Dance Floors and Ships
They make a lovely couple, said the lady sitting next to me as the tuxedoed American whirled my wife around QE2’s dance floor. Honestly, I leave her alone for just a moment – I’d only been going to the loo. There’s three in this marriage. Breathless, she returned to our table. “How come you look so good when you are dancing with him?” I asked. “Because he provides a frame and he leads me,” she said. As if I didn’t!
It turned out he was one of Cunard’s professional dance hosts, learnt his skills from a set of DVDs and travelled the world for free, escorting the single ladies to and from their seats. A pleasant, intelligent guy, I learnt later as he joined us for supper. Suavely handsome too in an American kind of a way. The rat.
I wanted to be like him.
Taking a cruise opens the world to greater things than continents. So enter the world of ballroom dancing, an alternate universe, the world of dance at your feet – if you can keep upright. In these two articles I’ll reveal the magic of dance on board ship, from top deck to bilge water, giant waves and all. I’ll tell you where to dance, when to dance, what to dance, even how to dance.
As most of my experience of dancing on the oceans has been with Cunard and P&O the following is largely concerned with those cruise lines though any advice the reader is able to glean also applies to other companies.
Let’s commence with the all-important dance floor. Pride of place goes to Cunard.
Don’t expect sea-going ballrooms of Blackpool Tower Ballroom proportions because ships cannot exceed a certain width and there are other essential provisions to bear in mind when designing a ship – rock climbing wall, bungee jumping, synchronised swimming in the Aqua Theater.
The Queen’s Room on Queen Mary 2 is the largest ballroom afloat with its full ship’s width, 1,225-square-foot of space, being 25 feet wide and 43 feet long. I’m awash with statistics. So here’s a lifeline. Imagine Mo Farrah were to run flat out round the periphery of the room. By the time he had completed the circuit he would have forgotten, a) that daft Mobat celebration of his, and b) his water bottle.
So the ballroom is massive, plush, high enough with its double height ceiling for a chandelier and, crucially, it possesses a wooden floor with sufficient spring to cushion tired feet. All in all, quite the venue for those long transatlantic voyages. Not only is it the best ballroom afloat, it rivals any ballroom anywhere on land for sheer magnificence.
The Queen Elizabeth also shows off her royal credentials. The lavish Queen’s Room has royal themes, Elizabethan or Ascot. Murals of English country houses adorn the walls and there’s an expensive Swarovski chandelier to lighten your evenings. Once again, size matters, with some 1,000 square foot of wooden floor, big enough to spin round in the Maserati you’ve paid for by forgoing the annuity. Queen Victoria (the ship) is more or less the same size, its Queens Room modelled on Queen Victoria’s (the Queen) home, Osbourne House.
There’s something undeniably grand about the Queens’ ballrooms: dressed up to the eyeballs, in your best bib and tucker, they make one dance better, apart that is for the evenings when the Captain gives away his free cocktails. Then you only think you dance better.
The best dance floor on P&O is undoubtedly Harlequins on the Oriana with its large, rectangular space. We’re not talking sprung floor here but at least it has a wooden floor and space for a reasonably fast quickstep. (Avoid anything to do with marble floors for anything faster than tiptoe through the tulips.) I’m certainly not claiming one can always stop quickstepping before you meet the tables and, on one unforgettable occasion when crossing the Bay of Biscay, I didn’t. But that’s another story and I avoided the lawsuit anyway. It’s a fine room, central, with the entertainment team always willing to decorate the place with bunting and such for the most flimsy of reasons. They’ll join in the dancing too but I’ll talk about the staff later.
Other ships on the fleet have varying sizes of floor. I have a particular regard for the stylish Arcadia as a ship having once weathered an Arctic storm with only a mild attack of terror. The dancing space is limited however. “Gapping” is one of the quibbles of many a Strictly judge. (When the gap between the two dance parters is too great.) You’d be hard pressed to suffer that stylistic blemish on the Arcadia, quite the reverse really, more Buenos Aires nightclub shuffle. You could swing a field-mouse in it. But I like the place. When not dancing one can always take a break and admire the pricey artwork in the gallery behind the Piano Bar. That £1,200 print (one of only two hundred) would transform our lounge.
I had high hopes for P&O’s latest ship, Azura, launched in 2010 by the prima ballerina Darcey Bussell, no less, alongside Craig Revel Horwood and the then Strictly champion, Tom Chambers. It has three spaces for dancing but in reality the two main concert rooms are used for more lucrative purposes (folk drink more when watching a performer) leaving the decorative but, for all practical purposes, diminutive central atrium floor as the key area for dancing. Navigating the crowds weaving their their way from the marble staircase calls for the sort of dexterous footwork that American instilled six years or so ago in my wife. The atrium also gives one the theatrical experience. Dancers may be overlooked in terms of the actual acreage yet gaze upwards and hundreds gaze down at you from the ascending balconies above. Lost in admiration, envy or pity, it’s hard to say, but you dance in a goldfish bowl.
I’ve never sailed on her myself but I’m told the Aurora has a good space for dancing.
Although there is always a designated area for ballroom dancing, other venues will be utilised for dancing on all the P&O ships, rooms normally set aside for Shirley Bassey impressionists. The venues will vary to fit whatever the Cruise Director and Captain deem fit: Black Tie Balls, Black and White Balls, Buccaneer Balls, James Bond Balls, a lot of balls; Ladies Nights, Captain’s Cocktail Receptions, or for that matter Captain’s Log, Stardate 1612.2. Any excuse to party.