I’ve just completed my third seven-day cruise in the last three years, but it was my first opportunity to go below deck and see the onboard laundry operations. While everything about a cruise is first-class, the ship simply isn’t set up to allow passengers that kind of access.
A cruise ship is like a large, floating five-star hotel, divided between public areas and the “back-of-the-house” or staff areas. While I enjoyed going on an Alaskan cruise my first time out, I must admit the experience would’ve been infinitely better had I been able to see the laundry then.
On my second cruise, this one to the western Caribbean, I simply relaxed and enjoyed the view. It’s hard to focus on work and laundries when you’re on a boat going through the Panama Canal.
But I decided then and there that if my wife ever succeeded in talking me into taking another cruise, I’d try using my background in the laundry industry to get in to see the ship’s laundry.
In March, we boarded the Legend, a Carnival Cruise Lines ship, for another western Caribbean cruise, but this time to different ports of call. It’s the same ship we’d taken for our Panama Canal cruise, so I was familiar with its layout. With a little help from Bruce Beggs, the editor of American Laundry News, I had contacted the public relations department ahead of time and been promised a tour of the laundry on the cruise’s fourth day.
Since a cruise ship does a complete linen turnover in about four hours while docked in its home port, the laundry is crowded and normally backed up the first couple of days of the next cruise.
On Wednesday night, I met Pittra Kurniawan, the laundry manager, and Atanaska Bukosova, the housekeeping manager. They explained that one of the challenges in putting a laundry into a cruise ship is the height of the decks and the limited floor space. I certainly missed my laundry’s 22-foot ceilings as I toured the Legend’s laundry department.
The laundry is located near the front of the boat. The clean-linen storage area is in the bow; I saw the slanted walls of the bow clearly during my tour. The service elevators separate the linen room from the laundry’s processing area. The first set of watertight bulkheads separate the elevator area from the processing area. During rough seas, the bridge will close this watertight door, essentially making it impossible to get linen into or out of the laundry. I must point out that the laundry staff has an alternate route out a back stairwell.
The laundry is equipped with five 300-pound and two 60-pound washer-extractors, six 150-pound steam dryers, a two-roll ironer, and some finishing equipment to handle the staff uniforms. Space is extremely limited, and folding equipment and requirements are kept at a minimum.
Its daily workload consists of table linen, uniforms, bath towels and pool towels. The bath towels and hand towels used in the passenger rooms are laid out flat and then folded over for delivery to the room stewards. The pool towels, some 4,000 a day, are run through an automatic towel folder.
As with any laundry, lint is a fire hazard and a source of potential problems for drive bearings. I was impressed with the laundry’s cleanliness and the entire department’s lint-free appearance.
An old friend of mine used to sell and install pads on the ironers used on cruise ships. The low ceiling must have made changing the pads a real challenge.
Members of the laundry crew sign a tour-of-duty contract that normally lasts eight months. Workers from Indonesia staff the Legend’s laundry. Kurniawan pointed out that there are a number of dialects spoken in that area of the world. He continues to struggle with most of the same diversity issues that I do in my laundry. Many of his employees don’t speak English. They’re encouraged to learn the language and to advance in the organization to become room stewards in the “front of the house.”
Fourteen workers covering two shifts staff the laundry each day. Because the laundry sits low in the boat, its workers are subject to a smaller range of motions than the passengers feel above on the upper decks. When the Legend is in very rough seas, not only does part of the crew get motion sickness, the volume of laundry also increases.
Another scarce commodity on a boat is fresh water. The laundry uses what is called technical water, made up from a combination of air-conditioner condensate, evaporators and a reverse-osmosis process. If required, this technical water supply will also be topped up with water that’s bunkered in port. Technical water isn’t potable and therefore isn’t treated in any way. The laundry normally doesn’t need to top up its water supply with potable water, I learned.
During my 36 years in the laundry industry, I’ve been fascinated by the way each segment of our industry attempts to maximize the use of its laundry.
I’ve been privileged to visit and work with laundries in prisons, hotels, motels, healthcare and surgical pack rooms. Each industry has specific challenges that it needs to meet. The cruise ship laundry I visited has maximized the use of space (both floor and vertical space) and water while producing a high-quality product.
To accomplish this while faced with the added challenges of a moving ship and a constantly changing staff of foreign workers is a tribute to good management.