Part one – Dining Room and Galley
Cruise line – Royal Caribbean
Itinerary – 14 night Italian Mediterranean – July 2019
On my recent cruise on Independence of the Seas, I went on an all access behind the scenes ship tour. There was so much interesting information about the ship that I’m going to break it up into a series of posts.
Taking this tour was my sister’s idea, her partner having done a similar one on a Princess ship. She thought her kids would gain a better understanding of all the hard work that went on behind the scenes. Initially I was a bit more sceptical as the tour seemed very pricey – £65 pp including children – but it turned out to be super interesting so I’m glad I was persuaded.
We met our guide, Boni, from the Shore Excursions team at 9am in the Champagne Bar. The weather was grey so it was nice to have something planned. We had been given waivers to sign and a list of instructions – wear long trousers and closed toed shoes, no bags, photos allowed but no videos etc. The group was small, about 12 people. We were all given a souvenir All Access lanyard and we set off into the dining room.
Main dining room
The main dining room on Independence of the Seas covers three floors at the stern of the ship. At 9am, decks 4 and 3 were serving breakfast, but our group went into the empty deck 5 dining room for a talk from one of the Head Waiters. He explained the dining room set up, the fixed dinner settings and the flexible My Time dining option. He gave us staff numbers and a few other statistics, nothing earth shattering, and I started to worry that this tour might be dull. It wasn’t, it was just a slow start to an over three hour visit which included the galley, the stores, the laundry, the engine control room and the bridge.
We moved on to a large round table suspended on a mezzanine floor overlooking the whole dining room. Boni explained that this was the Chef’s Table. It used to be the Captain’s table, but as the demands of the job meant he rarely got to eat there, it had been repurposed. You could now book a seat for dinner at the Chef’s Table, like any other speciality dining room onboard. The focus of the experience was slow dining, with a Chef and Sommelier coming to talk to guests about food preparation and wine pairings, and the meal lasting over two hours.
The table was vast and round, set for ten diners with flowers, candles and gold chargers. The view over the main dining room was spectacular, with the huge chandelier directly opposite and the breakfasters below. This table had clearly been designed as a show piece. It was set against a back drop of a large red and gold tapestry that seemed to be left over from before the 2018 refit when the dining room had a Shakespeare theme.
The combination of the setting, overlooking the massive three story room, and the opportunity to chat to Chef and Sommelier about the meal seemed like an interesting and unique experience. I didn’t race out and book it for later in the cruise, but I was tempted. I didn’t go for it in the end as I’m a vegetarian and I don’t often find that alternative diets are well catered for in any niche dining experience, on land or sea. If steak and lobster were my thing I think I would have given it a go.
We slipped through the back of the main dining room into the Galley, or ship’s kitchen. Our host for this leg of the tour was chef, Peter. The first station we came to was Room Service. Stainless steel units, narrow corridors and windowless walls let us know we were now properly behind the scenes. The kitchen staff were friendly and accommodating, moving around us to load up trays with coffee, toast and fruit.
The rest of deck 5 galley was pretty quiet and empty. Breakfast was only happening on decks 3 and 4, and this allowed us to have a good look at the serving, prep and clearing stations, that would later be a hive of activity. Everywhere, the dull chrome glare of ovens, sinks and counters, reflected the bright strip lighting above.
We took a set of service stairs one flight down and arrived in deck 4 galley. By contrast, it was busy, noisy and hot. Chefs wearing different coloured neck ties were working at every station. Peter explained to us that those wearing yellow ties were newbies on their first season at sea. Blue neckties indicated two to four seasons. Red ties were for senior chefs in charge of speciality food such as in the Hibachi restaurant. Chef Peter assured us, with a twinkle in his eye, that they looked after the newbies well, which made me think that they were sent out to buy tartan paint at every port.
Our final stop in the galley tour was the bakery. The smell, as you would expect, was amazing. Peter explained that all the bread was baked fresh every day, with different shifts of bakers looking after the various stages of proving, shaping and baking. There were scones for afternoon tea, pastries for breakfast and dinner rolls. Round the corner two chefs used fresh loaves to make sandwiches for lunch. My mouth was watering.
Glad I’d had some breakfast, I followed Boni and the group out of the hot kitchen and took the service lift down to our next stop, the ships store…
To be continued.