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Cruise lines bringing back the supper club

The Crystal Serenity's Stardust Supper Club will feature a bandstand and a show band with vocalists.

A revival of the supper club/cabaret style of entertainment venue is underway in a segment of the cruise industry, which is using it on longer cruises aimed at a wealthier clientele.

The concept takes a splash of New York glamour and mixes it with equal parts fancy cocktails, a dance floor, a bandstand, mood lighting and, in some cases, an evening meal, all offered in a cozy room.

When Crystal Cruises' Crystal Serenity emerges from an extensive drydock next week, it will show off the new concept in what is being called the Stardust Supper Club, a twice-a-cruise transformation of its Stardust Club lounge.

Dinner will be served at 6:30 to a group of no more than 108 guests seated on the periphery of a semicircular stage and dance floor. Although it is only one deck, the Stardust Supper Club brings to mind New York's Rainbow Room, the two-level dining and dancing mecca that opened in 1934 some 65 stories above Rockefeller Center.

"It is a little bit like the Rainbow Room, yes," said Toni Neumeister, Crystal's senior vice president of hotel operations. "Not completely like that, but a similar design."

Neumeister said the keys to the concept are elegance and intimacy. Crystal will stage the Stardust Supper Club on the first and final "Black Tie Optional" evenings on cruises of eight days or longer, so guests will be dressed up. And they'll be able to see each other. 

"There's a lot of space," said Neumeister, who added that in other capacities the Stardust Club can accommodate up to 300 people. "And everyone has a great view of what's happening on stage."

Diners will be entertained by a seven-piece band playing the kind of standards that Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin popularized after World War II. There will be featured vocalists along with the band. 

In between performances, musicians will play throughout dinner, while the ship's Ballroom Dance Quartet takes to the floor to perform spotlight dances. During dessert and coffee, guests will be invited to join in the dancing.

Neumeister said that with a dance floor and music, guests will naturally be inspired to dance. But he added that because guests' dancing through dinner would disrupt the meal service and show, it was decided to confine it to the end of the evening.

Azamara Club Cruises features 54 Below at Sea, with entertainment provided by the Feinstein's/54 Below, Broadway's Supper Club.
Azamara Club Cruises features 54 Below at Sea, with entertainment provided by the Feinstein's/54 Below, Broadway's Supper Club.

Crystal has never before served food in the Stardust Club, and waiters will have to bring meals up a flight of stairs from the galley below, Neumeister said. However, there is a bar built into the venue already.

He said the name Supper Club was applied because the original supper club concept as it evolved in the 1930s and '40s put predinner drinks, a meal, music and dancing together into a complete evening's entertainment.

The idea isn't new, he conceded. "In the old days, we had supper clubs on Royal Viking Line," said Neumeister, a 30-year industry veteran. But the concept has a renewed, retro appeal, he said, and will even find favor with Crystal's younger guests because they like the idea of everything happening at once.

"Younger people don't like to hop in the traditional way -- from the bar first, to the dining and then to the entertainment," he said. "For them, I do think it will work."

Crystal is not alone in reviving the supper club concept. Since February, Azamara Club Cruises has been offering an evening called 54 Below at Sea in its Cabaret Lounge. Although food isn't served, the programming is provided by the Feinstein's/54 Below venue beneath Studio 54 in Manhattan, which styles itself as "Broadway's Supper Club."

Transferred to Azamara, the concept is really more cabaret than supper club, with Broadway-style entertainers performing in an intimate room that serves cocktails inspired by Feinstein's/54 Below.

Entertainers who have appeared include Jennifer DiNoia, known for her lead role in "Wicked," both in touring productions and on Broadway, and Matthew Hydzik, who was in the "Cher Show" on Broadway and toured with "Flashdance the Musical."

Decor in the lounge also takes a page from the Manhattan club's rich detail and theatrical lighting.

Cunard Line is also offering a supper club on some of its cruises. The vaulted, glass-ceilinged Garden Lounge on the line's Queen Elizabeth hosts "Supper Club" evenings with live music, dancing and tasting menus on longer cruises

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