Outside Amsterdam, Carnival Corporation operates a unique facility called CSMART (Center for Simulator Maritime Training Academy) where it trains the bridge and engineering officers for the 10 cruise lines it operates worldwide. The centrepiece of the building, which also houses offices and classroom, is a collection of four bridge simulators which allow officers to sail to almost any point in the world.
The sims match the bridge size, layout and control stations of two of the company's ships, Princess Cruises' Royal Princess and Holland America's Koningsdam. Beyond the windows that wrap around three sides of the sim is a massive screen that gives you a 220-degree view -- also just what you'd see on a ship.
Unlike a typical airplane simulator, the bridge sims don't move an inch. But when the horizon dips on a screen that almost surrounds you, your mind plays a lot of tricks on you. I did feel a little woozy as we rolled on a stormy English Channel.
On either end of each of the four main sims are bridge wing simulators. A bridge wing is the pointed end of a ship's bridge that sticks out over the water. Six WUXGA projectors display programs onto a 20-foot high half-spherical screen.
Some of the bridge wings, including the one pictured here, faithfully replicate the shape and layout of actual bridge wings. Control stations let you maneuver the ship while standing on the wing.
Some of the bridge wing sims aren't as complete with several standard displays replacing the full bridge wing structure. In this simulation, we were on the Royal Princess docking in Southampton, England.
During my debriefing, I saw a that screen that tracked my progress using an outline of the ship. It may have taken me a while and a lot of adjustments to back us into the pier and move us alongside, but I got us there.
A CSMART instructor demonstrates a simulator that trains engineering crews on navigating a ship's interior and locating equipment and control panels in everyday circumstances and emergencies. The three displays give a computerized view of engine room corridors and stairways exactly as they'd appear on any of Carnival's ships. You can even press virtual buttons by tapping on the display.
As I watched, the instructor worked to extinguish a simulated room engine room fire by hurrying from the engine room to a fire control panel. For a realistic effect, virtual smoke obscured his view on the screens while real alarm sirens blared and subwoofers made the floor vibrate as they would onboard a vessel.
To maneuver through the engine room maze, you use a Microsoft Xbox controller. Though it feels like a video game, the point is to show how long it takes to get from point A to point B and how to get there.
Inside the main CSMART building is a large atrium that stretches to the roof. Because of their size and the heavy equipment they use, the four simulators are on the lower floor. The large "1" at the bottom of this photo marks the entrance to the first sim.
This screen shows the location of the company's ships throughout Europe. On the first day of my visit, Cunard's Queen Elizabeth was about to sail from Palma de Majorca in Spain's Balearic Islands for Athens.