Dining with the captain: A cruise ship rite of passage (but not a ‘right’ of passage!)

The right attire for the Captain’s table!

There is a certain fantasy aspect to it: the formal invitation left on your stateroom door; the decision to say ‘yes’ to the invitation (who wouldn’t?); the decision about how to dress for this formal occasion(it’s always a formal occasion); the meet and greet in one of the ship’s lounges before the dinner; the parade down the inevitable great staircase in the middle of the two-tier dining room after everyone else is seated; the white-glove service; the sparkling conversation.  Oh, wait a minute – there may or may not be sparkling conversation because (a) the captain might be unable to speak English; (b) the captain might be exceedingly uncomfortable with this required part of his otherwise marine-focused career; (c) your dinner companions might have moronic political views; or (d) all of the above.  But then again, it might be a wonderful fantasy come true.

We started thinking back to our several dining experiences with ships’ captains and other assorted officers when we read an article on how to “score” an invitation to the captain’s table earlier this week.  (When we find the link again we’ll post it.)  We thought it might be fun to share a couple of stories that are imbedded in the travel memories of these discerning travelers.

Our first invitation to dine with the captain was on our 20th anniversary cruise aboard the Celebrity Century in the Mediterranean.  It was our first cruise on a Celebrity ship, but we had booked one of the largest suites on the ship: a Royal Suite (see our earlier blog post about how once you book a suite, you can never go back!).  We figured that this must be the reason for the invitation and decided that it would be a great bit of fun.  We were right.

We were lucky.  The group was congenial, international, well-dressed and well-spoken – and the table manners were impeccable.  Since then, we’ve learned that ship’s personnel scour the dining room for just such people – even if you book the biggest suite on the ship, if you and six drunken friends are sharing, you’ll never get that invitation.  The piece we read earlier this week was spot on when it suggested that the most fun part of it all might be the fact that so many of the others in the dining room that night are wondering, “How in the world did they get that invitation?”

Art, just before our first experience at the captain’s table on the Century.

The captain that evening drank nothing but water, and left after a couple of bites of dessert.  We all then sat and talked over brandy since we were enjoying ourselves so much.This was in contrast to a more recent captain’s table dining experience aboard the Silversea Silver Cloud.  The Silver Cloud is a small luxury vessel, and the day had been particularly rough – especially for such a small ship.  Neither of us is usually prone to seasickness, especially Art, but even he was a bit green that night.  And we were not alone.  There was hardly a person at the table that evening (except for the jovial captain) who was not a slight shade of green.  We ordered the dining room staples that are on offer every night regardless of the chef’s specialty of the evening: grilled chicken, steamed vegetables and a small salad.As the dinner progressed, we could see everyone else doing exactly what we were doing: we were pushing food around our plates, pretending that we were eating.  A sip of wine here, a gulp of water there, a smile at a joke the captain was making, a hiccup suppressed.  Would he never leave? (It is considered rude to leave before the captain who usually has the sense to leave early.)

Finally, after a glass of something resembling a digestif and a full dessert (or two, it’s hard to remember through the memory of the nausea), the captain finally dabbed his lips with his napkin and arose.  You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief.  As soon as he was out the door, we all arose almost in unison, bid everyone a pleasant good night and made a bee-line to our suite.  We crashed on the bed to recover from the longest dinner of our lives.  Well, we suppose it only felt that way!

Looking forward to reading this book!

There’s a new book (actually it’s not that new) out by author Sarah Edington called The Captain’s Table: Life and Dining on the Great Ocean Liners – we’ve just ordered it online and will let you know what we think.

Enjoy your invitation when it comes!