On a recent shipyard tour to see Harmony of the Seas — Royal Caribbean’s biggest new ship, which launches in May — we caught up with the man who «transitions» all Royal ships which visit Europe each summer. Known by some as «the man who makes sure the right tea bags are onboard UK-based ships», Regional Product Manager Tim Steadman does a lot more than this. We find out how he prepares the Royal fleet for their European sojourns.
Q: What is the number-one essential item on a U.S. cruise ship based in the U.K.?
A: Tea. PG and Tetley’s — nothing too fancy — that’s what British passengers want. The right tea bags are actually more important than having kettles in the room, though if a guest wants one we carry about 500 onboard. Anthem of the Seas did have kettles in the staterooms for the duration of its U.K. season, and we removed them just before the ship set sail for the U.S.
Q: What are the other essential items for Brits?
A: English bacon, English sausages, Marmite, mid-afternoon high tea, scotch eggs, sausage rolls, Tango, slimline tonic, Gordon’s gin, curry corner, hot dessert, pie of the day, fish ‘n’ chips… We’re creatures of habit, us Brits. I can reveal some exciting news for Navigator of the Seas and Independence of the Seas [both of which will be U.K.-based this season]: fish ‘n’ chips will be «a la minute» — deep fried to order — rather than pre-battered fish hanging around in metal trays getting soggy.
Q: Apart from food, what else do you oversee?
A: Everything revenue-facing, which includes the spa, photo shops, retail and the casino, as well as shore excursions, guest services, crew language sourcing, entertainment and food and beverage. So for example, I’ll be checking whether we’ve got the right type of entertainment onboard, in other words whether the comedian is culturally right for the country the ship is in. We used a Spanish comedian on Allure during its stay in Barcelona last year, and we’ve rebooked him for Harmony.
For Brits, the right TV channels are also very important, whether we’re showing major sports such as football matches, rugby, the Olympic, that sort of thing.
Q: What ships are you in charge of transitioning?
A: Harmony, Independence, Brilliance, Jewel, Navigator, Rhapsody, Splendour [until it becomes Thomson Discovery], Serenade and Vision of the Seas.
Q: How do you know what to get onboard, apart of course from innate knowledge of Brits’ needs?
A: It’s a combination of things. Perhaps the most important are Customer Service Questionnaires, I look at each cultural response, whether it’s the Brits or the Spanish. Then there are our [loyalty club] Crown & Anchor guests, they are very important to us. And I also look at what your members are saying about Royal Caribbean — the Cruise Critic Boards are a very valuable source of information.
Q: How does the transitioning process work?
A: I make two visits to the ships — six weeks out to establish what is needed, as that is how long a container takes to get to the ship. It means if something important is missing, I can still get it in time. Then three weeks before, to make sure everything is in place. And then I make a call one week before the transition just to make sure everything is O.K.
The actual transitioning happens before the ship leaves the U.S., so it’s effectively transitioned on its crossing, and vice versa, as it has to be seamless for when it reaches its new homeport. So, by the time Harmony leaves for Spain in early June, there will be Spanish food onboard. The comedian will join the ship once it is in Barcelona.
The key is to ensure that we retain the core culture and DNA of Royal Caribbean, but at the same time being sensitive to the cultural differences with our guests.
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