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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

Ocean Parks That Cruise The World

How do you “park a park” in the middle of the ocean? You do what Royal Caribbean did and build one into the hull of the biggest cruise ship in the world. That would be Oasis of the Seas…or Allure of the Seas…or Oasis III, the unofficial name for the third of what may be four ships in this class when the dust settles.

And you call the innovation Central Park.

So far, there are at least three Central Parks: the one in New York City and the two on Royal Caribbean ships. Actually, many cities have parks by that name, so let’s say there are three that qualify as being unique.

What’s Central Park on the ocean really like?

The photos that follow will give you a taste. They’ve been around for almost five years, since Oasis arrived, so thousands of passengers have had their taste. Before we boarded Allure of the Seas, we wondered — frankly — how appealing we would find a miniature version of the real thing on a cruise ship.

It was one of our favorite places on the ship, and here’s why…

From our balcony, we always knew if there was a quiet place to sit (and there always seemed to be an available bench):

Central Park-10They weren’t the blue birds of paradise, but they were close:

Central Park-3This became a daily routine for breakfast, a classy buffet-style eatery with wonderful food:

Central Park-14An upscale restaurant that’s just a walk-in-the-park away:

Central Park-4Amazing artwork that provides a sharp contrast to all the greenery — and there’s a lot of that:

Central Park-1Even some kids, and characters from DreamWorks, who arrive for photo-ops every day and never keep the kids waiting in line:

Central Park-2These, folks, are real trees and assorted greenery that are cared for by a staff of three:

Central Park-6Where else on the Caribbean Sea would you find a Willow Leaf Ficus Tree?:

Central Park-8A park that’s big enough to have intersections:

Central Park-11Along with a path to a world-class steakhouse:

Central Park-5The glass doors give it more the feel of a “greenhouse” than a cruise ship:

Central Park-12Like all good parks, it’s quiet most of the time and a magnet for photographers. You just don’t expect to be able to enjoy that when you’re on a cruise ship.

Today at portsandbows.com: Holland American adds Caribbean ships

Holland America Westerdam
7 nights
November 15, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Maarten, Half Moon Cay
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57
www.hollandamerica.com

What Would You Have Missed If…?

This week, the U.S. government issued a travel warning for Americans who planned to be in Europe. As you have undoubtedly heard, it’s pretty vague. However, given the number of cruise ships in European waters and given that Americans have to fly to get there, it’s worth noting.

On the other hand…

If we were afraid to visit a country known for its drug lords, we’d have stayed on the ship in Cartagena, Colombia, and never met the nice man who showed us the sights of his city, Sandy Cuadrado (right).

If we feared muggers, we’d never have walked in Central Park.

If we had refused to fly after 9/11, we’d have missed the Burgess family in England, the McConnells and Jean-Marie Berge (left) in France, Mona Lisa in the Louvre, a wonderful winery called House of Morande in Chile.

If we wanted to make sure we could never be caught in a hurricane, we’d know less about the joie-de-vivre of the French Quarter, the origin of Who Dat?, the fascinating swamplands near New Orleans.

If we never went where earthquakes have been, we wouldn’t have golfed in the Coachella Valley, visited a coffee plantation in Guatemala, flown into or out of LAX.

If we never went to a country with political upheaval, we wouldn’t have heard the sweet songs of an indigenous woman (right) on a bus in Ecuador.

If we didn’t want to risk a chance — however small — of contracting the norovirus, we would never board the gangway of a cruise ship…and we wouldn’t be writing this blog.

The point is, do we want to live our lives in fear? The government isn’t recommending that we do, only that we be diligent, and use common sense.

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