Behind The Scenes: Mighty Cruise Ships

Mighty Cruise Ships on Discovery

Mighty Cruise Ships returns to the Discovery Channel tonight for its second season and I had a chance to chat with Executive Producer Karen McCairley. Find out more about the production process below and see which celebrity she wants to travel with in this special Q&A.

How does your show attract and engage with viewers (like myself) who have never been on a cruise?

Mighty Cruise Ships is the only show of its kind in the whole world. We take all the preconceived notions viewers like you may have about cruise ships and set the story straight!

It’s not all big buffets and cheesy lounge singers – we focus on what it takes for the hard working staff aboard each vessel to pull these trips off time and again. We pull back the curtain and focus on the big technology and navigational skill it takes to dock these ships in very interesting and oftentimes difficult ports. We spend time in the engine rooms, bridge, galleys and behind the scenes of the huge mainstage productions that happen aboard these ships.

Put it this way, even the people who work for the cruise lines are oftentimes blown away when they eventually see our shows.


How did you pick boats to feature on the show?

We like to feature the newest, or the biggest, or those with a unique or different itinerary. The world of cruising is so much more than a 7-day trip to the Caribbean islands – this season we take viewers from the Mediterranean to the Arctic. In fact, only one of the six vessels featured sails the Caribbean. And each of our vessels showcased is really one-of-a-kind.

How did you decide which people to interview for the show?

Every episode features many of the same main characters: the Captain, the Chief Engine Engineer and the Head Chef, for example. These three individuals are most important on every ship.

Beyond this, we look for the best characters doing the most interesting jobs on each ship – this year, we feature a rigger on Royal Clipper – the world’s largest sailing vessel. This guy is a jack-of-all-trades with some very daring jobs. Other ships feature the shore excursion manager whose job it is to book, organize and communicate with the thousands of passengers who go ashore on excursions each day – not an easy task.

Our Ocean Endeavour episode features a small crew who almost all perform double duty on this excursion to the arctic. Several of them act as “bear monitors”, armed with loaded shotguns, they patrol the area on land keeping a lookout for polar bears while the passengers explore.

What is one of your challenges during the production process?

When we are approaching cruise lines to enquire about producing a show for our series, we are often met with hesitation because we are asking for full access to the vessel in order to tell our story in a way the Discovery viewer has come to expect. We are not a travel show – we are not focusing on the thread count of the sheets, we want to really get behind the scenes, be on the bridge with the Captain for all entries and exits from ports and be allowed to film in areas that are off limits to passengers. I think most people would be surprised at how long it can take to get the access we are looking for with a ship company we wish to work with. We feature one ship this season that took three years of negotiations – we were turned down repeatedly until this season.

Can you share any observations about how sophisticated cruises integrate digital technology?

Digital technology is a feature on most of the newer ships we shoot. It can appear in many forms – from booking restaurant and show reservations digitally, to onboard communication apps for passengers only, to showcasing digital art works in public spaces.

What are your favourite memories on a cruise?

I’ve only been aboard three vessels for the purposes of the show; however, I have taken two cruises with my family for fun – years ago. On our first cruise 11 years ago, we met another family from New York who we have remained very good friends with until this day, and we have the cruise to thank for that.

My other memory is celebrating a birthday on board a cruise ship in Hawaii with my husband, daughter and parents. My parents hauled an accordion (secretly I might add), all the way from Canada and presented it to me in the restaurant on board the ship for my birthday. I don’t even play the accordion! Other passengers thought I was the hired entertainment.

If you could travel on a cruise with any celebrity, who would you pick and why?

That depends on the day – but […] I would likely choose Michelle Obama because she’s brilliant and fun and seems like a great travel companion. I bet she could also use a great vacation after 8 years in the White House. Can I also bring Roger Federer? Simply because he’s the G.O.A.T.


Mighty Cruise Ships airs on Sundays at 7 PM ET on Discovery.

Photo Source: Bell Media

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