Three months and $1.5 million later, the 20-year-old Entertainment Cruises’ ship Spirit of New Jersey set sail with its new digs on May Day, carrying its passengers by the Statue of Liberty and the new World Trade Center in style.
“Remember on rainy, cold days when the windows would fog up and everyone complained?” Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner asked the crowd gathered on the Liberty Deck. “Well, they’ve fixed it!”
The evening was far from cold and rainy as passengers lounged on the ship’s brand new upper deck lounge in the breezy sunlight, poised on sleek couches with martinis from the brand new open air bar. Before the renovation, guests would have to brave the stairs bearing drinks from the bar below.
New dining chairs, DJ booths, and plasma televisions graced the ship’s two lower decks, lending it an updated, more modern feel.
“It’s a fun, upbeat, high energy ship.” – Christine Metivier
For your entertainment
Three year Spirit Cruises veteran server and performer Danielle Fortunato stood on one of two sparkly new LED-lit dance floors and belted out her rendition of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” without wavering at all. It was a performance both remarkable and appropriate, since the ship was rocked a bit by an impatient Hudson River while still docked – though not uncomfortably.
Which may prompt one to wonder, how does Fortunato and her co-servers walk around the ship with plates and martinis full to the rim?
“You get used to it,” she said. “What’s hilarious is that I had terrible motion sickness before I worked here, but I guess I became so focused on my job it stopped affecting me.”
Almost every Spirit Cruises server functions as a performer as well, which kills two industry birds with one entertaining stone and attracts some sizeable local talent. Fortunato, who has studied voice and opera, auditions and records regularly while not performing on the Hudson.
The Spirit of New Jersey serves passengers buffet-style, and the American cuisine is prepared on board by recently-appointed Executive Chef Synthia Lange. She was a sous chef on the company’s sister ship, the Bateaux New York, for two and a half years before being promoted to the Spirit in August.
The Bateaux is a sit-down dinner cruise, which is an entirely different style of cookery than the Spirit’s buffet, but Lange’s extensive corporate catering experience made the transition easy. She tailors menus to the client, as the Spirit has different themed cruises and may be chartered for weddings and other events.
“I’m a visual chef,” Lange said. “I love to make food look beautiful as well as taste great, because the eye comes before the stomach and the palate.” She’s also brought the concept of the intermezzo – or a palate-cleansing course between dishes – to the company’s cuisine.
“The ship looks elegant and much more modern now,” Lange added. “I’m so excited to begin.”
Cruisin’ with the community
In an impromptu arrangement, Metivier, Turner, and Weehawken Board of Education President Richard Barsa announced the reinstatement of the traditional, donated Christmas cruise for the town’s fifth and sixth graders this coming year.
“Urban kids don’t have many opportunities to be on the water,” Turner said. “They get all dressed up and are on their best behavior.”
After all, they wouldn’t want to jeopardize their reputation with Santa shortly before Christmas morning. Turner and Barsa recounted how Mr. Claus would trade his red stocking cap for a sailor hat, meet up with the ship in a dingy and surprise the students mid-cruise as they dined on hot dogs and other kid-appropriate luncheon foods.
“Spirit Cruises is a great corporate partner,” Turner said. “They’ve employed many Weehawken residents in the past, including a captain, and they’ve hosted many non-profit functions over the years.”
Hudson County Director of Cultural Affairs and Tourism Bill La Rosa explained how the Spirit of New Jersey has been an iconic part of the county’s cultural fabric. “They help draw visitors from all over the country,” he said. “They’ve always been very involved in the community.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com