Monday, January 2, 2012

How To Get Behind Closed Doors On Your Cruise Ship

On the bridge, Grand Princess
Before 9/11 when security became a major concern, it was common for all cruise passengers to be invited to visit their ship’s bridge. Tours were often announced in the ship’s daily program and you could either sign up, or simply show up for a look at the scheduled time. Some small cruise ships even had an “open bridge policy” and passengers could drop in when they pleased. While tours of the galley are still offered on most ships, those bridge tours (with the exception of some luxury small-ship cruise lines) are not. At least not for everyone and not for free.

These days, however, a peek behind those doors marked “crew only” is available on some cruise ships to those willing to sign up for a fee.

To get a look at areas normally off-limits, Celebrity Cruises recently launched a three-hour “See How It’s Done Tour” as an option in its Celebrity Life program. Sign up and you’ll visit not only the bridge, but also the mooring deck, crew gym, theater, engine control room, prep rooms, and the main galley. The cost is $150 per person and at each area of the tour you have the opportunity to interact with expert members of the Celebrity crew. Each tour is followed by an exclusive wine-paired lunch hosted by an officer in the main dining room. If all you care about is seeing the bridge, a “Bridge Sail Away Experience” for $75 allows you to join the navigational team on the bridge as the ship sails away from port. Beginning 30 minutes before and concluding 30 minutes after departing, you are given a tour and an overview of the bridge conducted by a senior bridge officer. As a bonus, you'll also have the opportunity to meet and take photos with the ship’s captain.

Other lines have previously introduced similar programs...

Royal Caribbean offers an All Access Tour for $150. The three- to three-and-a-half hour tour includes a the bridge, galley, backstage of the main theater, engine control room, the laundry, and more.

Carnival Cruise Lines has an up to three-and-a-half hour Behind the Fun tour for $95 that includes the galley, crew dining room, engine control room, laundry facilities, one of the store rooms, and the bridge. Also included are group photo-ops and logo mementos.

Princess Cruises’ three-hour Ultimate Ship Tour for $150 allows you to explore the engine control room, medical center, print shop, laundry, photo lab, bridge, and other areas typically seen only by the ship’s crew. The final stop of the tour is the ship’s command center, where you meet the Captain, enjoy refreshments, and take in the sea views from the bridge’s wraparound windows. You also receive a variety of themed mementos at stops along the route.

Norwegian Cruise Line offers two Behind The Scenes tour options guided by the officers in charge. You’ll see the bridge, laundry facilities, the galley, backstage of the theater, and the environmental systems. A two-hour tour is $55 and—for real afficianados—an elaborate seven-hour on-ship excursion is $150.

Tours are generally offered once or twice per cruise on sea days and are very popular, so sign up as soon after you board as possible to avoid disappointment.

Grand Princess Bridge Photo ©