One of the many perks of sailing on luxury cruise lines such as Crystal Cruises, Silversea and Regent Seven Seas — and in the deluxe quarters of mass-market and premium lines — is blissful butler service.
At first blush it may sound like butler service is a bit of a stuffy anachronism in a modern-day, egalitarian America far removed from the era of “Downton Abbey.” It's anything but. Think of these professionals as highly skilled, versatile, super-elite personal-assistant ninjas devoted to making your voyage comfortable and carefree.
Getting over initial wariness
The first time we encountered butler service, many years ago, I must confess we felt a few trepidations. Did we really want him to unpack our bags? Would our privacy be intruded upon?
Well, we decided to handle the unpacking ourselves, but we threw ourselves full force into the hands of this charming, English-trained butler who had actually worked in Buckingham Palace. Like butlers after him, he handled everything superbly, from serving breakfast on our private veranda to making restaurant reservations at night. He also brought coffee, drinks, even in-suite dinners on request.
Since then, I've come to look forward to new encounters with butlers on my luxury sailings. Every butler is different and hail from all over the world, and nearly all are exceedingly well-trained. I’ve never met a butler I didn’t like, though one or two tended to be a bit too chatty. Ah, first world problems.
Have you had butler service on a cruise? I'm wondering if you've ever asked them to do anything offbeat, like save you a pool or beach chair.
Butler service across the cruise lines
Here's a rundown of what to expect from butler service on 10 major cruise lines:
Who gets a butler: Silversea provides butler service to all guests on all nine of its ships: Silver Spirit, Silver Whisper, Silver Shadow, Silver Cloud, Silver Wind, the upcoming Silver Muse, and the expedition ships Silver Discoverer, Silver Explorer and Silver Galapagos.
What they do: Among other things, your butler will unpack and pack your luggage (at your option), make reservations for dinner, spa treatments or private fitness sessions, discuss your taste preferences with the chef or maître d ', demonstrate different bathing accessories, offer a choice of pillows (goose down, hypoallergenic or therapeutic), make up your room spotlessly, serve breakfast, handle dry-cleaning requests and more.
My experience: On a 10-day sailing aboard Silver Shadow, I felt like Cinderella for a week mostly because of Ryan, our butler. A native of the Philippines, Ryan catered to our every need and whim with panache and an always upbeat air, whether it was serving full-course dinners on the balcony, cappuccinos on request (often), breakfast on the veranda, collecting our laundry or making dinner reservations.
Ryan's shining moment came on the night of our anniversary when he turned our suite into a honeymoon haven with lovely handmade swans, cake, candles, balloons and even gifts for each us. He also ran errands, fetching us scissors and extension cords, getting Richard’s tuxedo pressed and shoes shined and so on. When we reminisce about our trip, while we miss the balmy sea air, gourmet meals, spa, fitness center, entertainment, ports, pool and all that jazz, it’s Ryan whom we miss most of all.
Who gets a butler: On Crystal Cruises' two midsize ships, butlers are available only in staterooms and suites on the Penthouse decks (categories PH, PS and CP).
What they do: Butler services include packing and unpacking, complimentary dry cleaning, shoeshine and related services, dinner reservations in the ships' specialty restaurants, spa and shore excursion reservations, salon and spa appointments, arranging cocktail parties, providing gourmet snacks (including caviar) at tea time. They'll even serve dinner in your stateroom course by course.
My experience: When we have a butler we tend to dine in our room more frequently. Once on a Mexican Rivieria cruise on Crystal, we had a penthouse suite and ate out exactly twice in two weeks and never unpacked evening clothes. It kept our butler busy delivering multiple courses.
Regent Seven Seas
Who gets a butler: Guests staying in a Penthouse Suite (category B) or higher receive butler service on Regent Seven Seas ships.
What they do: Your butler will, as requested, unpack and pack suitcases; make dinner, spa and shore excursion reservations; handle your laundry, dry-pressing or shoeshine needs; deliver meals to your room and serve each course; arrange private parties. Look for the Butler button on your phone.
Of note: Regent recruits most of its butlers from Indonesia and the Philippines, where the tradition of having butlers in private homes and fine hotels is still deeply rooted.
Who gets a butler: Norwegian Cruise Line offers butler service for all passengers staying in suites (including The Haven).
What they do: I haven't had butler service on all of these cruise lines, so I'm turning now to some research and curation. Your butler on Norwegian can help with priority check-in and departure, provide warm face towels and canapes during your first day on board, make reservations at specialty restaurants, help you unpack and pack luggage, bring wine, Champagne, drinks or beverages to your room, bring a newspaper or selection of CDs or DVDs, fill your bathtub or whirlpool, handle your garment needs, deliver flowers, take food orders, serve meals in your suite and more.
Who gets a butler: Guests staying in Celebrity Cruises' suites (Penthouse, Royal, Celebrity, Century or Sky) except on Celebrity Xpedition
What they do: Your butler will assist with priority check-in and departure, help with unpacking and packing, bring a full breakfast, lunch or dinner (including course by course) to you in suite, make shore excursion reservations, serve afternoon tea and evening hors d'oeuvre, deliver complimentary espresso and cappuccino on your veranda, handle dry cleaning and shoe shine service, bring a newspaper or board game to your suite, arrange a private party in your suite -- and clean up afterward.
What they do: Butlers assist with priority check-in, see to it that your luggage arrives in your stateroom, attend to unpacking and packing, make reservations for restaurants, spa treatments and shore excursions, serve afternoon tea in the Top Sail Lounge, arrange for private parties in your suite, bring you wine, Champagne, drinks and cigars, and more. Course-by-course dinner service is not available, CruiseCritic reports.
Who gets a butler: Guests booked in suites on Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest
What they do: Your butler will handle your priority check-in and departure, unpack and pack suitcases, make dining and spa reservations, handle your laundry and dry cleaning needs (garment pressing of two items is complimentary for suite guests), serve afternoon tea on a cart, deliver meals and serve them course by course, arrange a private cocktail party in your suite, and more. Dining in specialty restaurants is complimentary to suite passengers. Your butler is also your room steward.
What they do: Butlers act as a personal concierge. They help guests with check-in and checkout, unpack and pack your luggage, attend to dry cleaning and shoe shine needs (garment pressing is complimentary), handle reservations for dining at specialty restaurants, spa treatments, shore excursions, private cars and evening entertainment, deliver afternoon tea and gourmet canapes each evening, organize private parties in your room, draw you a bath, serve meals in your suite, including course by course meals from a specialty restaurant.
Who gets a butler: On Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria, all passengers in Queens Grill (Q4 - Q1) suites receive butler service.
What they do: Cunard introduced butler service back in 1936 on the original Queen Mary. Your butler will help you unpack and pack, deliver meals to your room, help you choose from the nine choices on the pillow menu, stock your mini-bar, deliver pre-dinner canapes in the evening, and much more.
Who gets a butler: Guests on Europe-based Costa Cruises who book a full suite (including Samsara Spa Suites)
What they do: Butlers, also referred to as valets, offer a pillow menu and provide you with your choice. They will unpack and arrange clothing if you'd like, pack for your departure, make reservations for specialty restaurants, spa treatments and shore excursions, handle laundry and shine shoes, organize a private party in your suite, provide a daily menu of restaurant offerings, deliver meals to your suite and provide course-by-course service from the restaurant and more.
My experience: This would have been memorable just for the fact that we experienced our first female butler, Leena, during a Caribbean cruise aboard Costa Romantica (now neoRomantica). What made it extra special was that I was with my mom. We had a massive suite with huge windows looking out to sea and we were just steps from the pool via a foyer, and Leena assisted me and my mother throughout, making it a voyage of pure bliss.
Seabourn, Uniworld and Scenic
You might be surprised to know that the luxury line Seabourn doesn’t use butlers but their suite attendants do provide butler-quality service.
Want to book a cruise?
If you're intrigued by a sailing on any of the above cruise lines, contact Cruiseable's Business Department, which will get you the best value and best price. Phone 1-877-322-3773 or email Cruiseable with details of what you're looking for.
In our series Luxury Cruises
- A taste of what you'll find on a luxury cruise
- Guide to all-inclusive pricing on cruise ships
- Guide to VIP enclaves on cruise ships
- 20 most luxurious staterooms on a cruise ship
- Experiencing Alaska on a luxury ship
- Top amenities on a Crystal cruise
- Top luxury spas at high-end cruise lines
- 10 world class hotels
- Is a world cruise right for you?