Restocking Your Cruise Ship Vacation


One thing that all cruise ships have in common is the amount of food and drink available. A big part of the vacation experience is not having to worry about cooking or cleaning, having a great selection of different foods to enjoy and relaxing with your favourite drink. So what goes into making sure there’s enough food, drink and supplies on board?

Planning Ahead

It’s not a coincidence that your cruise has your favourite food and drink. Cruise lines work hard to identify what their guests like, or don’t like, and this can even be tailored to an individual sailing. Lots of kids coming on board? You know the ship will be taking on extra pizza, burgers and fries! More guests from the USA? Stock up on Bud Light! A larger percentage of Dutch guests? Make sure some good bread, cheese and cold cuts are available at breakfast. This might sound a little cliché, but it’s the simple things that make a big difference when you’re trying to make guests feel at home.

How much food do ships go through? In just one day, a ship can use around;

  • 500 gallons of milk
  • 8,000 eggs
  • 2,000 pounds of potatoes
  • 3,500 pounds of fresh vegetables
  • 2,000 pounds of chicken
  • 450 bottles of wine
  • 1200 bottles of beer

When operating globally, bringing the taste of home to the other side of the world takes careful planning. Just to ship a container from the USA to the UK takes around three weeks! When the ship is on longer voyages where it doesn’t repeat ports very often, supplies that don’t arrive in time might miss the ship entirely.

It isn’t only food and drinks that need to be ordered – but spare parts and the running supplies for the ship too. Bringing all these items from hundreds of manufacturers to the right place, at the right time, needs to be carefully coordinated.

Before the Cruise Ship Arrives

Not everything that comes on board is delivered straight to the ship. A lot of small deliveries would cause traffic problems, fill the port area with trucks and be a nightmare to coordinate! To help prevent this, a ‘consolidator’ can be used. Their role is to receive all these small deliveries and gather them together into larger pallets-sized groups. They’ll then arrange these pallets to be delivered to the ship using trucks and forklift movements efficiently.

This is also an opportunity to reduce the waste on board. Excess packaging can be removed, so as stores and supplies are used on board there isn’t as much cardboard or plastic waste generated.

The timing of different deliveries also needs to be considered. Having a truckload of frozen seafood sitting in the sun for hours isn’t good for anyone! Frozen and chilled produce will often be delivered first, allowing them to be quickly stored in the ship’s chillers before corridors and storerooms become blocked with the rest of the supplies. Dry products and spare parts can be handled in a more flexible manner, working around the different operations planned for the day.

Cruise Turnaround Day

The minute the ship is safely tied up to the dock, the loading operation begins!

First off – luggage. Over the next few hours, thousands of guests will be disembarking the ship, passing through immigration and customs and going their separate ways home. Cruise lines will collect the luggage the night before, and have it all taken off the ship together. While most guests will collect it themselves in the cruise terminal, some cruise lines offer a service where the luggage will be transferred directly to the airport. However it is handled, taking it all off together is much more efficient than guests walking off with their own luggage – and it’s one less thing for guests to worry about!

As stores start to arrive at the port, they’re carefully checked over. As the safety and security of the vessel is the top priority, a canine sniffer unit will work through each pallet before it is loaded on board, checking the contents are what they should be, and don’t contain drugs and explosives. Food and drink will then be checked for quality, quantity and freshness and then finally hoisted onto the ship by forklift.

Pallet of Oranges
Pallet of Oranges

Once on board, each pallet is immediately unpacked into their assigned storage area. In order to stop pests (and waste!), wooden pallets aren’t stored on the ship, and cardboard packaging is reduced as much as possible. Stainless steel pallets are carried on board, so stores are transferred to these. These pallets are kept clean and sanitised to make for healthy storage spaces.

Ship Storage Spaces

The ship’s stores are divided into different areas based on how the stores or produce should be kept, and which department is responsible for them.

Freezers and refrigerated spaces are kept at carefully controlled temperatures for meat, seafood and fresh produce. Secondary spaces for safely thawing frozen items are available too. This temperature control is an important part of the food safety on board and is checked by the United States Public Health and other government bodies when they inspect each ship.

Urban myth busted? No, cruise ships don’t store food in the morgue!

Many cruise ships have a dedicated morgue. When not needed, the chilled space can be used for other purposes, for examply to keep flowers fresh.

Dry stores are divided between food items, beverage items and other stock such as stationary. Some stock items may have specific storage needs, for example, chemicals, paint or flammable items. Each has a particular area designed to meet the needs of what is stored there. This also helps with emergency response as the teams responding know what they can expect to find in each part of the ship.

Once on board, each area is managed by a team of storekeepers from every department. They maintain stock levels, ensure the oldest items are used first and prepare orders for distribution throughout the ship.

Before Sailing

Now that all the stores have been replenished, the new guests need their luggage brought on board! Just like taking luggage off, it is much more efficient to collect the luggage in the terminal and load it all together. Once on board, it is distributed to the appropriate stateroom ready and waiting for the guests. With ships carrying over 6,000 guests now, that’s a lot of bags to move on and off the ship!

Keeping today’s ships stocked and ready to go is a massive undertaking. With the ship only in port a few hours, everything needs to go smoothly in order to sail on time. Careful planning and preparation, as well as many years of experience, ensures your next cruise vacation has all the comforts of home wherever you are in the world.

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