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Dancing on the Seven Seas

“On with the dance, let any joy be unconfined, is my motto…”
Mark Twain

By Lois Donahue

Dancer's Tips For Choosing a Cruise Vacation

 1. Choose your itinerary and date of travel.
 2. Look at the selection of cruise ships sailing the chosen itinerary.
 3. Using the web sites and your travel agent, research the dance opportunities on each ship.
 4. Investigate any dance groups who may have blocked space and the possibility of reaping the benefits of joining them.
 5. Book passage and send any special requests on the passenger information form.
 6. There is usually more time for dancing if you book a cruise with one seating for dinner or select the early seating for dining.
 7. A cruise with sea days equates to more dance time.

A friend of mine says that dancing is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Is that “joy unconfined”? Whatever your joy of dance might be, from swing to waltz, shipboard dancing can be one of the highlights of your cruise vacation. Knowing the steps can enhance the fun, but since the music on board is so versatile there is usually something to dance to for everybody. In the past, the common wisdom of cruise executives was that few people got up to dance when the music played. But times change and baby boomers with the means to go cruising want in on the dance action. There is an increasing interest in dancing these days, not only as a pleasurable recreation but a good cardio-vascular workout as well. Health-wise, it makes good sense to dance.

If you feel that your ability might be a little rusty, there are plenty of places to do some brushing up. Many community centers offer group or private instruction. Check your local paper or phone book for a good nightspot where you and the spouse (or friend) can rekindle the dancing feet before your cruise. In any event, not to worry, many people who go on cruises haven’t danced in years, so you’re all in the same boat (literally). Groucho Marx once quipped that, “Wives are people who feel they don’t dance enough.” So taking a cruise is your chance to get up on the dance floor and get going. Swaying to forgotten love songs or stepping out with the beat can do wonders for your soul not to mention your figure -- how else can you pleasantly burn up some of the calories the cruise lines serve so wonderfully? Think dance floors, not exercise rooms. Are we getting the picture?

How good are the cruise line dance facilities?

The available product is as varied as the dancers and the styles of dancing. The age or the size of the ship is not indicative of the dancing area or the dance floor. (See chart for cruise line responses to our questionnaire) Dance floors are irregular in shape. Some are round, oval, crescent or half circle and some have columns in odd places. Charles Rittenhouse, from Brentwood, New York, a former cruise ship dance instructor, told us about one illogical problem for serious dancers when he reflected, “Some ships have cigar smoking areas that are larger than the dance areas.” Mr. Rittenhouse in sizing things up; believes a good dance cruise should have well qualified male hosts on every cruise, flat wooden dance floors of sufficient size to dance comfortably on, and allow ample time for dancing.

Mr. Ham Granland, a ballroom dancer from Seattle, raised some interesting issues about booking a dance cruise from a brochure. Ham cautioned that finding a good one could be problematical. He said a descriptive phrase like, “large space with a dazzling dance floor,” is too vague and not much help for earnest dancing. Another dubious experience was booking a so-called big band cruise that, “attracted so many couples they had to dance in the aisles”.

The message we kept hearing over and over from dance hosts, cruise dance instructors and past passengers was a preference for the traditional liners with spacious ballrooms. Are you listening cruise lines? Professional dance instructors Orelynn Golson and husband Tom teach ballroom dancing on cruise ships. Orelynn describes Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norway as a “classic ship” with good dance floors and great music for dancing.

Bruce Good, Director of Corporate Communications for Cunard Line describes the Queen Elizabeth II and the Caronia as classic liners having the only true ballrooms afloat. The Queen’s Room on the QE II in particular has a dance area in the grand old tradition of floating ballrooms. Regal as the Queen herself, reminiscent of an era when steamers transported the privileged across the Atlantic, the Queens Room is an elegant and spacious place to dance.

Specialty Dance Cruises For Ballroom Dancers

An alternative choice for serious dancers is the group arrangement meticulously planned by such as Marion Hoar of Dance at Sea. Not only does she personally inspect every ship she books but provides dance instructors. Going all the way, she even provides a professional DJ whose vast music collection spans the popular ballroom styles. Sponsored by the U.S. Amateur Ballroom Dance Association, Marion’s dance filled cruises are 3-4 day “value priced packages”.

“Dancing at sea is wonderful, but from my experience you have to be ca reful that the facilities on the cruise ships and the personality of the cruise line are a good fit for you,” said Triangle Cruise and Travel agent Betsy Hockaday. Professional dance instructors and dance hosts enhance their 7-day Caribbean and Alaska itineraries. On some voyages they have a 1000 sq. ft. wooden portable dance floor delivered on board for the exclusive use of their guests.

Sailing Solo

Who has not heard of the wonderful gentlemen who host on a variety of cruise vessels? Whether they be called ambassador hosts, gentlemen hosts or dance hosts, the idea of having an accomplished dancer who can whirl a single lady around the dance floor is becoming an industry standard. As one single passenger put it, “What could be worse than sitting there with the music playing, your toe a tapping and no one asks you to dance. It’s like an engine revving, waiting to shift into high.”

Lauretta Blake, President of the Gentlemen Host Program and a strong cruise advocate, has devoted the last twelve years to placing single gentlemen on board cruise ships for the sole purpose of providing dance partners for unaccompanied women. This program has been highly successful due to the fact that these gentlemen are well-screened and skilled dancers. Most are retired or semi-retired professionals and businessmen. They conform to a strict code of ethics and dance an equal time with each single passenger. They also act as dinner companions, bridge partners and tour escorts.

“There are short cuts to happiness and dancing is one of them.”
Vicki Baum

If dancing is happiness for you and you love to cruise then the news for dancing at sea is looking up. Gaining in popularity is dinner dancing in the main dining room. Afternoon tea dances in salons with panoramic ocean views, such as Crystal Cruise’s Palm Court Lounges, are becoming a tradition on many ships. Grand Princess’s Painted Desert features country music where a few couples can do a lively two-step. Dancing under the stars on the pool deck is featured at least once on most cruises sailing in tropical seas.

The Cruise Line Industry has traditionally responded to consumer demand. When dancers unite to speak, via passenger comments and local USABDA Chapters, to let the cruise lines know they want larger dance floors made of wood, more time and space for dancing with traditional dance tunes, the industry will listen. Lauretta Blake summed it up when she said, “Dancing in contagious and we hope the cruise lines catch it.”

Lois Donahue Lois Donahue loisdonahue@dmv.com is a freelance travel and health writer from St. Michaels, MD. She has visited all seven continents and previously owned her own travel agency. Her article, "Dancing on the Seven Seas", was originally printed in the January/February 2001 issue of Cruise Travel magazine.

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