Throngs of tourists, many dressed in straw hats and Hawaiian shirts, line up at the Dundalk Marine Terminal, waiting to board Carnival Cruise Lines' newest ship, the Miracle.
Destined for a weeklong cruise in the Caribbean, the visitors come expecting sun, relaxation, pampering - and food.
"People expect a lot of food and what they get is a lot of food," says Sanjay Dhall, the executive chef of culinary development for Carnival Cruise Lines.
While members of the Miracle's crew greet the melee of new passengers, Dhall is below decks, supervising the arrival of seven days' worth of food.
Heavy equipment loaders move in massive pallets of meat, produce and other wares. In a single week, the ship will go through 5,000 pounds of chicken, 18,000 shrimp, 32,000 eggs and 5,220 heads of iceberg lettuce. All told, about $300,000 of food is loaded into the Miracle.
"We are out at sea for much of the time, meaning that provisioning is essential as there is no grocery store in the middle of the ocean if you run out of food," says Cyrus Marfatia, the vice president of food and beverage for Carnival Cruise Lines.
But it isn't just the quantity of food that matters, it's also the quality, Dhall says.
"It's more gourmet food than only buffet ... things are cooked very much to order in batches."
Dhall has been feeding cruise clientele for 10 years. He began his career with Carnival in 1984 as a junior associate, and worked his way through the kitchens of its ships to attain his current position of culinary supremacy.
He not only oversees the 128 members of the Miracle's kitchen staff, but the kitchens of the other 22 ships in the Carnival fleet as well. It is a monumental job, one that Dhall performs with military precision. "It's like running a brigade," he says with a smile.
Dhall first learned to cook by watching his mother in India. After attending a culinary academy in his home country, he followed the well-beaten path to France to improve his skills and work with Michelin-starred chefs.
He admits that he wasn't looking to work on a cruise ship, but took the opportunity when it came. "Once I got here, I thought I would work here for a couple of years and move on."
But Dhall found that he liked the corporate culture at Carnival and he stayed. "They are not biased by my not being an American and they allow for a lot of creativity. They allow you to pick your team and move them the way you want. There's actually a lot of freehand."
Dhall's job is equal parts accounting and culinary creation. The cruise line maintains historical data of each ship's consumption from each port and Dhall makes assumptions about ordering based on the guest profile indicated by that data. He is also responsible for reviewing and changing the menus. "Every six months we do a reality check on the menus - what is working, what is not - and change the menus accordingly," he says.
"When you're designing the menu, you can't get overly ambitious. ... You have to be practical that it can be done for 3,000 people," he says. "The greatest challenge is to give people the feel of any gourmet restaurant, while basically paying peanuts for it."
All meals on the Miracle - with the exception of the reservations-only supper club - are included in the price of the trip for the 2,124 passengers.
Cruise ships have a reputation for producing a round-the-clock stream of abundant food and the Miracle is no exception. There are no long buffets of food under warming lamps, but almost any food craving can be satiated at nearly any time of day.
Breakfast, lunch and two dinner seatings are offered in the main dining room that features eight soups, salads and appetizers, seven entrees and four desserts plus "SpaCarnival" selections and kids' meals each night
The Lido Deck, also called Horatio's Restaurant, is a self-service area offering breakfast and lunch from different themed eateries, similar to a mall food court. This is where the Seaview Bistro serves dinner, too, in a more casual cafelike environment than the main dining room. There's even a dessert bar and sushi bar each night.
Low-carb options have been added to the menu, but Dhall says they aren't overwhelmingly popular.
The Miracle takes its interior design direction from major fictional themes in history, films and literature. The main atrium is designed to honor Superman's Metropolis, and at the pinnacle of the atrium, what feels like miles above the main lobby, floats Nick and Nora's, the only fee-required eating outlet onboard. It boasts such items as iced Russian caviar and Alaskan king crab claws. This is also one of the many outlets where passengers can indulge in the ship's most popular dish: lobster.