The Captain’s Table
One of the things that makes cruising a unique vacation
experience is the enclosed nature of shipboard society. During your time at sea
you will probably get to know several of your fellow cruisers quite well, and
you will certainly have very many opportunities to get to know a few of them
One of the most common features of modern cruises is the formal
ball or dinner. These special events, open to all passengers on the cruise
ship, have their origins back in the days when sea travel was divided into
classes. While the poor third class passengers sweated in the steerage
compartment, the rich men and women in first class would often be invited to
dine at the Captain’s table – this involved a high degree of formality.
Modern formal events on board cruise ships take many of the
‘Captain’s table’ traditions and update them for a more modern clientele. But a
problem remains: in our increasingly informal world, very few of us ever ‘dress
for dinner’ or attend a formal ball. What are the dos and don’ts of such
occasions? How do you carry yourself off with calm and savoir faire?
Well, the first piece of advice is this: don’t panic. Nearly
everyone attending will be in the same situation as you. Formal events on board
ship these days are really just intended as fun – a kind of novelty fancy dress
party for adults. Even so, if you’re going to contribute to a great atmosphere,
there are a few things you will need to know….
Formal dress is a lot easier for men than women. ‘Formal’ for
men means one thing: a tux. If you don’t have one – or you can’t be bothered to
drag yours along on your cruise – you will find that nearly all cruise lines
hire them out once you’re underway. One piece of advice though, gentlemen:
don’t ever kid yourself into thinking that a novelty bow tie is either funny or
stylish. The only acceptable color for a gentleman’s bow tie is black – and
make sure you know how to tie one properly, too. You don’t want to embarrass
yourself at the end of the night when everyone is loosening their ties by
revealing that yours is held on by elastic. It’s a very simple knot,
essentially the same as the one you use to tie your shoelaces. A top tip: it’s
much easier to tie a bow tie on someone else than on yourself. So why not rope
in a friend to help?
Ladies: a formal shipboard dinner usually requires
a cocktails dress rather than a ballgown. However, you would be well advised to
take advice on this before you depart. It’s more likely that you will bring
your own formal clothes. If you don’t want your delicate cocktail dress to get
all mussed up in your cabin or stateroom, enquire whether the shipboard laundry
facility will look after it for you.
It’s a good idea to revise a few central ideas of dining
etiquette. If you’re baffled by the huge array of ironmongery laid out in front
of you as you sit down, remember the simple rule: start on the outside with the
first course and work inwards. The weird thing that looks like a sharpened
spoon is a fishknife. Remember that if you have two wine glasses in front of
you the larger is probably for the ‘main’ wine and the smaller for a sweet,
Formal dinners are great fun, but they can be quite long. If
the ship operates a wine waiter system you will probably find your glass
getting filled up as soon as it is empty. It’s crucially important, therefore,
to drink in small sips rather than quaffing the stuff away in huge mouthfuls.
The combination of too much wine (red especially), followed by dessert wine
followed by that most fatal of all drinks, port, will leave you with the very
worst hangover you’ve ever experienced. Pace yourself.
On the subject of port: you pass it to the left. If you really
want to impress everyone with your knowledge of dining etiquette, do not fill
your own glass. Your fill the glass of the person on your right, and pass the
port to the person on your left – who then fills your glass.
The secret of enjoying yourself at an event like this is to be
sufficiently ‘into’ the atmosphere to help the occasion go with a swing and
sufficiently relaxed that you’re not taking it all too seriously. Remember that
the essence of etiquette and good grace is consideration for other. Whatever
minor errors of protocol you might make, if you remember this you won’t go far