Norwegian Star: An In-depth Behind-the Scenes Tour
Conversions of Ocean Liners
By Neil Plotnick
During the many cruises I have taken, I have been treated to a variety of opportunities
to get a glimpse of shipboard life that is not confined to the dining room and lounges.
Unlike the typical bridge tours that were once a staple of sea days, onboard Norwegian
Cruise Line’s Norwegian Star in the Baltic in July 2013, I had the opportunity to
have a detailed and unique “onboard shore excursion” that ran the length and breadth
of the ship.
Approximately 30 passengers met in the Red Lion Pub and were greeted by three members
of the crew. Leading the tour was a member of the entertainment staff who took our
names and gave us peel-off name tags to affix to our shirts. The second worked at
the ship’s information desk and was versed in several languages. This was important
as the passengers were a mix of English-, German-, Italian- and Spanish-speakers.
Our last escort was a member of the ship security department who was there to open
the various doors and passageways that were normally available exclusively to officers.
Our first stop was the large navigation bridge. It was a stellar day and we enjoyed
the unobstructed view that was usually reserved to the navigation team. A navigator
who hailed from Spain was responsible for this portion of our tour. She began by
showing us the various dials and gauges that controlled the Azipod propulsion system.
She noted that the computer systems were responsible for maintaining a steady course
and speed. With a brief request to the other bridge officers, she took over the radar
system and demonstrated how easy it was to get a detailed picture of all the traffic
in the busy sea lanes in the Baltic Sea.
We spent nearly 45 minutes on the bridge and all the passengers were able to ask
questions and view all the various stations for communication, navigation and emergency
procedures. Of particular interest to me was a copy of the Hawaiian Blessing and
a preserved flower garland bestowed on the ship in 2001 when she entered service
in Hawaii. There were no restrictions on photographs on the bridge during our time
Next, we were escorted to a crew elevator and began our tour of the ships many spaces
dedicated to food storage and preparation. Our group was met by one of the executive
sous chefs and led around the main galley areas. Lunch service was being offered
at the time and we got to witness how waiters brought their orders into the galleys
and efficiently picked up the various salads and hot or cold entrées from the various
stations spread around the extensive deck.
The sous chef then led us to another deck where we would be able to view the ship
bakery and butcher shop. Along the way, we encountered—by chance—the executive chef,
who greeted us and asked if we had any questions. A passenger wanted to know why
the coffee was “universally terrible most of the time.” We were then treated to a
very frank and interesting discussion of the challenges on providing consistent and
high quality food.
In the case of coffee, there were several factors that were involved. First, the
nature of the itinerary caused NCL to rely on a variety of vendors to provide the
beans that were used. The varying qualities of the beans made it difficult to get
a consistent brew as the grinders and brewers could not be adjusted properly. He
told us that an engineer from the grinder company was actually coming to meet the
ship to program the grinders properly. (I found it fascinating that computer chips
and software were responsible for maintaining coffee quality and the fix was not
as simple as spinning a dial somewhere on the machines.)
After being led past more storage areas and the dedicated pizza kitchen, we made
our way to the butcher shop. The butcher was preparing lamb and filet mignon for
that night’s dinner in the various restaurants. I had previously booked dinner at
Le Bistro for the evening and knew immediately that my dinner was going to be one
of the succulent steaks that I saw being hand trimmed.
Our next stop was the bakery. As in several other spots on the ship, this was a 24-hour-a-day,
7-day-a-week operation. There was freshly baked bread cooling on racks, pies cooling
on counters and chocolate melting in double boilers. Piles of luscious-looking strawberries
were waiting to be put into tarts that were being prepared. Before leaving, we were
treated to trays of warm cookies by the friendly staff.
Our group traveled deeper into the ship to the enormous laundry center. Here, tremendous
washing and drying machines were processing the mounds of sheets, towels and tablecloths
that were used every day onboard. Many of the passengers, myself included, were intrigued
by the conveyor-belt-driven folding machines that took the cleaned linens and made
neat piles that were loaded into carts for distribution to the cabins and dining
As with every stop of the tour, the crew anticipated our arrival and had prepared
a demonstration of some the unique machinery that used to do their jobs. In the laundry
center, the crew showed how they label clothing that passengers had sent out for
washing. Using a specialized steamer, one crewman took a passenger’s sweatshirt and
refreshed it with a dramatic hiss from the machine.
Our group met the environmental officer next. Reflecting the international nature
of the crew on NCL, the environmental officer was one of the few Norwegian officers
serving on the ship. His responsibility was to ensure that all the regulations regarding
fuel use and recycling of materials were met. We learned that his staff is given
incentives to maximize the recovery of materials from every portion of the ship’s
operation. Every can, box, and glass object was subjected to crushing and storing
for eventual recycling on shore.
The ship carried two types of fuel aboard. Lower sulfur fuel is required by many
countries when operating close to shore. Outside of prescribed limits, less expensive
and more polluting fuel can be burned. With a look toward the future of the industry,
our ship was equipped with the necessary connections to draw power from shore-based
sources when ports are wired with the equipment. While only a few shore facilities
have this capability today, many more are expected to add this feature in the coming
The final stop of our tour brought us to the main show lounge towards the bow of
the ship. This was the only part of the ship were photography was not allowed. Specifically,
the dressing rooms were off-limits as the many costumes were copyright-protected.
This is the same reason that photographs during most performances are also forbidden.
While the technical aspects of the shows at sea are similar to production on land,
the unique nature of performing on a moving ship are not to be ignored. The most
significant difference, according to our guide, was the severe lack of available
space backstage. During most costume changes, the cast do not retreat to their dressing
rooms but change in the stairwells just beyond the wings of the stage.
As we made our way throughout the crew areas, it was interesting to note the many
posters and notices that the crew pass every day. On some doorways that open directly
to passenger areas, crew members were reminded to be sure that they were properly
dressed before leaving the crew sections. Reminders about customer service were everywhere.
As on many ships, the main corridor running down the center of the ship was called
I-95. I explained to our Philippine guide that the name was derived from the major
north-south highway on the U.S. east coast.
Overall, this was a fascinating and worthwhile tour. The only major areas not visited
were the engine room and any personal crew areas such as their dining room or cabins.
All of the passengers expressed great satisfaction with the experience. The tour
took approximately three hours to complete. While elevators were used for much of
the tour, there were some spots where it was necessary to climb stairs to reach some
areas. Some parts of the kitchen could get slick so sneakers are strongly suggested.
It should be remembered that the ship is a very active workplace and one has to be
careful as crew are constantly rushing to and fro pushing carts and carrying food.