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Last waltz for the gentleman host?

The courtly cruise-line practice seems to be falling out of step with the times. Still, these well-mannered men are found on some sailings.

May 07, 2006|Arthur Frommer | Special to The Times

FEWER cruise lines are hiring "gentlemen hosts" -- an unfortunate development but one that increases the competitive appeal of the lines that continue to employ them.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a gentleman host is 45 to 72 years old, a good conversationalist, an excellent ballroom dancer, kindly, and of strict moral character.

Numbering as many as six per cruise ship, these men dress in blue blazers or white dinner jackets bearing a decal identifying them as employees of the line. They get free passage but are not paid and often owe a fee to the employment agency that recommended them.

The gentlemen hosts dance with unaccompanied senior women and are expected to go immediately from dinner to the ship's ballroom and to stay there, asking women to dance throughout the evening.

A dozen or so years ago, the institution of the gentleman host received attention, probably because the cruise lines were not booked to capacity and had to use every wile to attract passengers. On a phone-in radio program that I host, I received calls from women telling me how much they appreciated the presence of gentlemen hosts on their recent cruises and how pleasant it was to have a partner with whom to dance.

The recent upsurge in cruise bookings and the sold-out nature of many cruises may have caused cruise lines to regard gentlemen hosts as an unnecessary expense. After all, they occupy cabins that could otherwise be sold to paying passengers.

Which ships and which lines no longer offer gentlemen hosts on their cruises? Which do offer them?

Although no guarantees can be given and policies appear to fluctuate from season to season (and even from sailing to sailing), it appears unlikely that women will find gentlemen hosts on the two biggest lower-cost lines -- Carnival and Royal Caribbean. The other low-cost line, Norwegian Cruise Line, appears to offer gentlemen hosts only on cruises of one week or longer.

Several women have told me of encountering gentlemen hosts on longer cruises of the Norwegian Dawn, Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Cruises.

All three major ships of the Cunard Line -- the Queen Mary 2, the Queen Elizabeth 2 and the Caronia -- are probable places to find gentlemen hosts. even on sailings of only a week. Two of the costly, premium lines -- Silversea Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line -- are known for offering gentlemen hosts on all their sailings.

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