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Great 'Theme Nights' for Charter Guests - Part One

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Some Steward/esses possess a natural flair and creativity and can dream up a theme evening in a matter of minutes.  A frequently asked question on my Facebook group, ‘Yacht Stewardess Tips’, is regarding classy theme ideas, especially ones that can be executed in a fairly short time, yet not compromising on impact, wow-factor and originality. 

If you have spent some time on a yacht, there is a big chance you have had to put together an original, blow-the-guests-away theme evening – all while simultaneously serving them meals, drinks, doing their laundry, cleaning cabins and all with a never wavering smile on your face.

Remember the 'Big 6' when planning a theme night

I find that most successfully executed theme nights were planned a long, long time ago – before the season while you were in the shipyard or in the marina for winter with no guests on board.  Remember that most theme parties will take a lot of planning ahead of time. You will normally not have time to go shopping for theme props  when you have guests on board. This can be done during down time when you can browse online shops for theme items.

The second important factor – your guests…  You have to be so well plugged in with them that you know if they would want a theme night or not.  With some guests, a theme night will just tank – and you will have egg on your face. 

If all else fails and you cannot read between the lines, ask the hostess if she thinks her friends will enjoy a theme party.

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Another aspect to keep in mind – secrecy.  Most of the time, it works best if the guests were not expecting anything and they only found out about it when they entered their cabins before dinner and found invitations/outfits/props on their beds with instructions to wear them dinner.

The BIG 6:

Matching food (talk to your Chef and give him/her enough notice!)

Matching clothes/props/outfits

Matching table and other decorations

Matching music

Matching cocktails served as aperitif or during the meal

Matching country providing a perfect backdrop for your theme (e.g. do a Masquerade Theme in Venice or a Mexican party in Mexico, beach BBQ pirate party in the Caribbean on some remote island).

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With any theme ideas, always remember not to overdo it. This is fun for one night on a trip, but every night is too much. Maybe on a long trip, do it twice, but keep your guests in mind. 

Some guests do not like theme nights at all!!!! Another note for the success of a theme night: a lot depends on the participation of your guests and crew. Sometimes the entire crew will participate in a theme night; sometimes it will just be the service steward/esses.

Here's a collection of parties you can experiment with:

Vice Versa

Guests have to reverse rolls, e.g. men dress in women clothes, women in men clothes. Or, they have to dress in crew clothes and the crew dresses in normal “guest” clothes (do not actually ask the guests to wear their clothes, please).  Maybe even menus get swapped around – dessert first, then starter, then main. 

50’s Night or 70’s Night or 80’s Night

Play 50’s music, or music fro another era and supply guests with the relevant clothes. Of course this will take some planning ahead. Crew and guests dress in 80’s clothes. Menu can be written like:  Madonna’s Chocolate Madness or Pet Shop Boys Seared Tuna Delight or Depeche Mode Tenderloin with a butternut infused mushroom sauce, etc.

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Hawaiian Night

This is always a popular one. Hawaiian music, food, cocktails. Grass skirts, lays around guests’ necks, stewies wear sarongs, tank tops. Nice Hawaiian/Tropical table decorations, fun decorated cocktails in pineapples or coconuts before dinner or for dessert.

Fourth of July

Always popular with USA guests on board – of course 4th of July being American Independence day. Hang the Amercian flag somewhere on a wall or as part of the table decoration. Little USA flag toothpicks stuck in napkins. Even use blue and red napkins with white stars stuck on (one guest red napkin, one guest blue napkin, one guest white napkin). Serve 4th of July food – hamburgers, French fries, mustard, ketchup, Budweiser ©, watermelon, etc.  Play something like Elvis – for older guests or  popular American artists for younger guests. USA flag decorations can be place everywhere, and they're easy to buy in Walmart or at a USA gift/party store. You can also give guests USA flag bandanas to wear, or little American flags on sticks.

Masquerade (Great to do in a port like Venice)

This can be an amazing table and theme. Beautiful sequined masks for women, and more masculine masks for men. Or try a Casanova theme, using sequins, pearls, fancy crystal, candles, etc. on the table. Organza runner or similar on table between all the candles. Fairy lights under the organza. Roses or fake pearls for ladies when they sit down, or around napkins – or fake pearl napkin rings. Long black satin gloves for all the women. Play classical music from Italy and make it romantic! Burn the menu and stain with tea bags to make it look old. Roll up in a scroll and stamp with an antique wax stamp to look authentic. Invitation, place cards and menu written in calligraphy.

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Mexican Night

Big Mexican sombreros for men. Colourful outfits/skirts for women. Mexican food on the menu – tortillas, enchiladas, etc.  Tequila and Margarita for drinks. Mexican music. Colourful  Mexican table decoration. Different colour bandanas for napkins. Corona in cute buckets, sand, sarongs, little umbrellas, lemons, limes on table.  Colourful!!

Pirate Party (always very popular) 

Guests receive their outfits and props in the afternoon on their beds, with instructions to wear it that night – or an invitation with an interesting design or in a bottle (like 'message in a bottle' with a pirate sign stuck on the front of the bottle). 

Children's swords, torn old T-shirts, eye patches, bandanas, soft toy parrots, “hook” hands. Table decorated with pirate’s chest, fake jewelery, sand, pirate’s flag, bandanas, fake parrot. Crew dresses as pirates. If there are children in the group, hide a “loot”/chest full of sweets and games and let them look for it (accompanied by the deckhands if possible). 

Or the entire party can be done on the beach - bamboo candles on beach, big beach fire, hidden chest for kids, everyone dressed up, tables set up on beach, wonderful beach BBQ, music, bar set up on side – serving their favourite cocktails. 


Farmyard décor, checkered tablecloth and napkin, pig, rooster, straw on table, small yard animals, toy tractor. Cotton Eye Joe playing, checkered bandanas and checkered shirts and jeans for everyone to wear.


Based on the famous luxury jewelery store in USA. Great to use this theme on a ladies’ trip. For a centerpiece - wrap various sized square boxes in light blue paper and wrap with white bows. 

All the women receive a pair of black sunglasses and fake pearls on their place setting. White table cloths and white linens. Champagne as cocktail. Women wear little black dresses – think Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Lots of diamante and sparkle and fake diamond rings and jewelery on the table. 

 audrey hepburn 392920 1280Each woman can receive a gift in a small blue box wrapped in white ribbon on their place setting. Use silver chargers for more “bling”. Show them the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” after dinner.

Autumn or Thanksgiving

Autumn leaves, wheat stems, dried corn, candles, pumpkins, acorns, lime green tablecloth and napkins or orange.  E.g. tall glass cylinder vases with long wheat stems, or filled with acorns. Green peppers, red peppers, etc.  also good for decoration. Pumpkins in wooden square containers in a row down middle of table. Serve e.g. starter soup out of “pumpkin” bowls. Lots of fresh breads on the table. Orange, brown, golden candles. Wooden candle holders, wooden placemats. All very natural and autumn looking.


Starter served in Coconuts or papaya halves, chicken/pork with coconut cream, Polynesian fruit for dessert. Head gear, grass skirts, tattoos and coconut bras for the guests – food delivered to the sound of drums/hips swaying, “cook” one of the deck crew in a large “pot” on the side and pretend he is being served for dinner. Face paint for guests (if they are keen).

Turkish Belly Dancing Night

Very successful and to be done while in Turkey – Turkish decorations, hubbly bubbly pipes, small Turkish gifts for guests, Turkish painted bowls on the table, Turkish carpets and cushions strewn around on deck, Turkish cashmere on the table as table cloth, Turkish cushion covers for place mats, guests get dressed up in belly dancing outfits (over clothes), men wear traditional head gear, wooden chess board or chest on table for decoration, cashmere scarfs on the back of the ladies’ seats, plenty of candles on the table. 

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Turkish music while eating. Real Turkish Belly Dancers come out as a surprise after dinner. Include the guests while they dance – HUGE fun had by all.

Don't Miss Part 2 - Coming soon!

Image credits: Pixabay C22.0

About the Author:
After working in the superyacht industry as a stewardess, chief stew and purser for 10 years, Isobel Odendaal moved back to her home country, South Africa, and co-started a training school for super yacht steward/esses, Super Yachting South Africa, where she continues to learn and teach every day. 


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