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A recent TV documentary highlighted the importance of a well-run laundry on-board cruise ships. Janice Raycroft goes below deck to look at how it’s done.

Cruise ship holidays continue to grow in popularity with everything from round the world trips to short visits to European sights. Then there are specialist interest sailings and now even ones aimed at the growing ‘Millennial Market’ with everything from comedy clubs to ziplining.

Family-friendly cruises are exceptionally popular, such as those offered by Norwegian Cruise Line which can include the likes of circus schools and parties for teenagers to escape from both parents and littler ones. For those with an interest in history, music and art alongside top end cuisine, Viking Cruises provides a much more serene and intimate alternative with a focus on cultural enrichment both on board and on shore. They took delivery of their sixth ship earlier this year, Viking Jupiter. For those enjoying the trip of a lifetime or a family break with a difference it can be a chance to marvel at the delights of a floating palace with superb entertainment and food, wonderful service and trips to the spa, all with new sights as you rise each morning. But few think of what’s lurking out of sight perhaps a few decks below, particularly the hardworking laundry and housekeeping staff beavering away.

For once though this year they were – if not the stars of the show – given decent billing when a Channel Five documentary, Secrets of the Mega Cruise Ship, explored below deck on board the £1billion MSC Seaside. The large laundry room was featured, giving workers there a chance to highlight just how important freshly washed linen is for the ship’s running, alongside the service of cleaning the clothes of those on board, both immaculately turned out staff and the cruise guests they serve and entertain. While those enjoying the top end of the MSC experience may well have a suave butler to look after their needs, the laundry deals include options covering up to 40 items and some cruise fans like to have their clothes washed, folded and ready to store just before the end of their journey so that they return home with nothing to clean. These days there’s even a baby laundry service using gentle cleansing agents.

Also, behind the scenes and well away from all the sparkle of life on the ocean wave, are those working to improve the environmental aspects of their onboard laundries, alongside other waste management issues. For instance, on Holland America Line ships wetcleaning replaced drycleaning, using a Miele system, while Royal Caribbean worked with Ecolab to introduce phosphate-free, biodegradable detergent.

AIDA Cruises, with its casual and premium line concept featuring Carnival Corporation’s ‘green cruising’ design saw the AIDAnova make its debut last year as the world’s first cruise ship to be fully powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) both in port and at sea. At the other end of the scale Seabourn is now taking bookings for a 140-day voyage of the world visiting 32 countries in 2021 aboard Seaborn Sojourn which includes unlimited laundry, drycleaning and pressing on board. Around the world more cruise liners are being built to handle the growing market, such as at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, where P&O Cruises 180,000-ton ship, Iona, will be powered by liquefied natural gas, making it the UK’s greenest ship. For the laundry experts who design the layout and then fit the equipment it means being in at the beginning of the process as the rarely seen workings of the lowest decks are first to take shape.

It’s complex and detailed work completed a long time before any passengers come on board. And then there is refitting of well-travelled ships’ laundries when this becomes necessary, plus easy fit and easily obtainable spares for the equivalent of a hotel which spends much of its time at sea. For this, timing and speed of delivery becomes crucial as any such need is usually done in port while those enjoying their holiday cruise are blissfully unaware and enjoying a day or two of excursions before heading back to sea. Carnival, the owners of the Adonia, were well aware of this when they chose HJ Weir to supply a Foldmaker 55 for the refit of their ship’s laundry operation. The refitting of any area on board a large cruise liner is a massive undertaking and suppliers are given a tight window to complete their tasks. In this instance the folder was delivered to the onboard laundry via a large hole that was cut into the side of the ship. HJ Weir engineering staff at least got a chance to fly to the Bahamas to undertake installation. The space on board was very tight and there were numerous challenges to overcome to connect the machine to the existing services. The folder was also supplied with an AGS drop stacker to improve efficiency.

Timing was everything as there was a deadline for the ship to set sail to Cuba. “HJ Weir completed the task on time and the machine was operational in advance of sailing,” recalls Ross Weir, MD of HJ Weir Engineering. “We were well aware of the tight deadlines that we had to meet, and as usual, our engineers delivered. It’s not something that is unusual for us, we pride ourselves on meeting our customers’ expectations. “The machine was an important part of the installation of a new ironer line and was expected to produce excellent results on the high seas. HJ Weir have supported the machine with their spare part service and it continues to provide the quantity and quality required for the busy laundry operation.” It’s clear that whether onshore or offshore, the marine industry needs a commercial laundry partner which can manufacture equipment with cost efficient processes and flexible programmes. This applies not just to cruise liners but all facilities, travelling or static, on our seas.

Girbau provides complete marine laundry solutions for cruise liners as well as luxurious private yachts which catch our eye in harbours. There’s a global service support network and marine specific warranty packages. Girbau understands the technical demands of marine laundry equipment and that washers must be equipped to remove tough stains while preserving important protective features of workwear, plus being capable of eco-friendly delicate cleaning for the crew’s uniforms or guests’ delicate textiles.

Their laundry system is manufactured to withstand heavy use in a challenging climate, and Girbau only recommend their most robust machines with stainless steel components with a longer lifespan for marine fittings. Girbau marine equipment is available in capacities from 8kg to 110kg with control options and customisable programmes for any fabric or degree of soilage. But beyond the ‘seaworthy’ equipment, most peace of mind may well come from that fact that users have a single contact – with global benefits including technical assistance service and remote support for a made to measure on-board laundry. A senior housekeeper on a prestigious cruise ship can expect to spend at least half of each working day ‘front-of-house’, often interacting with passengers while also inspecting the likes of guest staterooms and balconies so that they are maintained to the highest standards.

Behind the scenes they also have a role in making sure the same applies to officer cabins as well as overseeing the onboard laundry and housekeeping storage areas. In the laundry itself, many staff will have transferred from similar roles on land – particularly those at a supervisory level requiring experience and specialised knowledge of cleaning agents and equipment. But, just like the managerial housekeeper, they must be flexible and willing to turn their hand to any duties which need urgent attention to ensure guests leave their cruise with the best memories.

Of particular importance on cruise ships is strict hygiene requirements to ensure contamination does not become an issue – illnesses such as norovirus and other gastrointestinal complaints can spread more easily in the confined space of a ship. For both housekeeping management and all those involved in the cleaning operation correct training is as is important as it for those preparing food. In the laundry this means the strictest hygiene requirements and meeting internationallyrecognised standards such as HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) certification with washing programmes which disinfect all uniforms and cloths used in food preparation.

All of this is going on out of sight of those lounging on deck, choosing their next excursion or taking their pick of delicious dishes and cocktails. So perhaps the last word should go to one of the laundry team featured in that Channel five documentary: “This is huge, without the laundry there’s nothing going to happen,” she says.

You’ll find the more articles in the September/October edition of Housekeeping Today UK. Subscribe for your edition or browse online here.

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