Preparing a meal for one person may be a big challenge for some. Now imagine having to prepare meals for 5,000 people, every single day!
That is precisely the task faced by the galley (kitchen) crew on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas.
So just how does the crew go about preparing the sumptuous buffet spreads and delicious restaurant meals that the luxury cruise is well-known for?
Stores and stocks
The whole process starts deep within the vessel's lowest decks, a world away from the luxurious staterooms or the glamorous Royal Promenade.
Here, the metallic walls and floor, large vaults and men working in white coats make it seem like you're in some secret underground lab. But this is actually the storage area for all the supplies.
Every Monday, a week's worth of supplies have to be loaded on board before the cruise sets sail. Sounds straightforward enough, until you realise that there are just a few precious hours to load up tens of thousands of kilos worth of supplies.
The sheer quantity of supplies that the ship needs is jaw-dropping. For instance, the ship brings on 1,200 gallons of fresh milk, which is enough to fill a typical bathtub 30 times over.
The ship has 18 storerooms, each one for specific items, and no stone is left unturned to ensure that the products' quality is not compromised. The ice cream and meat stores, for example, are better suited for eskimos with their below-freezing temperatures.
Meanwhile, did you also know that red wine is stored separately from white wine and beer? This is because the reds need to be kept at a slightly warmer temperature.
Inventory manager Sunil Dondapati explained that stock orders are placed up to three months in advance. "We use a software that helps us determine how much to order," he said. "This is very important because if we order too much, then we'll have a problem with storage; but if we order too little of a certain product, then we might have to buy it at some of our docking points at three to four times the cost."
Into the galleys
So is it really necessary for the vessel to carry so much stuff? Absolutely.
"Within a 24-hour cycle with between 3,500 and 3,800 guests and 1,200 crew on board, we dispatch about 15,000 meals," Mr Anil George, the executive chef on Mariner of the Seas, said.
The ship has three main galleys, including one known as the 'mother kitchen'. 50 to 60 per cent of the volume of all food operations are prepared here, before they are dispatched to the 18 satellite kitchens in various parts of the ship.
The galley crew involves some 135 cooks, 65 galley stewards and 10 management team members. Together, they prepare food and meals for the cruise's main dining room, as well as its various other dining establishments.
A shipshape operation
Unsurprisingly for such a massive operation, nothing is left to chance. Everything, from how waiters take orders, the preparation of the meals, and even the disposal of food waste post-meal, is performed with military-like precision.
Once orders are taken, different chefs are in charge of preparing different portions of the meal, before the plates are lined up for the service staff to collect for serving.
The kitchen and service staff have to work especially closely at meal times to ensure that the food is served promptly. Even the slightest of delays will affect the turnaround time that they need to prepare the next serving.
Being on board a ship on the high seas, ensuring that the food is prepared cleanly is also essential. Hence, the storerooms and galleys are kept squeaky-clean and dry at all times, with no sign of any mess. All the food waste is also separated into bins and then either recycled (for cans and glasses), or incinerated.
An old saying goes: A hungry man is an angry man. On Mariner of the Seas' however, guests are always well-fed, with no shortage of dining options to satisfy all palettes.
But it's worth remembering that all of it, from the poolside cocktails to the succulent steaks, are literally made possible by a massive underground operation.