Behind the Scenes on a Cruise Ship

A cabin on a cruise ship. Above the bed, a square porthole window shows a pale gray sea.

Long time readers may remember that I came up with the idea for the Ellie Tappet Cruise Ship Mysteries during a voyage to South America aboard the Norwegian Sun. I have many fond memories of that trip, so I was delighted when the Sun showed up at Port 66 in Seattle. And last month, Patrick and I went aboard for a late-season voyage to Alaska.

I figured I could do some research for The Case of the Paper Horse and revisit the cruise ship that started it all. This was a vacation, yes, but I was also a writer on a mission. Norwegian was offering a “behind the scenes tour” to the areas of the ship guests aren't normally allowed to see, and I couldn't wait to see how the inner workings of a cruise ship.

I wondered, how did the ship of my memory compare to the world I'd built up in my imagination?

A wide deck going around the ship. Blue sky and water at sunset to the right. A huge escape raft hangs overhead.

The promenade deck was much as I remembered it.

Well-lit bookcases in a library. The carpet has quotes from famous literature.

I love visiting the ship's library! Such a fun space.

On the day of our tour, accompanied by a guide and a security guard, we descended to the lower decks, where the crew work and live. The sheer scale of the kitchen operation boggled my mind. The soup pots in the galley were the size of bathtubs!

A shiny steel room with steel floors, ceilings, and counters. Soup tubs big enough to boggle the mind. A female chef works at the counter.

Running several restaurants aboard a ship is quite the logistical operation! Here, a chef showed us the daily menus for the main dining room. They called the kitchen 'the galley” and it was enormous, with dozens of chefs overseeing the work.

A chef in a tall hat inspects a huge wall poster showing hundreds of dishes, organized by meal

I was fascinated by the laundry operation deep down on deck one. Each washing machine holds 400 pounds of linen per load, and there was so much specialized equipment. Sewing machines, steamers, and a long machine for cleaning sheets called “the mangler.”

I wouldn't want to get my hand stuck in one of those! The machines were massive, and the air in there was pleasantly warm.

An industrial Laundry room with 10 foot tall metal machines and blue tubs on wheels large enough to hold a body or two.

There are so many interesting job titles! We met the “Laundrymaster” and the “Provisionmaster” as well as the ship's engineer. He reminded me a bit of Scotty on Star Trek, only Italian rather than Scottish.

The Provisionmaster does all grocery shopping for the ship, and I was gobsmacked by the size and scale of their freezers and fridges. Here is a photo of their ice cream freezer. That's right. This one is just ice cream.

An apartment-sized ice cream freezer full of giant brown tubs.

I didn't meet any colorful characters on our trip to Alaska, but thanks to my time on board I have a mind full of images, sensations, and even smells.

Fiction is... well, it's *fictional*, but I love adding sprinkles of realism to bring a story to life. And there's so much dynamism on a cruise ship. So many levels! The guests, the crew, the ports, the activities and personalities.

At one point, when I was circling the ship and making notes on what I saw, a security guard began eyeing me suspiciously. So I asked myself: What would Ellie Tappet do?

I put my pencil away with exaggerated care and went to the cafe for a cup of tea. Tea is the ultimate sleuth camouflage, don't you know.

It was a good trip! I'm glad to have a better picture of life aboard a cruise ship, and you can bet some of these fun little details will end up in my next book.

Ready for fun, friendship, and mysteries at sea?

Check out the Ellie Tappet Cruise Ship Mysteries, starting with book one,The Case of the Missing Finger.

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