Working a passage by sea is now largely confined to crewing on privately owned yachts. The days of going down to the docks and offering to make yourself useful during a voyage are now mostly long gone but nimble on their toes gentlemen aged 40 plus can earn near free travel at sea by dancing and socialising with single women on board cruise ships.
Gentleman dance hosts (sometimes called cruise hosts) are called on to keep single female customers entertained on the dance floor, chat and mix with guests and sometimes to provide accompaniment on shore excursions. Single women outnumber men on cruise ships so dance hosts help to make up the numbers. Cruise lines offering gentleman host programmes include Fred Olsen, Saga, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas and Holland America.
Perks for dance hosts include almost free travel – there is usually a small fee payable to an agency so the cruise is not quite free – tips, discounts, a drinks allowance and dining room privileges, and sometimes shore excursions and round trip airfares.
Dance hosts should be sociable, physically fit single men, aged 40 to 70, with impeccable manners and grooming and, of course, with good dance skills in dances such as the waltz, rumba and quickstep.
Eric Foster who came out of early retirement describes the role of a ‘Ghost’ as “much harder work than I ever experienced as a younger man! I never thought I had such stamina as is needed now. Dance Hosts have nearly every dance from about 7 30pm to after midnight every night.”
Speaking to the Telegraph, Jim Wood, an ex US Air Force pilot, told how he had visited 140 countries in the 20 years since his first assignment. He said he frequently finds that the women sitting on their own are recently widowed. “I’ll ask a lady to dance and discover it’s the first time she has taken to the floor since the death of her husband. You have to be gentle and empathetic in that situation.”
Jim Wood’s background isn’t unusual. Dance hosts needn’t be professional dancers. US agency, The Working Vacation say most of their hosts are retired or semi-retired with background in business, law, finance, travel, medicine, education and the military.