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Article from TNU SEPTEMBER 2023

CRUISE NEWS EXTRA - Hotels at sea

The modern cruise ship - A floating hotel at sea

Who can argue with the above title?  True, a luxury hotel will cater for both business and holiday clients, whilst a cruise ship’s whole purpose is to offer a vacation, away from the cares of the world. But it is a floating hotel.

Why is it that many ship hotel directors start their managerial careers in the hospitality business?  It is great training for going to sea. Let’s face it, administrating a large hotel is not that different to running a cruise ship.

Or is it?  Food for thought.

The Grosvenor House Hotel in London’s Park Lane is a 5-star property with around 500 guest rooms and a semi-permanent staff of approximately 750.  Saga Spirit of Adventure has 500 cabins for guests and 500 total crew.  

With the hotel, the staff is ever changing, but once you join a cruise ship you are on a contract that can be as long as nine months.  At the hotel you can resign, or even walk out, a real problem for the managers. 

Once on board the ship it is your home for the time being, the welfare of the crew in many ways just as important as the paying guests. You either work for the hotel General Manager’s various departments, or report via the hierarchy to the Captain.

The hotel guests stay for two days on average, not enough time to find your way about, let alone getting to know the staff.  And they do not have to be entertained from dawn into the wee small hours.  For Grosvenor House guests there is plenty of late-night entertainment locally.

Before reflecting on the hospitality aspects of the business let us consider the technical side.  Firstly Grosvenor House.

In charge of the hotel is the General Manager, a high-profile figurehead in many ways, the chief salesman when it comes to VIP guests.  He has to be immaculately turned out and available at all times. What he does have is 24-hour emergency cover, whether it be a serious hospital requirement (ships use helicopters) and if something is needed (simply anything) it can be found in London.  Security is a hotel problem, less so on a ship, and clients can be very demanding.  At busy times there can be 4,000 plus people in the building.

With the ship things are slightly different, ultimate responsibility vested with the Captain, not a distant board member.  The Captain is not an hotelier, although well versed with the social aspects of running a cruise ship. He is an ambassador for the line and has worked his way up through the officer ranks.  The best of them can be heard pontificating via the noon tannoy.  You never hear a hotel’s General Manager!

For the most part cruise passengers are an easy-going bunch, not always the case with their land-based equivalents.  For the ship the Hotel General Manager looks after the feeding of all (including the Captain) and also in the hierarchy is the Cruise Director, responsible for entertainment, a vital part of the cruise.  This position does not exist with the hotel, guests expected to make their own arrangements, although, and here the Grosvenor House is typical, the concierge has to be top quality knowing everything about London, and is well rewarded. 

Both operations have a front desk to deal with problems including extra charges and wrong bar bills, plus special requests.  With some cruise ships this area can be very busy, although with Saga, everything included, the only reason to normally visit is to collect the printed version of the latest daily emailed newspaper.  Posh cabins get it delivered.

Let’s not really compare amenities.  Both offer 24-hour room service, much easier on a ship, designed for purpose, unlike the hotel, a rabbit warren of rooms and kitchens. Both proffer butler services in the higher grade suites but the ship has dedicated services available for all at short notice. Amenities are similar with a coffee/teamaker, complimentary water, robes/slippers and courtesy wifi.  With the ships the satellite connection are improving all the time, but it can still vary.  Both hotel and ship provide an evening turndown service.  With Saga you only get UK 3 pin plugs and plenty of USB outlets.  Grosvenor House caters for an international clientle.  It also offers an iron an ironing board but under maritine law this is not allowed in the cabin.  With Saga there are laundrettes available for use, and a 24 hour turnaround via the cabin steward.

In a hotel clients can choose to dine in, or visit the many fine restaurants within walking distance. On a ship you are very much more restricted. 

The Grosvenor House has two fine ballrooms, the Great Room with a capacity of 2,000, with an ice-skating rink below, redundant, and the 1,000 people Ballroom.  The swimming pool went years ago, as did the squash courts.  Some cruise ships have both but the Park Lane enterprise does have a small keep fit gym, nothing like the massive facility on Saga Spirit of Adventure, upon which this review is based. 

The big difference between a ship and hotel, besides crewing skills, is provisions. At sea one has to be self-sufficient.  You cannot send a junior out for urgent requirements. With a river cruise ship the chef usually knows the local market at stopovers and will carefully select fish and local delicacies.  Not so with big cruise ships. 

For a 14-day cruise Spirit of Adventure must take on board at the departure port enough food to feed over 1,500 souls, and just a little bit more. The skill is ordering the right amount to suit the menus, and make sure whatever is set before clients looks as fresh on the last day as the first. 

The wine list is impressive with red, white and rose together totalling 4,110, bottles. Provisions also include  8,150 litres of milk, getting on for 45,000 eggs, 3,000 x 25 grams of butter, 6,600kg of meat, 4,700kg potatoes, 3,750kg of fish, 9,000kg of vegetables and 9,000kg of fruit, the bananas supplied just right for eating on the first day, during and on the last day of the cruise.  3,000 rolls of toilet paper.  The Grosenor House can top up their provisions at any time.

Saga has come up with some interesting statistics concerning Spirit of Adventure on board staff team of 509 looking after a full ship (currently off the Cornish coast) with 998 passengers.  A busy ship is good news for Saga shareholders.  The Plc does not believe in discounting late bookers.  First reservations get the best price.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that hotel staff go home at the end of their shift.  On a ship the team that is the crew literally ‘sleep on the premises’.  

Recruitment has never been a problem.  At this time 23 nationalities are represented, the largest contingent from the Philippines (349), followed by India (71), United Kingdom (34), and Ukraine (10).  Many countries have solo representatives and a very large message is posted as they emerge from the crew side.  “English is only to the spoken in public areas”. 

The breakdown of responsibilities is interesting.  And here in some sort of order.  

The galley staff are 96, bar 33 (drinks for the most part on Saga are included in the cruise price), entertainment 30, housekeeping 82, and the medics 6.  

If you want to aspire to be a captain of a hotel or ship the financial rewards are much the same.  With both jobs you are on 24-hour call, and the land-based executive can go home at night, whilst the person at sea may not see their household for many months, but can look forward to a long leave.  This simple format is true for all ranks.  

As they say, “You pays your money and makes your choice”.

See also www.travelnewsupdate.co.uk/article/373 in this month's TNU

www.marriott.com/en-us/hotels/longh-jw-marriott-grosvenor-house-london

https://travel.saga.co.uk/cruises

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