ONBOARD, BUT BACKSTAGE: CRUISING, BEHIND THE SCENES
Anyone who has cruised in recent years will tell you the same thing: a cruise ship is a floating luxury resort of behemoth proportions, with every onboard amenity you could possibly desire. But it's not until you take a behind-the-scenes tour of a cruise ship that you can begin to understand and truly respect the operations that make this gigantic hotel-at-sea work seamlessly.
My Ultimate Ship Tour of the Crown Princess left me with precisely this sense of awe. The vessel, which sails from Galveston to the Western Caribbean January through April, has the inner workings of a fine Swiss watch, each department ticking away in such perfect unison with the rest that for the 3,000 passengers on board, the operations side is utterly invisible. Until you step backstage, that is.
We peek into the engine room, where controllers are at the helm of a sophisticated computer system that delivers exact data on everything from fuel to water consumption. Here we learn that at full speed our vessel is consuming 200 tons of fuel daily, which means our week-long cruise will use an estimated $700,000 worth of fuel. The 2,400 cubes of water loaded onto the ship at the start of each week-long cruise will cover the 230 liters per day each passenger is expected to consume, water that once used, will be treated and pumped back into the ocean. The same deep blue seas will provide the water required to cool the ship's engines.
If your daily chores involve laundering clothes, you'll find the ship's laundry a place of wonder and amazement. I am mesmerized by folding and ironing machines that look much like printing presses, taking wet towels, napkins, tablecloths and bed linens and in a matter of seconds, rendering them hot and creaseless. The machines run 24/7, so that the 86 stateroom stewards have a ready supply of linens around the clock.
On deck four, close to the bowels of the Crown Princess, Dr. Dylan Belton reveals the ship's medical center, which houses separate clinics for passengers and staff. "This is the one place no-one truly wants to have to see," quips the British doctor who has worked on board for the past six years. The seven-bed center sees a variety of ailments, mostly coughs, colds, forgotten medication, respiratory illness and heart attacks. But it also serves crew, vaccinating the 1,200 crew members for influenza and assisting them with weight loss, smoking prevention and diet modification. "This is a working ship, so we have to be able to deal with trauma," he explains. "We even have a morgue, since the days of burial at sea are long gone. I'll show you that on your way out," he jokes.
In the food storage facilities fruit and vegetables are unpacked, peeled, chopped and readied for the galley in the preparation station. Heavenly aromas emanate from the bakery as some of the 24,000 buns baked daily emerge from the oven.
"We go through an average of 225 tons of food each day, and we always carry enough for at least a day or two extra, just in case," says Giorgio Pisano, maitre d'hotel. A picture of elegance in his handsome suit and Italian-accented English, Pisano started bussing tables for the Island Princess in 1976 while still a teenager, and never looked back. Today he presides over the Crown Princess' nine dining facilities, somehow managing to be everywhere at once while still appearing utterly unflustered. "It's organized chaos," he jokes, as I marvel at the precision of operations in the galley. More like a Swiss watch, I'm thinking. Each movement so impeccably synchronized, rehearsed and orchestrated that for passengers, the inner workings of the cruise ship are entirely invisible.
IF YOU GO: " The Crown Princess sails the Western Caribbean in week-long journeys from Galveston January through April. Ports of call include Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize and Cozumel, Mexico. Info: 800-PRINCESS or www.princess.com
" The Chef's Table is an eight-course dining option offered twice over the course of a week-long cruise. The three-to-four hour long meal costs $80 without wine pairings and $95 with wine, and includes a behind-the-scenes kitchen tour and a take-home cookbook featuring recipes from the Princess galleys.
" The Ultimate Ship Tour is offered only once during the cruise, with a limit of 12 passengers. To experience it, be sure to book one of the coveted spots offered on the first day, right away.
PHOTOS: As accredited below
1.The Crown Princess, which sails to the Western Caribbean from Galveston January through April, offers an Ultimate Ship Tour wherein guests get a behind-the-scenes tour of the colossal ship and a chance to appreciate the inside story. Photo: courtesy Princess Cruises
2. IMG 0439: Guests who sign up for the Chef's Table dinner are treated to an innovative eight-course meal, some of which takes place in the galley. Photo: Shelley Seale
3. Culinary artists on board the Crown Princess carve special treats for guests at the Chef's Table, including ornate flowers sculpted from dyed turnips to resemble an aquatic garden. Photo: Shelley Seale
4. Spa Pool: Beyond the swimming pools and lounging chairs is a sophisticated system that allows cruise ships like the Crown Princess to operate efficiently and seamlessly. To appreciate the magnitude of that system, you have to peek behind the scenes in an Ultimate Ship Tour. Photo: courtesy Princess Cruises
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