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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Behind the Scenes, Front and Center

A while back, I had read that on some ships you could get a tour of the bridge. It wasn’t publicized anywhere; you had to ask. So when we boarded our next cruise, which was on Celebrity’s Constellation, I made a beeline for Guest Relations. I leaned across the counter and in a hushed and conspiratorial voice, said to the rep, “Are you…are you offering any tours of the bridge?”

When that rep said yes, I was floored. This was only a few years after 9/11 and I couldn’t believe such generosity.
Well, a lot’s changed since then. Now, behind-the-scenes tours are regular cruise ship offerings. Some are free. Others charge—a lot—for the pleasure.

Typically, the tours are of the galley (kitchen) and the theater, and sometimes, the bridge and other command centers. And if you do sign up for a bridge tour, be prepared to show identification.   
View from the bridge 
If you are lucky enough to get up on the bridge, you will truly be amazed when the crew member points to something that looks uncomfortably like a joy stick as the control for steering the ship.

Some of the cruise lines go beyond the “this-is-where-we-do-this/this-is-where-we-do-that.” Often during a galley tour, you’ll meet the executive chef and other higher-ups of the kitchen staff. You may see a food carving demo and even get a few goodies as you're shepherded through the gleaming stainless steel-lined corridors. I’ve even been on a galley tour where the crew hawked the ship’s cookbook (do we really want to make the ship’s food when we get home?) and offered book signings. Another tour kicked off with a set of skits emceed by an Eastern European Jay Leno.
A stop on the Caribbean Princess galley tour
The theater tour can also be interesting, especially when it comes with a visit to the costume room. With oversized animal heads lining the floor and shelves of wigs on headless busts, it can be as spooky as a carny fun house.

If you take a tour, though, be forewarned: if you think you’re going to get a real sneak peek behind the cruise curtain, know that these are well-orchestrated events that are regularly listed on Princess Patter and the like, along with the tango dance classes and hairy leg contests.

Still, they’re well worth it. Not only do you get a new appreciation for all that goes on behind the scenes in running these resorts at sea, but just think of all the trivia you can pull out just when you need it to impress (or bore?) all your friends when you get back home.