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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

Typhoon Haiyan Elicits Belated Response from Cruise Lines


All of us who've been on a major-market cruise ship have met and perhaps befriended somebody from the Philippines. Last Friday, Typhoon Haiyan wiped more than 1,800 Filipinos from the face of the earth and the death count is unquestionably going higher, ravaging extending families of many people who serve your meals, make your beds and do your laundry when you're on a cruise. 

How is the industry that employees thousands upon thousands of people from the Philippines reacting?


The typhoon hit on Friday. It was labelled as potentially the worst storm in the history of the world. It was evident that tragedy was imminent and that tragedy would be a modest word for what was about to unfold. The photo above was how it looked from the International Space Station.

It was three days — Monday — before most cruise lines took a public position on anything to do with Typhoon Haiyan. In some cases it was Tuesday. In other cases…still nothing. By then it was being referred to us "the end of the world" for some Filipinos.

Here is a sampling and how six dealt with it in press releases or on social media:

Norwegian — Almost immediately on Facebook, it issued a sympathetic statement about its Filipino employees and announced a fund would be set up, details to follow. That was later amended to an appeal for donations, from crew members and guests. There was no mention of a corporate financial contribution.

Cunard — Its latest press release announces that Cunard has been "recognized as top midsize ship cruise line."

Princess — The biggest news is that the cruise line has a new president and the Princess cruise to support veterans had just departed in time for Veterans Day.

Royal Caribbean — On Monday, noting that there are 12,800 Filipinos employed by Royal Caribbean and 60,000 on all 41 ships in affiliated cruise lines, pledged to match employee donations, dollar for dollar.

Disney — On Tuesday, having said nothing, it announced itineraries for 2014 and 2015.

Holland America — News of the week remains winning eight Readers Choice Awards at Conde Nast Traveler.

So, now you can be the judge of whether cruise lines have reacted appropriately.

This, of course, is something of a moving target. Late yesterday, for example, Carnival covered off its 11 brands — as well as the Miami Heat — by pledging a million dollars on behalf of all of them. Today, maybe another cruise line will do more, perhaps to one-up Carnival. In the end, that's good for the poor victims of the Philippines, even if it did get off to a slow start.

Ruby Princess
4 nights
January 9, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Princess Cays
Inside: $229
Cost per day: $57


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