Cruising the light fantastic Companions: A single lady can count on a good time at sea and a spin around the dance floor courtesy of a gentleman host.

November 02, 1997|By Korky Vann | Korky Vann,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Wanted: SM, 50+, who loves to travel. Must be great dancer, stylish dresser, good conversationalist and available for all-expenses-paid extended ocean voyages.

If this job description sounds too good to be true, check again. Right now, on luxury liners and cruise ships, an elite group of debonair, mature gentlemen are fox-trotting and cha-cha-ing their way to exotic ports of call.

"In the cruising world, they're known as dance hosts, ambassador hosts or gentlemen hosts," says Adele Malott, who, with her husband, Gene, edits Mature Traveler newsletter. "Hosts are the guys hired to balance out the number of single women traveling."

But before you dust off your dancing shoes and Dramamine and apply, you'd better read the fine print. To be a dance host, you must have impeccable manners, be well-dressed and charming to all of the passengers all of the time. Most important, you have to be able to dance, and that's every dance, at every dance lesson and dancing session throughout the length of the cruise.

"Just for starters, you'd better be able to do the fox trot, the waltz, the samba, mambo and merengue, the rumba and the swing," says James Wood, 63, a retired engineering executive from Allentown, Pa., who is an ambassador host with Crystal Cruises.

The host concept was originated in the early '80s as a winter promotion on the now defunct Royal Cruise Line. At the time, the idea of providing male escorts for single women travelers raised more than a few eyebrows.

"Some travel agents flatly refused to book their clients on any ships that had 'those hired gigolos,' " says Mimi Weisband, director of public relations for Crystal Cruises.

But the program was so successful that a number of other lines picked up the idea. Nine lines -- including Crystal Cruises, the Cunard Line, Orient Lines and the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. -- now employ dance hosts.

"Single women passengers can do a lot of activities by themselves, but they can't ballroom dance alone. And good dance music is a primary feature of most cruises," says Joe McGrath, director of on-board passenger services for Commodore Cruise Lines, which features a seven-piece orchestra and dance quartet.

Although hosts do get to go to exotic places for free, says Gary Gerbino, spokesman for Orient Lines, the job is not as easy as it appears. Hosts walk a fine line of being social and charming without ever becoming too familiar. When they're not in their cabin, he says, they're on duty.

During his 5 1/2 years as a host, Wood has danced his way to more than 78 countries. In between cruises, he works out, watches his weight and takes dance lessons to keep up to date on the latest dance trends. Wood recently left for back-to-back cruises to South America; Acapulco, Mexico; and Singapore. Once on board, his days can start as early as 9: 30 a.m., and run until the wee hours of the morning. As compensation, Wood gets free trips, valued anywhere between $6,000 and $22,000, air fare to and from departure locations, and an on-board allowance for liquor, laundry and incidentals.

Since the recent movie "Out to Sea," which featured Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as left-footed dance hosts seeking love and wealth on a Caribbean cruise, cruise line directors say applications for dance host positions have picked up. In real life, says Weisband, neither of the characters would have passed the rigid screening process, which includes interviews, background checks and dancing evaluations.

"Hosts are on board for dancing, not romancing," says Weisband. "Gold diggers need not apply."

Pub Date: 11/02/97

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