hosts are all aboveboard
wanted: single gentlemen ages 50-75 with polished social skills, high
moral standards, volunteer spirit. Experienced dancers only; must
be proficient in all ballroom steps--fox trot, lindy, waltz, cha-cha,
rhumba, swing. Motion sickness a detriment.
the profile of the men who sign on with cruise ships large and small
to provide companionship for solo women passengers traveling the seven
seas and world's rivers. All you need are the ethics of a Boy Scout,
the charm of Charles Boyer and the footwork of Fred Astaire.
a tough niche," said Jane Blake, director of operations for Gentlemen
Hosts, an outfit based in Lockport that books the seasoned swingers
on many a cruise ship. "The screening process is like looking
for a needle in a haystack--and it has to be a golden needle."
you need are the ethics of a Boy Scout, the charm of Charles
Boyer and the footwork of Fred Astaire."
cruising veterans know, these men can be as vital to a cruise's success
as the captain, the social director or the pastry chef.
David Winter, 68, of Chicago, who got in the swim 10 years ago after
retiring as a management instructor for the Postal Service in Oak
Brook. Winter, a bachelor who is just under 6 feet tall, with blue
eyes and blond hair just now beginning to gray, was an early recruit
by Gentlemen Hosts, an outgrowth of a company called The Working Vacation
Inc., which staffs ships with lecturers, dance instructors and youth
directors. He went to sea (logging 100 to 150 days a year) to feed
a passion for travel; one of his strong suits was his ballroom know-how.
had to pass a dance exam monitored by a professional instructor, which
he aced on the strength of an Arthur Murray course he took 45 years
ago, and plenty of nights out in between.
was in the Army in San Pedro, Calif.," he recalled, "and
a friend who was getting married had to learn to dance for the wedding.
Arthur Murray had a special--8 half-hour lessons at half price. So
my friend conned me into going along. I ended up taking 16 lessons."
1992 Winter jumped in head first, signing on for a pair of round-the-world
cruises, each more than 100 days' duration, on Cunard's QE2 and the
Royal Viking Sea. "It was a lot of work," he said, alluding
to the dance-jammed days away from port that required his services
at afternoon dance lessons, tea time, dinner hour and late-night lounge
duty. "We had 10 hosts aboard and seven of the ship's staff to
back us up and we were all busy. We had something like 400 solo women
passengers on the QE2 out of Los Angeles, and at least 70 or 80 of
them danced every session. I had to change my shirt a couple times
a night--I tell you it was a workout."
Filling a void onboard
was the old Royal Cruise Line under its president Richard Revnes that
launched the first gentlemanly host progam, in 1982.
think we can also credit the urging and assistance of his wife,"
said Lauretta Blake, who went on to start Gentlemen Hosts in 1990,
today serving such lines as Cunard, Radisson, Orient Lines and Silversea.
"Mrs. Revnes thought the many solo women guests should have more
company in dining, dancing and daytime shipboard fun."
president of The Working Vacation (and one of three Blake sisters
who work for it), said the fledgling company mainly refined the Revnes
scheme. "We stressed mandatory dance evaluations, which eliminated
the shades and variations of the `I can dance' claim made by a lot
Blakes emphasize that Gentlemen Hosts are volunteers, not employees.
There's no salary--in fact, you pay the company a rate of $28 to $38
a day for the length of the cruise. But room, board and air fare are
free; ditto beverages, laundry service and gratuities (no small change
on today's ships). The men are usually provided a small cocktail allowance
to buy drinks for the solo women or spring for a bottle of wine for
the table. And they must supply their own tuxedos.
than dancing, which can consume six hours on days at sea, and hosting
dining tables, the gents are free to use the ship as any paying passenger
would. On days in port, they can go off and see the sights--a key
incentive for many of these far-roving volunteers.
a tough niche," said Jane Blake, director of operations
for Gentlemen Hosts, an outfit based in Lockport that books
the seasoned swingers on many a cruise ship. "The screening
process is like looking for a needle in a haystack--and
it has to be a golden needle."
else would I see the world?" said one host. "I can't pay
$10,000 to see the penguins in Antarctica."
Following the rules
intimacies are forbidden between host and guest, but alas ships will
be ships. Think of "Love Boat" or the 1997 movie "Out
to Sea," in which Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau sign on as dance
hosts and try to romance Dyan Cannon and Gloria De Haven.
on-board friendships have occasionally led to love and marriage, but
while at sea the gents must not play favorites.
a rule that we can't dance with a lady [again] until every other lady
has danced," said David Winter. "You never know who's watching.
On the QE2, a lady passenger went to the cruise director and said,
`I didn't get asked to dance--what am I, chopped liver?' "
no hanky-panky, no holding hands even," Harris Reiche, a host
aboard Royal Olympia's Stella Solaris, said a few years ago. Reiche,
72 now, a vigorous and athletic man from San Diego, "a gem of
a host," according to Jane Blake, was taking a break from the
dance floor as we lay off the Greek island of Delos.
been asked by women to take a walk out on deck, but we're not supposed
to," Reiche said. "You know, it almost chokes me up to see
the pleasure some of them get from dancing."
told me about an attractive Scottsdale widow whom he took to be in
her late 50s but was 70, and hadn't danced since her husband died
22 years before. "She was reluctant to start again but she really
got into it. It was a thrill to see her smile."
a baseball umpire and serious softball player who is twice divorced
with seven children, said his teammates back home had taken to calling
him `gigolo.' "Are you kidding?" he told them before leaving
on a series of cruises. "I just signed up for two months of celibacy."
who does engage in hanky-panky or otherwise bends the rules will not
see the end of the cruise. He will be put off the ship at the next
port and have to pay his way home.
tell you what our life is not," said Ed Champy, 66, a host from
Hampton, N.H. "It's not `Love Boat.' And something else: you're
not expected to dance fancy. You dance to the level of your partner."
The pleasure is his
a retired math instructor, recently worked his first set of cruises,
one to Antarctica on the Marco Polo, and later this summer he's off
to sail the Crown Odyssey in the Mediterranean. He fairly swooned
as he talked of the pleasure he gets at playing the host.
danced with a woman of 96," he said. "We got back to the
table and her granddaughter said, `Granny, how was it?' and she said,
`I don't have my heart any more.' I sort of gasped and then she goes
on, `I gave it to Ed.' How can you beat that?"
the golden needle the Blakes found in a Chicago haystack, has lately
cut back on mileage (no more round-the-world cruises, he said) while
concentrating on his beloved Mediterranean. He comes home from each
trip with a fresh list of phone numbers and e-mails and is in touch
with 20 or 30 women friends.
was looking forward to having lunch with an English woman he had met
on the Marco Polo, who was making a stopover in Chicago. He mentioned
a European cruise he had recently made, with calls in Lisbon and Bilbao
(to see the Guggenheim museum) and finishing up in Dover, where he
tacked on a week to stay with English friends near the sea. He sounded
for all the world like a jet-setter. And not just the perfect host.
Need dancing shoes, sea legs
Hosts is always looking for a few good men.
is always a shortage," said the company's Jane Blake. "We
have so many applications, but so many are not qualified."
inquire or apply, use the Web site www.theworkingvacation.com or call
David Butwin 2002
David Butwin is an award winning travel
writer from New Jersey. His articles can be found in magazines
and newspapers such as Reader's Digest, AARP's Modern Maturity
and the Chicago Tribune. His article, "'Cruising' hosts
are all aboveboard", was originally published in its entirety
in the July 24, 2002 issue of the Chicago
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