Calling all future cruise people - if you find yourself on board the Celebrity Solstice, spoil yourself by taking the Inside Access Tour.
The two-hour tour takes you behind the scenes to witness how these floating cities keep thousands of people happy on a daily basis. (Let’s face it – that’s a tough gig!)
With my place booked off I went to the meeting place with my camera in hand with the first stop being the bridge.
Sadly, it was not the charismatic Captain Tasos’ shift, but as there was a meet-and-greet with him later in the cruise all was forgiven, especially as he shared this funny story with guests:
“I was not the captain but second in charge on a cruise ship in the Caribbean and saw a large, unmarked, red button on the bridge. I asked the Captain of the day what was it for and he replied 'I don’t know'."
"So, I thought to myself – well, I think I’ll press it and see what happens. So, I did!
"Within two minutes we received a call to say the swimming pools were draining and guests were standing ankle-deep in water!
"My lesson learnt that day – never to press a red button on a cruise ship without a label!”
Now back to the bridge…
There were no huge joysticks or steering wheels, just very streamlined equipment and an uncluttered, lounge-like atmosphere.
A very competent and charming junior officer explained the ins-and-outs of sailing the huge Celebrity Solstice cruise ship.
The informative talk covered all things technical to keep this giant boat afloat, even the cost to fill up the fuel tank. $2 million!!
We were asked if we had any questions and in an effort to sound intelligent, I leaned towards a tiny little black lever and asked “if I push this what would happen?"
Well… the officer became agitated and uttered words that in English meant “do not touch”.
Apparently, this tiny piece of metal is used to STEER the massive 122,000 tonne vessel! One flick of my finger and the ship would be instantly off course or, worse, laying on its side in the Pacific Ocean!
Farewelling the, now stressed, officer on the bridge we headed downwards to meet the chief engineer. This time I stood at the back of the group – away from any enticing switches.
This enthusiastic officer explained his team ensures all the ship’s main systems are well maintained. A major role of the engineer’s team is to make sure all the fire fighting and safety systems are working at all times.
Definitely a good thing!
Of interest: the two massive props that push the ship through the ocean each weigh 5.8 tonnes. Meaning, of course, that a forklift was needed to install them when the ship was built in 2008.
Then there’s the 900 tonnes of fresh filtered water that’s made each day. Because this is far more than needed, the surplus goes through a UV process and is then pumped back into the ocean.
The engineer also assured us the ship would never sink because Celebrity ships have two thicknesses of hull – apparently not always the case for cruise ships. (Note to self – when booking future cruises check the thicknesses in the hull!)
The only question I had – who was the saint portrayed on the wall?
The answer was Saint Nikolas, the protector of the sea. (Another note to self: buy a lucky charm of this saint for future sailing adventures).
This department grabbed everyone’s attention.
The environmental officer explained the green “save the waves” philosophy of the Celebrity Cruise fleet and went into fine detail of how most of the solid waste generated is recycled on board.
We saw massive bins of crushed bottles, blocks of flattened cans, containers of batteries, etc. And all items are kept in special freezers to stop bacteria growing until the ship reaches its next port.
What can’t be recycled is burnt – mainly paper and plastics, and NO solid waste of any sort is ever allowed to be thrown overboard.
The hazardous stuff is disposed of in countries with the correct waste handling facilities.
And – this is fascinating – the recycled mass is sold at major ports like Sydney and Auckland with the proceeds going towards activities for the crew. Items like table tennis tables and gym equipment are purchased for their living quarters. Nice.
Oh, and there are 217 solar panels that power the elevators on the ship. (Personally, I always use the stairs after being psychologically scarred from the movie “Towering Inferno”!)
Cruise ship laundries are usually on the bottom deck at the bow (back end).
We weren’t given exact numbers of towels and sheets that are washed each day in machines as big as houses, but there were MOUNTAINS of clean and dirty items all divided into containers.
Apart from sheets and towels, how about the thousands of serviettes each day! Just think, if every one of the 2,600 passengers had three meals a day (remembering people in the buffet usually use at least three each time) – that alone gives about 11,000 squares of material a day to wash and dry!
It's mind boggling, because there’s also the daily guest and crew laundry. As washing isn’t my favourite pastime, I had an instant headache thinking about this mammoth operation and was happy to move on.
Still processing the information from the Environmental Officer, we headed to one of the galleys for the main dining room (Grand Epernay) where the chief housekeeper was waiting with more mind-boggling statistics.
The cruise ship has two galleys for the Epernay dining room, and one each for the other 10 restaurants on board.
In total, the cooks have to deliver 13,000 meals a day to guests and staff, which means a lot of trips to the supermarket to buy:
• 20,500 eggs
• 1,500 whole lobsters
• 4,000lb of whole chickens, or 1,814 kg
• 3,000lb of chicken legs, or 1,361 kg
• 1,120lb of chicken breast, or 508 kg
That’s before a sausage or a steak has even been considered!
The galley was an exciting and busy place. It was lunch time and the crew were like ants moving around, all on their own mission to organise hundreds of meal orders — but, all had a cheery smile and greeting for us.
Next the provisions master stepped in and explained the difficulty of accurately assessing the consumption rate for guests on a cruise - meaning that sometimes items of food and drink run out.
He told us factors taken into consideration include, the different nationalities on board and the age demographic. (He seemed to be looking at me when he said this, meaning probably that if we ran out of alcohol it would be my fault!)
The budget for food is $38,000 per day for 2,600 guests. Can you imagine? Produce is purchased from major ports of call where possible. In Sydney alone, 8,000 Australian pineapples and 9,000 watermelons were loaded, plus thousands of rock melons, peaches, pears, grapes, bananas and nectarines.
With our Inside Access Tour almost over, we sat on the top floor of the Grand Epernay dining room gazing in awe at the chandeliers that represent the bubbles in a glass of champagne. (Epernay being a famous region in France for the bubbly stuff).
There’s an amazing wine tower that stands tall through both levels and represents a bottle of champagne. The tower holds 2,800 bottles of wine that can be selected for drinking – a ladder needs to be used to reach the selected bottle by staff. You'll need deep pockets for some of these bottles, though!
The final statistic of the riveting tour of the Celebrity Solstice cruise ship was that there were 1,255 staff and crew on board from 70 different countries, AND the executive chef, Robert Sauer, is Australian!
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie – Oi, Oi, Oi!
• If you find yourself on the Celebrity Solstice, make sure you go on the Inside Access Tour. ($99)
• Take your camera, or smartphone, for photos.
• Wear comfortable shoes because the tour takes about two hours of walking.
• DO NOT press buttons or levers when on the Bridge!
The writer was invited to experience the Inside Access Tour and the Celebrity Solstice cruise as a guest of Travel at 60, but all opinions are her own.