What Cruise Ship Butlers Will Do for You

Butler Service on a Cunard cruise

Cruise ship butlers remind me of fairy godmothers (or godfathers); they magically transform pleasant cruises into extraordinary ones. No longer reserved for luxury lines, butlers now pamper passengers booking suites on many mainstream and premium ships, too.

While most butlers offer similar services, they might perform duties differently. Some act more like attentive cabin stewards, keeping ice buckets full and delivering laundry; others coddle you, for instance, setting an elaborate in-suite breakfast table befitting royalty. And despite the "Downton Abbey"-style British butler image, these ship professionals can hail from numerous countries, including India and the Philippines. Many are women.

Not all luxury lines employ butlers; Seabourn does not. And only Silversea and Crystal Esprit (the 62-passenger all-suite Crystal Cruises yacht) provide butlers to all passengers, not just for those in the costliest accommodations.

Here's the skinny on what butlers do and don't do, and who's got them.


What Cruise Ship Butlers Will Do For You

Most cruise ship butlers provide these 20 services:

  1. Pack and unpack luggage.
  2. Offer pillow menus.
  3. Make specialty restaurant reservations.
  4. Work with the chef to expedite passengers' special dietary requests, such as paleo or gluten-free meals.
  5. Book all appointments, such as spa, beauty and private fitness training.
  6. Arrange shore-side dining and entertainment, and private shore excursions.
  7. Deliver fancy canapes, like foie gras terrine and crab legs, and present in-room tea service.
  8. Serve dinner course-by-course, in-suite or on your balcony.
  9. Handle laundry, dry-cleaning and pressing requests.
  10. Stock and refill a personalized in-suite bar.
  11. Bring CDs, books, board games and DVDs to rooms.
  12. Mix cocktails, and deliver cappuccinos and espresso.
  13. Draw a bubble bath.
  14. Deliver upgraded turn-down amenities, such as a chocolate box, rather than a sole morsel.
  15. Give advice. Butlers know their ships inside-out, and are often familiar with ports. They might advise on everything from the finest shopping street to best hours to hit the onboard fitness center.
  16. Decorate accommodations and present bubbly and celebratory cakes on birthdays and anniversaries.
  17. Organize in-suite cocktail or dinner parties.
  18. Shine shoes, place bookmarks in books, wrap eyeglasses in cleaning cloths.
  19. Problem solve, like finding an appropriate crew member to fix broken eyeglasses or stuck luggage locks.
  20. Provide 24/7 service, with substitute butlers during breaks.

On ships where gratuities are not included in the fare, expect to pay a higher daily gratuity for butler service. If gratuities are included, butlers don't expect them but nearly always accept tips. Do tip extra for special, more elaborate, services, such as coordinating and serving a cocktail party in-suite or any other activities above-and-beyond the typical daily services.

Butler Service on a Scenic cruise

What Cruise Ship Butlers Won't Do For You

While butlers will try their best to fulfill all your requests, they don't do everything you might wish. Here are five things your butler won't do:

  1. They won't work exclusively for you. Most butlers juggle several suites; for the best service, plan ahead. Make requests, such as for dining reservations, private shore excursions and beauty appointments, well in advance so butlers can manage their time to make your wishes reality. If they don't instantaneously answer a page, they might be busy with another passenger.
  2. They won't babysit -- although they might assist in hiring a sitter and often play with children, time permitting.
  3. They won't act as aides, although always assist in an emergency. If physically challenged, travel with a companion.
  4. While some butlers can be chatty -- particularly with solo passengers seeking company -- they aren't personal companions. They can escort you to a restaurant or show, but they won't sit with you.
  5. They cannot always fulfill challenging requests, such as asking 15 minutes ahead for dinner reservations in the ship's hottest restaurant. That said, butlers try to make magic -- perhaps serving dinner from that restaurant en-suite, or securing a table at a later hour, instead.

Where You Will Find Cruise Butlers

Butlers aren't available on every cruise line or in every cabin type. Read on to find out in which suites your favorite line offers butler service.

Azamara Club Cruises

Who Gets It: All suite passengers.

Get This: Azamara butlers are trained by the same company that provides butlers for superyachts, like billionaire Paul Allen's Octopus. One day, Azamara had a family onboard who wanted their 18-year-old son, an avid tennis player, to hit balls at a port court. The butler arranged a car to take their son to a local tennis stadium, where a professional Olympic tennis player surprised him with an offer to play a set.

Celebrity Cruises

Who Gets It: Suite passengers on all ships, except in the Galapagos.

Get This: Celebrity butlers really tune into their passengers; when one sensed his passenger was out-of-sorts, he learned that the man was unsure how to propose to his girlfriend. The butler reserved the helipad for a private proposal. Afterward, the butler appeared with Champagne, a photographer snapped pics and the captain blew the horn three times to celebrate.

Costa Cruises

Who Gets It: Passengers booking full suites (including Samsara Suites).

Get This: Costa's butlers, chosen from the best, most experienced, cabin stewards, undergo dedicated in-house training. One nice perk for passengers: Butlers provide shopping assistants, who give private personal tours of onboard boutiques and help find exactly what you're seeking.

Crystal Cruises

Who Gets It: Passengers booked in categories PH (Penthouse), PS (Penthouse Suite) and CP (Crystal Penthouse) on both Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, and all passengers on the all-suite Crystal Esprit yacht.

Get This: Crystal Cruises' butlers hail from more than 40 nations, and rank among the best-trained. One Crystal butler -- so polished, I was awe-struck -- once instructed me, "Never apologize, madam. Only I apologize." Turns out Buckingham Palace was his last gig. Crystal butlers go far beyond the extra mile; one arranged for a World War II veteran and major golf enthusiast to tee off from the Great Wall of China. When the butler gave him a case for that golf club (made with the help of the Vice Captain and ship carpenter) inscribed with his name, date and the event, the passenger teared up with happiness. 

Cunard Line

Who Gets It: Passengers staying in Queens Grill category cabins.

Get This: Butlers are experts at unpacking elaborate gowns and tuxedos because most Grill passengers bring extensive wardrobes. Queens Grill butlers are a long-standing Cunard tradition; they began serving on the original Queen Mary in 1936 and are revered for their high standards of service. Think Downton Abbey-style prowess, without stuffy posturing.

Hapag-Lloyd

Who Gets It: Penthouse, Grand Penthouse and Owner Suite passengers on Europa 2.

Get This: All butlers train in hospitality and service in a European school. They speak fluent English -- good to know on a German-English bilingual line.

Butler Service on an MSC cruise

MSC Cruises

Who Gets It: MSC Yacht Club passengers.

Get This: Butlers greet Yacht Club passengers curbside, guide them through the boarding process and escort them directly to their accommodations. Despite offering many services, such as printing out a favorite newspaper for morning delivery, they don't serve dinner course-by-course in cabins. However, you can order room service from an in-room menu.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Who Gets It: Passengers staying in The Haven receive 24/7 butler service. Passengers in a suite outside The Haven enjoy butler service until 10 p.m. daily.

Get This: Norwegian Cruise Line butlers are trained by The International Institute of Modern Butlers for a one-week onboard course; once certified, they receive ongoing training by onboard trainers and concierge staff. One butler, who learned his past passengers had returned to celebrate a 50th anniversary, procured a photograph he took on their previous cruise, and placed it in their Garden Villa to surprise and welcome them -- even though he was not their assigned butler.

Oceania Cruises

Who Gets It: Passengers in Penthouse Suites and higher.

Get This: Oceania's butlers are trained by an English Guild of Butlers member, and often move on to ship management positions, such as food-and-beverage director. They're most attentive regarding shore excursions; butlers check if passengers have everything they need before departing, and,  on return, they welcome them back with favorite beverages and snacks. If passengers must board tenders, butlers escort them to ensure they board safely.

P&O Cruises

Who Gets It: All suite passengers.

Get This: Butlers first meet passengers in the priority embarkation lounge to escort them to their suite. They work between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., although service can be arranged at other times for a specific event or need. Beyond the usual responsibilities, butlers can exchange currency at reception, and provide complimentary newspapers in port when available.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Who Gets It: Passengers in Penthouse Suites and higher.

Get This: Butlers study with the head butler, who trained with the Guild of Professional English Butlers. Butlers readily go the extra mile; when one 70-something couple got married in port, their butler placed red roses, bubbly and chocolate-covered berries in their Seven Seas Explorer suite. Later, all 12 ship butlers, wearing tails and white gloves, stood outside their suite to not only congratulate them as they left for dinner, but to also escort them to the restaurant.  By the way, butlers present Guerlain, Bottega Veneta and L'Occitane Mer & Mistral bath amenities to passengers -- you get all three.

Royal Caribbean International

Who Gets It: Star Class suite passengers on Oasis-class and Quantum-class ships.

Get This: Royal Caribbean offers 24/7 personal assistants dubbed Royal Genies. They act similarly to concierges, creating personalized VIP experiences. Royal Genies also arrange prime seating in select entertainment venues, coordinate onboard luxury boutique shopping and much more. They dress smart but casually, wearing linen shirts and slacks by day, and sport jacket and bow tie or dress at night.

Silversea

Who Gets It: All passengers on every Silversea cruise and expedition ship.

Get This: Butlers lavish passengers with high-end toiletries, from hypoallergenic to posh and pricy Salvatore Ferragamo and Bulgari. In the largest suites (Medallion Suites and up), passengers enjoy exclusive Bulgari white tea-perfumed toiletries versus green tea. The formally clad Silversea butlers, trained by The Guild of Professional English Butlers, take attentiveness to new heights; one overheard a Grand Suite passenger gushing to her husband about her love of tulips on a Northern Europe cruise while he was serving breakfast. When they returned from a shore excursion, what greeted her? A stunning tulip bouquet.