A View from Both Sides of the Concierge Desk (Part 3)

| December 1, 2008

Cruise Director Kuki tries out another staff job on a cruise ship.

One day Alex was telling me the story of Mrs. West, who had cruised with NCL 166 times, each time in a suite, until they affectionately named it the West Suite. She would have Alex help her choose pictures for her Christmas cards. As we were discussing her, Mrs. Phyllis Fein, who had also known Mrs. West and has herself cruised with NCL 64 times, joined the conversation. Mrs. Fein is another of Alex's adoptive parents.


She emphatically states, "Alex is the finest concierge I have ever met!" and "Service in suites on NCL is second to none!" I also spoke with Mr. & Mrs. Dwyers, who were enjoying their sixth cruise with Alex as their concierge. They said that "aside from being the definition of service, he's fun."

Every evening as we moved about the ship, we'd pass Alex chatting with other passengers, his day-timer in hand to make note of any requests. Alex told me that one guest on this cruise called him at 3 a.m. after enjoying an excessive amount of liquid refreshment, asking him to cancel his Belize tour for that morning.

I encouraged him to tell me more dirt about offbeat encounters with passengers during his five years on the job, but he is very protective of his relationships with "his guests." I did get him to share the story of his first cruise on the NCL Dawn, when Rosie O'Donnell was his guest. She was to be escorted through the backrooms of the ship to get to events, and not being familiar with the ship himself, he kept getting them lost. He didn't mention how much she tipped for the extra "behind the scenes" tours.

Speaking of tips -- out of my own curiosity, and at the request of some other suite guests, I asked Alex what range of gratuity would be considered acceptable, if those who enjoyed his service wanted to tip him. He was most uncomfortable discussing the topic, but he explained that he is from Australia, where tipping is not the norm, so it is an awkward subject for him.

So I took my question to Hotel Director Julian Brackenberry, whom no one tips. I explained that I didn't want to know how much to tip, but how much I should expect as my share of the tips for the time I spent "working" with Alex.

Julian said that tips for butlers and concierges are totally at the guest's discretion for services rendered. There are no other guidelines. (Though he did say he'd heard of one passenger who tipped Alex $1000 at the end of a cruise. I don't even want to know what Alex did for that, but no doubt he'll be embarrassed when the video is offered for sale on the internet.

All the Alex Forbes fans, from those who've sailed with him previously, to all who will book a suite after reading this article so you can cruise with him, may be sad to learn that he's going home to Australia for December and the holidays.

He'll be returning as concierge on the Norwegian Gem beginning March 14, 2009. It's possible that he may no longer be working as concierge after that contract -- either because this article makes him so famous the world will be his oyster, or because he moves behind the scenes to become Front Office Manager on an NCL ship.

My final thoughts on being concierge: To be honest, there is no way on earth I'd want this demanding job -- and certainly no way NCL would want me doing the job, unless it was on a ship belonging to another line!

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