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The Working Vacation & The Gentlemen Host Program

Cruise Hosts Help Float a Lady's Boat

By Tom Wharton
The Salt Lake Tribune

David Hopkins remembers one of his ocean cruise dance partners well.

Their dance, she told him, marked the first time in 15 years that a man had put his arms around her.

"There are not enough single men, fortunately for me, that travel to supply enough people to dance with," Hopkins says. "Most of the single people traveling are women."

For these single ship cruisers, Hopkins plays gentleman host -- paid by the cruise lines to dance and delight the paying clientele.

But don't call Hopkins, a retired accountant from California, a gigolo. Hosts are forbidden from state-room dalliances.

Single women who travel "like cruises because they don't have to worry about taxis and where they are going to eat," Hopkins says. "They only have to unpack once and don't have to worry about where they are."

Before they are hired, gentleman hosts must pass a background check and agree not to engage in intimate activity with the passengers. They also must pass a dance test.

A few of the hosts are gay. That's fine, say the women, who are more concerned about a companion who won't step on their toes.

In return for dancing and socializing, hosts receive free airfare, cruise and laundry, and they don't have to tip the crew.

Recently, though, the tables have turned. Hopkins and some of the women who enjoy dancing with gentleman hosts complain that a few cruise lines, in an effort to save money, have asked hosts to pay their own airfare and to start tipping.

"We dance seven days a week, three hours a night, and don't get paid," Hopkins says. "Entertainers get all this paid for them. It's not fair, and I won't do that."

Wanda Ward, a cruise veteran from Phoenix who spends four or five months in an average year aboard a ship, warns that if cruise lines do away with the hosts and she's left without a dancing partner, she will quit cruising.

"Not everyone wants to see the floor show," she says. "I've seen it all, and it's old hat."

Not to worry, says Heather Sheats of the Florida-based Norwegian and Orient cruise ship lines.

Gentleman hosts are important on longer cruises, Sheats says. "They provide a pleasant experience for older women traveling alone."

The host program is such a big part of the Orient line's cruises that there are no plans to make hosts pay their airfare or tips, Sheats says.

That should be good news to gentleman hosts such as Hopkins. On your next cruise, he will be the guy wearing the blue blazer, white shirt, tan pants, red tie and white shoes.

Ask him to dance.


© The Salt Lake Tribune

Tom Wharton is an adventure reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune, and the author of many books about the outdoors. His article, "FANCY DANCERS: Cruise Hosts Help Float a Lady's Boat", was originally published in The Salt Lake Tribune on August 29, 2002. It has been reprinted here with permission.

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