The CSMART (Center for Simulated Maritime Training) Academy is Carnival Corp.'s state-of-the-art crew training facility, located in Almere, The Netherlands. The building house spaces that recreate a ship's bridge and engine room in detail, from the instruments to the views, the alarms and the safety scenarios. Here, officers from the company's 10 cruise lines -- from seasoned captains to junior officers and engineers who have never set foot on a ship before -- undergo safety and navigation training. The facility, which opened in July 2016, cost 75-million euros and is 110,000 square feet spread across five floors. Cruise Critic got an exclusive peek inside.

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1. It's the Only One of its Kind in the World

CSMART is the only maritime training facility in the world that has full bridge and four full engine room simulators -- the most complex and advanced ever built. Officially called the Arison Maritime Center, the facility is named for Carnival Chairman Micky Arison and his father, company founder Ted.

2. CSMART's Origins Date to the Early 1990s

CSMART's managing director Hans Hederstrom has been involved in maritime training since the early 1990s, where he worked at a shared facility in Norway owned and operated by Star Cruises. He started his career as a cadet and worked his way up to ship's pilot, where he recognized a need for training. Hederstrom started running courses for pilots and became involved in the first Bridge Resource Management, a precursor to today's training. "It was based on what airlines were doing in 1993," Hederstrom said. The facility was open to all cruise lines before Star Cruises opened its own facility in 1999 in Port Klang, Malaysia. The following year, Hederstrom gave up piloting to become a full-time instructor. In 2007, word finally reached Carnival about his work.

So it was Hederstrom's vision (and gentle persuasion) that led to Carnival Corp. setting up its own 2,000 square meter facility in 2007. But ever-increasing numbers of ships (101 at the last count), and brands (10) meant the demand for courses grew, and a decision was made that the facility needed to move to a much bigger dedicated site.

3. Why Isn't it Based in Miami?

CSMART is based just outside of Amsterdam in Almere (which means "dune" in Dutch). It sits beside a lake, in rolling sand dunes and on a warm summer's day could even pass for a South Florida beach. It comprises the main training facility and a hotel, for exclusive crew use. Carnival Corp. looked at other locations including ones in the U.K. and Italy but decided on The Netherlands because of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport's excellent worldwide connectivity -- and because most officers are from Europe.

4. It's Used By Other Cruise Lines

Or at least it was in the older facility, but now that there are so many crew members to train, it's become tricky to squeeze in non-Carnival lines. But as Hederstrom says: "There is no competition when it comes to safety," so space depending, the new facility could also train other cruise line crew members.

CSMART bridge simulation

5. CSMART Is Modeled on the Aviation Industry

When Hederstrom helped establish the center, he looked toward the aviation sector as a model. Aviation has been regulated for many years, with laws dating to the 1920s. The segment has provided industry-recognized safety training. The maritime sector did not; safety training was offered line by line but wasn't formalized. Today, the aviation sector is one of the safest modes of transportation in the world. It has also pioneered the way in which aircraft are flown, advocating a culture of questioning and equality in the cockpit, rather than a top-down approach of leadership.

Hederstrom took this model and put it in place for the maritime industry in 2009, and those are the levels that CSMART adheres to when it comes to safety.

6. 30,000 Alarms Can Go Off Onboard a Cruise Ship

The good news is you won't ever hear most of them. Alarms are linked to almost every moving part, whether that is in the engineering room, the bridge, the doors, the kitchens or the laundry. These are linked straight through to the Bridge, where the Captain and his team have to make a call on what risk level the alarm constitutes. The only alarms a passenger is likely to hear are during muster drills or if someone has gone overboard.

7. All Carnival Corp. Officers Are Required to do a Weeklong Course Each Year

Regardless of level or experience, all officers are required to do a week of training at the facility each year. In fact, it is sometimes more important for experienced captains, who have done things one way for many years, to learn about the new, collaborative approach pioneered at CSMART.

8. Serving Captains Are Recruited to Administer Training

The trainers at the facility are all serving captains known as "Fleet Captains," recruited from the existing Carnival Corp. fleet. There are seven Fleet Captains. During their two years off the ships, they are required to run a number of courses at the facility and visit other ships in the fleet in an observational capacity. "My role here is to lead, mentor and coach," explains Fleet Captain Andy Pedder, a former Seabourn captain. Fleet Captains will also recommend additional courses for trainees if they think it's necessary.

9. The Captain Isn't Solely in Charge

This big change, pioneered at CSMART, brings a collaborative approach to crewing the ship, rather than the traditional top-down power structure. This, too, has been borrowed from the aviation sector, which requires at least two people of equal rank in the cockpit at any one time so they can question and act as a check, rather than simply go along with what the captain says. The reasoning behind this is twofold: Humans are fallible, and even a captain with 30 years' experience can make mistakes. Secondly, as Pedder explains: "Even the most senior captain can learn something from the most junior officer. I expect to be challenged, and I want my crew to speak up if they are in any doubt about anything." After every exercise there is a debrief, similar to the military, where questions can be asked about any aspect of the training.

10. The Bridge Simulators Are a Hybrid of Two Ships

The four bridge simulators are full sized and offer 360-degree views, but they are not modeled on one ship. Instead, they are a hybrid of Royal Princess and Holland America Line's Koningsdam. There are also four engine room simulators, located directly below the bridge simulators. These are also full sized and have a variety of electronic and real moving parts. They also warm when a simulated fire is detected. The bridges and engine rooms aren't linked, but there are plans to do so.

11. The Bridge Simulators Are So Realistic, You Feel Like You're on a Ship

Ultra-realistic graphics, a full-sized bridge with all the moving parts you get on an actual cruise ship, 360-degree views (the bridge wings -- the parts that stick out -- even allow you to see behind you, just as you would on a ship), the ability to tilt the graphics and whip up a storm or a potential emergency within seconds contribute to the feeling that you are on a ship. "Within half an hour you are 'within that zone,' they are on a ship," explains P&O Cruises and Cunard Captain Alistair Clark. "And the longer you spend here you think you're actually on a real bridge."

CSMART bridge simulation

12. 6,500 People Are Trained Here Every Year

When the facility kicks into full gear in 2017, Hederstrom estimates 6,500 officers will be trained every year on 17 different courses, with 10 more planned. By contrast, in 2009, fewer than 500 people went through the facility, which offered just two courses. Today, the training covers all aspects of safety on the bridge and in the engine room, including, fire safety, bad weather, a ship plowing into a dock, person overboard, ship handling, navigation and engine failure. As Captain Pedder explains: "What this prepares you for is for the unusual and unexpected. For many crew, with however many years of experience, they may never have experienced a situation like the ones we simulate."

13. The Center Also Runs Port Studies

What this means in practice is that, let's say for example one of the Carnival brands is considering whether to go to a new port; CSMART can run a simulation on the port using the size of the ship, prevailing currents and depths and the size of the port facilities to gauge whether the line can realistically add the port to its itineraries. Amber Cove, Carnival's private Caribbean port, is a good example of this.

14. And the Trickiest Ports (to Navigate Into) Are...

  • The Shanghai River, because of the sheer number of small craft to avoid
  • St. Malo, Brittany and St. Peter Port, Guernsey, because of the huge tidal range
  • The Amazon River, due to currents and sandbanks
  • Stockholm, due to the number of small islands and islets to navigate

15. There's Only One Thing Preventing a Ship from Docking Itself

Money. According to Hederstrom, we are almost there in terms of self-docking: "Already today we have a track control system so you really don't (do) any manual steering as we did in previous times. The track control system can take the ship almost all the way up to the berth. But the final stage is still done manually, but it's just a matter of money and research to develop a system where the ship is berthing for itself." Here's betting that the technology for self-docking will be developed at CSMART.