for Virgin Atlantic, the long-haul airline based out of the UK, I think when I was 24 down in Gatwick near London in the UK and I was responsible for the design of our aircraft and our terminals and our uniforms and all those kinds of things. I basically grew up, and was lucky enough to work for Virgin Atlantic for 16 years and was responsible for the whole customer experience so everything from the service to the food. I ran the lounge operations as well so I have lots of experience bringing the brand to life which is really why they rang me, I think I started working on this project in 2012, even before we got investors, to create what would Virgin Voyages be and how would it find its place within this amazing cruise vacation that all our competitors offer,” Cooper said.
How Did She Come Up with Such Unique Designs?
Virgin Voyages does things a little differently than other cruise lines and that’s just the way they like it. From calling their guests ‘sailors’ to their focus on health and wellness, a Virgin cruise is truly unlike any other. One of the most talked about features on board the three new ships is the design of the staterooms, which are in some ways similar, but at the same time very different from the cabins you’ll find on other cruise brands. Cooper was asked what the inspiration was for the out-of-the-ordinary design.
“Well, I have to confess, I actually hadn’t been on a cruise before I started working for Virgin Voyages. When I first went on my first ship, myself and my colleagues at the time, there was probably around five or six of us and only two or three of us were non-cruise line industry people, we were so impressed by the staterooms and the fact that you had this amazing view of the sea. You didn’t have to be in a five-star hotel or be a millionaire to have this awesome sea view. So I think that was the first thing we felt was very, very important was for a connection with the sea,” Cooper said.
On the flip side, since Virgin Voyages does things so differently, Cooper was asked if there were any design aspects she saw on competitor cruise lines that they felt they needed to avoid when designing the Virgin fleet.
“To be honest with you, I was very excited by the cruise holiday, cruise vacation, and the chance that it gives you to have different types of holiday, whether it’s a multigenerational holiday, a holiday with family, whether a holiday with friends, the fact that you get to stay together and go apart, to go on shore excursions, I think it’s an amazing holiday and definitely we very much fell in love with sailing and cruising and indeed were inspired by some of the sort of Hollywood perceptions of voyaging. Whether, dare I say it, even the Titanic and the glamour we all associate with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, so we wanted to bring some of that modern glamour back into our ship,” she said.
Does She Have a Favorite Space on Board?
Designing a cruise ship top to bottom means there are a lot of spaces to consider. Cooper was asked if she had a favorite spot on board and which space she though the sailors will enjoy most as well.
“Gosh, it’s very hard, it’s like asking me which one of my children I fancy the best. But I think there are a couple of spaces I love. One of the things we knew was very important and indeed I’d learnt from Virgin Atlantic was first impressions count. When you first board the ship, you board on Deck 7 which is our promenade deck, and you enter directly into the roundabout, so you directly enter the heart of the ship. Immediately it presents the customers, our sailors as we call them, with the choices across the ship. So we have a Dj in the corner with some lovely ambient tunes. We have a bar on the other side so if you want to grab a beer and go for a walk around the deck you can. If you want to treat yourself to an ice cream or if you just want to hang out in a very beautiful, ambient space with dichroic light and one way you see the beam, the width of the ship, so you very much get to understand you’re at see. So think the roundabout, the main entrance and the sort of heart of the ship is very, very important to us and I think people will love,” Cooper said.
Another space she had an affinity for was one of the restaurants on board.
“One of my other favorites is our Razzle Dazzle restaurant. It’s probably one of our more casual restaurants but that’s almost why I like it. It’s more like a canteen feel so it’s relaxed. I can go there when I’m really busy, I want to go to the gym and I need to grab some lunch, and then I want to go out on my shore excursion, I know I can go there and grab some great food, like an macaroni and cheese, something really easy and relaxed and allows me to eat quickly and easily in a fun-inspired space because the concept behind Razzle Dazzle was the camouflaged ships we saw during the first World War, they were painted with the razzle dazzle pattern so that the enemy didn’t know whether you were sailing forward or backward or to the East or West,” she explained.