Keep on Dancing
My Three Weeks as a Cruise Ship Host
Twenty-one days of cruising the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean sea may conjure up images of azure skies, balmy days and nights, reflections of moonlight shining on glistening waves across a calm sea, a joie de vivre voyage of carefree pleasure without a worry in the world, all of this combined with romantic explorations of medieval cities whose exotic antiquities inspire the soul as one wanders through museums and churches. There were for me, however, twenty-one nights of having more leather worn off the uppers rather than the soles of my patent leather slippers while dancing nightly to the rock and roll of a ship at sea.
To serve as a cruise ship host one must be male, over 50 years of age, reasonably presentable, be able to dance, own both a white dinner jacket and a tuxedo, and ready to undergo rigorous personal interviews and intensive reference checking for impeccable integrity. One very strict stipulation is that there will be no shipboard romances. The penalty for any indiscretion is being dropped off at the next port and on one’s own to return home.
This understood, I contracted for three weeks as a cruise ship host aboard a 25-thousand ton, beautifully appointed, vessel bound across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean out of Puerto Rico. Among the passengers were 300 single women, one single man and five hosts.
Dancing is the primary role of the cruise ship host, and that means every dance. It all sounded reasonable during the interview process though no one mentioned that dancing started promptly at 5:45 p.m. and continued steadily until 2 a.m., with time out only for dinner when each host joins a table with no less than six single ladies. The hosts are obliged to dance only with the single ladies, many of whom had not danced in a long time; a few admitted they had never danced in their lives. Most of those delightful women made charming and talented partners whose company I thoroughly enjoyed. The other prime duty of a host is to escort the ladies on shore excursions and to be available for mid-day samba lessons or as the fourth at bridge—the game, not where the Captain officiates.
Merrily we cruised across the North Atlantic. The ship’s navigation officer occasionally announced that because of the winter weather we were likely to experience rough seas, and dance partners, who had not acquired sea legs, sometimes found difficulty retaining their footing. An observer of the scene might have described it as a cacophony of mass confusion, damaged corns, ruined shoes, and a little crushed pride.
During the entire cruise, with rare exception, the majority of the passengers (70 percent couples) were not seen on the dance floor. The last night or two brought couples out as the wives finally managed to convince their husbands that dancing would not kill them and that they could do it “just this once.” But this situation created a new danger for the regulars of the polished floor, whom had mastered the art of dancing on the rare occasion of a rolling ship. In a Mediterranean storm off the coast of France with 60-mile winds and 25-foot seas, many of us were still dancing. I switched from patent leathers to deck shoes and only suffered a few mind injuries from spiked heels that went astray.
Not typical, but an amusing example of a shore trip: leaving Livorno and bound for Florence, we were moving along in a brand-new Mercedes Benz diesel bus with a Dutch-born guide who announced that off to our right we could see the leaning tower of Pisa. She added that in case we could not see that far not to worry, we would be stopping in Pisa on the way back to our home-away-from-home. One passenger responded, “Well, now that we have seen it, there is no point in stopping on the way back.”
Much to her consternation we did stop on the way back—after nightfall. To view the baptistery, cathedral, and leaning tower, three of the most beautiful buildings ever created by man, we were given exactly eight minutes, which included the time to walk from the bus to the buildings and back again. Hundreds of flash bulbs went off in the dark in a futile attempt to light up the tower.
After nine ports of call and thousands of miles of air, land, and sea travel I can say that it was a good opportunity to see the world, meet many wonderful people, and enjoy the bounties of man and nature. Potential hosts can contact Laura Blake’s The Working Vacation, www.theworkingvacation.com, Gentlemen Host Program (www.theworkingvacation.com/text/about2.html); firstname.lastname@example.org.