Tidewater Traveler - June 2010


The Captain's Dinner
George W. Sellers


On most cruises, at least one evening meal is designated to be a “formal” night, and often the formal night is dubbed to be the Captain’s Dinner. This is a time to be formally introduced to the ship’s Captain and to be photographed with him. Many guests view this as an opportunity to show off their best attire. Often tuxedos and evening gowns are donned.
One of the questions most often asked by clients as they are preparing for a cruise is “How formal do we have to be?” It is not an easy question to answer. Each cruise line has its own recommendations/expectations, and it appears that the documentation offered by the cruise lines is purposefully vague when describing how guests should dress for formal nights. Granted, there are some people who eagerly anticipate formal dinners aboard a cruise, and they pack tuxedos and evening gowns in preparation for the event.
Without the aid of a survey, I feel quite confident in saying that the vast majority of cruisers do not want to dress formally while on vacation. It is not a matter of snobbery for those who like to dress up, for they are perpetuating a tradition as old as cruising itself.
Those of us who prefer less formal attire often reason that it is unnecessary to pack the extra duds for just a couple of hours of wear. After all, luggage space is precious, and unless you are flying on Southwest Airlines, you will pay a premium for that luggage to travel with you.
It is often the male of the species that is more resistant to formal wear on a cruise. They are often heard saying, “Hey, it’s my vacation, why do I have to dress up if I don’t want to?”
Well, there really are no clothing police on cruise ships. For a person who prefers not to dress formally, there are options. Dress smartly – if not a tuxedo, consider a dress shirt and slacks with or without a tie. Or, for the ladies, a comfortable dress or slacks and blouse will be fine.
It’s probably best not to show up to a formal dinner in a swim suit and t-shirt. If you think you will feel uncomfortable attending a formal dinner not dressed formally, consider that nearly every cruise ship has alternative dining locations onboard.
At age seven, Aaron rarely volunteers to dress up. He is always happy to wear sweat pants with a Mickey T-shirt or, when warm enough, just a bathing suit. But this evening is different. Before leaving home, Mom had asked him to pick out a nice pair of dress slacks – something without knee holes or grass stains. And although he did not at that point know why, a new dress shirt and necktie in his size had appeared with the things to be packed for the family vacation.
Like most boys of his age (actually, like most boys of any age), Aaron really does not like getting dressed up, but mom and dad have been talking about a very special event for this evening, the second night of their trans-Atlantic cruise aboard the Disney Magic.
Hanging on the hook outside the closet is a black tuxedo for dad and a long blue gown for mom. His own attire for the evening is draped across the rungs of his bunk ladder, and with none of the usual fuss about getting dressed up, Aaron is making himself ready for the special event. He slips on crisp-looking, dressy khakis and a long-sleeved oxford cloth shirt with buttoned collar. Mom takes extra time to unscramble his hair, and dad renders assistance with the necktie. Wow! He looks good. He is ready.
Amazingly, he is ready to meet the Captain, shake his hand, be photographed with him and then proceed to dinner with the Captain. Who would have guessed that a seven-year-old would be this excited about meeting the Captain?
Down the elevator, through the long corridor to the ship’s main atrium, and the family joins a queue. Aaron cannot yet see where the line is leading, but he is pretty sure that meeting the Captain will be his reward for waiting patiently. To pass the time he fingers the stripe on the slacks of his dad’s tuxedo and feels the texture of his mom’s special gown.
Slowly the family advances in the queue to the point where Aaron can see the flash of camera lights. Finally, it is his turn. A voice speaks, “Aaron, this is the Captain. Captain, this is Aaron and his family.” Aaron is in disbelief as he and his parents shake the Captain’s hand and are positioned for a photograph.
As the family walks away from the staging area, tears are streaming down little Aaron’s cheeks. “What’s wrong?” asks dad. “That wasn’t the Captain!” says Aaron. “That wasn’t Captain Hook! I thought we were going to meet Captain Hook! That was just the man who runs the ship!”
What a disappointment! After all the preparation and anticipation, it was not the Captain that he had expected.
We cannot leave the story here because the good news is that later that same evening Aaron did meet the “real” Captain Hook. He also met Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Mickey Mouse (a.k.a. Steamboat Willie). He shook hands with each of them and was photographed with each of them.
Fortunately for Aaron, his family chose to sail on a Disney cruise, because the opportunity to meet Disney characters abounds. There are more character sightings each day on this cruise than one might have in a week at one of the Disney theme parks.
Aaron’s parents are enjoying this cruise beyond their expectations, in part because of the vast array of children’s activities aboard that free them to enjoy the vast array of adult activities and entertainment.
Aaron and his four-year-old sister each wear a wrist band with embedded radio frequency ID information, and their parents carry a pager provided for them by the children’s program. The children beg to attend the Oceaneer’s Club (for younger tykes) and the Oceaneer’s Lab (for older children), areas of the ship set aside just for them. Each time a child arrives at the Club or the Lab, he or she is electronically checked in, and each time a parent picks up a child, they too must provide their own electronic ID and secret password.
There is also a teen club located in the aft stack of the ship, a huge area devoted to teens. Teens would rather be there than anywhere on the ship.
Surprisingly, there are more adults without children on this Disney cruise than there are families with children. The ship has several adults-only areas, and adults can enjoy the amenities of traditional ocean cruising whether traveling with or without children.
Most Disney cruises are sold out, and this one is not an exception. One would expect a full-to-capacity Disney cruise ship to be overrun with children, but such is not the case. The combination of children’s programs and designated areas makes this a very pleasant cruise, even for folks who prefer not to be inundated with munchkins. It appears the only requirement for taking a Disney cruise is to be a child at heart.
May all your travels be happy and safe!

George Sellers is a Certified Travel Counselor and Accredited Cruise Counselor who operates the popular travel website and travel planning service www.SellersTravel.com. Comments or suggestions about Tidewater Traveler articles may be directed to George’s Facebook business page: George@SellersTravel.com.