Jaw-Dropping Things Only A Few Get to See on Cruise Ships

Jaw-Dropping Things Only A Few Get to See on Cruise Ships

Every week, thousands of cruise passengers get to see and experience mind-boggling things on cruise ships, like go-kart tracks, water shows, Ice rinks, water slides and even roller coasters. But not many have seen some of the things I have. Until now!

These are some jaw-dropping things only a few get to see on cruise ships.

Gary Bembridge

Literally Splitting Apart

While you might have been on one, possibly unknowingly, I’ve seen it being done.

The first ship I sailed on that had been sliced in half, and had a new midsection added, was MSC Armonia. It was so seamless and very hard to tell that she had been stretched. I was desperate to see how it was done.

I managed to convince Silversea to let me see Silver Spirit being cut in half at the Fincantieri Shipyard in Palermo. It was jaw dropping!

I arrived on day six, after the ship had arrived in dry dock, to see the final cuts being made. Over the course of the day, the shipyard pulled the two halves of the ship apart – they were both resting on rollers. Then, in a surprisingly rapid maneuver, a massive prebuilt 49-foot, 19-deck high section was driven into the gap. Then, the ship sections were pushed together, and she was welded up.

The new section added more passenger and crew cabins, new restaurants, and increased the size of the pool.

MSC Armonia Stretch

Why do lines do this?

Well, it costs between $500 million and a billion dollars to build a new ship. The Silversea addition only cost $70 million. ONLY $70 million…

It happens more frequently than you might expect. So, you may well have sailed on such a ship without even knowing.

Famous Faces

I’m often asked if I’ve seen famous people on a cruise ship. If you count the British Royal Family, movie stars like Sophia Loren and singers like Sarah Brightman, then yes, I have.

I’ve seen all of them at cruise ship naming ceremonies. Sophia Loren for MSC Preziosa, in Geneva and Sarah Brightman for Seabourn Encore, in Singapore.

But the two more memorable sightings were when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II named P&O Cruises Britannia, in Southampton. The second was when Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall named the Saga Spirit of Discovery, in Dover.

Jaw-Dropping Things Only A Few Get to See on Cruise Ships

Why godmothers?

Why does this happen, and what exactly are they doing?

All those famous ladies I mentioned are godmothers of the ships they named.

New ships have always had some sort of ceremony to offer good luck to the ship and those sailing within her. Vikings reportedly had human sacrifices, but these days it is far less dramatic. Ships have Godmothers, instead.

It’s almost always a woman who takes the title. Although, I can think of one example where it was not. Latin-American rapper Pitbull was given the role of godfather to Norwegian Escape, in 2015.

The cruise ship godmother is supposed to bring good luck and protection to the vessel. But all they really do is go to the ships’ official naming ceremony, bless her, and wish all her sail in her good luck.

It’s now more and PR activity, which is why they use big names like Sophia Loren, Queen Elizabeth, and the Duchess of Cornwall.

The cruise line invites guests, throws in some entertainment, a posh meal, and most importantly, smash a bottle of champagne on the side of the ship. Everyone waits patiently because if that bottle doesn’t break, it could signal bad luck!

When you’re next on a cruise ship look for a large, framed photo, usually near guest services, to see who the Godmother is. Other famous godmothers include Oprah Winfrey for Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam, and the Duchess of Cambridge for Royal Princess. On board the latter you’ll find a display of the dress she wore for the ceremony, the champagne bottle, and other memorabilia.

Jaw-Dropping Things Only A Few Get to See on Cruise Ships

Hidden Coins

Talking of traditions and ceremonies of significance to cruise ships, ones that even fewer people get to see and even more remarkable to experience, is the keel laying ceremony.

This also dates back centuries and is wrapped with even more superstition. I’ve been to the keel laying of Silversea Silver Muse, in the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa, and Saga Spirit of Adventure, in the Meyer Werft shipyard in Germany.

It marks the official start of the building of the ship. Two coins are placed on a block and then the keel (the hull of the ship) is laid on top of those coins. The ship is then built with those coins at the base of the keel.

Once the ship is complete, and before the dry dock is filled with water, the coins are normally removed and welded somewhere on board for the long life of the ship.

Centuries ago, they were placed under or at the bottom of one of the ship masts. Nowadays, they often tend to be welded around the base of the radar mast. Next time you are on a ship, see if you can find them. On Viking Sky, they are welded behind a small glass pane in a public area, so guests can look at them. This is the same on many other ships – you’ll find the coins in a publicly accessible area.

Only a few people get to see the keel laying ceremony. The ones I’ve attended were small in numbers, maybe just 20 of us in total. All standing in the shipyard, down in the dry dock, seeing the creation of a cruise ship.

Jaw-Dropping Things Only A Few Get to See on Cruise Ships

King Neptune On Board

While I am talking about cruise ship ceremonies, there is one that many do get to see. Like I did on Queen Mary 2, sailing between Sydney and Dubai, and on Queen Victoria between Hawaii and Sydney – and that’s the Crossing the Line Ceremony.

This is another longstanding tradition, starting in the Navy, which celebrates the first time a sailor crosses the equator.

Sailors and guests, like me, who have crossed the Equator are known as Trusty Shellbacks, and those who have not previously crossed the line are Slimy Pollywogs.

As the cruise ship crosses the Equator, Neptune (the God of the Sea) and his Queen arrive. Along with a judge who holds court with the ship’s senior officers. Volunteer Pollywogs from the guests (those who haven’t crossed the Equator) are paraded before them. They are each charged with various offences, for example, of eating too much.

If found guilty – which they all are – they must kiss the fish before being covered in goop and thrown in the pool.

Crew who are Pollywogs go through the same process. No one is safe at a Crossing the Line Ceremony.

Whilst it may not be as jaw-droppingly amazing as a go-kart track or roller coaster on a ship, the event is memorable and feels significant and important. It’s also a lot of fun.

crossing the line ceremony equator cruise ship

Evacuation

Something that I kind of hope you don’t get to see, but is at the same time quite a spectacle, is when a passenger, or crew member, is air-lifted off your ship.

Most newer cruise ships have a helicopter pad, either for a helicopter to land on or hover above. This is to be able to winch people off in a medical emergency.

Medivacs happen if someone needs urgent medical attention, but the nearest port or rescue vessel is too far away. It’s the only option sometimes when a person is critically ill.

I’ve been on several cruise ships where this has happened.

When it happens, guests normally must stay inside and away from the side that the helicopter’s approaching. They prepare the helicopter pad by removing any barriers that may be there. The helicopter sweeps in and lands or lowers a winch and lifts the person needing medical attention onto the craft.

It’s quite a spectacle and difficult for the pilots and ship. Although, we must always remember and be respectful of the individual they are there for, as it must be incredibly distressing for them. It remains one of the more impressive things I have seen on cruise ships.

Tighter Fit

If you have seen pictures of cruise ships going through the Panama Canal, you’ll know there are places in the world where larger ships must squeeze through various lock systems or narrow beds of water. I’ve seen it firsthand on Holland America’s Koningsdam, Cunard’s Queen Victoria and Oceania Cruises’ Marina.

However, this experience was elevated when I sailed through the Corinth Canal, in Greece. This small canal is only 70 feet wide, 26 feet deep, the sides rise 300 feet and it is 4 miles long. Such a tight space that very few cruise ships can fit through. Even those cruise lines with ships that can make the transit often prefer not to risk it, sailing the long way round instead.

I had the jaw-dropping and tense experience of seeing it happen on Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze which just slid her way through.

It was incredible seeing the ship squeeze through the space. It is something that very few people will ever get to do because there are so few ships that can do it.

Jaw-Dropping Things Only A Few Get to See on Cruise Ships

Leap of faith

Another activity which more people do get to see whilst on cruise ships, but is still quite eye-catching and a bit dangerous, is something I’ve seen in the Arctic and Antarctica.

I’ve never done it because I think it’s crazy. In fact, on my last Antarctica trip on Ponant, they didn’t do it because they thought it was too risky.

This is the Polar Plunge. Passengers and crew jump into icy-cold Arctic or Antarctic waters, normally off the ship. It’s become a kind of badge of honour and tradition. On a Silversea Arctic cruise, over half of the guests on the ship did it.

My partner Mark did it in the Artic. He said the problem with jumping off the side of the ship is he went in rather deep, so he was under in freezing cold water for longer than he wanted to be. You’ll notice how fast people are rushing to get out. Imagine Usain Bolt, but of the swimming world – I’ve never seen some people move so fast!

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Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 2 million video views per month.

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