DINING WITH THE
Richard H. Wagner
Cruise ship feature article - - Norwegian Jewel - - Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) - - Dining With The Officers
At one time, it was standard practice for the senior officers on
passenger ships to host a table at dinner. The best known
example of this is the captain's table where a number of
distinguished guests would be asked to dine with the master of
the vessel. Less well-known is the fact that some of the
subordinate officers would also act as hosts. For example, on
the Queen Elizabeth 2 as late as the 1990s, the hotel manager,
the chief engineer, and the ship's doctor all had their own tables
in the ship's main dining room.
This tradition of the sea received a major blow with the
introduction of flexible dining on cruise ships. In the past,
guests would dine in the ship's main dining room at a specified
time - - either the early seating or the late seating. Thus, all of
the guests dining at one of the officer tables would arrive and
have dinner at the same time. With the advent of flexible dining,
all of the guests no longer dined at the same time - - they come
to dinner whenever they so desire. Furthermore, with the
proliferation of alternative dining venues, all of the guests no
longer dine in the main dining room. As a result, an officer
might end up sitting at an empty table, dining by himself. In
addition, restaurant managers anxious to have more seats for
passengers during peak hours looked longingly at the seats
occupied by the ship's officers.
The result is that very few of the lines still have officer tables.
Captains on Carnival, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Holland
America and some other lines still do host tables on formal
nights for VIPs and passengers high in the lines' loyalty
programs. But it is often up to the individual captain whether to
host a table on a particular cruise. A notable exception is
Cunard, where there are still subordinate officer tables on
Once again demonstrating its willingness to go against the trend,
Norwegian Cruise Line, the line that popularized flexible
dining, is experimenting with officer tables on the Norwegian
Jewel. "There were a lot of things in traditional cruising that
were nice and we do not have to throw them away. We have to
keep the good things and improve the other ones" explains Hugo
Vanosmael, Hotel Director on the Jewel.
In today's environment, "the problem is how you are going to do
Under NCL's approach, an item is included in the ship's daily
program, the Freestyle Daily, saying that guests who are
interested in dining with the ship's officers can sign up at the
ship's reception desk. Thus, the program is completely
voluntary and no one feels obligated to go. On some cruises, as
many as 400 guests will sign up.
The item in the daily program goes on to inform readers that the
guests who will be invited to dine with the officers will be
selected at random. "It's a draw. People sign up and if they are
not picked, I never have had any complaint. If you end up with
the captain, it is sheer luck of the draw. There is no jealousy. It
is a fun thing."
Guests who win the lottery are informed by a letter delivered to
their cabins. It tells them when the dinner will take place,
where to meet and who the officer will be that will be hosting
The letter I received said to meet in the ship's art gallery at 7:15
p.m. the next day. When I arrived, the gallery was a beehive of
activity with members of the ship's staff checking off names and
introducing the participants to the officers who would be hosting
their tables. The officer then introduced the guests to each other.
Once the groups had assembled, we were led to the nearby
Tsar's Palace, one of Jewel's two main dining rooms. A huge
room at the stern of the ship, the Tsar's Palace is decorated in
the style of Imperial Russia, with white walls embellished with
gold trim and reproductions of portraits of the tsars. One enters
in the grand style, down a curving staircase.
A series of large tables in the center of the room had been
reserved for the officers. "Normally, we can do ten tables."
Between 80 and 100 people participate.
Each table is hosted by an officer. "The seniors are always
there - - the captain, the staff captain, the chief engineer and me,
we always go." Other officers participate on a voluntary basis
provided their duties allow.
My table was hosted by Brian Walters, the Assistant Hotel
Director, who has been with NCL for 37 years. As such, he was
not only able to talk about cruising today but also entertain the
passengers with memories of the early days of NCL and of his
time on the legendary SS Norway. One of the virtues of officer
tables is that it develops a rapport that personalizes the
relationship between the passengers and the cruise line.
The guests at the table were a mixture of couples and passengers
traveling solo. Several were first time cruisers. Most were
from the New York City area (Jewel is homeported in New
York) but there was also a guest from the UK. Although they
were strangers prior to sitting down, the conversation flowed
fluently. "People are still interested in meeting other people and
never will that change," notes Mr. Vanosmael.
Resort casual was the dress code. A few of the guests wore
jackets but no ties. Most were dressed in slacks and a top.
The menu was the same menu as the menu for the rest of the
restaurant. I had the salmon filet - - an item available each night
- - and it was cooked perfectly. This was followed by a rather
good strawberry soufflé.
A tradition at officer tables is that the wine is on the house. On
this occasion, the Jewel poured a chardonnay and a cabernet
Throughout the meal, the restaurant staff was very attentive.
One might be tempted to think that this was because a senior
officer was at the table. However, on other nights in the Tsars, I
found the service to be prompt and professional.
The evening was a very enjoyable experience and the friendship
began there lasted throughout the cruise. In addition to creating
a bond between the passengers who participated and NCL, the
event also benefited NCL's relationship with the other
passengers. "People see that we are going out with people,
sitting at the tables and having a dinner. That is good PR."
The dining with the officers program on Norwegian Jewel is
complimentary. It is offered on most cruises but not on all
cruises. For example, on cruises where there are a large
number of families traveling, there is a greater need for large
tables and so the tables used for the officer program are not
The dinners are held in Jewel's impressive Tsars Palace main dining room.
Hotel Director Hugo Vanosmael
Assistant Hotel Director Brian
Walters hosting a table.
Above: Salmon fillet.
Below: Strawberry souffle.