Whether you're a cruise geek or have special dietary requirements, it's a treat to get a peek at a cruise ship's kitchen (known as the galley), where those flashy buffets and fancy dishes are prepared. Not every ship or sailing allows a look behind the scenes, but some offer galley tours to curious passengers. These can be an entertaining way to spend part of a sea day or chat one-on-one with talented chefs.
Some cruise ship galley tours are free and listed in the daily newsletter as an activity. Others cost extra, and participant numbers are limited. Sometimes tours are reserved for elite members of a cruise line's loyalty program.
Typically, galley tours last no more than an hour, and visitors are walked through the food preparation areas to see how everything is made. You might see where baked goods are prepared from scratch, how desserts are crafted for various parts of the ship, and even where special dishes are cooked separately for those with allergies and dietary restrictions (such as where gluten-free bread is baked).
You'll see a lot of stainless steel and hear how the galley crew keeps everything clean and sanitary. You'll likely be impressed by the size of the appliances -- like the giant stand mixers.
Passengers on galley tours will learn a lot from the crew member leading the tour. Especially fascinating is how chefs can prepare meals for hundreds of people simultaneously and still take special requests (for example, how meat is cooked). A galley tour will explain how chefs can predict which dishes will be most popular and how cruise ships adjust their provisioning based on the passenger list or ports of call.
You can also see how servers on many ships input passenger orders into a computer, allowing the requests to be transmitted electronically to the kitchen.
Some lines offer more immersive galley tours with chef's table experiences. Princess Cruises, for example, serves diners at a chef's table inside the galley so they can get an up-close view of food preparation at the height of the dinner rush. Just remember, you'll be required to wear closed-toed shoes any time you're in the galley, even for an upscale dinner.