I happened to be looking at some deck plans of Holland America’s forthcoming ship, Koningsdam. She’s the first of a new class of ship, “Pinnacle”. She looks to be based on the old Vista and later Signature classes, but has clearly moved on from them in one significant way – at 35ms beam, she’s wider than the previous classes and is therefore a ‘post-panamax’ ship.
Compared with Arcadia (one of the original Vistas), Koningsdam will accommodate about 600 extra passengers (standard occupancy); it looks as if there are quite a lot more cabins high up than on Arcadia. There’s also one other significant difference: although there’s a Promenade deck, and what looks (on the plans) like a wrap-round Promenade, it may not be accessible. As with other new ships, the lifeboats are mounted down at (Promenade) deck level. I understand this is to facilitate lifeboat embarkation if required, but it does mean that the lifeboats and all their associated equipment take over the Promenade deck. On the Royal Princess class (which includes P&O’s Britannia, of course), access to the Promenade – which is actually a narrow walkway behind the lifeboats – is not available during normal sailing. And from the images I’ve seen, it looks as if the same arrangements will exist on Koningsdam.
My understanding is there is in fact a legislative reason for the death of the Promenade deck – SOLAS 2010. I don’t believe there’s anything in it that specifically says “lifeboats must be normally stowed at embarkation level”, but there are some requirements about the maximum time an evacuation should take. These are (or seem to be, as far as I can make out): in the case of passenger ships with more than three vertical fire zones (which includes pretty much all modern cruise ships), no more than 80 minutes from the time that passengers are summoned to muster stations; and no more than 30 minutes from the moment all passengers have been assembled. I suspect that it’s the latter that has caused the change in lifeboat position: with the lifeboats down at deck level, passengers can be embarking them while crew members are preparing them for descent into the sea. So it’s a good thing really: but I shall miss the chance to walk around the Promenade deck. Here’s another link to a page about the SOLAS regulations – have a look at the sections listed below the linked page in the navigation bar on the left-hand side.