Officially, being invited to dine with the Captain onboard a ship is an honor. There's a plethora of questions and comments on the CruiseMates message boards about how these selections are made, and even more discussion as to the proper etiquette if you are one of the chosen few.
Quite often the ship's social hostess can be seen prowling the check-in lounges looking for friendly, outgoing passengers who the hostess feels would make for interesting company for the Captain.
But friendly and outgoing doesn't necessarily mean wearing Styrofoam cutout hats of the Budweiser frogs, or one of those hard hats with built-in drink holders and flexi-straws hanging down. Though such attire might attract attention, it's not likely to result in that "special invitation."
The social hostess will also be on the lookout for suite passengers, as well as repeat passengers she knows from previous cruises. If you take a minute from your rush through embarkation to say hello and chat with her, you might improve your chances for an "invite".
If you crush her toes with the wheels of your carry-on bag, then knock her over with a hip check in your rush to get onboard, you better hope you get a nice table assigned in the dining room, because that's where you'll be eating each night.
On some cruise lines, the maitre d' is responsible for recommending dinner companions for the Captain. The first night or two -- as they make their way through the dining room, visiting with the passengers -- they make note of a few people, and suddenly the next day an invitation to dine with the Master of the Vessel appears.
If you come off as a reasonably good conversationalist, and you don't have spoons or other forms of cutlery hanging off the end of your nose, you've at least increased your chances of getting an invitation.
Etiquette at the Captain's Table
Seating at the Captain's table is assigned, and place cards will be set with your names. Therefore it's wise to show up sober enough to be able to read and recognize your own name.
One might expect dinner with the Captain to be a fairly formal or reserved affair, but that varies greatly. My theory is that most Captains are very social animals, because in addition to all the technical knowledge necessary for their positions, they also have to demonstrate "people skills" in order to rise through the ranks.
Like the rest of us, they want to enjoy themselves when dining with guests, and want their guests to enjoy themselves as well. By your very presence at the table, you have an impact on how this turns out.
My first suggestion for being a good guest: When you're introduced to the Captain, don't ask him who's driving the ship. No matter how clever you think this is, trust me -- he's heard this before.
That's just one common lapse in judgment; there are a few more that I've personally used to embarrass myself and those around me.
When first being seated, it's not particularly impressive to blurt out, "Wow, I've never seen so many forks outside of a Wal-Mart before".
I highly recommend that you not ask the Captain if one of his legs is shorter than the other, or if it only looks that way.
Also, mentioning that you assumed a ship's Captain would need to be in better physical condition tends to lead to a pregnant pause in the conversation.
Also, one should avoid suggesting to their fellow dinner guests that you believe you've met previously in the office of a well known divorce lawyer.
I fondly recall the time I asked the Captain, "What the heck am I doing here?" and him responding, "I was just asking myself the same question."
The fact of the matter is, most Captains will do their best to set their guests at ease. You'll generally find the service excellent, your fellow guests well traveled and interesting, and conversation flowing easily. Relax, be yourself, and enjoy the evening.