Ice Skating on a cruise ship?

Yes, the day has finally come where you can go on a Caribbean cruise and not only see an ice show while at sea, but you are also able to skate yourself! For many years, the ships always had a high-end dance show onboard -but now, thanks to Royal Caribbean Cruise lines, ice skating is touring the high seas. The productions are lavish and theatrical. The skaters pull out all the stops and perform extremely technical maneuvers even though the ship is sailing to its next port of call.

I interviewed two people that are involved with the production. The first, Martin Ready, is the current stage manager for Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the seas ice show “Cool Art…Hot Ice.”

Craig: Who takes care of the ice?
Martin: I do with the help of the stage staff. I monitor the temperature and the ice levels myself and I have my stage staff clean the ice for the times when the passengers skate. I like to take care of the ice for the ice shows myself to ensure the highest quality for the performers.

Craig: Is the ship built with ice already installed?
Martin: Yes. The ice rink system is already built into the ship. It is not portable ice that can be moved. The ice mat is covered by a special type of floor. It is a mixture of small quartz sand stones with a special polyurethane glue, directly put on top of the ice mat. Every pipe is imbedded in the quartz-floor and therefore provides a good heat conduction. The slab is kind of elastic and can stand vibrations.

Craig: Where are the compressors?
Martin: They are on a different floor of the ship that is underneath the ice floor. We can adjust the temperature of the compressors in the lighting booth that is in the same room as the ice.

Craig: How is the ice kept cold?
Martin: Refrigerated brine (propylene-glycol/water mixture) circulates from the cooling plant to a special pipe system at the ice rink. By cooling the ice slab the brine takes the heat energy from the slab to the refrigeration plant, where the brine is cooled down consistently.

Craig: Is this ship heavier than a regular ship?
Martin: At the time it was built, this ship was 142 thousand tons which made it the heaviest ship in the world. There are now five Royal Caribbean ships with ice rinks and they are all the biggest and heaviest ships in the world to date. They are so large that they do not fit thought he Panama Canal.

Craig: What kind of maintenance does it take to run an ice show on a ship?
Martin: People do not realize the amount of maintenance that it takes to make sure that the ice is good for performers and the general public skate times. It is a constant struggle getting the right temperature due to the show lighting and the audience in the room. We have to run the first show warmer and then the second show colder to keep the ice perfect for the performers. This ship is the only one in the fleet that has show performances while the ship is in port. This is a bit of a problem since the gangways are open at this time and the ship gets considerably warmer due to the warm outside temperature coming into the ship so we have to really monitor the ice and run it colder than usual. Also, the fog and haze systems, which use glycol, gets into the ice and makes it harder to freeze. We have to take the ice out every four to six months due to the glycol and dirt build up.

Craig: Is Studio B (the ice rink theater) used only for skating?
Martin: NO. Studio B is a multi-use facility. There is a state of the art flooring system that automatically covers the ice and then the room is used for concerts and dance parties. It takes about one hour to slide the floor over the ice so that the floor does not stick to the ice. It is like a popsicle that would stick to your tongue when you lick it. We have to slowly move the floor back and forth until the undersurface becomes the same temperature as the ice. If we just put the floor directly over the ice without doing this, it will stick to the ice and then the ice would have to be melted in order to slide the floor off again.

The second person that I interviewed for this article is Sylvia Froescher who is the Production Manager for Willie Bietak Productions based out of Los Angeles, California.

Craig: How many skaters are in each show and how many skaters do you hire in total for all five ships?
Sylvia: We have 100 Principal “spots” available per year between the five ships with ice shows. We hire 10 skaters-all Principals-per ship and they each do 6 month contracts. The shows run all year round and there is a cast change over every six months.

Craig: How do you find so many talented skaters who would want to work on ships?
Sylvia: I use the “skater search” in the Professional Figure Skaters Cooperative” Website, publications, and I travel to the US National Championships, the World Figure skating Championships and the Olympic games. Many skaters hear about the shows by word of mouth as well. I also hire one “specialty act” per show.

Craig: What kind of “specialty act” and where do you find them?
Sylvia: We hire Ariel acts, comedy acts, jugglers, acrobats, hula-hoopers, etc. We prefer artists that skate since this is an ice show but that is not always the case.

Craig: How is the quality of skating on the ship considering the skaters are performing on an unstable surface?
Sylvia: That is the surprising thing. You don’t even realize that you are sailing in the Caribbean while you are watching the show. The skating quality is as high-or higher-than other professional shows around the world.

Craig: About how much does each show cost to put together?
Sylvia: It is a multimillion dollar production. Studio B, where the ice show is performed, is a state of the art facility with a retractable floor. The room is multipurpose so there does not have to be ice all the time.

Craig: How do passengers react to having ice shows on board?
Sylvia: The ice shows are the highest rated shows in the Royal Caribbean fleet. The audiences love them.

Craig: What is the biggest challenge about having an ice show on a cruise ship for you?
Sylvia: Maintaining the high quality of performers as well as finding the right personalities because of the small cast (10 skaters) and the close living quarters.

Craig: Does any other cruise line have an ice rink on board one of their ships?
Sylvia: Royal Caribbean is the only one. They took a big financial risk into an unknown entity, but the payoff has surpassed everyone’s expectations. We are extremely happy with the results.

Craig: Great. Thank you Sylvia.

Since I am currently onboard the Adventure of the Seas and I am performing in “Cool Art…Hot Ice” at this very moment, I thought I would add some observations, in my own words, of what it is like performing and living on a ship.
First of all, I really enjoy doing what I love to do, performing, while touring in the Caribbean. We get to see many different islands without having to pack and unpack our suitcases. The job leaves plenty of time to go ashore at all the ports, work out in the state of the art gym, take fitness classes, sunbathe, party with the crew, etc. I can’t say that I love everything about the job, but one thing that I learned early on in my career is that there are good things about a job and there are bad things. If I just keep looking at all the good things, the bad things seem not to matter as much. Yes, I sometimes get frustrated with all of the ship rules and regulations. No, I do not like to work some of the other little jobs that we must work on the ship during the cruise. I do, however, consider this job a vacation from all of the other jobs that I do during the year. I bring projects on the ship so that I can feel productive while at sea. This article, for example, is being written during a cruise. I love the food on the ship and I love my free time. I also love the production that I am in at the moment.

In closing, ship life can be fantastic if you are positive and willing to adapt to the lifestyle. I enjoy my ship time and will cherish these memories for the rest of my life.