9 Things I Never Knew About Cruises Until I Ran the Worlds Largest Ship

At a time when travelers are feeling more precious than ever about “authentic experiences,” the cruise industry is doubling down on the exact opposite: completely manufactured fun. Leading the pack is Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., whose mega-ships are destinations unto themselves: Its restaurants, casinos, Broadway-caliber musicals, silent disco parties, skating rinks, karaoke, dance clubs, and escape-the-room experiences are such strong lures, some guests don’t even bother to look up where the ship is docking. 

So when the cruise line invited me to join the ranks as temporary director of its largest ship, —which is as big as five s—I knew I was signing up for the most manic week of my life. 

As cruise director, my primarily responsibility was seeing to the happiness of 6,322 passengers and 2,200-plus crew. Over the course of a week, I had my hands in every department, from ship activities and entertainment to onboard revenue, making sure that everyone and everything worked in, well, harmony. From stocking the world’s biggest buffet and staving off gastrointestinal disasters to hosting celebrity guests, everything is 10 times crazier when you’re mayor of a city that’s floating in the middle of the sea. 

There Is Secret Cruise Code Language

Illustration: Zohar Lazar

It’s crucial for the staff to have code words so that passengers don’t get freaked out if something goes wrong. A “30-30” means the crew is asking maintenance to clean up a mess; three times during my stint I called in a “PVI” (public vomiting incident). An “Alpha” is a medical emergency, a “Bravo” is a fire, and “Kilo” is a request for all personnel to report to their emergency posts, which happens in the event of, say, a necessary evacuation. Be wary of “Echo,” which is called if the ship is starting to drift, or “Oscar,” which means someone’s gone overboard. A crew member told me he’s had only four or five “Oscars” in 10 years of cruising.

Drunk Guests Can't Outsmart the On-Board Bartenders

Illustration: Zohar Lazar

If you thought those all-you-can-drink beverage packages were directly correlated with drunk debauchery at sea, think again. Only eight to 10 percent of passengers purchase unlimited booze packages—Royal Caribbean’s guests are largely family travelers—and those who do are carefully monitored. Every single alcoholic beverage is poured with a jigger. Intoxicated passengers can have their SeaPasses (onboard credit cards) temporarily disabled, barring them from being served at any of the ship’s bars. As for the most popular alcoholic beverage ordered on board? It’s a cinnamon fireball shot.

According to Ivan De La Rosa, the ship’s senior doctor, the biggest issue involving alcohol is when the ship is docked in Cozumel, Mexico. Mix an afternoon of unregulated drinking on land at Señor Frogs with tropical heat and a few glasses of Mexican tap water, and you’ve got yourself a guaranteed “PVI.”

Cruise Staffers Regularly Engage in Subliminal Messaging

The first thing guests likely see in their cabins is a gleeful jingle about hand-washing looping on their television screen. It’s catchy as a Katy Perry song and meant to steer you toward Purel pumps around the ship, each carefully positioned at high-traffic junctions (think entrances to the main dining halls and theaters) by senior staff. Along with the emcees’ banter at large group events—“Have you washed your hands 50 times today? I have!”—the jingle is part of the crew’s unwavering effort to stave off a potential Norovirus outbreak. 

But sanitation is just one aim of the frequent subliminal messaging. Special promotions around the ship encourage passengers to scatter when certain areas become congested, and moving guests around the ship subtly encourages them to diversify (and increase) their onboard spending. If casino revenue is low, for instance, senior management might host a raffle or karaoke event at the far side of the slots to drive foot traffic and encourage passengers to linger (or better yet, play) a while. Activities managers will even film their daily newscast about onboard events with Starbucks iced coffees in hand, as a quiet reminder that passengers can get their venti latte fix on Deck Six. Often times, these veiled announcements are aimed at boosting the ship’s bottom line.

There Is a Cruise Ship Burn Book 

Dru Pavlov, veteran cruise director and my mentor during this Royal Caribbean stint, keeps a hallowed book of stupid comments and questions; passed down from one cruise director to the next as a right of passage, it makes great vamping material for event emcees. 

The book Pavlov bequeathed to me included such doozies as: “Where’s the elevator to get to the front of the ship?” Others include “Is the toilet water drinkable?” and “How long does it take the crew to get home every night?” My favorite contribution came three days into my tenure, when a passenger stopped me to complain that she could no longer find her cabin. The ship had been parked backwards, she claimed.

All Cruise Guests Basically Eat the Same Things

Illustration: Zohar Lazar

Freezers on board are the size of New York studio apartments—and stocking them is an art form. Before each sailing, the inventory team receives enough ingredients for 20 different dining venues, plus servings for the 2,000-member crew. (The total cost, including such other consumables as paper towels, is about $800,000.) Overestimate the order, and the voyage becomes less-profitable (and wasteful); underestimate, and you’ll risk a riot over coconut shrimp. 

Luckily, passengers’ eating habits are fairly predictable. On the average week-long cruise, Royal Caribbean estimates its guests will be 80 percent American, consuming around 3,000 bottles of wine, 7,000 pounds of chicken breast, and almost 100,000 eggs. 

If more than 80 percent of the guests are American, the crew orders extra ketchup. When the percentage of Chinese passengers increases, they bump up the supply of sliced fruit, seafood, and rice. Latin Americans consume more red meat and Coronas (which also requires additional limes). And family-prone Spring Break cruises require three times as many chicken nuggets. The one thing that never changes no matter who is on board? Toilet paper. Around 9,600 rolls are used each week.  

Every Ship Has an "Outbreak Prevention Plan," With a Hair Trigger

Illustration: Zohar Lazar

Nothing is scarier to cruisers than a Norovirus outbreak—which ship doctor De La Rosa says is almost always caused by a passenger who has brought the illness aboard, rather than poor sanitary conditions on the ship.

The U.S. Health Department requires that every ship maintain a detailed OPP, or Outbreak Prevention Plan. On , regular sanitary conditions are called “OPP1,” and they get ratcheted up to “OPP2” when there’s a “6 in 6,” or six passengers reported ill in six hours. (You’ll know OPP2 is in full gear when the crew gets less subliminal about its “wash your hands” messaging.) 

If the incidence rate escalates and the situation reaches OPP3, guests lose the ability to handle their own food. The entire crew, from the ice dancers to the synchronized swimmers, is recruited to the buffets to help serve, and all restaurants and guestroom linens are put in red biohazard bags and obsessively laundered in a special facility on land.

If you want to avoid Norovirus like, well, the plague, stay away from short sailings, says figure skater and veteran crew member Chris Mabee. “Those trips tend to be the least-expensive, attracting both older passengers, who are prone to getting sick, and the young booze cruisers, who forget about hygiene.”  

As for the most common diagnoses at sea? They include upper respiratory infections, bruised bones, and the odd Viagra mishap. UTIs are also frequent, thanks to frisky honeymooners, and prescribing antibiotics can be hairy when passengers are committed to their all-you-can-drink packages.

Crew Members Are Trained to Deal with Handsy Passengers …

Illustration: Zohar Lazar

Sleeping with a passenger will get you “chicken or beef,” as Pavlov puts it—“That’s what a flight attendant asks you when you’re put on the first flight home.” 

The zero-tolerance policy seems to be an industry-wide standard—at Royal Caribbean, there’s even staff training on how to defuse an escalating situation. More often than not, it’s a vacationing guest trying to seduce a crew member. “Whenever I take photos with people, I always give a thumbs up,” notes Pavlov. “My hands are visible, so no one can claim any inappropriate behavior.” And with cameras covering virtually every nook and cranny of the ship, it’d be easier to rob a bank than take a bite of some forbidden fruit. (Though some crew members still use Grindr or Tinder to get a sense of who’s on board.)

… but the Staff Quarters Are a Genuine Love Boat 

With 2,200 crew, the staff quarters are a village unto themselves, with cabins, bars, a mess hall, shop, and gym set across decks 0, 1, 2, 3, and 12. (Most services are set off a second-deck corridor dubbed “I-95.”)

Among the crew, dating is not just allowed but tacitly encouraged—they live onboard through the entirety of their contract without days off, often 10 months a year. They have their own calendar of daily events that range from karaoke sessions to poker games and foreign language classes. And since Wi-Fi is pricey, romance is very much analog.

Coupling up on the ship is like dating in dog years: Things move about seven times faster. Several crew members recounted instances when they put in a request to share a cabin with their new boyfriend after only a month of dating, or dropped the “I love you” bomb within the first week of meeting someone. And since relationships often end once one person leaves the ship, cruise couples tend to become “lifers.” (Almost everyone I met in upper management met their spouse onboard.) 

The Ship Has Genies, and They Can Perform Magic 

Although bargain-basement discounts draw plenty of travelers to big-ship cruising, procuring Royal Caribbean’s VIP status can offer a true luxury experience. The easiest way to get it is by booking into the Royal Suites Star Class; the company’s crème de la crème offering includes 10 state-of-the-art apartments on with privileged access to pleb-free parts of the ship and butler-style service from a coterie of “Royal Genies.”

The Genies are trained to cater to your every whim, but with limited resources at sea, this can require real creativity. Daniel, one of the genies, once had a couple ask for their suite to be filled with flowers. Unable to secure real bouquets, he had the pastry team bake dozens of petal-shaped cookies and scattered them around the room. And when one family got locked out of a peak-season December sailing, genie Andrei surprised them with an early Christmas by decorating their suite and putting wrapped presents under a makeshift tree.

“The hardest thing to do is host a celebrity on board,” says Andrei, who has served a slew of A-listers and their families, including Kelsey Grammer, Adam Sandler, and Seth Rogen. To give them privacy amid thousands of cruisers, he says, “We usher them into shows after the lights go dark, and we grab them to leave five minutes before the show is done.” 

No matter how you earn your VIP status—or if you’ve earned it at all—my time on board proved that the crew will always bend over backwards to make sure you leave satisfied. Want to thank them? Tipping is great, but comment cards that explicitly name standout crew members make more of a difference. Your praise gets noted on their permanent record, earns them such onboard perks as free Wi-Fi, and helps secure promotions down the road.

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-31/secrets-of-cruise-ships-from-crew-codes-to-sex-to-norovirus

    Heres How the 20 Contenders for Amazon HQ2 Stack Up

    Now that Amazon.com Inc. has whittled down the list of cities it’s considering for its second North American headquarters, it’s time for a new round of everyone’s favorite parlor game: arguing about which city would suit the technology giant best.

    After the e-commerce company said it was seeking a second HQ to relieve pressure on its Seattle home base, it received proposals from 238 locations, full of rich economic incentives and goofy marketing gimmicks.

    Now it has narrowed the field to 20 places, including three bids from the Washington D.C., area, where Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has put down roots, as well as proposals from smaller Midwestern cities (Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis) and major population centers (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto and Dallas).

    Economic incentives aside — and there are plenty — here are some pros and cons of the places on Amazon’s very long shortlist.

    Atlanta

    Pros: A major airline hub and home to big corporations, such as UPS, Coca-Cola and Delta. A recent focus on redevelopment projects like the BeltLine — a series of parks built on an old railroad spur that runs through the city — may add to the city’s appeal.

    Cons: It’s still not that cool. Amazon prides itself on its urban Seattle locations being walkable and bikable, and a more suburban city like Atlanta may contradict that spirit. Terrible traffic, too.

    Austin

    Pros: Close to the distribution and business hub of Dallas but much hipper. No Texas income tax, an established tech industry and home to Whole Foods, which Amazon recently acquired.

    Cons: Small airport. Despite surging population, still doesn’t feel like a major U.S. city. 

    Boston

    Pros: Proximity to Harvard, MIT and a wealth of other colleges and universities, an airport with nonstop flights to Seattle and Washington, D.C., and a track record for providing rich relocation benefits, like the incentives the city offered GE in 2015.

    Cons: Has some of the same drawbacks as New York—high cost of living, tight residential and commercial real estate markets—without the same cultural amenities and depth of talent. 

    Chicago

    Pros: A heavy concentration of operations, marketing, finance and sales employees to poach from other industries. Good public transit, walkable neighborhoods and a variety of housing choices, from downtown apartments to traditional suburbs. 

    Cons: Shootings in the city have become national news, and the state is still emerging from dire financial straits. Digging its government out of debt could require tax hikes and cuts to public services. 

    Columbus

    Pros: A major research university in Ohio State, a fast-growing economy and cheap housing.

    Cons: The housing is cheap for a reason.

    Dallas

    Pros: Has been a magnet for corporate relocations in the last two decades, offering high quality of life and access to a deep pool of workers. There’s no state income tax, and unlike Austin, it’s a major city and an airline hub.

    Cons: Dallas suburbs may seem pretty stodgy to Amazon employees used to the cultural amenities in downtown Seattle. 

    Denver

    Pros: Denver is already popular with tech companies. Colorado boasts strong engineering schools and trounces the other finalists when it comes to close proximity to fresh powder. Fresh, and legal, pot, too, for those who partake.

    Cons: The exodus of workers to Denver’s burgeoning tech hub has already stretched the local housing market. Doesn’t offer a lot of geographic diversity from Seattle.

    Indianapolis

    Pros: Tech company salaries would go far in the heartland, and choosing Indianapolis would make Amazon arguably the most important employer in middle America.

    Cons: The sheer of size of the Amazon HQ could swamp the city’s residential and commercial real estate markets. As in Columbus, the cheap housing here isn’t a mystery. 

    Los Angeles

    Pros: The tech giant’s Amazon Studios division—quickly becoming a force in Hollywood, with original streaming TV series such as “Transparent” and “Man in the High Castle”—is based in Santa Monica.

    Cons: It’s an expensive place to live, a hard place to build in and, like Denver, it doesn’t offer a lot of geographic diversity from Seattle.

    Miami

    Pros: The Seattle workforce could use a little sun. Bezos, currently the richest man in the world, attended Miami Palmetto Senior High School.

    Cons: Lacks an existing tech ecosystem, has high housing costs and might be under water at some point.

    Montgomery County

    Pros: This Maryland county is one of three bids in or near the District of Columbia to land on the shortlist. Bezos has put down roots in the area with his acquisitions of the Washington Post and the city’s largest private home.

    Cons: Commercial real estate is probably more available here than in the U.S. capital, but the trade-off is asking the company’s workforce to work in the ’burbs.

    Nashville

    Pros: Good universities, no Tennessee income tax and fame as the country music capital of the world have already made the city popular with major employers.

    Cons: Like Austin and Denver, the city has already succeeded in convincing companies to relocate, and the local housing market has struggled to keep up with the flood of new workers.

    Newark

    Pros: Proximity to New York without the Big Apple’s staggering home prices. In October, then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pledged to back the city’s bid to lure Amazon with as much as $7 billion in tax breaks. 

    Cons: The city might be a tough sell for workers over San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York.

    New York

    Pros: Locating in New York would give Amazon access to the world’s top pool of finance and media talent and a growing tech scene.

    Cons: Housing prices are already high, one of the reasons locals in Seattle are pushing back against the company’s expansion there. There’s also limited space for new office construction.

    Northern Virginia

    Pros: Like Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Northern Virginia offers an educated workforce and proximity to both the federal government and the Washington Post. Commercial real estate is easier to come by than in the District of Columbia.

    Cons: The area isn’t as strong on urban appeal as some of the other contenders.

    Philadelphia

    Pros: Good transit, large population, and it’s close to New York and Washington, with much lower housing costs.

    Cons: Amazon would have to convince workers in those two cities that giving up cultural amenities for cheaper housing is a trade worth making.

    Pittsburgh

    Pros: Home to top AI and robotics university Carnegie Mellon, which have already drawn top tech companies like Google and Uber. Close to major distribution hubs in the middle of the country.

    Cons: It’s far from other major cities and tech hubs.

    Raleigh

    Pros: Part of an existing tech hub; offers cheap housing, good quality of life and the chance for Amazon to put its stamp on a city in a way that it couldn’t in more established metros.

    Cons: Clashes over gender identity and other hot political issues suggest North Carolina is still struggling over its own identity.

    Toronto

    Pros: A major financial and technology hub and a population that would put it among the top 10 U.S. metropolitan areas. Potentially easier to hire people from abroad because of a more open tone on immigration from the government than in the U.S.

    Cons: Housing prices are high compared to cities like Atlanta. The city also doesn’t have much space for housing and commercial development required for HQ2 in the downtown core. Moving integral operations north of the border holds political risks in dealing with the Trump administration.

    Washington, D.C.

    Pros: A strong technology workforce and proximity to lawmakers and regulators. Bezos put down roots in the area with his 2013 acquisition of the Washington Post.

    Cons: Lack of space and zoning restrictions could make it hard to find enough office space. Sticking the headquarters in the ’burbs would make it easier to find land but harder to appeal to workers. And you don’t get a U.S. senator to fight for you on the Hill.

      Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-18/amazon-ignites-fight-for-hq2-here-s-how-20-contenders-stack-up