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Best Dancing at Sea
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Vicki Baum, the Austrian writer whose novel, Menschen im Hotel, inspired the Academy Award-winning film Grand Hotel, once said: "There are short-cuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them."

If dancing is a shortcut to happiness for you, then dancing at sea can be a quick-step to bliss. Why? Today's cruise ships offer dance aficionados a wide variety of enticing venues, from trendy nightclubs playing the latest club music to posh, outdoor dancing under the stars, elegant ballrooms and many a dance lounge in between. Plus, no matter what day it is, every day is a dancing day on a cruise.

Before we share our favorite ships for dancing, here are a few good things to know about shaking your booty at sea:

If you prefer a smoke-free atmosphere when you dance, head for the nightclubs on Holland America, Celebrity, NCL and Royal Caribbean, as well as Crystal's Palm Court and Cunard's ballrooms. Clubs on other ships can get a bit smokey.

Since most Europeans love to dance, you'll find plenty of women and men on the dance floors of European lines like Costa and MSC, plus more dance space, too. Whereas American lines tend to have larger casinos than dance clubs, European ships divvy up their space in the opposite way.

Single ladies (or those without dancing partners) can dance with a dance host on Cunard, Crystal, Silversea and Holland America. Crystal's dance hosts -- known as "Ambassador Hosts" -- are all carefully screened, cultured and well-traveled gentlemen … and accomplished ballroom dancers. Cunard's "Gentlemen Hosts," while not expert dancers, are proficient in the basic steps of social ballroom dances, including foxtrot, waltz, swing, Latin rumba and cha cha. Crystal and Cunard have dance hosts available on all sailings, while Holland America and Silversea have them only on select sailings.

Dance theme cruises are another great place to find dance hosts in addition to improving your dancing skills and meeting others who love to dance. You can find special cruises for salsa dancing, ballroom, swing, line dancing and more. Wendy Olsen, owner of Dancers at Sea, organizes dance cruises that offer group dance parties and lessons in ballroom, as well as night club dances like bolero, Argentine tango and swing. Her cruises have a great ratio: one dance pro or host/hostess for every three guests.

Most importantly, keep in mind that a great night of dancing is as much about who you are dancing with as it is where you are dancing. Gayle Robinson, an Atlanta-based mortgage broker and organizer of an annual "Dancers & Friends" cruise, prefers Celebrity; however, her favorite shipboard dance experience happened when she least expected it -- on a Carnival Destiny cruise with her high school classmates. "I ran into 80 salsa dancers doing a group cruise. Lucky me! Best time I've ever had on a cruise, period. Laughing till I cried with my classmates and dancing with some of the best dancers I've ever run into."

I made a similar discovery on Holland America's Eurodam, right after I told my friend that dancing on Eurodam might not be as fun as in Royal Caribbean's packed nightclubs. Boy, was I wrong. We met several men from a gay men's group cruise, all dressed for their pajama party night, and had one of the best times we've ever had dancing on a ship.

So, whether your idea of dancing is to shimmy, shake, sway, rock, cut a rug, trip the light fantastic or shake your bum, you're sure to have fun on one of our favorite cruise lines for dancing at sea.

Trendiest Clubs at Sea

The Trophy Goes to: Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Gem and Norwegian Epic

Why: When a cruise line unveils its vision for redefining nightlife during a luxe pool party at Caesar's Palace in Vegas, you know it's serious about creating innovative options. It is hard to beat NCL when it comes to trendy nightlife -- and its Bliss Ultra Lounge and Nightclub, a decadent Vegaslike club, is a winner. On Norwegian Pearl, Gem and Epic, you can dance at Bliss, day or night. Dance music plays all day while you bowl at Bliss' mood-lit, 10-pin bowling alley. In the evening, Bliss transforms into a high-energy lounge with music videos playing on plasma screens, shadow dancers entertaining the crowd and the club's resident D.J.'s spinning the hottest music.

Runner Up: Celebrity's Solstice-class ships -- Solstice, Equinox, Eclipse and Silhouette

Why: The line's futuristic-looking nightclub, Quasar, is "so 3008." The club has a garage-style door that opens to allow bons vivants to spill out into the ship's adjacent Entertainment Court to find more dancing or a street-type performance. And, sitting and sipping a drink in Quasar's retro-chic bubble chairs, which swing from the ceiling, is almost as fun as dancing. Celebrity gets kudos for keeping Quasar open past the scheduled closing time when the place is hopping.

Best Ballroom Dancing

The Trophy Goes to: Cunard

Why: Ballroom dancing has been a long-standing hallmark of the line, attracting dancers from around the world. It's easy to see why: Queen Mary 2's elegant Queens Room is, by far, the biggest and best ballroom at sea. The ballroom spans the full width of the ship and features a 1,225-square-foot rectangular dance floor, crystal chandeliers hanging from the two-deck-high ceiling, a resident orchestra and multi-tiered seating that offers great sight lines of the dance floor and the sea. While not as large as its sister room on Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria's Queens Room is equally elegant with cantilevered balconies overlooking the floor, ornate frescos and backlit glass panels.

Dancers at Sea owner, Wendy Olsen, has sailed with Cunard 19 times, in part for the floors. "They are truly the only ocean liners in the world with a rectangular wood floor with give, which makes it easy on the feet and knees to dance for three or four hours."

New to ballroom? No worries! Cunard's social hostesses facilitate daily ballroom dance lessons, all taught by acclaimed professional dancers. A wide variety of dance genres are offered and include cha cha, waltz, foxtrot, rumba, country & western line dancing, Caribbean and 70's style. Cunard's gentleman hosts are on-hand during lessons to assist female guests traveling solo.

In addition, the Queens Room on both ships (as well as on Queen Elizabeth) is home to the line's Royal Nights-themed balls, which include a Black & White Ball and an Ascot Ball, featuring a competition for best hat. While there is consensus on Cruise Critic's message boards about Cunard's ballrooms being the best at sea, some of the themed balls get mixed reviews. You can read more about the balls, tempos and dance styles on this detailed message board thread.

Runner Up: Crystal Cruises

Why: While no other ballroom dance floor can compare with the quality and size of Cunard's Queens Room, Crystal does its part to further interest in ballroom dancing through its full-length production That's Ballroom! The show is held on most sailings and is a combination of professional dance performances and a "Dancing with the Crystal Stars" segment. The Crystal "stars" are crewmembers who have used their time off within the week to train in a variety of ballroom, Latin and swing dances. Their rehearsals are filmed to create short behind-the-scenes video segments, which are shown, along with their final performances, during "That's Ballroom!"

Of course, guests can take their own spins around the hardwoods to live music in the Palm Court on both Crystal ships, as well as in Crystal Serenity's Stardust lounge or Symphony's Starlite lounge. Plus, Crystal's cruises normally include complimentary group dance classes on all sea days, with the Ambassador Hosts in attendance. These are taught by male-and-female dance-instruction teams, made up of talented professionals -- often champion dancers -- who also perform several times during a cruise. Past teams have been American, British and Australian, but they teach mostly American style. The instructors also offer private lessons for $100 per hour.

Best Dancing Under the Stars

The Trophy Goes to: Costa

Why: Dancing is a favorite onboard activity for Costa's international mix of guests, and the lido deck attracts dancers, day and night. During the day, you can take an al fresco lesson in everything from bachata and cha cha to salsa and merengue, all led by expert dancers. At night, the energy is high, thanks to the hundreds of people who come out for the themed, open-air dance nights. (Think pop/rock, disco and more.) If the weather turns, some Costa ships have you covered, literally, with their retractable magrodomes. Music varies throughout the cruises from zippy Italian jazz groups to Latin duos, big-band classics and even American rock and roll. After the lido deck party is over, head to the disco, which gets going after midnight and is usually open until 3 or 4 a.m.

Runner Up: Norwegian Epic

Why: Norwegian Epic sports two open-air nightclubs for dancing under the stars. The first, POSH Beach Club, takes its design inspiration from the luxurious clubs of Miami's South Beach with a 35-foot-tall cascading waterfall and a private glass elevator that ushers guests who have purchased a "POSH pass" up to the exclusive club (day or weekly passes available). Any time of day, you can lounge, Riviera-style, on white-cushioned day beds while POSH VIP hosts serve an assortment of libations from silver trays. At night, POSH transforms into a cozy, open-air nightclub for dancing into the wee hours.

Or, for free outdoor dancing, try Spice H20, which materializes when the aft pool deck is converted to a dance floor at night for a sultry Ibiza-inspired beach club party. While you shake and shimmy, aerial performers fly above your head, and a huge LED screen displays everything from charging bulls to flamenco dancers and tap-dancing Geishas.

Best of the Big-Ship Clubs

The Trophy Goes to: Carnival -- specifically, Carnival Dream's South Beach-themed Caliente club, Carnival Valor's One Small Step lunar-themed club and Carnival Miracle's Frankenstein's Lab. Why: Many of Carnival's dance clubs have multimillion-dollar sound and light systems, along with a wall of video screens where dancers can watch music videos… or videos of themselves dancing. New ship Carnival Dream has Caliente, a South Beach-themed, 4,300-square-foot nightclub that can accommodate more than 200 people. Caliente's large floors and oodles of visual distractions make it a good place for shy dancers to hide in the middle of a crowd. The bilevel Dr. Frankenstein's Lab is great for dancing fools and their nondancing friends, as it has tables and chairs along the upper balcony, where nondancers can watch the dancers below. One look at the deck-and-a-half-tall Frankenstein monster strapped to the wall, and you'll quickly develop a favorite side of the club's floor.

Carnival Valor's One Small Step club has a huge floor that's encircled by bar-height tables, which give watchers a bird's-eye view of the action without the risk of being jostled by dancers at the perimeter of the floor. One Small Step's unique lunar theme celebrates Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon, complete with moon crater decor, LED lights that create a multicolored volcano effect, a ceiling with images from the Hubble telescope and special-effect lighting that simulates shooting stars. Plus, One Small Step's white marble dance floor has inlays of white granite to make it appear like you're dancing on the moon. Note: Smoking is allowed in Carnival's clubs.

Runner Up: Royal Caribbean

Why: Most Royal Caribbean ships feature more than one dance club, including the Latin-themed Bolero's lounge and the line's signature Viking Crown Lounge. The glass-enclosed Viking Crown Lounge is perched high above the sea and is a great place to watch the sun set, as well as to dance the night away. On Radiance-class ships, the lounge serves as the main disco, whereas on Voyager-class ships, the Viking Crown Lounge is made up of many different theme areas, including a sports bar, jazz bar, card room, lounge and viewing area.

Royal Caribbean's hottest nightclub, "Blaze," can be found on Oasis of the Seas. This fiery underground club concept begins with "flames" licking the charred glass entry doors. Inside, you'll feel like you're dancing in a dungeon, complete with stone walls and alcoves with flame lights. There, you can take a break from gyrating bodies and have a drink in one of the intimate den areas set off behind iron gates.

Best for Dance Classes

The Trophy Goes to: Celebrity

Why: With Celebrity's "Let's Dance" program (part of the line's new Celebrity Life enrichment series), passengers can learn to dance the waltz, cha cha or rumba with Celebrity's professional dancers and then take part in "Everybody Dance," the line's own version of the "Dancing With The Stars" competition. Also, as part of "Let's Dance," an onboard guide teaches pop culture dances, as well as other dance styles from around the world, including the tarantella (a southern Italian folk dance) and salsa.

Runner Up: Carnival

Why: Carnival offers a wide variety of 30-minute, beginner-level classes in styles appropriate for the nightclubs. They include country, "Groovy 60's-style" and hip-hop. You could even take a Michael Jackson Thriller dance class. All classes are taught by Carnival's dancers.

Best Themed Dance Party

The Trophy Goes to: Celebrity Cruises

Why: Mix and mingle with Celebrity's professional dancers and musicians at several interactive theme parties. "Groove," a retro-style '60's party, is set to the music of Bob Fosse, Hair and The Beatles, while "Sizzle" is a hot Latin party. For a Christina Aguilera-style big-band party, complete with a full orchestra, dancers, and the Cruise Director leading the fun, try "Live @ Sky." Celebrity plans to introduce more of its popular parties throughout the year.

Runner Up: Norwegian Cruise Line

Why: Don't miss the White Hot Night Party when one onboard venue is transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with an artic blast for dancing in the "snow." Dancers dress in all white, and onboard entertainers dressed in angel wings mingle and invite you to dance. Rehydrate with signature cocktail Angeltini: a combination of coconut rum, creme de banana and cinnamon schnapps. Don't have anything white? Pick up one of NCL's "White Hot" shirts and a feather boa in the ship's gift shop.

--by Christine Koubek, Cruise Critic contributor

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