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Gentlemen Hosts - The Working VacationLet the Little Girl Dance

by Linda Coffman

As I prepared for the Captain's Welcome Aboard Reception on Silversea's Silver Whisper, song lyrics from my teenage years ran through my mind... "little wallflower on the shelf, standing by herself."

I was sailing solo. An "unaccompanied female," like many others who love to travel but are widowed, divorced, or just don't happen to have a traveling companion. We usually far outnumber "unaccompanied men."

Was it really worth all the trouble to go through the formal night ritual of makeup and hair and a gown and heels? Sailing solo, would I find myself sipping champagne and discussing recipes and grandchildren with other unaccompanied ladies?

I had worried needlessly. While I watched couples on the dance floor and tapped my foot in time to the music of the Silver Whisper Quintet, a gentleman who greeted me at the gangway the previous day appeared. "Would you care to dance?" Would I? I love to dance! My dance partner was Ken King, one of two Gentlemen Hosts® on board for the entire cruise. 

Ken accompanied me to the floor of the Viennese Lounge as the music changed from a slow number to one a bit livelier. I do love to dance, but it's been many years since my last "social dance" class. Recognizing my hesitation, Ken adjusted his lead to a tempo I could easily follow. Such consideration!

Gentlemen Hosts - The Working Vacation

Ken King and a dance partner

And such a wonderful idea. Knights in formal attire to rescue ladies without partners from the ivory tower isolation of wallflowerdom. How lovely for us to be a part of the ship's social scene. I wondered how this idea came about.

Shall We Dance?
Ken explained hosting began when a cruise line's top executive noticed female passengers seated alone on one of his ships. His wife encouraged him to invite one of them to dance. He was chagrined when she cried as they danced, thinking he had stepped on her toes. Later, he learned her husband had died and she was deeply touched by the experience of dancing again. He thought to himself that there should be more gentlemen to mingle the ladies and, more importantly, to ask them to dance. Thus, a hosting program was inaugurated to fill that void.

In 1987, Lauretta Blake's organization, The Working Vacation® Inc, became involved with hosting and the rest is, as they say, history. Since its inception, the Gentleman Host® program has been wildly popular.

By now, if you saw the movie Out to Sea, with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, you might be snickering. Ms. Blake actually assisted writer, Bob Jacobs, and Twentieth Century Fox with background information for the movie, but the film's main characters couldn't be more different than Ken King and his Gentleman Host® colleagues.

Gentleman Host® candidates are carefully screened by Ms. Blake's agency, which also requires background checks, and their dancing skills must pass the muster of a professional Dance Review evaluation. In addition, hosts agree to abide by a lengthy set of rules. For instance, they cannot ask the same woman to dance twice in a row or focus on asking an escorted woman to dance, even if her male companion is glued to the blackjack table in the casino. And they cannot pick favorites and, well, you know... become too familiar.

If being a host sounds easy, rest assured—it's not all fun and games. Although it can be that too, hosts are kept busy on board with a myriad of activities. In addition to dancing until the wee hours of the morning, hosts are often called upon to greet embarking passengers, give dance lessons, host singles parties and a table in the dining room, and participate in social games, such as Bridge, trivia, shuffleboard, and even chess. Ken's eyes sparkle when he describes teaching children how to sail kites off the fantail of a riverboat.

Depending on the cruise line, a host's duties might also include escorting tours. Ken accompanied several Silver Whisper shore excursions to look out for the comfort and safety of passengers. With a backpack full of necessities, he was prepared to administer first aid, accompany a sick passenger to the hospital if necessary, and report any emergency situations to the ship.

What do these gracious gentlemen receive in return? It varies by cruise line; however, some benefits can include passenger cabin accommodations, modest allowances for beverages, gratuities, and laundry services, airfare, shore excursions, and the opportunity to travel around the world. Gentleman Hosts® are not employed by the cruise lines—they are volunteers who pay a modest agency fee to participate in the program. And, of course, as Ken explained, there is the personal satisfaction they derive from doing nice things for nice people.

According to Ms. Blake, "Women have told us and, over the years, many other people traveling remark on the cordial ways the Hosts interact every day and, of course, women love the music and dancing with the Gentlemen Hosts® each evening. They repeatedly tell us that the Hosts are a major reason that keeps them returning to cruises. Many of the gentlemen tell us that they are truly invigorated from the experiences they share and by their new friendships with cruise guests." 

Gentleman Host® Program Fast Facts

  • Hosts are single men who range in age from 40 to 70
  • They are generally retired or semi-retired
  • Their backgrounds include careers in business, finance, law, travel, medicine, education, and the military
  • They are sociable gentlemen who mingle well and have excellent manners 
  • Hosts enjoy dining, dancing, games, shipboard activities, and touring ashore

For more information on the Gentleman Host® Program, visit The Working Vacation web site, call 708-301-7535, or write to info@theworkingvacation.com.

Additionally, Crystal Cruises offers their own host program that includes carefully screened gentlemen with interests and backgrounds similar to those of their guests on every sailing. Each Crystal Cruises' Ambassador Host is cultured, well traveled, and an accomplished ballroom dancer. Gentlemen interested in the Ambassador Host Program may send their resumes containing information about their dancing abilities to: 

Sheila Hoffman, Ambassador Host Program
Crystal Cruise s
2049 Century Park East, Suite 1400
Los Angeles, CA 90067

Submit a letter, resume, headshot photograph, and VHS/DVD of dance work being performed within a professional dance studio. It can be important that those interested in Ambassador Host positions possess extensive experience on other cruise lines in the same capacity.

Finally, I just had to ask Ken, do unaccompanied female passengers ever, um... hit on the Gentlemen Hosts®? I guess I'll never know. Ken smiled, but was too much of a gentleman to respond.


Illustrations courtesy of The Working Vacation®

"Little wallflower on the shelf, standing by herself" is from the 1960 R&B hit Let the Little Girl Dance (peak Billboard position #7 in 1960; performed by by Billy Bland, words and music by Henry Glover and Carl Spencer).


Sailing Solo - On embarkation day it's evident that cruise ships are modern incarnations of Noah’s Ark. What's it like to be a female on your own?


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