Rituals with a modern twist.

From afternoon tea to the cocktail hour, some favourite travel rituals have managed to endure the test of time.

In light of the Covid-19 situation, the recommendations and activities mentioned in this article are for the purpose of possible future cruise holidays. Please always refer to local government health advisories for travel.

Food and drink trends are fickle creatures. Martinis give way to Negronis and chardonnay to pinot grigio; rocket and sun-dried tomato retreat in the face of quinoa and smashed avocado; sugar replaces fat as the dietary bad guy; and a nation that would have gagged at the very thought of raw fish now consumes over 100 million servings of sushi and sashimi every year.

Yet a few foodie rituals are so anchored in tradition that they refuse to either date or die. Here are five that have stood the test of time.

Afternoon tea.

Australians owe their tea-drinking habits to a Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza, who brought the newly fashionable drink to England in 1662. But afternoon tea originates much later, when the arrival of gas lighting extended working hours, the gap between the midday and the evening meal got longer, and Victorian ladies, including the Duchess of Bedford, began to fill that time with tea, cake, and bread and butter.

The tradition of serving tea with white gloves emerges from those leisured times, when hostesses feared their hands might otherwise feel indecorously hot. Today, the vintage rituals of silver service provide the opportunity to stop the clock and smell the roses at a time of day when lesser mortals are at work. Discover more about the history of afternoon tea and try recipes for scrumptious scones and blissful bakewell muffins from the Cunard kitchen with our special article, 'Time for tea'.

The cocktail hour.

There is much dispute as to who invented the cocktail hour, the elegant tradition of passing time before dinner over a glass of something chilled: George Washington served a forerunner of the cocktail before the evening meal as far back as 1783.

While the English novelist Alec Waugh proudly claimed to have created the cocktail party in 1925, one Mrs Walsh of St Louis, Missouri, had a professional bartender mix up classics at her mansion in 1917. But, no matter which visionary first decided early evening was the perfect time for an ice-cold martini, donning a cocktail frock and picking up that iconic V-shaped glass still provides a trip to a gentler, more leisured era.

The Captain's table.

Dining at the captain’s table is one of the signature experiences of cruise travel today – one generally reserved for VIPs, special guests and regular voyagers. Yet it dates back more than 100 years, to the era of the first great ocean liners, when first-class travellers used to eat with the captain.

“Back in the history of Cunard, it was part of the captain’s job to be very visible to the first-class passengers,” explained maritime historian Chris Frame, whose books include 175 Years of Cunard. “Well-known passengers might choose to sail with a particular captain, because they knew they would enjoy their time at his table.”

Today, the experience is replete with its own rituals, from sommelier service and wine pairing to signature desserts, all theatrically performed in the heart of the on board restaurant.

Celebratory champagne.

The pop of a cork and the rush of fresh bubbles have long been associated with both luxury and celebration. Some experts believe that, after the French Revolution of 1789, champagne came to take the place of holy water, functioning as a secular alternative at events from weddings to the “christening” of a ship.

Today, although the flavour has changed from sweet to dry, champagne remains an essential component of celebrations from renewals of vows to baptisms, and of travel moments from that magical first night in a new villa to a “sailaway”, when cruise ships say farewell to a port of call. And, long after smashed avocado has gone the way of goat’s cheese salad, the magic of bubbles will endure.

Dressing for dinner.

Before World War I turned the globe upside down, Edwardian high society lived in considerable style. A woman’s wardrobe might include walking gowns, tea gowns, evening gowns, riding dress, bathing dress and more, while society hostesses might change their outfits as often as six times a day. Requirements for men were, predictably, less onerous – yet they too were expected to dress for dinner.

Aboard the great ocean liners, dressing for dinner duly became part of the ritual for both first-class and second-class travellers. “You’d be seen at dinner by your social peers and therefore that dress on board became more and more elaborate,” Frame said. “You would have your morning wear, then at lunchtime you most likely would change to appropriate attire to go to the dining room. Then there might have been the more casual wear in the afternoon to play quoits, before they would announce dinner was about to commence with a bell or a bugle call and people would get themselves prepared.”

This article was produced for Cunard by BBC StoryWorks, the commercial content division of BBC Global News.

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