It was 10 o’clock in the evening on a Viking cruise, I was chatting to the cruise director when an innocuous announcement came over the tannoy system. She turned and ran. When I discovered how the bridge knew she had to run and how they let her know, it me thinking about other hidden things on cruise ships staring us right in the face, that we have no idea are there or are missing the significance of.
Let’s explore these secrets lurking in plain sight on cruise ships.
Face Up To It
The Viking Cruise Director had fled to the rear infinity pool as the bridge had seen a man having a late-night swim collapse getting out of the pool on CCTV.
There’s CCTV everywhere on cruise ships. Next time on a ship look up and you will be amazed at the volume of cameras monitoring us. For example, on my recent Queen Mary 2 cruise there were eight in the fitness centre alone.
I think the only places without CCTV were the public bathrooms, spa changing rooms and in my cabin.
This helped the man who had collapsed on the deserted pool deck get medical help quickly, but I found there is another aspect to it was staring me in the face. Literally!
Facial recognition software is being used increasingly.
That photograph taken of me at check-in is not just so Security can check it is me leaving and returning to the ship in port. It is much more.
Most lines have stopped printing out photographs taken by their photographers for me to find.
Facial recognition software, using that embarkation photo, now identifies if I am in any photo and allocates it to my cabin.
I just tap my cabin number into a screen and all photos with me are there despite the photographer never asking who I am.
As shutdown eased and lines were recording my temperature daily, most used screens where all I had to was walk up to it, put my face in a circle, and it would recognise me and record my temperature.
On a recent Oceania Panama Canal cruise, I didn’t even swipe in and out with my cruise card in ports. I stared into a screen briefly, and it used face recognition to identify me and clock me in and out.
Royal Caribbean advised that they use CCTV facial recognition to do contact tracing of Covid cases.
While I had not thought about the significance of this new technology staring me in the face, on one of those trips I realised there were other signs I’d missed.
The Signs Are There
Coming back from an excursion on that recent Oceania Panama cruise someone pointed to a key-shaped symbol on the hull and asked me what it meant.
Looking closer there were signs all over the hull staring me in the face and I had no idea of their significance of, so I went to find out.
That key shape symbol, or a bottle lying down as some see it as, shows where the ship’s stabilisers are. These are arms deployed in rougher seas to help keep the ship more stable and comfortable.
The C-shaped symbol with a line going upwards near front of the bow warns that the ship has a bow bulb. This is the chunky bulbous area protruding in front of the bow. It’s just at the waterline and helps the ship push through the seas more efficiently.
There’s a circle with a cross through showing where the bow thrusters are. These are sideways-pointing thrusters a ship uses to pushing away from or get close to the dock or for maneuvering at slow speed.
I noticed numbers running up the hull of the ship and going under the waterline. This I now know is known as the draught scale and shows how deep the very bottom of hull is in the water.
Though, of course, there is now modern technology in the bridge telling them that.
Another thing I saw in port, which I noticed in my early cruising days on Queen Elizabeth in Bergen are circular wooden discs placed towards the end of the ropes tying the ship up in ports.
I asked the crew who told me they are rat guards. Dating back to early sailing days when it was discovered rats would scurry up and down those ropes and be exported and imported to foreign lands, as well as playing havoc in the ship. This stops that.
I realised how important they were on my Ponant Antarctica cruise in 2021, where it was explained rats had been brought by ships by whaling ships to South Georgia and had devastated much of the birdlife by eating their eggs and chicks. Millions of dollars had to be spent to eradicate them.
While these signs and symbols are hiding things within the hull, inside there are also signs staring us in the face that hide something huge.
Hidden Deep Within
Like me, I’m sure you notice “crew only” doors, but also never really think about the scale of what’s hidden behind them them.
You also, like me look at deck plans and focus on the brightly-coloured areas showing our cabins, bars, lounges, dining room, restaurants, theatre, casino, and pool decks, not noticing or dwelling on the blank white spaces, their significance nor the fact that there are missing decks. Often those plans start at deck 3 or 4.
They hide another whole world, a ship within a ship.
The passenger part of the ship is an outer case for a whole other ship hidden withing. A vast and sprawling ship too.
On Ultra-luxury lines like Seaborn and Silversea, there almost as many crew as passengers sleeping, eating, and living inside that ship inside the ship we inhabit.
On huge mega-ships like those of Royal Caribbean, MSC, Norwegian and even Carnival Mardi Gras they have around 2,000 crew living and working within that parallel ship.
It has cabins, crew bars, fitness centres, restaurants and galley serving different menus for multiple nationalities, medical facilities, open deck areas and even pools and hot tubs.
Within that hidden ship are what crew on American ships call the I-95, on British ships call the M1, is a long passageway running the length of the ship. It is designed to be the efficient and quickest way for crew to get to and from where they are working and transporting goods from storage areas to the galley.
Of course, there are also all the storage areas, engines, laundry, and other things needed to operate the ship.
This hidden ship within is one of the biggest things staring us in the face on board that we miss or under appreciate. But so is the next one, although it is a bit more subtle.
The Jokes On Us
Many cruise ships have “in jokes” or items on board that have huge significance, which literally are staring us in the face, and we pass by or use every day without realising their significance.
For example, on that recent Cunard Queen Mary 2 Crossing there were many.
There’s a Homer Simpson buried in one of the art deco panels near the Golden Lion Pub.
Sir Samuels coffee shop is named after the original founder of Cunard.
Carinthia Lounge is named after the very first ship to ever do a world cruise which Cunard did on that ship in 1933.
G32 the nightclub is the name of the hull of the ship when it was being built and before it was officially named Queen Mary II.
On Cunard Queen Elizabeth there is the bust of the Queen off the famous QE2 as well as that ship’s bell.
Many ships have all these hidden jokes, memorabilia, and names of significance. And it’s worth asking about, especially if you go on one of the ship orientation tours on embarkation day.
While these take some investigation and are less obvious, there is one thing staring us all in the face that we assume we know what it is there for, but that’s not the case.
Funnel Your Gaze
The ship’s funnel is hard to miss. But they have always played a different role to what we passengers think they do, hiding that in plain sight as it were.
Way back in the days when liners, like the Titanic, were fueled by coal engines the lines would often add additional funnels because they symbolised power and speed. Many liners had extra fake funnels with no purpose other than for marketing.
Funnels still play a massive marketing rather than functional role today.
Of course, they still expel and direct exhaust fumes out, and pull air into the ship for various equipment. But they are bigger and grander than needed.
They are designed as symbols to identify and help the line be instantly recognised and to stand out, which is why each line has different shaped funnels and colours.
For example, Carnival has their wing funnel. Holland America their oval sort of shape. Celebrity their chunky one with X logo.
The funnel makes ships easier also to identify in port and out at sea from a distance. It’s certainly what I use to tell which line is out there at sea.
As there is much wasted space inside these funnels as they are bigger and grander than needed, some cruise lines are starting to use funnels to incorporate various venues. Disney Wish has a suite within the funnel and Carnival Miracle a restaurant.
There’s something else about ship design that is staring us in the face, and we are missing what the lines are hiding.
Walk This Way
Have you ever noticed the layout of the ship is designed to make us spend more?
It’s most obvious on the main promenade decks. The main dining room is at the very rear of the ship, and the theatre at the very front of the ship. The two places most of us visit every evening.
Thinking about a recent Holland America cruise, to get to and from the dining room to the Word Stage theatre, I had to walk through or past through the Music Walk Bars and lounges, casino, art gallery and shops which are all revenue-generating.
Another design feature staring us in the face that has big significance is up on the top deck. We want our pools up top and in the sunshine. But this caused issues.
Have you noticed the pools are small for the number of guests, often is made to look bigger by having shallow water rim around it and is emptied when the ocean gets rough? If not, you should!
Water is very heavy. Even modest-sized pools on ships have over 250,000 pounds of weight added to the top of the ship, risking making it top heavy and challenging to keep stable.
So, as well as limiting size, pools are placed dead centre of the deck and as midship as possible. Pools at the rear of ships are very small for this reason. Hot tubs will mirror each other on each side to balance out.
Counterbalancing weight is then added at the bottom of the ship. And when ocean gets rough, draining the pool helps with stability especially when the pool water starts moving about.
While out on the pool deck or above, there is another feature staring us in the face that I have missed until it was pointed out.
Cruise ships have areas where helicopters land to do medivacs off the ship. And they can be normally well hidden.
On Celebrity I stumbled across it only when I was invited by the Hotel Director for a sail out party from Costa Maya on the bow of Celebrity Solstice and found it there.
On that Queen Mary 2 trip I noticed a large yellow dot on a wide-open space on the Deck 12 sports deck.
On your next cruise when you are on a big open deck space, look down to see if there is a big yellow dot or big letter H and the helicopter pad has been staring you in the face all along.
Which brings me to something I cannot believe has been staring at me that I missed as I could have used it to stop my Mum and Mother-in-law getting lost when we went cruising with them.
Got Our Number
I learnt this from one of my favourite YouTube cruise channels, Cruzely, who pointed out that cabins are numbered from the front of the ship to the back, even cabin numbers are port side and odd numbers are starboard side.
So, if I (or my Mum) want to head to the rear of the ship, we go in the direction where cabin numbers are going upwards and follow cabin numbers falling to go to the front.
Cruzely also pointed out that on Norwegian Cruise Line the carpets have tons of fish motifs in the carpet design pointing in the direction of the front of the ship, and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line cabin number signs have ships or small indicators pointing towards the front of the ship.
I now have easy way to find my way forwards or to the rear that has been staring at me for dozens and dozens of cruises without realising it.
ABOUT TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
Gary Bembridge’s Tips For Travellers aims to help you make more of your precious travel time and money on land and when cruising the oceans or rivers of the world. To help you, in every video I draw on my first-hand tips and advice from travelling every month for over 20 years and average of 10 cruises a year.
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