'Stupid' Cruise Questions Answered

Just like flight attendants and travel agents, cruise ship crew members can reel off a list of seemingly "stupid" questions they have been asked by travelers.

These questions include things like “does the crew sleep onboard?” and “where does the ship get its power?”

Now, I don't mean to suggest that people who ask these questions are stupid.  After all cruising can be a complicated concept, especially for a novice.

And are these questions really stupid at all?  Maybe they're just serious questions phrased in a silly way.

In any case, I am going to give you the real answers.

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Stupid Question 1: "Does the crew sleep onboard?"

The crew shows up for work every morning and the ship didn’t stop anyplace – so they obviously slept on the ship. The real question is, “how does a cruise ship accommodate the crew?”

The crew lives onboard for the duration of their contracts, anywhere from four to ten months, but without most of the niceties that passengers get. Still, amenities for the crew are probably better than you think, with a fitness center, game room, movies on a large screen TV and even a crew bar.

The crew quarters occupy the lower decks. The first deck, usually right at the water line, has the top tier quarters for cruise directors and entertainers, pursers, chief engineers, etc. Strictly speaking, these are staff members or officers -- not crew -- and each usually has a private room with its own bathroom, television, bed, and plenty of storage space.

This deck also has the “crew mess” (cafeteria), the crew bar, a fitness center, and often provides access to an outside area with a swimming pool and deck chairs (as well as an anchor, ropes, capstans and other things passengers are not allowed to touch).

On the deck below are the crew member quarters, for personnel like waiters, room stewards, painters and kitchen staff. These rooms usually accommodate two people (sometimes three) and have a TV and bathroom with shower, but no windows.

The captain and other navigational officers live in a separate area of larger staterooms on the forward section of what is usually called “Navigation Deck.” This is an upper passenger deck, but the officer’s rooms are along a corridor beyond a locked door that also leads to the bridge, all the way forward, where the ship is steered.

Stupid Question 2: "Hey, how do they get power all the way out here?” 

During a cruise, passengers are surrounded by lights, vacuum cleaners and elevators, but it might not be until people plug in their hair dryers that they suddenly wonder, “hey, how do they get power all the way out here?”

Actually, a cruise ship is a floating power plant. Remember when Carnival Splendor lost power and went adrift off Mexico’s Baja peninsula in 2010? It was stuck at sea without propulsion for four days; it also had no air conditioning, lighting or refrigerators.

Modern ships of all kinds depend on generators to produce electrical power. For economy, ships burn the relatively inexpensive form of diesel called “bunker fuel,” which is just a few steps cleaner than the stuff used to make rubber and pave roads. This doesn’t necessarily mean that cruise ships are environmental offenders, however, since the impurities burn with the fuel. It is just a difficult fuel to handle -- so sludgy that it must be heated before it will even flow.

The largest cruise ships produce enough power for a city of 50,000. But much of that power goes into running the ship’s engines, which power the propellers. There are no cruise ships currently using coal (like the Titanic) or nuclear power. There is one Russian nuclear-powered ice breaker offering passenger service during the summer, however. It breaks the polar ice cap to reach the North Pole. (Don’t worry, it re-freezes.)

Stupid Question 3: "Where is the 'posh' or better side of the ship?"

Do you know the origin of the word “posh?” Back when ocean liners were the only way to cross the Atlantic, the preferred staterooms were those that faced “port out and starboard home.” As the ship crossed the North Atlantic, sunlight came into the room from the direction of the equator to the south. In a “posh” room you were on the port side (left) on the way to America, and the starboard side (right) on the way home – assuming you were British, of course.

So, the stupid answer is “posh,” but if you were American the answer was “soph.” Thus the correct answer is “it depends.” The posh concept only applied during North Atlantic crossings before ships were air conditioned, but people still ask this question all the time.

Stupid Question 4: "I ordered an ocean view stateroom so why am I overlooking the pier?"

There is another “stupid" question where a man who just boarded a ship goes to the captain and says, “I ordered an ocean view stateroom so why am I overlooking the pier?” What the man forgot is that the ship will be moving and the view will be changing.

But you don’t really want to be looking at warehouses in ports of call, so one side must be better, right? Yes and no. There is no way to predetermine the answer. When it comes to docking ships, the captain is always “parallel parking,” and he docks wherever the port has space, which could be on either the left or right side of the ship. No ship docks in exactly same place every time.

This is the most common "stupid" question, but people still ask it all the time because they want to see things from their balcony.

If you are sailing into New York Harbor I would say the starboard (right when facing forward) side is best, because Manhattan and Coney Island will be outside your room. However, the Statue of Liberty will be on the port side. The opposite applies if you are sailing out of the harbor. I could give you 100 examples like this depending upon your itinerary.

There are very few cases where one side of the ship has a distinct advantage over the other, and even when it does, it is very hard to know which side it will be in advance of arrival. So, if you don’t see what you want from your balcony, just leave your cabin and walk to the other side of the ship.

Let Me Answer Your Cruise Questions

Not all cruise questions are stupd. I understand that cruises are very complicated vacations, especially if it is new to you, so email me at editor@CruiseMates.com with your cruise question and I will try to answer it in this column.

Paul Motter is the co-founder and editor of CruiseMates.com cruise travel guide.