How does the Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas cruise ship order, stock, and prep its legendary buffets and a la carte meals for its passengers? We go deep into the underbelly of the vessel to find out.

When the SingaporeMotherhood team is invited to take an excursion on the Royal Caribbean‘s Mariner of the Seas for a “What’s Cooking?” food tour and lunch, the answer is a no brainer. We say “heck yeah” and make our way down to Marina Bay Cruise Centre where the 138,000-tonne ship is docked.


We find ourselves deep in the bowels of the ship — below the staterooms, the pools, the casino, and those shiny, sunlit areas that you see in travel brochures — where men in jumpsuits are shifting pallets of perishable produce into cold rooms.

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Here, work takes place 24/7 — all the better to keep passengers fed and fêted. And the more we explore, the more impressive it gets. There is NO MESS AT ALL. Everything is immaculate. The floors are dry. There’s not a single speck of dust anywhere. Here, deep within the depths of the vessel, there are no portholes, no balconies, and no windows, just ‘staterooms’ for the food. It’s a whole new world that passengers are never privy to. But read on, we’ll bring you there…

#1. There are no Jack Dawson on the Titanic-type parties

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spices

There’s simply no space for dancing around! With up to 3,114 passengers and over 1,500 crew to feed, you’d expect this underground – oops, under-ship – pantry to be incredibly cramped. Incredibly, it’s not. Every nook and cranny is perfectly utilised.

The Mariner is part of the Voyager class of cruise ships, and boasts the highest public space-per-guest ratio in the cruise market. This generousity of space is reflected below decks as well. The open area is large enough for pallet-carrying forklifts to navigate and maneouvre, which the crew do with military precision. Everything has its right place and every one has a specific role to perform. There’s space for the foodstuff to move. But for below plumb-line parties? Nope. Or perhaps we didn’t get to tour that part of the ship?

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#2: There are 18 storerooms for all that food and drink

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dry produce
Seven days’ worth of food is being shifted in this morning, including:

• 124 25 kg bags of rice
• 30,000 eggs (100 cases)
• 3 containers of frozen foodstuff
• 6 containers of dry products

Everthing is separated and contained in specific cold rooms. There’s one for ice cream, one for sodas, beers and white wine, one for red wine, one for hard liquor, one for eggs and poultry, one for other meats, one for vegetables, and so on.

#3: The really expensive alcohol is hidden behind other alcohol

Remy MartinThe Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac is the most expensive liquor on board. That’s why it’s hidden right at the back!

Having just arrived this morning and sailing off this evening, time is of essence on the Mariner. In addition to that, there’s a troop of curious camera-wielding media wandering around and getting in the way. Still, every crew member whom we meet is in good spirits, smiling, making way for us, and answering random questions like “How many bottles of alcohol do you have on board?” and “What’s the most expensive alcohol you have on board?” (About 1,000 bottles at any time, replenished every seven days, and the USD3,000 a bottle Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac, which is a hit in China, as recently reported.)

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#4: Entering a cold room is like entering a bank vault

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ice cream roomMist in the hold!

The ice cream cold room door, for instance, is protected by a sizable lever that has to be swung and tugged with some force and as its heavy metal door acquiesces, plumes of icy air draft out. It’s minus 25 degrees celsius in here. There’s ice on the ceiling and on the shelves. This dessert lover’s dream holds 300 gallons of ice cream in over 20 flavours, from Ben & Jerry’s to generic brands. The temptation to dig in is great but we manage to resist.

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#5: Sometimes you have to be a crab in order to get the duck

cold room

The frozen foods cold room, at minus 20 degrees celsius, is slightly less arctic. We’re told that it gets so fully packed that the crew has to edge in and out sideways, crab-style, to get what to they want.

#6: The food enjoys perfect weather all the time

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Temperatures are carefully monitored, after all, a glitch in the climate-controlled cold rooms could lead to a culinary catastrophe!

#7: Everything is supersized

ketchup

Think one gallon bottles of barbeque sauce, 3.23 kg bags of tomato ketchup, 1.55 kg cans of Jalapeno peppers.

#8: One app rules them all

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Yes, there’s a app(!) to keep track of every single item that comes on board and goes into the kitchen. The same app calculates how much needs to be ordered for the next stage of the journey, even taking into consideration passenger profile (ethnic foods specific to a region, more rice for the Asian leg of the cruise, more kid-friendly cuisine if there’s going to be a higher number of children on an upcoming tour). This OCD-style planning is essential. Majority of the stock comes from Miami in the US, taking up to 60 days to arrive. Hence, to ensure that there’s sufficient stock, orders have to be done three months in advance. Can you even imagine how cruise liners of the past coped without technology?!

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#9: There’s a ‘Mother’ Kitchen

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The Mariner has three main kitchens: a ‘mother’ kitchen on level three which handles majority of the food that is produced on the ship, and two other galleys on levels four and five. These serve the ship’s eating establishments, from the Sound Of Music-inspired main dining room with its towering double staircases and statue of Maria and Captain Von Trapp, to the Italian trattoria Giovanni’s Table, Chops Grille (steaks and seafood) where we have lunch, Jade (Asian), and burger bar Johnny Rockets.

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red velvetSoft, moist, and full of flavour, the Red Velvet at Chops Grille is worth splashing out on a cruise for. *drool*

chops grille kids menu

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#10: Over 15,000 meals are prepared each day so everything has to be shipshape!

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bacon

At least 15,000 meals are created for the ship’s passengers and crew each day. During mealtimes, everything operates like clockwork. Orders are taken, prepared, and lined up. Service staff enter and move down the lines to collect the plates. Words like “military precision”, “shipshape”, and “OCD” come to mind again – but in a good way!

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#11: Nothing is wasted; everything is recycled

Recycling

What happens to food that doesn’t get eaten? It’s not thrown overboard, that’s for sure. The Mariner has its own systemic garbage disposal and waste processing procedures. Each kitchen has a line-up of bins where waste material is sorted for recycling. Drink cans and metals are crushed flat. Glass is broken down to sand. Other waste is incinerated. These processes, initiated by the kitchen crew (kudos to them!), are carried out in all of the ship’s kitchens.

So the next time you’re up on the Royal Promenade watching the Royal Caribbean’s signature DreamWorks Character Parade, shopping in one of the duty-free shops, having breakfast with Puss In Boots and Kungfu Panda, or lounging anywhere else on this dream vessel, know that there’s lots of action going on in the ground beneath your feet. The Royal Caribbean should turn this into a tour-cum-lunch programme for its passengers, don’t you think?

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Feature image: Royal Caribbean International

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