If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes, cruise ship tours offer an interesting peek behind the curtain. For a fee, passengers can learn how it all works below deck and backstage, check out where the crew hang out, and see who's doing your laundry or washing your dishes.
But it's important to be organised -- some cruise lines hold only one behind-the-scenes event per sailing, so they do tend to book out.
Here are our picks of the most interesting cruise ship tours for Australians.
1. Back of the House Tour
(Holland America - US$150)
Getting backstage in the entertainment areas (including the incredible wardrobe) is a highlight on the more recently renovated HAL vessel, the Noordam. You'll also check out the kitchens, massive fridges, tailor, laundry, recycling, engine control room and staff quarters, as well as meeting the hotel director. Locally cruising ships, the Noordam and Volendam, both offer this, but this fleet-wide treat is only offered once per cruise, with limited spots, so book as soon as you board.
2. See How It's Done Tour
(Celebrity - US$150)
Celebrity claims that its Solstice is 'Australia's best cruise ship', and the recent documentary "Mighty Ships" took a good look behind the scenes. You can, too (as you also can on Solstice's fleetmate in our waters, the Millennium). With a focus on logistics, this three-hour tour also goes backstage in the theatre and sees the workings of the main dining room kitchen. It also takes a sneak peek at the crew's mess hall and the officer's working areas. You also get to visit the fascinating engine control room and the bridge itself, then jaunt off for a wine-paired lunch. This tour will only run on sea days, so places are, once again, limited -- book with Guest Relations when you check in.
3. Behind the Fun Tour
(Carnival - AU$95)
Both the Carnival Spirit tour and Carnival Legend tour are locked in for the last sea day of each cruise. The length of the tour depends on the length of your itinerary (from two to 3.5 hours), and the tour has a nice 'VIP' feel about it since, on top of the usual stops (backstage, laundry room, crew galley, bridge, etc) and the crew training centre, there is a cool emphasis on meeting the people behind the cruise. You might meet the captain, chief engineer and/or the chef de cuisine, and there's time set aside to pose for photos with the Captain, which we just know you'll proudly paste all over your social media. They also throw in a commemorative cap, lanyard and even a swan soap carving. Bookings are only taken at the Shore Excursion Desk once you have boarded the ship.
4. Ultimate Ship Tour
(Princess - AU$150)
Tour the galley with the executive chef -- while enjoying Champagne and canapes -- and leave with your own official chef's jacket. Talk technical with crew and cast backstage at the theatre, and the chief technical officer in the engine control room. Get trashy with the environmental officer in the incinerator room, seeing how all the waste gets sorted and disposed of (more interesting than it sounds), then get personalised stationery printed up in the print shop. The photographic staff of process thousands of photos -- see where they're produced, then tour the medical centre with the ship's doctor. A visit to the laundry room brings an exclusive bathrobe (usually only for suite guests), and a trip to the top deck provides a pretty spectacular look into the ship's funnel area. Finally, it's off to the bridge to pose at the wheel with the captain, for a framed photo and signed certificate to remember the moment. The whole shebang goes for two to three hours depending on the ship's size, and content varies a little from ship to ship. It's a sea-day-only tour, with just one or two happening per cruise on most ships cruising locally here and internationally (local ships now offering it are Sun Princess, Sea Princess, Dawn Princess, Diamond Princess and Golden Princess).
5. Behind the Scenes
(Cunard - US$120)
Once you're issued with your 'All Area Access Pass', you can go forward to the mooring deck to check out the giant machinery such as anchor winches, and feel the thud of the waves as the ship's hull slices through! Take a tour of the medical centre with the senior doctor, and check out the main crew passageway -- a gigantic pathway that runs the length of the ship. You can check out waste management, too: the engine control room with the chief engineer, and the food stores, then off to the galley with the executive chef and backstage with the production staff. A stop-off for refreshments and canapes, and a detailed visit to the bridge is also included, with the Captain and navigational officers, and finishes with a take-home goody bag and commemorative pin. See the Tours Office for bookings as soon as you board to nab a place on this three-hour tour, which runs for up to 16 guests. If you miss out, there is also the general public tour of the ship, which lasts an hour to an hour and a half.
6. 'Behind the Royal Advantage' All Access Tour
(Royal Caribbean International - USD$150)
This tour is so popular, RCI highly recommends booking it through its online Cruise Planner service well before you set foot onboard. For your efforts, you'll enjoy up to three and a half hours exploring your ship's 'back of the house' -- the galley, the engine control room, the laundry, backstage of the theatre and, of course, the bridge. Make sure your closed-toe shoes (as instructed) are comfortable! The galley part of the tour is extensive, with tastings and a chat with one of the head chefs along the way, and you can step into the crews' shoes by walking their busy bow-to-stern corridor, seeing their own cafe and even bars. The tour is offered fleetwide, including the locally sailing Explorer of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas and Legend of the Seas.