The Last Word
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The trip was excellent for many reasons. First and foremost, our group had a lot of fun together. We danced together, gambled together, did yoga together, and did lots of Swing Rueda together. There were some differences between this trip and last year's. For one thing last year on the Carnival Celebration the pool was the place to be. There wasn't nearly as much pool side action on the Rhapsody, but several people they missed the water slide. Perhaps if the Rhapsody had a cool water slide they would visit the pool more. 

In some ways the incredible beauty of the Windjammer Cafe with all its windows and marvelous view of the ocean replaced last year's pool as the place to hang out. 

The Windjammer Cafe was a marvelous place to sip coffee, shoot the breeze, make friends, and get your picture taken amidst air-conditioning and incredible beauty. 

And the Windjammer was so spacious you could eat a meal in peace on the other side of the room just in case someone might be wearing a pair of hideous black socks that day.

The trip and the ship received many compliments from the people who went. There was a lot to like about the Rhapsody. For starters, the ship was drop-dead gorgeous. The picture of the Centrum should go a long way towards proving this point. 

The Broadway Melodies Theater was beautiful and the entertainment was consistently top-notch. The food was good and the cabins although small were effective and attractive.

The staff was attentive, which includes the many people who did not work directly for tips. I got the impression that RCCL had combed the planet to find the most talented people from every country to work on this ship. The crew from top to bottom was intelligent, alert, and very personable. I loved to talk to them about their home countries and noticed how consistently excellent their English was.  

Punctuality and responsibility were top-notch. The attention to details everywhere was commendable. For example, I forgot my tuxedo studs. For the very fair price of $5, I was given a set to use for Formal Night and it was delivered in 5 minutes. The cruise ran with the precision of a Swiss watch. The staff people I met were smart and socially gifted. 

Overall the Rhapsody was a wonderful ship with a marvelous staff. I was deeply impressed by the excellence of this ship and its cruise line. They have a lot to be proud of. 

However in the area of Slow Dance and Romance, I thought the Rhapsody just barely touched its potential.

For starters, the Rhapsody has this gorgeous dance facility called the "Shall We Dance Lounge". The name "Shall We Dance" is taken from one of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' most beloved movies. The Lounge had a beautiful sculpture of Fred and Ginger dancing at its entrance and beautiful murals inside depicting the Big Band era where dancing to live music was a major part of American life. The Lounge featured a spacious circular dance floor complete with a pole in the middle to help remind us of home at SSQQ. 

The Social Dancing on the Rhapsody would have improved dramatically if someone had taken the time to coordinate their phenomenal existing resources with daytime dance lessons.

What made this problem absolutely maddening for me is I could see that dance was supposed to be part of the program, but at least where our dance group was concerned, they 'missed the boat'. 

Night after night our group went to the gorgeous "Shall We Dance" Lounge only to be frustrated with the band's music, the DJ's music, and the wasted opportunities at the alleged dances (Western Night, Sock Hop Night) where Social Dancing was practically ignored.

Rather than attempt to encourage the entire audience to dance, the staff had been trained to promote silly party games where most of the people just sat, drank, smoked, and passively watched with the same enthusiasm reserved for one-sided sports events. Boredom was a prevalent emotion. 

The opportunity to dance was totally wasted while the staff concentrated on embarrassing Club Med-style sex games that could have just as easily been done by the pool. No one on the ship seemed to realize how much fun can be created from a well-coordinated dance program complete with dance mixers where everyone dances with everyone.

The current RCCL approach seemed to suggest the belief that their customers were passive and needed to be entertained rather than try to get everyone out on the floor by teaching them how to dance during the day and then reward them with a relevant dance that night. There were 7 days of wasted opportunities. 

Here in the picture on the right you have a typical dance night. Instead of having a floor full of people dancing the night away to a dance band, 100 people were forced to sit while 2 people stood out on the floor in the 30-minute Hula Hoop contest or the 30-minute Steal the Hat contest. Wake me up when the music starts. 

When you throw in the constant gagging smoke from some of the spectators, the 'one-speed fits all' dance music played by the house band, and the lack of a DJ to play requests while the band took a break, you can see how frustrating each evening was at the "Shall We Dance" Lounge. 

It is true that Social Dancing as a part of American life is in serious decline. The Art of Formal Dance has indeed become 'a Lost Art'. 

I came to this conclusion during the trip and it made me feel quite sad. Isolated from the Real World here at my Citadel known as SSQQ, I have been blissfully unaware of how little dance is involved in most people's lives. 

But once I saw how foreign dancing was to everyone outside our group, I realized Rhapsody probably took the easy way and just paid lip service to Social Dancing rather than promote it. 

In Rhapsody's defense and Royal Caribbean's, there is a good chance I expected too much. RCCL was definitely superior to Carnival in the area of social dance. 

For example, on last year's trip with the Carnival Celebration, that ship had a marvelous Captain's Reception complete with a live big band and audience. This experience was closely approximated by a similar experience on the Rhapsody. But other than that, Carnival ignored social dancing completely on the previous year's cruise. They got out of our way and let our group make its own dance magic. 

So let me say that at least the Rhapsody got an E for Effort. But what made the Rhapsody experience so maddening was that they had the potential to accomplish much more. Like a bright kid who makes a C because he doesn't study, the Rhapsody significantly underachieved in Slow Dance and Romance. 

Here is how it could have been - On the Rhapsody I noticed the daytime dance classes were packed. 

It looked to me like a lot of people wanted to learn to dance despite almost no promotion. What would happen if a social dance program became a major feature of the cruise activities?

Unfortunately this was not the case. There was absolutely no connection between the dance lessons during the day and the dance activities of the evening, a concept we take for granted here at SSQQ with our Practice Nights. 

Teach the Salsa in the morning and Intermediate Salsa in the afternoon, then have Caribbean Night. Teach the Texas Twostep in the morning, the Polka in the afternoon, then have the Western Night. Teach Jitterbug the day of the Sock Hop. This concept is pretty simple yet very powerful. 

On the first Formal Night, promote the Captain's Reception more completely and on the second Formal Night make it a Big Band New Year's Eve Swing Night!!  

Women love to dress up and be glamorous. And men are generally good sports about it too. Therefore why not make these two Formal Nights similar to a New Year's Eve complete with band and Ballroom dancing?? 

Advertise an entire day around a return to the 30s. The first night of the trip they could have their "Tribute to the Big Bands" show to begin to build interest. 

Then on the day of the Captain's Reception they could teach Foxtrot and Slow Dancing to coordinate with the first Formal Night. Then for the second Formal Night, they could have teach Swing dancing in the morning, Intermediate in the afternoon, then bring their marvelous band over to the "Shall We Dance" Lounge to reprise the melodies from their "Tribute to the Big Bands". 

By creating the "Shall We Dance" Lounge, it is obvious that someone in the RCCL organization had the same idea I had - to recreate the joy of an earlier era where social dancing was a big part of everyone's night life. 

And then there was the wonderful, under-appreciated Robert J Band that played Ballroom music in the atrium which supports the same idea. Many people from our group danced to this band and a few outsiders joined us. Speaking from the man's point of view, it felt very good to hold a woman in my arms and move gracefully together in time to the beautiful music.  

I give Rhapsody two thumbs up for providing this dance experience in the Centrum.  

So you read my comments, then you say, "Well, Rick, if you're so smart, why don't you go tell them what you think?" 

Now that's a good idea. Why don't I tell them? Guess what, I already did that exact thing.

Thursday morning as I ate breakfast in the Windjammer Café, I noticed that Captain Olaussen was eating by himself just a couple seats away. I went over and asked for permission to speak with him. He graciously invited me to sit down. I told him what I did for a living. Then I explained that I felt there was a lack of coordination between the daytime dance classes and the evening dance activities. 

I suggested that they customize the social dance lessons around the theme of that night's dance. That way the students would get a chance to practice what they learned and increase participation in the dancing. I also said I would train and supply the instructors from my studio if they wished in return for a cruise for their daily efforts. 

Captain Olaussen seemed to like my idea very much. He asked me to set up an appointment with Patrick Olin, the Hotel Director aboard the ship. Later that morning I went to the offices to set up the appointment and they already had my appointment on the books. In other words, the Captain had told them to look for me, a promising sign. 

On Saturday morning, the final day of the trip, I met for 30 minutes with Mr. Olin and with Tom Canosa, the Cruise Activities director. I handed them my five-page proposal. Mr. Olin read what I had to say and, like his Captain, seemed very receptive to my ideas. 

To my mind , Mr. Olin spoke with me as if he had accepted my offer to improve their dance program. We exchanged email addresses and left it at that. 

And that was the last I heard about it. As I write, two months have gone by and there has been no contact. No one likes to be told how to run their business so perhaps my suggestions went straight to the trash can. 

But now at least you know the real reason why I just shake my head about this cruise trip. I had hoped so much to have dancing be a bigger part of the trip than it turned out to be. 

Carnival Celebration was clueless the year before, but at least the RCCL Rhapsody seemed to be trying. I made the effort to help by talking to the 3 men most in a position to make a difference. Why they didn't follow through is a mystery to me. 

And now you know the real reason why it took me two months after the trip to write about the cruise. The fact is I was disappointed. I thought I had something to contribute and it hurt to dredge up those thoughts again.  

Cruise lines should pay close attention to the intangible concept of Romance.  "An Affair to Remember", "Titanic", and even TV's "Love Boat" have forever linked cruises and love into the mind of the American public. It is part of the Cruise Mystique.  People want love in their life. They want luxury and glamour. And they take cruise trips hoping to either capture that magic or perhaps put that magic back in their lives. 

Because this 'Mystique' means good business, a cruise line should go overboard to help their passengers find that Magic. You know and I know - but the Cruise Line doesn't know - that a direct way to start a Romance or recreate a Romance is through Slow Dance. 

Do they honestly think silly party games are going to do it? No, these cruise programs are run by very bright people and I am sure they acknowledge the shortcomings of their current Club Med approach. 

On the other hand, putting together a sophisticated dance program is hard work. Maybe they find it too big a project to undertake. If so, I will do them a favor and explain how it is done.

Slow Dance and Romance 
comes to RCCL: 

Every Cruise Trip has a 
New Year's Eve!


Let's pretend someone from RCCL actually stumbles across the SSQQ web site and decides to read this article. Here is what my suggestion would be to them:  

1.  Your passengers are with you for seven full days. People come on board looking for recreation and new things to learn.  Many people say to me if they weren't so busy in their daily lives they would love to learn to dance. Point out that now on board they have the free time and here is their chance to do just that. 

2.  Make a concerted effort to explain to your passengers that you have a coordinated week-long dance program that they can participate in. Let them know they have an opportunity to take an entire week of daily dance lessons with nightly dancing to look forward to. Point out that six days of dance lessons can cover a lot of ground. 

3.  On the very first night have the show known as 'Tribute to the Big Bands'.  The dancing and the music in this show are really inspiring. Then at the end have the emcee explain that the dance lessons will prepare the passengers to learn to the fundamentals of Swing dance as demonstrated by the professional dancers during the show.

4.  The very next day start with two hour-long lessons (one in the morning and more advanced in the afternoon) to prepare them to Slow Dance at the Captain's Reception as part of Formal Night. Explain that in addition to the Reception, throughout the week these same steps can be practiced to the Robert J Band in the Centrum any evening. 

5.  At the Captain's Reception, once they see how classy it is to dance in formal attire to a live band on a beautiful floor in an elegant room such as "Shall We Dance", they should buy into the entire dance program. 

6.  Now give them a goal to shoot for - the RCCL week-long dance program designed to teach them more about the Art of Formal Dance in preparation for a New Year's Eve-style Party at the end of the trip. 

Tell them there will be dance lessons every day for the rest of the week to prepare for the fabulous "Fred and Ginger Night". The idea is on the sixth night of the trip there will be a huge New Year's Eve-style Formal Night complete with Big Band music in the beautiful "Shall We Dance" Ballroom. Even the people who don't dance will love the spectacle.

That night the people who have stayed with their lessons will have the absolute time of their life dancing the night away. My guess is they will remember this trip as long as they live. Whether they find the romance they hoped for or not, they will at least be grateful that they were given a fighting chance to find the happiness they came looking for. 

And perhaps they will bring dance in their lives when they return to their daily life. Then they can try finding some of that magic at home as well. This would be a good thing. 

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