Princess is obviously serious about service, leaving very little to chance in an elaborate choreography. It begins with the C.R.U.I.S.E. Program, into which all employees are indoctrinated from day one. C.R.U.I.S.E. stands for "Courtesy, Respect, Unfailing in Service Excellence"—utter nonsense, of course, but don't tell them that. A 14-page handbook is filled with pointers on giving great service. As the intro tells it, the C.R.U.I.S.E. Program "recognizes and rewards the power of positive passenger personal contact." A lot of alliteration empowers empathic employees.
Crew members are encouraged to carry the C.R.U.I.S.E. credo card with them at all times, like Mao's Little Red Book. They really do follow every word, from "Stand up straight" to "Never say no." I spent a lot of time trying to trick the staff into saying no, but nobody fell for it. "So," I'd say, "does this baby sail to Alaska?"
"Alas, I'm sorry to say that the ship is too wide for the Panama Canal, so she is unable to sail the Pacific."
"That's a no, then?"
"Yes, she does, or no, she doesn't?"
"She does not."
I mean it, these guys are good.
The Pretty Tough Life of a Sailor at Sea
With all that pressure to coddle and indulge passengers, I had to wonder who would even want to work on a cruise ship. Is the thrill of being at sea worth all the fuss?In the crew bar I cornered a few younger staff members, bought them beers, and eventually found a few chinks in the armor.
"If I were doing this job on land I'd quit," a pool attendant finally admitted. Then what had made her renew her contract?"I love traveling, I love the water, I've met some great friends. But it's pretty tough, working on a ship."
Okay, so it's odd to hear the word tough applied to a job that entails, say, organizing contests wherein passengers stuff massive amounts of fruit down their bathing suits. Yet ship life is harder than it seems. For one thing, you forfeit the usual distinctions between job space and leisure space, time on and time off. "We're never a hundred percent working," said the pool attendant, "but we're never a hundred percent not working, either." Since crew members are almost always in the presence of either passengers or their own superiors and colleagues, they're bound to maintain a certain decorum and alertness. In crew rec areas and shared crew cabins, privacy is nonexistent: "The gossip is worse than high school," said one crew member. Relaxing—as we know it—is not really possible. It probably helps if you grew up with 150 siblings.
Life is easier for those with deck privileges; at least they have more places to hide. But this too goes only so far. Staff members are required to wear name tags in public areas, even when off duty. The C.R.U.I.S.E. handbook dictates their behavior. "Smile!" it says. "You are on stage!" And that's the point—they're acting, playing a role, 24/7. The crew areas are filled with cue cards:
>YOU MUST NOT PASS A PASSENGER WITHOUT SAYING GOOD MORNING, GOOD AFTERNOON, OR GOOD EVENING!
>YOU MAY SPEAK ONLY ENGLISH WHEN IN PASSENGER AREAS!
Makes the Rules Look Easy
Things get more complicated for the officers and entertainers whose very jobs involve socializing with passengers, or socializing in the weird way that cruise lines conceive it. That's all tied up in regulations, too. You'll meet one of them in the disco, and you'll think, How nice that the crew can join in the fun. Perhaps he'll sit down and have a drink, or cut a rug with me to "Y.M.C.A." But no. Ship's Standing Order No. 3 outlines protocol for such interactions.
• YOU MUST NEVER SIT ON BARSTOOLS.
• AVOID TOUCHING PASSENGERS. NEVER BE TOO FAMILIAR.
• YOU MAY NOT DANCE WITH PASSENGERS, OR WITH EACH OTHER. HOWEVER, DANCERS MAY DANCE WITH PASSENGERS—THOUGH NOT WITH EACH OTHER.
In reality the orders are never so strictly followed, but it's a fine line the staff walks when dealing with passengers. Although the Grand has nothing like the hormonal levels of certain other cruise liners, the occasional boor will push "familiarity" too far. "Something about international waters does this to people," says a female youth activities counselor who's constantly hit on by single dads (married ones, too). "They have no reason to be embarrassed, since they'll never see you again after the week's up. So they figure, 'Why not make an ass of myself?' " I asked her how she gamely deflects an advance without offending the passenger. "You smile, tell them you're flattered, and say you're dating the chief security officer."
So, do ship employees have flings with passengers?I'm supposed to say "never," but you do the math. Occasionally the fling lasts: recently another cruise line captain tied the knot with a former passenger. Intra-crew romances, however, are very much the norm. After all, cruise ship workers tend to be single, or at least consider themselves so while at sea. From what I hear it's a love bonanza, despite (or perhaps due to) the lack of privacy. I got the dirt from an assistant purser named, uh, "Joe," who told me he was dating a Cruisercise coach. He wasn't sure they would make it on land, but for now he was enjoying himself. "Back home I had two girlfriends my entire life. Here I'm freakin' Casanova. It's like"—he made a slot-machine pumping motion—"ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching!"
'Shag Alert, Lido Deck!'
You might notice a few stocky Nepalis strolling around the ship, not saying much. They may look benign, but make no mistake: these guys are tough as nails. They're Gurkhas, six of them, and they're the Grand's security guards. (When you've got Gurkhas, all you need is six.) The guards, trained by the British Army, don't carry weapons—there are no weapons on board, explains security officer Peter Rixon, a veteran of the British military. "Instead of pistols or billy clubs or Mace, we use a certain tone of voice to deter aggression," Rixon tells me, in exactly that tone of voice.
The most common security problem?"People shagging in strange places," says Rixon. "Passengers and crew alike. Just last night this bloke and his bird were nearly going at it on the Promenade Deck. We politely reminded them that a bed would be a lot more comfortable."
Then there was the case of the piano tuner who worked on the Grand for a day last summer in the Mediterranean. He got off the ship for a lunch break, accidentally leaving his black tool case on the gangway. Rixon noticed the suspicious package and immediately evacuated the area; a bomb technician arrived on the scene. After nervous deliberation they decided to blow up the case. The piano tuner was peeved at the mistake, though not half as peeved as Rixon was at the piano tuner.
Not Your Father's Engine Room
I spent a sweaty afternoon on the bottom decks with the 60-man engineering department. The engineers come off as a serious lot, but I'm sure they could drink any one of us under the table. John Bates, the first engineer, led me on a cool tour and explained exactly how the engines worked—however, as he did so we were standing directly under one of the engines, which created such a monstrous roar that I heard almost nothing and understood even less. As far as I could tell, the Grand has six diesel engines, at least two of which operate at any given time; in all, they consume 174 tons of fuel per day; each engine costs $4 million; and what it all boils down to is that they are insanely, ridiculously loud.
This huge and powerful propulsion system is ultimately controlled from the bridge by means of, I'm not kidding, a tiny joystick—see your kid's Nintendo 64 for a good analogue. In fact the controller is used only for piloting the ship into and out of port; the rest of the time the Grand is basically on autopilot, steered by a computer (linked to the now-standard GPS, or Global Positioning System) that follows the route mapped out by the navigator. The captain and his bridge officers hardly man the wheel at all—there is no "wheel" to man, rather an imposing bank of computer monitors and that remarkably puny joystick.
Taking Out the Trash
To date, the bars on the Grand Princess have used a total of 1,940,000 wooden stirrer sticks. Where do they all end up, along with the other 15 tons of garbage produced each day?
Nearly every piece of trash—plastic forks, dead palm trees, chicken bones, old theater props—is thrown into a 1,562-degree (Fahrenheit) incinerator, then sent up through the smokestacks. Five men are assigned the task of sorting through the garbage, which arrives on Deck 4 in Dumpster carts; the incinerator does the remaining work. Nothing is off-loaded except large steel pieces, used machinery, and recyclable glass and aluminum, which are crushed and stored in giant Dumpsters to be removed at the end of the cruise.
Then there's the problem of safely disposing of "oily waste" from the engines—a controversial issue of late. In 1998 Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines pleaded guilty to dumping oily waste from the Sovereign of the Seas into the Atlantic, bypassing a critical cleansing system; the company was fined $9 million. The safest means of disposal—carried out on most ships, including the Grand—is to run the oily waste through a centrifugal purifier and an oil-water separator, then either burn off the oil in the incinerator (as the Grand does) or off-load it in port. The remaining bilge water, which Princess claims has a negligible oil content of barely 15 parts per million, is finally pumped into the ocean.
Crème Brûlée for 2,600
Two hundred and twenty-four people work in the Grand's kitchen, including a dozen guys who do nothing but clean glassware all day (it takes awhile to wash 96,396 glasses). The 28,000-square-foot galley is spread across two levels, and it's abuzz at every hour. In addition to cooking for the three formal dining rooms—each seating about 500 passengers—the kitchen staff has to contend with two "alternative" restaurants (Italian and Southwestern); a vast, 24-hour bistro/buffet; round-the-clock room service; and two poolside cafés that serve an average of 3,000 hamburgers and 2,000 slices of pizza per day.
Chef Antonio Cereda, who speaks four languages, is in charge of the kitchen brigade. Antonio worked in hotels and ski resorts in his native Italy before joining Princess Cruises in 1984, and had to make certain adjustments to cooking on ships—electric burners, for example. For fire-safety reasons, there are no gas stoves: the only flame you'll find on board comes from the galley's single crème brûlée torch, which is kept, Antonio tells me, in a locked case.