Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Love Boat

When I was a kid in the late ‘70s, Saturday night meant The Love Boat, the TV adventures of Captain Stubing, the crew of the Pacific Princess, and an all-star guest cast of passengers who came aboard every week looking for love. It was great fun and probably single-handedly responsible for a huge increase in the popularity of cruise ships. It was also responsible for a huge number of misconceptions about the cruise industry.

The fresh-faced American crew is the first thing you won’t find on most cruise ships, since the vast majority of cruise ships are not American flagged. Capt. Stubing in real life is more likely to be British, Norwegian, or Greek than American. Ditto for your yeoman purser, Gopher, although Holland America, for instance, frequently has American officers in the hotel department. Your bartender Isaac, though? He's probably from the Philippines, a Caribbean island (the Bahamas is a common recruiting ground), or any of a number of other Third World countries. Isaac probably earns not much more than $500 a month, so tip him well before you head off to the Promenade Deck with Charo.

Your Cruise Director, Julie, just might be an American. Why? Because she speaks English, the most likely common language shared by all the passengers, and most likely the only language spoken by the American passengers.

The show did get a few things right: the captain is more likely to be at his desk doing paperwork than on the bridge navigating the ship, the bartender seems to be working everywhere and all the time, and the cruise director spends virtually the whole cruise dealing with demands, complaints and come-ons from guests while learning a huge number of names in a very short time. Oh, and the lecherous ship’s doctor? To be fair, most ship’s doctor’s I’ve known do not fit this mold, but this sub-species is definitely out there. Now that I think of it, most of the “Docs” I’ve known were probably in medical school in the ‘70s. Maybe I wasn’t the only one learning from The Love Boat.

Filed from M/V Spirit of '98 at the confluence of the Columbia and Snake Rivers


  1. What about the "Captain's Table", a frequent scene in The Love Boat? How realistic is the idea that the captain and crew will be dining with the passengers?

  2. The "captain's table" is a tradition going back to the Age of Sail. On a large cruise ship these days, there will usually be one or two nights during a cruise designated "formal" nights, and it is then that the captain (or sometimes a senior officer) will attend. The captain's table, often right in the center of the dining room, may go unused other nights.

    Guests at the captain's table may enjoy complimentary, and sometimes high end, wines, a special menu, and other amenities. Seating is by invitation only, usually reserved for frequent customers of the cruise line, VIPs or celebrities, and the occasional travel writer. "Regular" passengers who somehow attract a senior crew member's attention sometimes get an invitation as well.

    On small cruise ships, there is usually one dinner during the cruise designated "Captain's Dinner," most often the last full night of the cruise. There may not be a captain's table; the captain will just find an empty seat somewhere in the dining room after a farewell toast, thanks to the guests and crew, and other ceremonies. I usually try to sit with "normal" people, avoiding company employees, travel agents, and travel writers -- the shop talk tends to get pretty heavy with these folks. I also try to avoid the guy -- and there's one on every cruise -- who spent the whole week asking me technical questions about the vessel. It's hard to enjoy your asparagus and chat with the other folks at the table when you're getting non-stop questions about water pressure, tank capacities, and gear ratios.

  3. The three crew members appeared in every episode but it is like the Three Wise Men (White, Black, and Asian) and also the ancestry (Shem, Ham, Japheth) of three sons of Noah:
    Gavin MacLeod (part Native American via Asia)
    Ted Lange (Black)
    Bernard Kopell (White)

    Also, another principle:
    Gavin MacLeod (came from Japheth)
    Ted Lange (came from Ham)
    Bernie Kopell (came from Shem)

  4. Gavin MacLeod is the only crew member whose ancestry has been in the Americas for over 10,000 years due to his Native American ancestry.