Princess Cruises ships take the starring role in ITV’s latest series of The Cruise. Lucy Huxley goes behind the scenes on Royal Princess
Two marriages, a widow scattering her late husband’s ashes at sea and a group of 30 blind people and six guide dogs complete with canine life vests – these are just some of the scenes that could appear in ITV’s next series of The Cruise, currently being filmed on Princess Cruises’ flagship Royal Princess.
Or maybe it will be the ship’s photographer Photoshopping out Brits’ sunburn from their official pictures, the comedian losing all her performing costumes and eyelashes, or the dud note on the ship’s horn being fixed to ensure it plays in tune that will make the cut when the six-part series airs in January.
“It’s all about finding interesting characters who have a good story that builds and has an ending,” according to series producer Mark Jones of Wild Productions, who allowed Princess Cruises’ Tony Roberts and I to shadow him and his camera crew for a day in Naples.
Jones has certainly found plenty of interesting protagonists this series, which charts the ship as it sails around the Mediterranean.
Some are crew members from previous series, such as executive chef David McDonald, the straight-talking South African, who oversees 18 galleys, 350 crew members and the creation of 25,000 meals a day for passengers and staff.
You would think the added pressure of being filmed would tip him over the edge, but he said: “I’m not intimidated at all by having a camera in my face. I tell them to get to the galley at 7am every morning. It will either be a green or a red day, and even if it starts green, it will turn red at some point. Drama sells TV but you can’t make it happen. What you see is what you get and if you don’t like it, jog on.”
Clearly viewers cannot get enough. ITV was so impressed with the viewing figures and ratings that bosses have commissioned a further two series after this third one – on Star Princess in Alaska and the other back on Royal Princess in the Caribbean in November.
Both will be longer three-part ‘specials’ that will be aired in 2018.
Roberts, Princess Cruises’ vice‑president for the UK and Europe, says the line’s involvement with The Cruise is one of the most important things the brand does.
“What else gives you exposure 12 weeks of the year, where 3.5 million consumers sit down for half an hour and engage with cruise and with your brand? It’s unlike any other opportunity,” he said.
Roberts has no editorial control but does not think he is taking risks.
“We totally trust that the production crew is going to make something aspirational that makes people want to go on a cruise holiday and visit the destinations we sail to. The fact that it’s a true documentary, that’s both authentic and aspiring at the same time, makes it really appealing.
“The thing that’s really powerful is that it shows the conscientious crew working really hard to give the passengers the best experience. It doesn’t always go right, but you see their passion and commitment to do whatever they can for guests, and that speaks volumes.”
These ‘above and beyond’ gestures range from Captain Nick Nash agreeing to briefly sail off course into international waters so that a passenger could scatter her husband’s ashes overboard (apparently it’s allowed only in international waters), to the crew opening up the ship’s basketball court to create a place for the guide dogs to have some ‘doggy playtime’.
Avid viewers will be delighted to hear that firm favourite Timothy Gallant, the vivacious guest relations manager, will feature again, but in a new role as shore excursions manager. On the day we shadowed the team, Timothy escorted guests on a wine-tasting tour and was filmed cheekily telling one woman that it was possible to get tipsy from eating a handful of grapes from the vine.
A new face for series three could be third officer Josh Gonsalves from Perth, Australia, who has been filmed as he learns the ropes up on the bridge from Captain Nash and co.
The cameras have captured him as he docks ships in tricky ports and transits the narrow Bonifacio Straits between Sardinia and Corsica.
Part of Josh’s appeal is that he used to, by his own admission, be very shy, so directors think viewers will get drawn into his story as he learns, develops and flourishes in his role, under the watchful eye of his more senior masters. It also helps that he’s “rather nice to look at”, according to one travel agent who responded to a picture of Josh I posted on Twitter.
But The Cruise offers much more to travel agents than just good‑looking men in uniform.
It presents them with a huge opportunity, according to Roberts.
“We know, when this show has been on TV before, that travel agents have received many more enquiries about cruises and about Princess in particular,” he said.
“We also see a consistent increase in brochure requests and Google searches and while we can’t directly attribute it to the programme, we have had very successful years in terms of sales since The Cruise has been on air.
“Agents across the UK tell us that they have seen the benefit, and hopefully that will continue on the back of series three, four and five as well.”
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