Imagine a job where you get to spend pretty much your entire day dancing and socializing with a variety of interesting people, and best of all getting paid for it. Well, that is if you consider getting to cruise for free as getting paid.
That’s the job Wayne has been performing for the past several years onboard the ships of Holland America. He’s what is known as a “social host,” and he is currently serving in that capacity onboard Holland America’s m.s. Statendam during this 35-day cruise of Hawaii and the South Pacific. Wayne’s job, if you want to call it a job, is to “entertain” ladies who may either be traveling alone, or just desire a dance partner at various functions around the ship.
But what’s really involved in this “cushy” job? Well, a lot more than meets the eye, that’s for sure.
“We used to be called dance hosts, but that title has recently changed to Social Host,” Wayne explained. “We’re also known as social ambassadors or gentleman hosts as well. True, the job is a lot of fun, but it can be a great deal of work too. It also requires quite a bit of physical stamina.”
Wayne explained that he’s often on the go from noon to midnight everyday while onboard. These hours can extend even longer if he’s on a shore excursion with passengers any particular day. In addition to being in attendance wherever the orchestra is playing, he also must attend many of the special dance events onboard the ship, such as sailaway parties and certain gala ball events. “We also help out with the dance classes and make ourselves available as dance partners during them as well. We’re always available in the lounges for cocktail hour dancing, and often later on up in the Crow’s Nest for late evening dancing as well. Then we host tables at the daily ‘single and solos luncheons,’ as well as hosting dinner tables, especially on formal nights. Dancing is a big part of our jobs, but it’s certainly not all that’s required of us. We need to be good conversationalists and tour escorts as well.”
Wayne explained that Holland America usually provides the services of Social Hosts on all of its longer itineraries, generally those in excess of 14 days. They will try to work it out so that each Social Host averages about four regular dance partners. Contrary to popular belief, Wayne told me that the social hosts aren’t just there to serve as dance partners for single women who are traveling alone. “Oftentimes married women will need dance partners as well,” he told me. “They may have husbands who don’t dance for one reason or another, and who are only too happy for us to take the pressure off of them by dancing with their wives.”
On the subject of single or widowed women, Wayne told me that the job of social host onboard a cruise ship can often lead to lifelong friendships. “Lots of very close friendships can develop in this job and I’ve seen some dance hosts who have moved on to personally escorting some of their former dance partners on future cruises. Often for women traveling alone, it is comforting to have someone onboard to look after them exclusively, joining them on excursions as well as serving as their exclusive dance partner. While I’ve never accompanied a former dance partner on such a cruise yet, I have escorted people on shore excursions, looking after them and providing personal assistance as necessary.”
Wayne normally does about three cruises a year with Holland America and sometimes picks up a fourth on short notice. “There are agencies we use, such as To Sea with Zee, where we can go onto a website and select the cruises we would be interested in doing. I’ll usually do three a year, because that’s all I currently have time for. But sometimes I’ll help them out if they need me for a fourth, such as when someone backs out on short notice.”
Wayne explained that the job of social host is one more geared to retired gentlemen. “After all, how could someone managing a busy career get away for several long cruises a year?,” he asked. The job is also ideally suited for those who truly love to dance, maybe having done it professionally in the past. Wayne has over 14 years worth of dance experience, having most seriously pursued his interest in the discipline after his retirement.
Wayne’s dance experience covers the whole gamut of dance types, from the modern to classical ballroom genres. “We social hosts have to be familiar with a wide variety of dance styles,” he told me, “especially if we’re going to teach or even help out with the dance classes onboard.” Wayne has been involved for years in his local ballroom dance society at home in Victoria, British Columbia. He also serves as a dee jay at many of the group’s dance events. To keep in shape while at home, he also likes to bicycle several miles each day.
“I’ve been working as a social host onboard ships for about seven years now,” Wayne told me. “I love the chance to travel that this work provides. My favorite destination is the Mediterranean, but I’m happy going pretty much anywhere. We truly live in a small world, and I’d like to see as much of it in my lifetime as I possibly can.”
In addition to the Statendam, Wayne has also done sailings on both the Noordam and the Prisendam. He has so far served as a social host on some 20 cruises, most of them with Holland America. “I love meeting so many interesting and wonderful people,” Wayne told me. “That -- more than anything else -- is what makes my job so enjoyable. I’ve really developed close bonds with some of the people I’ve met in my travels,” he added.
I asked Wayne if he has ever been a social host on a World Cruise. “Funny you should mention that,” he laughed. “I think Holland America might be a bit perturbed with me right now. I just turned down an offer for next year’s World Cruise.”
Wayne explained that while he loves serving as a social host onboard Holland America’s ships, he also loves his life at home too. “I am very involved in our ballroom dance society, and in various community organizations in and around Victoria,” he told me. “So I like to spend some time close to home too. While I’d love to do a World Cruise, being away from home for that length of time is just a bit too much for me right now.”
While still a relatively young man, Wayne has enjoyed a rather interesting career history. He’s been involved professionally in dancing for the past seven years, but before that enjoyed a 25-year career as a financial planner. He’s also spent many years working in and around airplanes, mainly as an aerial photographer. Having these varied experiences makes him ideally suited to the function of a social host as those experiences provide him with plenty of versatility as a conversationalist.
“While I don’t mind talking about my experiences and my life,” Wayne told me, “my favorite thing is to learn a bit about the lives of the many people I meet while onboard for these longer cruises. You really get to know people over the course of 35 days,” he added. “And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the best part of my job as a social host.”
Somehow I think the people Wayne spends time with his cruises would probably feel the same way. Meeting and getting to know him has probably equally enriched their lives. It certainly has mine.