A CONVERSATION WITH
HOTEL GENERAL MANAGER
by Richard H. Wagner
A CONVERSATION WITH
HOTEL GENERAL MANAGER
by Richard H. Wagner
Hotel General Manager Dirk Brand began his career working for such major hotel chains as Crown Plaza and Intercontinental. However, he really made his mark after going to sea, managing the hotel operations on a string of Princess Cruises' ships and by helping to shape the hotel department on Cunard's Queen Mary 2. Naturally, Princess turned to him to develop the hotel operation on its latest class of ships.
Regal Princess and her sister ship Royal Princess, the first ship in the class, are not merely bigger versions of the prior Princess ships. “We did a lot of big steps for us, a lot of new innovation. There were a lot of changes.”
“There are a lot of new features on these vessels. The amazing spa down there, the Lotus Spa, Princess Live, the On-Demand television system. The open decks are completely different. The Retreat Pool and the Sanctuary, the Night Sky Lounge. Beautiful signature areas like the Seawalk and the Seaview Bar.”
“Then, of course, the Piazza. The Piazza is the heart of the ship - - The entertainment there and the beauty of the Piazza.”
“A lot of amazing new shows. Fierra, Spectacular, Bravo is an absolutely sensational. The theater is much bigger with a beautiful digital screen behind [the stage]. It is like a combination of the talented team we have, the dancers and singers, and behind is that the digital screen. It makes quite an impression.”
With regard to dining, the ships have permanent homes for the feasts of the Chef's Table and the Winemakers dinner pairings. On a more casual note, they have large versions of Alfredo's Pizzeria. “Alfredo's was just voted best pizzeria on the seven seas. The buffet for me is one of the biggest innovations that we have on this ship. The Horizon Court and the Bistro area and the biggest pastry area at sea. Just that pastry area is nearly as big as the buffet that we had on the Ruby [Princess].”
“It is a big evolution for us and it is an amazing product. We are very proud of this ship and it is a magnificent, very innovative and beautiful ship. We get very good feedback. It takes a little time to get used to something new and I think the guests appreciate it more and more. It is very nice to see that we did the right thing. It is nice to work even harder to fine tune things, to do more and not to get too steady.”
“Change is very good. Change is part of our daily life. But with all this innovation, you still have the feel that it is a Princess ship. You still have the signature areas and items. You still have the caring crew and the amazing food and service. It is a very elegant and beautiful ship.”
Regal v. Royal
While Regal Princess is based upon the same design as Royal Princess but the two ships are not identical. “Like with the Grand class vessels - - from the Grand, a couple of ships to the Crown class, then from the Crown, the Emerald, the Ruby, [the ships] evolved and we made little changes and improvements as we worked on them everyday.”
“Some changes here from Royal: We added the pool on the back, which is well received. We did some changes to the Princess Live.” This included a new entrance and a window looking into the room from the indoor promenade to accommodate curious passerbys.
The Princess Theater was also changed. On Royal Princess, “we were thinking and hoping that we could add more seats. The reality was that it was hard for people to get in and out. Then people tend not to go there. So instead of gaining seats, we lost seats. So we added aisles on the sides.”
One issue on Royal Princess has been the waiting time for the midship elevators. This is primarily due to the fact that the midship passenger staircase does not go all the way through the ship and so guests have to take the elevators to go from the public decks to their cabins.
“We have a good elevator company and you can program them in different ways. [On Regal], we programmed it a little different. We try different things. It works pretty good here. If there is something like the midship staircase missing, you are never going to totally overcome it but you can improve it. On the [next ship in the class, due in 2017], I believe we are going to have the midships staircase.”
Bring a ship into service
It is not too much to say that Mr. Brand has brought many Princess ships into service including Ruby Princess, Royal Princess and now Regal Princess. “New builds are very rewarding experiences. The team bonds together like you do not find any place else. The people work so hard and are so dedicated to getting the ship ready in time. They take total ownership of it. It is like our home. You see the ship [change from] a stainless steel structure sitting in the shipyard and then it turns into a beautiful shiny gorgeous cruise ship.”
The process of bringing a ship into service begins long before the first cruise. In fact, the team begins to assemble at the shipyard well before the ship is completed. “The staff captain, the chief engineer are there half a year before or more. Usually I am in the shipyard two months before.” The rest of the crew arrives on a staggered schedule as the ship progresses towards completion.
“In the beginning, your computer is not there, your phone is not there and maybe you don't have air conditioning, no water yet. You appreciate very simple things.”
“We stay several months here on the ship. [At first,] we live shoreside close to the shipyard. Then the crew moves onto the ship [as it becomes habitable]”. Even then facilities such as air conditioning are occasionally shut off to allow testing and other work.
“When you have a team assemble in the shipyard, they all meld and bond together. It doesn't matter what rank you have, what position you have, everybody works together to get the ship out, to get her ready. Whatever needs to be done [gets done], whether it is moving boxes or cleaning the ship to get her ready in time.”
“It is like when you built your home when you bring out the ship. You work really hard. Probably there are some challenges and issues you have to resolove like when you build a home. Everybody focuses to get it done in time. It is amazing how active and innovative they become.”
“Every single crew member is working together in harmony. We have a very international group - - up to 50 nationalities on the ship. It is amazing how they all work together in harmony. The phrase 'everybody is in the same boat', really has a meaning.”
“The Royal came out very successfully. The Regal came out even more smoothly because we all learned, the shipyard, the ship team. We knew what to expect.”
“When the ship launches and you get great comments from the guests who really love and enjoy the ship, that is when the crew can be very proud of what they have achieved. Then all the work is worth it big time. We take great pride and ownership of the ship. We all love it.”
Of course, the original team cannot stay on the ship forever, people go on leave or transfer to other ships. “After half a year, you have new crew coming. We have people coming from smaller ships, new hires. We welcome them to the team, integrate them, and train them. You have this good bond and it is up to us [i.e., management] to maintain that bond.”
“We do a lot of stuff for the crew to thank them for their hard work. If the crew is happy, they make the guests happy. At the end of the day, in my opinion, it is the crew number one then the ship. A beautiful ship – absolutely and a lot of people come back because the ship is beautiful but criteria number one is the crew. You can have the most beautiful ship with the most innovations but if we didn't have all the amazing crew, people would not come back. I try and explain to the crew all the time, 'you guys make the difference.”
Cruise ship interview - - Princess Cruises - - Regal Princess - - Hotel General Manager Dirk Brand