The Life Of A Cruise Host
If you’ve ever been on a cruise and noticed a dapper, older man spending all night, every night leading a succession of women to the dance floor, you’ve witnessed a cruise host in action.
Jim Wood, a former manager at a Pennsylvania steel company, spends around three months a year working as a host on Crystal’s Symphony or Serenity ships. Employed to cha-cha-cha and chat, chat, chat from 5pm to midnight, Wood’s job is to ensure that no single woman on board is a wallflower.
“If you love to dance and meet people, it’s a wonderful life,” says Wood. “And don’t think I’m the oldest host. There are guys out there in their 80s!”
The job is not quite as cushy as it sounds. There’s no time off and a long cruise involves plenty of special evenings, which means a busy time for the hosts. Wood and his fellow hosts — there are usually six or seven on board — are expected to be sociable around the ship during the day, and on port visits they are encouraged to accompany the shore guides.
“Passengers like to see a familiar face from the ship,” says Wood. “You wear your badge and are on duty from after breakfast until midnight or later.”
Besides having the stamina to remain on the dance floor for five hours or more every night, matching each partner’s level of expertise (“some ladies ballroom dance at championship level, some are happy just to shuffle, and all love to waltz”), a host also needs patience. Being able to repeat the same conversations time and again without wanting to throw oneself overboard is paramount.
“Where’s your home town?” is Wood’s standard opener as he leads a partner to the dance floor. “Do you have any grandchildren?” follows. But the rewards are obvious.
Wood has visited 160 countries (Norway is a favourite) in the 20 years since he got his first assignment. He’s currently trying to decide which itineraries to opt for this year.
“You can never see all of a place in a single visit so it’s interesting to return. But this time I hope to get some shorter assignments as I’ve just come off a 57-day round-the-world cruise, and that was quite strenuous.”
People often ask about on-board romances. “The first thing you learn is that liaisons are off limits. The cruise host’s handbook states that a host must not visit a passenger’s cabin and should not dance consecutively with any one woman — at least not until every lady who wants to dance has had her turn.”
Favouritism is verboten. Not that some passengers aren’t above trying to bag the host for themselves on a permanent basis.
“Some show they’d like to get to know you better,” Wood says. “You have to use a few tricks to make it clear that isn’t what being a host is all about. For instance, a passenger might see you sitting on your own at breakfast. She says, ‘Oh hello, do you mind if I share your table?’ You’re off-duty, but of course you don’t mind: ‘I’d be delighted!’ But if the same thing happens the next day you would breakfast at a different time and change restaurants. That way the situation has been made clear in a kind and gracious manner.”
Some women can be blatantly predatory, however. “At the end of one cruise a lady said, ‘Jim, I’d love it if you would visit me at home.’ How long a visit was she thinking of? ‘Forever!’ I was speechless.”
Touchingly, though, Wood says he frequently finds that the women sitting on their own are recently widowed. “I’ll ask a lady to dance and discover it’s the first time she has taken to the floor since the death of her husband. You have to be gentle and empathetic in that situation.”
A pilot in the US air force before he joined the steel industry, Wood learnt to dance after taking early retirement in 1992.
“I joined a dance studio and quickly got hooked. Then a friend who was a host suggested I try it out. I hadn’t seen much of the world and it seemed a smart way to travel.” After being successfully tested on five different dances, his first assignment was on the QE2.
“The ship was opulent and somewhat intimidating, but I did what I had always done in business: kept my mouth shut and ears open and watched and learned. By the end of the voyage I knew it was for me.”
A smart dinner jacket or two and top-quality polo shirts and chinos for casual wear are essential elements of a host’s wardrobe.
“One cut above the passengers” is what Wood aims for. “But the most important thing is to be a good team member,” he adds. “That’s one reason showing favouritism is frowned upon. Pay too much attention to one lady and you put a strain on your colleagues, who have to take up the slack.
“I once danced with a Japanese lady, and as I led her back to her seat she looked up at me with a smile and said, ‘You are very arrogant!’ Another host casually had a word with her group leader. It turned out she had meant to say ‘elegant’. I got ribbed about that for a long time.”
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This article was written by Adriaane Pielou from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.