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What happens when an empty cruise ship returns to service without any passengers

05 Apr 2023
Matt Hochberg

Following a dry dock in Europe, Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas concluded a transatlantic crossing without any passengers onboard, and yet, the crew still do a great deal of work to prepare for paying guests.

What happen on an empty ship

About every five years, Royal Caribbean's cruise ships go into dry dock for maintenance work.  This is when ships are taken out of the water and preventative work is done all around the ship.

In the case of Mariner of the Seas, she went back and forth between North America and Europe without any cruise passengers onboard. You might think the crew would have nothing to do, but there's a surprising amount of things happening on a ship with just the crew.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Director Marc Walker shared a glimpse of what happens via his Facebook page, and it's a fascinating peek behind the curtain of the work done to prepare for passengers.

Cruise Director Marc Walker

"Understandably you may think we don’t do much during dry dock, but there is a lot to do, especially our 8 day crossing back," he posted at the start of crossing home.

"We are now in dress rehearsals for the ice show and theater production shows, live music runs, all theme nights are now rehearsed and ready, many safety trainings and Royal standards being presented, and lots of dusting."

Through Mr. Walker's posts, here's a look at some of the things crew members do on a cruise ship even without any passengers to service.

Mock boarding day

Marc Walker on Royal Promenade

One one day of the crossing back to Florida, the ship pretended it was embarkation day so that crew members could practice the muster drill process.

Royal Caribbean's eMuster process means guests don't have to line up and hear safety information at their muster station.  Instead, they complete most of the process on their digital devices before reporting to their muster station so they are aware of where it is located.

The change to an eMuster process has been a revelation in the cruise industry, and a huge hit with passengers.

Since the goal of this return trip is to get everything and everyone ready for passengers, every process of the cruise experience needs to be refined.

Flush all the toilets at the same time


Part of the process to prep the ship for a regular day is to ensure all of its systems work well, including the toilets.

Mr. Walker noted on the second day of the return trip was, "super chlorination day", which means all the crew members need to run all faucets, showers and toilets manually,  "to make them nice and clean."

In fact, every 10 minutes starting at 7:30am, Mr. Walker would get on the ship's public address system to tell crew members to flush.

Dining room dry run

Main dining room staff preparing

As Mariner of the Seas gets ready to return to service, crew members need to get back into their routines, including the dining room staff.

In order to prepare the Main Dining Room staff for passengers, Mariner of the Seas treated a number of crew members to dinner in this venue, where other crew played the role of guests so that the wait staff can get practice.

Not only does this give the Main Dining Room a good exercise, but it also rewards other crew members with a meal in a venue they don't ordinarily get to enjoy.

Dance parties with no one in attendance

70s dance party crew backstage

The ship's entertainment staff needs practice too, so they practice the popular dance parties held in the Royal Promenade, even if there's no one really there.

Mr. Walker talked about the putting on these shows, "Tonight we performed our classic 70s Disco Inferno for the fabulous Mariner of the Seas crew. We have a lot of new Royals so as part of our simulation cruise, we are treating them to all of our shows and theme events, plus tonight we gave away some amazing prizes!"

Empowering crew members

Crew member advancement

Crew members on a ship may start out in one role, but many will advance through the ranks in part due to the cruise line's programs aimed at advancing their careers.

Mr. Walker highlighted the "Getting Started as a New Leader" program that promotes crew members from within, instead of looking to hire new managers outside the company.

"Myself, Natalie my assistant, and Gemma my Sports Manager today congratulated Sports Staff Natalia, and Cruise Staff Nenad and Milos for their certification. They are our future leaders - and really cool people!"

Prepare the shows

Center Stage crew and cast

Each Royal Caribbean cruise ship has a cast of performers, as well as an array of technicians, that produce shows for guests.

The featured show on Mariner of the Seas is, "Center Stage", and on the final night before Mariner of the Seas returned to Port Canaveral, the cast and crew held an opening night performance.

The cast for a show will be onboard a ship for a few months before a new cast comes onboard to replace them.  

"Here are all the amazing and talented cast, orchestra, stage stage, techs, and Miami install team. Yes it’s a lot for one show, but that’s how we roll," Mr. Walker noted.

"Very proud of them all."

backstage view of show

The "Gallery of Dreams" cast also got their opening night performance, and they put on the show for other crew members.

"The crew got to enjoy this show tonight which is something they don’t usually get to see," noted Mr. Walker.

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost expert on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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