Our cruise vacation was a mix of activities and relaxing. For someone like me, who unabashedly overschedules herself (I want to do THAT! and THAT! and THAT!) the daily schedule of activities delivered to the cabin each night sent me into a tizzy of excitement. Wine tastings! Yoga classes! Bingo! I want to do it ALL, but much to my family’s pleasure, I did restrain myself to only picking one or two things a day to do. One of my favorite activities of the cruise was a pasta making demonstration and galley tour.
Basic pasta is crazy crazy crazy easy to make. This I knew before the class. I actually thought they’d be teaching us something more intricate than a basic flour/water/etc noodle, but that’s what they had planned. I would not say I was disappointed. I didn’t go on a cruise with big hopes of learning cooking techniques. This was just a novelty and was coupled with a very lovely pasta lunch and wine pairing.
The pasta demonstration was entertaining enough for an afternoon activity, but the real draw for me was the galley tour. I was curious to see what was involved in feeding these 4,100 gluttonous guests and 3,000 hardworking crew members (sidenote: cruise passengers are exceptionally loud, pushy and demanding, cruise staff have the patience of saints. I could never work on a cruise ship.) Because I take my impressions of reality from Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean, my expectations of a ship galley involved dark corners, leaky barrels and lots of rats.
Good thing my imagination doesn’t dictate reality. I’ve been in restaurant kitchens before and (if it’s a good restaurant) they are pretty darn clean. Let me tell you, this galley was clean. Everything was stainless steel and shining. There wasn’t a wayward crumb to be found. And it wasn’t like they prettied the place up for a tour to walk through. We came through a little after lunch so the kitchen crew was well underway with dinner preparations. The floor was slippery (with water, not guck), and it appeared that all surfaces were being constantly cleaned and hosed down.
One thing that had never occurred to me is how much they make fresh on the ship. I have no idea why I assumed that, for example, the ship would get stocked up with bread at port. Nope, not at all. They bake all their bread fresh. Every single dinner roll, muffin, and cake. Everything is freshly baked. In hindsight, it makes sense that the individual ingredients would be much more space-efficient and result in much higher quality of food. Can you imagine even storing a week’s worth of bread products for 7,000ish people? And not just plain bread, the variety. In the dinner breadbasket alone there were at least 4 different kinds of rolls offered each night.
Commercial kitchens are notoriously cramped models of efficiency. The standard restaurant has nothing on this ship’s galley. Every single thing is positioned for maximum efficiency. There is literally no room for inefficiency. To accommodate the sheer capacity of cooking that must be done, the galley is divided over multiple floors, with different regions for different things. It is all so complicated and specific that I didn’t get a good handle on it, other than wow.
Relatedly, the Royal Caribbean food was very good. Cruises are known for having unlimited, great food, but I suspect that a lot of cruisers aren’t traditional “foodies.” My palate has become more developed and more picky since our last cruise (in 2009), and I expected to be disappointed. I was not. The flavors were rich, the staff was happy to accommodate when we requested customizations to dishes, and the food was consistently fresh. In the past I have admittedly turned my nose up at people who praised cruise food, assuming that they only appreciated the virtually unlimited access to food, and not the quality. In the case of Royal Caribbean, however, the ship’s crew mastered both quality and quantity.
Royal Caribbean offers a “behind the scenes” tour that is very comprehensive and includes the galley, the bridge and all kinds of other neat things. That tour, however, is very expensive. I was most interested to see that just the galley tour component was paired with this pasta demo, and only set us back $15 per person. If you have a cruise in your future, keep your eyes peeled for a similar offering. The galley tour was one of my favorite activities on the cruise and it seemed to appeal to everyone who participated, not just the food dorks like me.