Have you ever wondered how the head culinary staff manages and supervises the meal preparation logistics of a mega-cruise ship such as Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, which feeds up to 5,400 passengers multiple times a day at 26 venues?
The Daily Traveler’s Sean O’Neill has. “Picture yourself overseeing portside food inspectors, shipboard bread bakers, and 1,200 other workers dedicated to passengers’ gastronomic wishes.”
Sean checked in with the major cruise lines for what happens behind the scenes on a romantic Caribbean cruise, and here’s what he uncovered:
It’s Like Supplying a Battleship During War
“Every voyage, it’s show time, like Broadway,” says Cyrus Marfatia, vice president of culinary and dining for Carnival Cruise Lines.
“On the 2,974-passenger Carnival Freedom, for instance, it takes 150 workers in kitchens to parlay 240 pallets’ worth of food into thousands of meals worthy of fine restaurants.”
Sean likens cruise line provisioning operations to supplying a battleship during wartime, and adds that no hotel does anything close to what cruise lines like Cunard do week in and week out.
Jackie Chase, spokesperson for Cunard cruise lines, owner of the Queen Mary 2, describes the management of the vessel’s typical turnaround day in port as comparable to “checking out the entire Plaza Hotel in New York after breakfast, having the entire kitchen re-stocked during the morning, changing every bed linen and towel, checking in the entire hotel during the afternoon, and holding a state banquet in the evening.”
Cruise lines examine guests’ dining patterns to glean trends and plan menus, and trends can vary by season, route, and type of passenger.
Sean points out, for instance, that when Europeans outnumber Americans on a Cunard ship, lighter wines such as Riesling and pinot noir are ordered more often than varietals, such as Shiraz and Chardonnay, favored by many Americans.
“Royal Caribbean has head-counting cameras in the ceilings of its main dining areas that tally when and where passengers gravitate, providing data that can be used to anticipate peak serving times.”
Cruise lines also stock reserve supplies for a surprise spike in demand. Storerooms typically house a day or two’s extra provisions, and during hurricane season, ships store even more culinary supplies.
Pier to Ship
Transferring supplies from pier to ship is a major operation. Disney’s 2,700-passenger Magic loads up 3,125 gallons of soda, 10,000 pounds of chicken, and 71,500 eggs for an average weeklong sailing.
At dawn workers inspect pallets of food for quality, and freshness. Time is of the essence, says Frank Weber, vice president for food and beverage operations for Royal Caribbean.
“We start loading around 7 a.m. in the morning, so we have until 3:30 p.m. to send something back to our produce supplier, like a pallet of tomatoes, and to get a replacement a little later in the afternoon.”
Longshoremen then load supplies into the hull. Once on the ship, supplies are shuttled to dozens of storehouses set to various temperatures.
On Cunard’s QM2, a storeroom for ice cream is set at minus-0.4 degrees Fahrenheit, while a separate room holds meat at a different temperature.
Ships keep menus simple, offering a single main version each of meat, poultry, and seafood to enable their cooks to prepare food to order and serve it at the proper temperatures.
“We don’t pre-cook the steaks and keep them in a warmer as you would in a typical hotel banquet operation,” says Weber of Royal Caribbean, describing a method that’s common to better cruise lines. “And we don’t plate food until the waiter is on the path to deliver it.”
Sean claims some ships have specialist venues that provide more varied menus to a small, subset of passengers and are the exception to the general rule.
December 6th, 2012