- The services of a British-style butler are more likely to be found on a cruise ship than hotels.
- The butlers aboard the Regent Seven Seas serve with a can-do attitude, always trying to fulfill their guests’ wishes.
- They are trained according to the prestigious Guild of Professional English Butlers.
- The internet era has made it easier for them to stay in touch with home, after a 10-hour workday.
Most people don’t enjoy the privilege of having a household butler but, many dream about what it would be like to have someone behind the scenes who sees to it that everything runs smoothly— whether domestic or social, says Irene S. Levine from Forbes Magazine.
Some luxury hotels and resorts offer guests the services of specialty butlers—like bath butlers (to draw a bubble bath) or tech butlers (to help guests connect to the Wi-Fi). But in most countries, the services of a full-service, British-style butler are still an uncommon hotel amenity, even at upscale properties.
Butlers at Sea
Turns out that Downton Abbey fans are more apt to find their Thomas Barrow at sea (or Batman fans, their Alfred Pennyworth). That’s because cruise passengers can book staterooms or suites that come with the perk of butler service—not only on luxury, all-inclusive lines but also on some higher-priced cabins on mass-market ships. These genteel crew members, who generally rise up through the ranks, have come to epitomize luxury and personal service.
According to Cruise Critic (a cruise review site and online community), some lines that currently offer butler service on at least some ships include Azamara Club Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line, Hapag-Lloyd, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, P&O Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Silversea.
Bisheshwar Ojhaish (Bish), a butler on Regent Seven Seas NavigatorJerome Levine
A Butler’s Daily Duties
Bisheshwar Ojhaish (who prefers to be called, Bish) is a butler on Regent Seven Seas who has worked with the cruise line for more than 15 years. He points out that first-time guests, who haven’t had a butler before, often have a limited understanding of all that he is able to do for them.
Some of his duties, which are similar to those of many cruise ship butlers, include:
- Welcoming passengers upon embarkation and outlining the services he can provide;
- Orienting guests to their stateroom amenities and making sure any pre-cruise requests they’ve made (e.g. liquor stocked in the mini-bar) have been addressed;
- Unpacking and packing suitcases;
- Checking in with guests at least once a day (and often twice) to make sure the stateroom is shipshape and the passenger experience hassle-free;
- Serving as a single point of contact to troubleshoot any complaints or problems cropping up and resolving them expeditiously with the appropriate departments on the ship;
- Making sure guests get priority treatment in securing reservations for dining, entertainment and shore excursions;
- Coordinating in-cabin dining requests with the ship’s galley and serving meals course by course;
- Replenishing alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and ice in the cabin;
- Serving guests canapés before dinner;
- Taking care of laundry; and
- Helping guests plan and execute onboard parties and special social events.
Cruise ship butlers definitely add a ‘wow’ factor to cruising. “We try to anticipate things that guests haven’t even thought of,” says Bish. “This can range from arriving at a stateroom door with balloons in hand to celebrate a milestone birthday, to filling a bathtub with roses for a couple on a honeymoon cruise,” he says.
With a can-do attitude, he and his peers try to never say “no.” “We are poised to be positive and make guests happy,” he says.
Butlering By The Book
Bish studied hotel management in Calcutta, India (a former British colony that has embraced many English traditions, including the employ of butlers by wealthy families). He put his learning into practice while working at 5-star hotels operated by ITC Hotels, the second largest chain in India.
When he moved to Regent (which advertises and recruits in cities around the world), he was trained according to standards set by the prestigious Guild of Professional English Butlers and learned to follow the elaborate protocols of the cruise line as well.
There are seven butlers and a head butler on the all-suite, 500-passenger Seven Seas Navigator, who are assigned to serve guests staying in 86 of the 241 suites (Penthouse Suite category and above).
A butler’s job is demanding. They put in 10-hour workdays (with mid-day breaks when other butlers fill in for them), six days a week. Their quarters are far more modest than that of guests; they sleep two to a small cabin in the bowels of the ship.
Bish remembers the days when crew members had to wait in line to make brief and very expensive phone calls home. But the availability of smartphones and social media has made it easier to stay in contact with the family. When Bish is away from his wife, young son, and daughter, he follows his children’s growth via the use of Facebook and FaceTime at port stops.
He has no complaints. “We are here for a reason,” he says. “We are blessed to have this opportunity to work in hospitality.”
An Over-the-Top Luxury
“People love their butlers because they can provide a level of personalized service that is otherwise difficult to achieve,” comments Colleen McDaniel, Senior Editor at Cruise Critic.
“It can be a strange concept for some people, especially if they’ve never had butler service before. But once you have it, you can really understand what the fuss is all about,” she says.
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