On our next day at sea, along with three other passengers, we gathered for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Rotterdam. The originator of the idea for the tour and our host was the Hotel Director, who introduced us to each department guide and shepherded us around to various non-passenger areas of the ship. The tour was offered during the course of two days, and on the first day, we visited the kitchen, the engine room, some crew areas, and the bridge.
In the kitchen, our guide was the head chef, who gave what seemed to be a very thorough tour of his spaces. He explained the different preparation and serving areas which we passed by and gave us a general idea of how the servers work within their environment. We especially liked knowing that the servers come into the kitchen from one entrance, do their thing, and leave from a different way. This helps cut down on possible contamination of internal areas by influences from outside the kitchen.
Next, we went to the engine room on the A deck, not where the engines are but where they are controlled from. This presenter was a little less comfortable in his role as tour guide, but he also had a lot less to say about the activities of his area. That’s OK. There were lots of buttons, lights, monitors, etc. because this is the command center of the ship. In response to a question from a guest, he spent a little time telling us about the different kinds of water that are generated and used on the ship.
Our next stop was the bridge, but on the way we visited the officers’ lounge (decorated to look like an Irish pub) and the crew cooking and serving areas. The bridge is at the front end of the Navigation deck. We walked along a short hallway, our guide opened a door at the end, and we were suddenly in the control room for the whole ship. It’s just one wide room, with windows all around and control panels and monitors arranged along waist-high consoles. There were a number of comfortably upholstered high stools as well, and everything faced the front of the ship. Of course, the full view in front of the ship was impressive, although I wonder if it’s intimidating when there’s nothing but fog around. The presenter was a third officer, a youngish man who tried to explain to us how the different controls are used to maneuver the ship, for example when docking. Because the deck of the bridge extends past the sides of the rest of the ship, windows opening both to the back and into the floor are part of the ship’s structure. These allow those in control a fully unobstructed view of the ship’s location. Before we finished the tour for today, the Hotel Director showed us his stateroom. It’s a very nice suite with a living room, bedroom, and bath – all nicely appointed and comfortable.
The next day, our first stop on the tour was the laundry room, which is on B deck. The department guide first showed us a huge ironer, which is used for all bed and table linens for the ship. The washing machines, huge dryers, machines for different laundry purposes, the same soap dispensers which appear in the guest laundromats, pressing stations, lots of noise, workers coming and going, and smiling faces were some of the sights. Next, we followed him to the guest and crew laundry, where everyone’s personal washing is taken care of. We then stopped in at the tailor shop, where a guy was marking a pattern and cutting out one of the officers’ uniforms. Their little space has three Juki sewing machines, patterns hanging from several hooks, ironing boards, cutting table, thread racks, all the stuff that one would expect to find in a sewing establishment. Our guide told us that all crew uniforms are made on the ship and specifically tailored for each owner.
We next met the provisioning department guide and toured several rooms containing supplies of wine and beverages, groceries, fruits and vegetables, cheese, dairy, eggs, and meats. All food products which come aboard the ship are cleaned and processed in these areas first, before they’re allowed to go to the kitchen and food preparation areas on higher decks. Our final stop was with the waste management officer, an older man who seems to love working with maritime safety and waste management. He showed us around his facility and explained how important recycling is to the ship. About 75% of ship waste is recycled, and the proceeds from the sale of recycling materials go into the crew fund. The tour ended with a conversation with the Hotel Director about his career with HAL and about crew recruitment policies.
Although the entertainment department was not part of our ship’s tour, several days later we attended a Q&A session with the Rotterdam Singers and Dancers. Passengers asked them questions about their lives, careers, and hopes for the future. Afterwards, we all filed through the spaces backstage, where the performers answered our questions and explained how they manage to change costumes and do what they have to in such limited space. They were all friendly and helpful and seemed to be genuinely interested in having their audience understand their working conditions.
We have always been very happy with our Holland America homes (Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Ryndam, Volendam, Maasdam, etc.), but these tours have helped us to understand just how amazingly well these ships are run.