February 25th: Exploring the underworld
Exploring the underworld: We’re at sea and bound for Fortaleza so took the opportunity to go on a “Ship’s Tour”. For the sum of $175pp we paid to be escorted through the working areas of the Sea Princess. Since we came on board, we passengers have speculated about what goes on behind the closed doors of the crew quarters. To keep a vessel like this running takes an enormous amount of work behind the scenes.
The Sea Princess runs this once a month for only 20 people each time, so we were a fairly select group. I was amused to receive a letter welcoming us as an elite group chosen for this privilege – I seem to remember making a booking and cash exchanging hands. Still, it’s a nicely euphemistic way of dealing with the matter.
We toured back stage of the theatre – reasonably familiar territory for Cavan and me, but interesting to see their LED stage lights and the tracks allowing them to shift props around easily. The costumes were magnificent. Each one exquisitely made and individually fitted to the performer. Once it’s made to their size, they have an obligation not to change weight for the rest of their contract. We were shown a red gown, covered in Swarowski crystals, that alone was worth $4000 US. We hefted the weight of some of these dresses and they were incredibly heavy. One gorgeous black dress, that I would love to have worn, was so heavy it took both my hands just to lift the hangar it suspended from. Imagine wearing it! Remembering the dancers are incredibly small, slight and slender it’s a mystery how they are tough enough to stand up in these dresses, let alone twirl around a stage in them.
We saw the photographic studio, the print shop and the galley. The laundry was fascinating, and their ironing, folding and pressing machines drew sighs of admiration from every woman present who had to deal with these details in their own domestic life. All these areas are occupied by hard working staff beavering away at their tasks. The level of activity going on in this hidden world is extraordinary. There are nearly as many staff hidden away down here as there are passengers up above.
There’s an area off the promenade deck I’d always wondered about as we marched past the forbidding ‘Crew Only’ sign each day. This is where the anchors and mooring ropes are kept. Massive winches and motors move all this stuff, and everything was very tidy, clean and ship shape. Likewise the engine room, where banks of monitors control engines, generators, water desalination units, and all the other technical procedures that run the ship. It was fascinating stuff. The monitors alone that must be watched! And there are thousands of procedures contributing to the comfort of every single one of us on board.
The highlight of the trip was the visit to the bridge. Have I mentioned that the Captain is very dashing? He’s the youngest captain on the line, and there’s no doubting his competence. I suspect that beneath all the flamboyant Italian charm is a man who takes his role very seriously and sets high standards. We were served champagne and chocolates and briefed on the various tasks on the bridge. Like everything else on the ship, there was an underlying sense of jobs being done well.
Finally, we ended the trip in the Medical department where we were greeted by the Doctor who seemed to be surprised that there were still some of us that he hadn’t yet met. As a goodly number of our friends and acquaintances have already been to the clinic, Cavan and I are determined not to add to their number. But hazards are everywhere.
As a footnote to the above, we’ve just learned that one of our table companions for dinner at night is going to have to go to hospital in Fortaleza with suspected kidney stones. His partner is of course devastated, and faced with awful choices as she tries to manage their situation. Will he return – will he be repatriated to New Zealand. Poor woman, she is having to cope with these decisions; and all in Portuguese which she doesn’t speak. I desperately hope that the Princess Line agent ashore is someone of top quality who can help her through all this.
There was a carnival deck party last night. It is of course deliciously, tropically warm, and it was lovely to dance under the stars. And we did – enthusiastically. As Cavan and I left the party at the end of the evening, a man collapsed. I don’t know whether it was alcohol, dehydration, or whether he’d had a heart attack, but the crew swung into action to deal with the crisis. The reassuring thought is that we are all being very well taken care of, and there are probably few emergencies we could throw at them that they haven’t encountered before.
As a final nice touch from the Ship’s Tour, we returned to our cabin to find a large bag of goodies addressed to each of us. Presents from some of the departments we’d visited that day. I now own a Sea Princess apron, picture frames for the photos that have been taken of us, and a very nice bath robe of exceptionally high quality and generous size. It swamps me, but I will be grateful for it on cold NZ nights.