December 29th ~ At sea
Early in the cruise, I saw a notice in the daily Princess Patter that one could sign up for an optional behind the scenes tour, billed as the “Ships Ultimate Tour”. Tim had long wanted to see more of the workings of the ship, so we stopped by the main desk and signed up. The price was $150 per person.
Today was the day!
Meeting at 8:20 a.m. in one of the lounges, the even dozen of us headed out for our 2.5 hour tour (which turned into almost 3.5 hours). Led by Theo, the assistant cruise director, we were also accompanied by a photographer and a member of the security staff. Having been told up front that photography was not allowed, I was thankful that at least with a photographer with us that we would have some documented memory of the experience.
I guess security was to make sure we all behaved ourselves since we were going into normally off-limits areas of the ship.
Our stops included:
Medical Facility ~ One of the on-board doctors gave us a tour. There are two doctors, three nurses and two paramedics on board. The comfortable waiting room, although smaller, could have been any ER waiting room where waiting patients could be evaluated and if necessary, triaged. There are five hospital rooms (one ICU), an x-ray room, lab where most common blood tests can be done, a basic operating room (more for setting broken bones or minor procedures) as there is no anesthesiologist on board, besides the ships movement would make complex surgery next to impossible. There is also a three compartment morgue which sadly does get used on occasion. In extreme emergencies, if at sea, a helicopter can be requested to transfer a patient to the nearest hospital. Although there is no place for a helicopter to land on the ship, a basket can be lowered down to transfer the patient to the helicopter. Now THAT would be an “E-Ticket” ride. I’m guessing I just gave away my age, as most youngsters will have no idea what that means 🙂
Backstage and dressing/costume room for theater productions ~ The production manager explained how sets are moved, and some of the behind the scenes workings including lighting, sound, costumes, etc. that go into putting on each show. The dance captain then took us to the dressing room and talked about the tryouts, selection and rehearsal process that takes place before the crew ever comes on board. The entire dance company will stay together for the length of their contract which normally runs six to nine months.
Laundry Room ~ This huge facility was many people’s favorite stop. Enormous washing machines and dryers are needed to handle the tremendous amount of daily laundry that must be done on board a ship. That includes uniforms from each department, sheets, towels from the cabins, kitchen and pool, linen napkins, tablecloths, as well as passenger laundry. Stations were set up for attaching number labels on each persons clothing so that the right items get returned to the correct stateroom, sorting laundry, pressing, steaming, hanging, and matching back each order. The sheets, when they come out of the dryers, are grabbed by two people and loaded into a big machine that irons AND FOLDS them.
Anchor Room ~ All the way to the very bow of the ship, and near the lowest level. I’m not sure that I understood all of that the Staff Captain was explaining here, but I can tell you that the chains, multiple ropes/cables and two anchors are huge.
Galley ~ We have had galley tours on several cruises, but this was so much more. Meeting with the head chef, we learned that there are numerous galleys on board. In fact I think he said there are eleven on them on this ship. I had no idea there were so many. Food on the buffet lines must be maintained at a certain temperature, and can only be out for a maximum of four hours. At that point, the line is closed down (and a new line opened on the other side of the ship), and all remaining food from the shut down line is thrown out. We got to see some of the pastry items being prepared and decorated, and rolls being baked. A table had been set up and we were just in time to see ten young girls escorted in to the kitchen, each with a chefs hat and wearing a white coat. The girls were each going to decorate a cake to be presented to their parents at dinner that evening. We also learned that the US Health Department is the most strict.
Food Storerooms and Refrigerators ~ Passengers on a cruise consume a LOT of food and beverages! Enormous bags of potatoes, box after box of tomatoes, a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables were all kept in preset cold storage rooms. Huge walk-in refrigerators housed dairy and meat products. The procurement officer talked about some of the planning that goes into stocking a ship this size. First the menu is composed by the head chef. He advises the P.O. the menu and ingredients needed. It is then his job to determine the amounts of each item needed and coordinate with Princess Headquarters so that the correct items in the proper amounts will be delivered to the right port on time. The itinerary, time of the year and demographics of the passengers are taken into consideration with a two month lead time. For example if it is a Caribbean itinerary over Spring break with a young crowd, then more beer, pizza ingredients, hamburgers and fries are ordered. On the South American cruise, (an older demographic) there was more beef and prune juice, (I’m not making this up), and on Mediterranean cruises, more seafood would be consumed.
Photo Shop ~ This is where the thousands of photos of the passengers, from throughout the cruise, are printed to be displayed within hours of being taken. Photos that are not purchased are shred and the paper recycled at the end of each cruise.
Printing Department ~ They are responsible to print up the daily Princess Patter, tour brochures, announcements and other forms that are used throughout the ship.
Engine Control Room ~ The First Engineer showed us how each system was monitored. Large computer screens were flashed on the wall that showed schematics of everything from the engines to electrical, to water system to plumbing and how waste water (both gray and black) is processed. He discussed the powerful main engines, propellers, side thrusters, how water is created for on-board use, how much fuel is consumed, inventory of spare parts that are needed, the full machine shop if something needs to be made or repaired, and how the engine room is always manned, monitored and in constant communication with the bridge.
The Bridge ~ The Captain welcomed us to the bridge and then shortly thereafter turned us over to another officer who proceeded to show us the working of the navigation equipment, radar, how the helm can be controlled from the front or either side wing, and the job of each of the personnel who man the bridge at all times. He discussed the role of the pilot who escorts us in and out of each port. The Captain is still in command of the vessel and it is at his discretion whether or not he allows the pilot to relays instructions to the helm for maneuvering, or if he will. The one and only exception to this rule is when going through the Panama Canal where the pilot is in sole command and responsible for the safety of the ship.
At the end of the tour we were treated to a glass of champagne (with or without orange juice). Later in the day our cabin steward delivered copies of the pictures taken at several stops, a picture frame, Princess apron and brand new, soft robes for us to take home.
I may need a bigger suitcase…
GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful that Tim finally got to explore parts of the ship he had long wanted to see. I was amazed at how well done the tour was and how much informative each department provided. I think I ended up enjoying the tour every bit as much as Tim did. I know that I certainly asked my fair share of questions. If you are ever given the opportunity to do an extensive behind the scenes tour on a cruise ship, I can highly recommend it. We found that it is not well-known or widely advertised, so you may need to inquire if your ship offers it. Be sure to ask early in the cruise as they are normally only offered once, a limited number of people can go and it can fill up quickly.