My husband and I were on board a luxury river ship in Europe trying to open a fancy bottle of French wine we had purchased on shore — we were struggling with the corkscrew.
I’d had this issue once before in a hotel, and the result was red wine splashed around the room. Fearing a repeat, I called for our butler, who arrived promptly, opened the bottle with ease and then went off to find a cheese he said would be a perfect match.
Cruise ship butlers are trained to pamper, after all, and that means no request is too ridiculous.
If you book a suite with butler service, this person can be a trusted advisor. He or she will serve up surprises, offer tips to make your cruise even more enjoyable and handle requests with aplomb.
What does it take to be a butler?
First, get the “Downton Abbey” image out of your head. Your butler will not necessarily be British, normal male, for that matter. He or she may come from anywhere in the world including India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Eastern Europe and Italy. That said, some are trained in the English style of butler service.
For instance, on Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises ships, butlers are trained by the Guild of Professional English Butlers.
Your butler will likely have studied wine presentation (right down to where to place the Champagne bucket) and learned how to interact with guests. The training includes both classroom instruction as well as role-playing.
A cruise ship butler once told me the necessary skills are humor, being super organized, having enough confidence to offer advice and being able to intuit guest needs. Your butler will study your habits and think ahead on ways to please.
Which cruise ships have butler service?
At ultraluxury line Silversea Cruises, every guest stays in a suite with butler service. Other lines with butlers for top suites include Celebrity Cruises, Cunard, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Azamara, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, as well as river line Uniworld.
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On select Royal Caribbean ships, the butler role is fulfilled by a Royal Genie, as in, “Your wish is my command.”
Whether you have a butler or a genie, the idea is the same.
What can my butler do for me?
If you’re wondering what your butler can do for you, you’re not alone. After all, very few guests in cruise ship suites have a butler at home. Here are a few ways to take advantage of butler service on your next cruise.
Your butler won’t force any services on you. But if you want your clothes neatly tucked away, your shoes shined, wrinkles removed from your ballgown, your laundry whisked away, or even a button replaced, these are some of the services your butler is available to perform.
If you forgot to pack your dress shoes, your zipper breaks (or you can’t reach the zipper on the back of your dress), your mascara is too gooey or you just need advice on what to wear on a particular night on the ship , call your butler.
Your butler will also be available to help you pack up at the end of your cruise.
Serve breakfast in bed
Want your butler to bring you breakfast in bed? All you need to do is ask. And you can order other meals in your cabin as well.
If you do dinner in your suite, your butler will likely bring you the dining room menu so you can make your meal choices, and your selections will be delivered course by course so nothing is tepid (unless it’s supposed to be).
Once, after a long day ashore, my husband and I just wanted a hamburger and fries for a quiet, in-room movie date night. Our butler arranged everything and suggested we order brownies for dessert. He delivered our burgers on a silver tray.
Your butler can also bring you afternoon canapes to go with your cocktails, which he or she can prepare — in addition to keeping your minibar stocked with your favorite beverages. You can also request afternoon tea or a cappuccino whenever you like.
Want popcorn while you watch a movie, have a caviar craving or need a midnight snack? Call the butler.
You can also ask your butler for service outside your suite. For instance, on a cruise on Silver Origin in the Galapagos, a pal and I watched the sunset in a hot tub while our butler served us cold sparkling wine.
Book reservations and shore excursions
Your butler’s focus is great service, and he or she may enlist other crew members to help fulfill your requests. Depending on the ship, your butler may help you arrange dinner times and spa treatments and even shore excursions — or may refer you to a concierge who can help make reservations.
It’s my experience that butlers really know the best things on the ships and often in the ports as well. If you have questions, for instance, about whether the seafood lunch buffet is worth attending, ask your butler. If you want to dine on shore and aren’t sure where, ask your butler that question, too.
Rearrange your cabin furniture
You may have heard your butler can have your furniture rearranged — and it’s true.
For instance, if you’re not a fan of decorative pillows, you can ask the butler to have them removed. You could also request a chair or have lamps added to your cabin.
One regular in Cunard’s Queens Grill suites asks for an extra dresser for storage; has the couch moved and the chairs turned around; and, since she prefers showers, has a wall-to-wall rod hung above the tub so she has extra space for hanging clothes.
Host a party
Want to throw a little party? Butlers can help you entertain guests. On my Silver Origin cruise, for example, one guest wanted to have friends over to her suite before dinner. Her butler removed furniture to make space, added extra chairs and supplied several bottles of sparkling wine and four kinds of empanadas.
When my husband and I decided to throw a cocktail party on our Asia honeymoon cruise, the butler went all out arranging nibbles, from nuts and cheese to cold shrimp and crab.
If your suite has a large enough dining table, you can also have your butler arrange a dinner party.
On all-inclusive ships, there is typically no extra charge for these extravagances, and that may be the case on other ships as well, as cruise lines often want to pamper their big-spending passengers in the fanciest suites.
Your butler can also help you celebrate a special occasion.
Butlers will have experience preparing celebrations ranging from birthdays and anniversaries to marriage proposals. He or she can help you come up with over-the-top ideas, whether that means filling a room with roses or balloons or arranging a secret spot for you to get down on one knee.
Be ship guides (but not dance partners)
Your butler may offer you a tour to help familiarize you with the ship. Some lines, such as Celebrity Cruises have the butler meet you at the pier and escort you on board.
The butler will also be available to lend an arm as you head to dinner, an activity, a cocktail hour or a show, but will not stay and sit with you. If you want a dance partner, you’ll need to rely on your ship’s dance hosts.
What won’t a butler do?
Your butler won’t make your bed or clean your cabin; your room steward will do that.
Butlers also don’t babysit or provide any nursing services. If you need that, you’ll have to bring your own assistant.
Can I call my butler at any hour?
Cruise ship butler service is available every hour of every day. That said, when your butler is on a break his or her colleagues will handle your requests.
Your butler will carry either a telephone or pager, and it’s important to remember when making requests that your butler is not yours alone. Cruise ship butlers typically cover the needs of 12 to 16 suites, meaning 24 or more guests per cruise.
Should I tip my butler?
The decision to tip your butler is very personal. I tend to leave a cash tip at the end of the cruise, along with a thank you note.
If your cruise line has set gratuities that are automatically added to your shipboard account, a daily amount will be set for your butler (at a rate higher than for your room steward). You can adjust that amount or leave cash at your discretion.
On all-inclusive ships with gratuities included in the cruise fare, I still leave a thank-you tip.
When you’re on a cruise and have access to a butler, the opportunities for moments of surprise and delight are boundless — and butlers will tell you that’s what makes their job truly enjoyable.
One Uniworld butler, for example, had a particular trick up his sleeve: He’d surprise guests by sabering a Champagne bottle.
My favorite surprise was on a Silversea ship when my husband and I returned from a desert excursion in Wadi Rum, Jordan. Our butler, with assistance from our cabin steward, had prepared a bubble bath complete with floating flowers. There must have been some radioing ahead as the water was perfectly hot, the bubbles perfectly frothy, when we entered our cabin.
And on a Regent Seven Seas sailing, one butler went all out for a couple celebrating their Golden Anniversary by shooting a video with family members on board and having friends send in clips online, too. The couple’s favorite songs were added as background music. When they returned to their suite on their anniversary, they found balloons and a banner, a cake, Champagne and the video ready to play on their television.
According to the butler, the guests responded with happy tears.
Whether you want help with something as simple as getting acquainted with the ship or throwing an unforgettable soiree, butler service on a cruise ship can be a sublime experience. In fact, the most frequent request butlers say they hear from guests is, “Can you come home with me?”
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