Nothing quite prepares you for the experience of sailing into Sydney Harbour at dawn. I’m on the bridge of the cruise ship Royal Princess as we pass The Heads, the two rocky promontories that form the harbor’s entrance. Against a brilliant orange sky, I can make out classic Sydney sights: the captivating sails of the Opera House, the iron arch of the Harbour Bridge, and the island speck of Fort Denison. There’s even an early morning ferry from Manly taking commuters to Circular Quay.
It’s a breathtaking sight and I have to remind myself: It’s not real. I’m not on the Royal Princess at all, and I’m not even in Australia. I’m 10,000 miles away in an office building just outside of Amsterdam on a full-size bridge simulator at Carnival Corporation’s Center for Simulator Maritime Training Academy (CSMART).
Opened last July, CSMART is where Miami-based Carnival trains the bridge and engineering officers for the 10 cruise lines it operates worldwide (besides Princess, the company’s brands include Holland America, Cunard, and of course, Carnival). Before newly employed officers can work on a ship and then once a year during their tenure, they come here for lessons on not just operating a massive ship, but also how to work and communicate as a team, make decisions and follow procedures both in routine and extraordinary circumstances.
Combining those skills is at the core of Carnival’s training, says Hans Hederström, the center’s managing director. “You always have to plan carefully and assess risk [when handling a ship],” he says. “When those competencies interact, you create safety.”