Onboard P&O’s Pacific Explorer on a repositioning cruise from Auckland to Melbourne, there was plenty on deck to keep our family entertained, but a chance to explore below deck and behind lots of doors marked ‘Restricted access’ really captivated my curiosity and proved one of the highlights of the five-night journey.

The group booked in for the ship’s Access All Areas (AAA) tour gathered in the foyer of the Marquee theatre, and kicked off the three-hour experience with a nosey behind the curtains with a true insider guide in member of the key cast, Connor.

Indian compatriots, maître d’ Charleston and executive chef Vineet, then gave us a look at the hugely important food and beverage aspect – dining, naturally, is one of the key hooks for an enjoyable cruise. In the hotel stores below the restaurants, 166 chefs from 46 countries are part of a 24-hour operation – 19 nationalities work in just one galley we toured.

It’s a flame-free zone, with everything cooked over induction, and items like soup made in huge batches (400L) from scratch using ingredients sourced in port. Having departed from Auckland, the chillers were full of lovely Aotearoa produce, carefully procured to last the voyage sufficiently with minimal waste.

Jumping on what’s affectionately known as the ‘M1’ – the busy main route crew and staff take around below-deck services, we visited the recycling centre, headed by environmental officer Marijo; this surprisingly spick-and-span space is continuously manned to ensure waste is processed correctly. A machine called the Hungry Giant digests food into something resembling coffee grounds, which is then treated with enzymes to the point that it can be offloaded into the ocean.

We toured the Engine Control Room (ECR), a pastel green field of knobs and screens with three engineers from Norway, Russia and Bulgaria on duty, met former UK detective now chief fire officer Warren, called by the printing room (source of the handy daily news that staff post through every cabin door each evening), and forayed into the laundry. The latter seemed particularly captivating to our group – we marvelled at the sheer amount of linen the hard-working team gets spotlessly cleaned and pressed.

Meeting the captain and officers of the bridge concluded our tour. Third officer, London-accented Waseem talked us through the equipment, revealing that human touch is still best when it comes to coming into port, when officers revert to hand-steering, and “Eyes are still our best tool” when clarifying things picked up on radar.

Our own eyes had taken in a whole lot on this behind-the-scenes tour, which finished up with canapés and bubbles at one of the ship’s signature restaurants, Luke Mangan’s Luke’s Bar & Grill. Over three hours and several thousand steps, we gained an immense appreciation for the crew and staff that dedicate months at a time to making every passenger’s journey first-rate – which ours certainly was.

Fact file:

The Access All Areas (AAA) tour runs for three hours and operates on cruises five days or longer. From $195 per person. See: pocruises.co.nz

Sustainability: Ocean and river cruising have an impact on the Earth’s waterways. To reduce your impact, consider offsetting carbon emissions and booking with cruise lines that use cleaner fuels and adopt recycling practices.

The writer was hosted by P&O.