The History Behind the M*Y Stella Polaris Ship and their Fancy Dress Ball & Au Revoir Event Menus

When I stumbled upon the first menu from the M*Y Stella Polaris ship, I was instantly taken by the design on the front page of the menu which displays the name of the ship with a cool effect as well as a mask followed by the words Fancy Dress Ball at the bottom left of the page. From the mask, we can figure that the ball was indeed a masquerade, which fortunately I was able to find a picture from that day…

Taken at the bottom deck of the cruise ship, about 100 guests at the Fancy Dress Ball

The birth of Stella Polaris came back in late 1920 when the shipping industry was a flourishing business. According to Henrik Ljungström, after the devastation of World War I, shipping companies finally had the chance to recuperate from the war. The North Atlantic was used mostly as there were emigrants crossing from the Old World to the New World. Although many of the ships during this time were used for transportation of goods and other products as well as people seeking a new home, there were people during this time who just wanted to ride on a ship for the mere fun of it. That is where the M*Y Stella Polaris comes into view. One of the shipping companies that began to offer leisure cruises was the Bergenske Dampskisselskap or Bergen Line, of Norway. This shipping company wanted to branch out and give way to a tourist trade with their creation of the M*Y Stella Polaris. According to Ljungström, although they didn’t know it then, this company was about to become a legend of the cruising industry.

The ship itself could hold 200 passengers as well as about 130 crew members and featured five decks labeled from A-E. The A deck was where the ship’s 9 lifeboats were kept as well as where there were 9 general passenger cabins as well as a gym. The B deck contained more entertainment areas such as the Verandah Café, the Music Salon, and The Smoking Room. Below this is deck C where the Grand Dining Room was seating 214 guests. On the ceiling of the dining room hung a large star that was composed of 150 different colored lamps. On this deck, there were also more passenger cabins, as well as their 4 deluxe cabins which were praised for their special type of wood used in its foundation, like mahogany, maple, pear, and birch. Decks D and E were other passenger cabins not as luxurious, as well as “four-berth cabins” that were a bit closer together than the passengers’ cabins but were also nicely furnished and decorated. (Ljungström, 2018).

Caption:  Photos taken above are from the cruise ship, (from top to bottom) top deck picture of guests on North Cape cruise in 1932, a later photo from 1960 of passengers taking a gym class being held on the top deck, a group of two men and two women eating dinner in the dining hall in the 1940s, and lastly the spread of food during a Swedish smorgasbord, or a buffet that offers a variety of hot and cold foods as well as salads and other appetizers taken in the 1960s as well.  

The Stella Polaris was considered one of the most elegant ships of its time as well as the fact that it was specifically devoted to leisure cruises. “She sailed to the Mediterranean, North Cape, Caribbean and around the world” (Grace,2008).  To uphold this title, they would host special dinners a couple times a week that had different themes to which I assume we’re to keep the passengers on their toes and entertained with a high-class dining experience. Two of the themes that I found through the search of many menus were a masquerade and a Scottish-themed Au Revoir party. Below are the images of the menus alongside their program of music and menu for the night, respectively.

M*Y Stella Polaris, Sunday, July 10, 1938, 15 dishes
M*Y Stella Polaris, Friday, July 8th, 1938, 12 dishes 

After studying these two menus it’s interesting to see the similarities in menu items, as well as the differences which one could assume, were to keep the guests always on their toes with their cruising experience. For example, each of these menus presents a music program for the night. I think that dinner and a show is an experience that many people enjoy. I know nowadays, dinner and a show are two separate things, you go to the movies and then to dinner afterward. The music here was played during the dinner experience to sort of immersing the passengers in this beautiful symphony of music while also giving them delicious foods that are specialized all over the world. The classical diner style of the dining room along with the music that plays throughout the experience can also give passengers a sense of unity and togetherness. These ships hold around 200 passengers which at the time would make this ship pretty exclusive. This demonstrated how the Bergen company made it a point to make this cruise feel intimate and personal for all the guests who boarded the ship.

When we look at the menus and the time in which they were made, we can see the Norwegian influence on the menu. For example, many people in Norway traditionally ate fish as they had many rivers and lakes. In the fancy dress ball, they had one of the Norwegian classics which was fried codfish with sauce remoulade. Even though fish was the main dish that many families consumed, they also had their fair share of different types of meat such as beef, pork, lamb, and sheep. Not only that but because of the northern climate, Norway had an abundance of root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, rutabaga, and onions. Also fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, lingonberries, and several other types of berries. They traditionally used these berries in their common desserts such as jams, cakes, and compotes which we see in both menus. If you take a look at the menu closely as well, one can notice how high-end these food choices are for the time. Things like beluga malossol caviar and turtle soup are two different types of delicacies that eventually both became illegal because of how they were made. Also, there are multiple courses that are usually explored in fine dining experiences, such as the one that Stella Polaris was trying to provide. Expensive meats and fish were used during these dinners as well as multiple side dishes and each ended with a dessert of choice along with options of fruit coffee and compote, a Norwegian special.  Below I’ve written down the similarities between the menus as well as the courses that are specific for the event…

Similarities between the menus (aka same items)

–   New potatoes

–   Biscuit and cheese

–   Fruit

–   Coffee

–   Compote and salad

The Au Revoir event had:

o   baked Alaska

o   Parisienne potatoes

o   Pyramid cake

o   Beluga Malossol caviar is not illegal

o   Clear turtle soup is illegal now

o   Fillet of plaice Meuniere

o   Cucumber salad

o   Medallion of Veal A La Jockey Club

o   Fresh Asparagus Cream Butter

o   Roast Turkey Chestnuts

The Fancy Dress Ball had:

o   Goose Liver and Toast

o   Consommé Printanier

o   Mulligatawny soup

o   Fried codfish, sauce remoulade

o   Corn on the Cob in butter

o   Chicken A La Mascotte

o   Ginger pudding

Overall, I thought it was unique and felt like there could be some serious history behind these menus and to my surprise there was. For starters finding out it was a type of elegant cruise ship was extremely interesting. Especially since they started this cruise line before the Great Depression, and it still managed to become one of the most legendary cruise ships of its time. Also, because it was started in Norway, it’s interesting to see the Norwegian influence even during events like a Scottish going away party and a masquerade ball. The music also held many Norwegian classics, for example, the Sæterjentens Søndag by Ole Bull in the Au Revoir event. Also, there was always a community song which I assume is a song that everyone participates in singing which I think helps the goal of the Stella Polaris which is to provide an extravagant experience as well as an intimate one. So, it is interesting to see in the end how a menu such as the ones spoken about here are like little looking glasses into the history of the time in which they were created. Not only that but in the case of these menus we see the culture of those who created the ship intertwined with different foods that provide an elegant, high-class experience for those who had the honor of boarding and enjoying the luxurious Stella Polaris.

Bibliography

“All about Traditional Norwegian Food.” • FamilySearch Blog, 18 Nov. 2021, https://www.familysearch.org/en/blog/traditional-norwegian-food. 

 Ljungström, Henrik, and Henrik Ljungström. “Stella Polaris.” TGOL, 19 Apr. 2018, http://thegreatoceanliners.com/articles/stella-polaris/. 

“M/Y Stella Polaris Fancy Dress Ball .” Menus, http://menus.nypl.org/menu_pages/62387/explore. 

 “M/Y Stella Polaris Au Revoir .” Menus,

 http://menus.nypl.org/menu_pages/62390/explore. 

Grace, Michael L. “The Clipper Line’s M.V. Stella Polaris, Completed in 1927, Was the First Custom Built Cruise Ship. She Was Considered the ‘Royal Yacht’ of Cruising and Was           One of the Most Deluxe Forms of Ocean Travel into the 1960s.” THE PAST AND NOW, 30 Dec. 2008,https://www.cruiselinehistory.com/cruise-history-the-clipper-lines-mv-stella-polaris-completed-in-1927-was-the-first-custom-built-cruise-ship-she-was-considered-the-royal-yacht-of-cruising-and-was-one-of-the-most-deluxe-f/. 

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