Gardening Green Thumb An Allure Asset

His name is Thomas Brownlee, home is in Arizona (Gilbert, near Phoenix) and when he talks about his life, here is one of the things he says:

“I like to cook, so I spend most of my time in the kitchen, and I go out mountain hiking. I don’t like to do what anybody else does.”

That, perhaps, explains his job.

He works on Allure of the Seas, which shares the title “biggest cruise ship in the world” Tom Brownleewith its sister, Oasis of the Seas. But lots of people work on the big ships. What he does on Allure fits his criteria of being unique.

He’s in charge of Central Park.

His title is “landscape specialist” and, yes, that means it helps if Tom’s thumb is green. Chief gardener he is, among other things. A past that includes being in executive management or a company with 115 employees committed to commercial land management for five-star resorts was a good start in the credentials department.

Experience at sea was not.

“I used to live close to the beach in southern California,” he says. “I can snorkel but prior to this I never did much on the water. I never knew anything like this existed. I was instantly hooked.”

Like a fish at sea.

He is in charge of three full-time gardeners on Allure of the Seas charged with keeping Central Park — the only real park at sea that isn’t on Oasis — looking like a park.

“I like the plants…and plants are plants,” he says, “I know how to cut things back and make them look good.”

That’s what Royal Caribbean’s head-hunting team thought after interviewing Thomas Brownlee three years ago.

“I had my resume posted, there was a few phone calls, some Skyping, and it kept going higher and higher,” he remembers. “They said they had been searching for me for a year. They said they could describe it all day long but that I had to see this to believe it. When I did, my first word was ‘Wow!’”

Since the cruise line’s marketing is built around “Wow!” that was an excellent start. Royal Caribbean’s people sent him home to write a full report and before long he was spending half his life at sea, where his work includes not just the plants on the ship, but everything Central Parkthat the plants attract. In short, he has to make sure the standards of regulatory watchdogs like the U.S. Department of Agriculture are met. There have been some interesting challenges.

Like the time a wild iguana boarded the ship in St. Thomas — “He had his own little sea pass,” quips Thomas — and the time an osprey flow onto the ship during a storm off the coast of Cuba, and the time crickets threatened to outnumber passengers when the ship was in Haiti.

“We had a call one night about crickets being on balconies,” he says. “They only come out at night, and we were able to isolate them in one area of the ship, and turn off the cricket sounds. Once they get in plants, that’s Beverly Hills for them!”

While there have been many problems he couldn’t have anticipated, there haven’t been any he (and his people) were unable to solve. It’s not like a walk in the park, or even just grooming a miniature version of THE Central Park, but clearly he has maintained his sense of humor.

Along with his WOW!

Because his biggest kick working on Allure of the Seas is still this: “Where else can you go at sea, and see a park?”

Today at portsandbows.com: Norwegian’s new Escape

Regal Princess
7 nights
November 16, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Princess Cays, St. Thomas, St. Maarten
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71
www.princess.com

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