All over a cruise ship, there are doors marked “Crew Only.” For passengers, they mark forbidden territory. Unless allowed to use a crew stairway during muster drill, we must not cross the threshold into the other world – even if invited by a crew member. Perhaps ESPECIALLY not if invited by a crew member.
But yesterday afternoon, as one of a select group of 11 Queen Elizabeth passengers who paid $120 each for the privilege, I spent three hours behind those doors, on a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour.
Not before we each signed a fearsome-looking waiver absolving Cunard of any responsibility for “injury, death, illness, danger or other loss” and acknowledging that I would be entering workplaces with an “inherent risk of danger and hazards” including “high decibel levels, fumes, smoke, extreme temperatures, chemical odours, standing water, sharp pointed objects, heavy, industrial, or dangerous equipment and cramped or enclosed spaces.”
I was beginning to fear for the lives of the crew who work in these conditions every day.
No pictures, I’m afraid – cameras were strictly forbidden, and we were accompanied all afternoon by two security staff to make sure we did not step out of line.
We did, however, receive a group photograph of us gathered on the bridge with the Captain, and we each posed for a picture – available from the photo gallery for $29.95 – wearing a white cap and sitting in his chair.
The tour took us from beneath the stage of the Royal Court Theatre to the operating theatre in the medical centre. We peered down at the port anchor and could see, hear and almost feel the sea rushing past below as deck hands demonstrated the mooring procedures.
We were taken into the recycling centre, but not to the sewage works – or the membrane biological reactors, as the Chief Engineer’s information leaflet calls them.
The engine room itself was off limits, but we we could see it by video link in the impressively high-tech Engine Control Room. The engines, generators, propulsion units, air-conditioning, fresh water generation and all other services are controlled by keyboard and mouse and banks of computer screens, but it was somehow reassuring that the engineer keeping a watchful eye on everything was wearing a boiler suit rather than pinstripes.
Even after 10 days at sea, the cold store was full of fresh fruit, salads and vegetables, and in the galley, preparations were well in hand for the evening’s final gala dinner, with lobster tail and beef Wellington the two most popular dishes on the menu.
The tour ended with a glass of fizz in the Commodore Club where we were re-joined by Captain Alistair Clark who brought with him an impressive line-up of senior officers, including entertainment director Amanda Reid, hotel manager David Hamilton, and food and beverage manager Jeffrey Morgan.
This morning the photographs were delivered to my cabin, together with a souvenir Cunard apron and an enamel pin badge – which added mystery to a tour which was designed to de-mystify. Why, I wonder, does it bear the words “Behind the Scenes Tour”, when the paperwork in advance referred to the “Back of House Tour”?