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A Carnival of colour Designer Joseph Farcus explains how his over-the-top interiors and creative partnership with Ted Arison helped turn Carnival into the most successful cruise brand of the modern age

Top / Joseph Farcus — the ‘man with the unlimited imagination’, as Carnival bills him (Photograph: Andy Newman) Above / The Carnival Dream lobby (Photograph: Rick Diaz)


Joseph Farcus first came into contact with Carnival Corp founder Ted Arison in the early 1970s. As a junior associate of Miami architect Morris Lapidus, he was asked to spruce up some public rooms on two old transatlantic liners that then formed the entire Carnival fleet. Working with Carnival and Arison inspired Farcus. Working with Lapidus did not. By the mid-1970s he had set out on his own, with Carnival his only client. He would go on to design the interior of every one of its cruiseships up until the Carnival Breeze of 2012. But it becomes clear in his autobiography Design on the High Seas: Setting the Scene for Entertainment Architecture Aboard Cruise Ships that Farcus did far more than just design the interior decor. Although not a naval architect by training, his strong interest in architectural engineering saw him play a leading role in designing everything from the general arrangement plans and the trademark Carnival whale-tail funnel to the most minute details of the interiors. He created the whole Carnival “Fun Ship” environment and made it much more than a marketing slogan. He would also design most of the Costa Cruises fleet after Carnival’s takeover of the Italian company in 2000. Farcus’ cruiseships were designed to take passengers out of their humdrum suburban lives. The ships were an orgasmic extravaganza of bold, brash decor based on a common central idea. Not an inch of space was left undecorated. With close attention to the smallest layout and work-flow details, the ships also functioned tremendously well. Farcus’ unique style was not always appreciated by critics, who often panned his work as tacky. “Farcus obviously believes that, if you are going to do something in

bad taste, you must on no account go in for timid half measures,” one reviewer wrote. Even Carnival chairman Micky Arison writes in the book’s foreword that the designs sometimes left him at a loss for words: “There were times when I would visit a shipyard when a vessel was half finished and I’d be standing there looking at some giant purple element or other figment from Joe’s imagination and it would mortify me. I’d call Joe and he would say ‘Trust me, you’ll like what you see when it is done.’ Nine times out of ten he was right.” Critics may not always have liked Farcus’ ships, but Carnival’s passengers lapped it up. His designs became the signature of the line’s ships, and they launched millions of happy holidaymakers into previously unthought of vacations at sea. Design on the High Seas not only allows Farcus to detail the evolution of his designs but provides insights into how Carnival transformed from a struggling market bottom-feeding newcomer into an industry powerhouse. Anecdotes cover the frustrations of negotiating the purchase of a ship tied up in the notorious bureaucracy of a Greek bankruptcy proceeding; the perils of building or refitting vessels in yards that had never tackled cruiseship projects before; and the near-catastrophe caused by the collapse of Wartsila Marine, where Carnival had three ships on order. Farcus is aware of the gamble taken by Ted Arison in hiring him, and also gets across what an astute businessman Arison was; ready to gamble everything in the early days, and ultimately helping to create the modern cruise industry. Jonathan Boonzaier Top / The nine-deck Metropolis Atrium is a popular meeting point onboard the Carnival Miracle (Photograph: Andy Newman) Above / The Carnival Valor Promenade deck (Photograph: Rick Diaz) Left / The Carnival Miracle’s whale-tail funnel (Photograph: Andy Newman)

Design on the High Seas: Setting the Scene for Entertainment Architecture Aboard Cruise Ships (2018), hardback, 264pp, Images Publishing Group

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