It should come as no surprise to anybody that I’m a fan of Downton Abbey. Granted it’s set in the Edwardian period and not Victorian like my books are, but the characters of the Earl and his wife, and more especially the dowager, are all crossovers from the Victorian era. The Earl was a fortune hunter in New York City in the 1880’s and latched on to his rich wife, who seems to be part of the American Aristocracy or High Society, which is exactly what I write, most of the time. Lady Grantham’s mother talks about Newport in at least one episode, if not two. Newport RI is the background in the second half of Running Wild (and you’ll see one of the houses is the cover). I’m not certain I like the way they portray Americans, but it is what it is. Additionally, the Dowager would have lived most of her young life in the Victorian era, and her manners are from that time. Someday, I expect to write a crossover novel that has my characters in England and dealing with the nobility (I do have the nobility in America, however, with Morgan in Wicked Woman).
In the meantime, I’m just a fan.
One of the things that fascinates me most is the whole dressing-for-dinner part of their lives. They do it every, single day. It’s a habit, or a ritual or something that is expected without thought. Watching it, it all seems so wonderful and romantic and luxurious–getting all prettied up and then being served these marvelous looking foods every night. Wow! I’ve always thought that must have been fantastic. But then. . .I went on this cruise. And had to do it myself, and man was it ever a chore.
Our cruise was Royal Caribbean, on the Quantum of the Seas. We’ve been on cruises before, so I sort of knew the drill–dress nice enough for dinner most days, but 2 are formal nights. The Quantum wasn’t like that, having instituted something called Dynamic Dining, which long-story-short we didn’t think was so dynamic. When you went to three of the restaurants, dinner dress was business casual, but the restaurant with the fanciest menu was The Grande and it was formal every night. Now I like good food. A lot. And this was our 30th anniversary gift to ourselves (bought and paid for long before this dreadful, snowy winter started) and I wanted to look nice. Happily I found an outlet store with some lovely petite clothing that was extremely cheap, so I had the clothes. I was set. I thought.
The first two or three days, dressing was fun. The clothes were wonderful, I had borrowed my grandmother’s jewelry and the high heels were so pretty I didn’t mind my swollen feet. The second day we went to The Grande, I dressed in a long skirt with a shiny shirt, and because the staff knew that was our own created “formal” night, and our official celebration they sang Happy Anniversary to us, and brought us a special dessert. We really liked out waiters there–they were cheerful and efficient. We went to a show afterward (Mama Mia–awesome!). We were happy.
But dressing quickly became a drag and we weren’t so happy with the other restaurants. The service wasn’t the best. They tried, but the waiters seemed harried and the food just wasn’t as tasty. Our choices, then, were to eat in The Windjammer (a buffet setting) in jeans/shorts, dress in business casual for the other three restaurants–nice pants, nice top and have a less than lovely experience. . .or wear a cocktail dress and my husband with a jacket and tie. In the end, we went for the latter for 3 of the days, and we requested those wonderful waiters–in other words the Downton Abbey experience. If we had it to do over again, we might do it for most of the days.
The last night there they knew us well enough–out of God only knows how many customers they had–that they brought us our night bottle of sparkling water without asking, along with the wonderful bread (all the bread on board the Quantum was wonderful, really. I am so, so glad I have no gluten problems!).
The first two nights there, they brought us lobster tails as an additional appetizer. They also served a small glass of champagne every night. On the third night, they didn’t regularly bring the lobster tails, but my husband asked and they very happily accommodated us.
Dinner, beef tenderloin, with puff pastry and pate. It was cut-it-with-a-fork good. Honestly, all of the beef on the Quantum was that good. (For those interested, one of the duck dishes was a little dry, and the lamb chops a little touch, although the sauce that went with them was fantastic)
For dessert I had molten lava cake. Apparently, I was so enamored by it that I just gobbled it down without pictures. Sorry about that. But at any rate, you can see why it was worth dresses, high heels, makeup and jewelry. If that is what the wealthy Victorians and Edwardians came down to every night, then it was undoubtedly worth the effort. How they weren’t all 100 lbs overweight, I’ll never know, however. Sadly, there will be no beef tenderloin for me any time soon, never mind molten lava cake–and bread. Wonderful bread with melted cheese on top. I’m eating salad now, and waiting on myself (and I am not nearly as cheerful to myself or funny as Ritish and Bobo). But for a few days, I got the Downton Abbey experience, dressing and all, and it was worth it.