In most aspects of life, there are two sides to every story. In this article, I'll try to give glimpses into a butler's life, from the point of view of the customer and the butler himself. Both are based on my recent experience aboard Celebrity's Millennium.
As the Guest
On only one previous cruise had the services of a butler been available to me. Like most people with no experience in these matters, I had no idea what a butler would do to make my cruise more enjoyable. That particular cabin, though a bit larger than a standard cabin, did not lend itself to dining en suite. So, other than having coffee delivered in the morning, we made little use of the butler's services.
For our sailing on the Celebrity Millennium, as a surprise birthday/anniversary gift for Mrs. Kuki, I booked passage in a Royal Suite. I of course got to share in this gift of luxury -- though she may have preferred that I booked myself an inside cabin across the hall.
The suite was breathtaking, with a separate dining area, living room and separate bedroom, totaling over 500 sq. ft. of living space, plus 195 sq. ft. of balcony space -- with a Jacuzzi on the balcony! Within minutes of exploring the cabin, we knew this would be a much different experience than our prior cruises. The suite oozed luxury. And then, in short order, we met our butler, Kenneth.
This was the man who would end up training us how to enjoy all the luxury and decadence of being a suite passenger. Kenneth explained that each day he would serve "afternoon tea" in the suite, and deliver appetizers each evening prior to dinner. He also instructed us that he would be available -- "on call" -- between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Returning to the suite late that evening, we found the dining table preset, complete with tablecloth and a full table setting. On the table was a full breakfast menu, as an invitation to us to enjoy breakfast in the suite.
We might normally order in coffee and a croissant to enjoy on our balcony, and then head to the buffet if we wanted a more robust breakfast. But this "invitation" to enjoy a full breakfast in the suite seemed too pleasant to pass up. This was the beginning of our "training" to enjoy the suite and the services of our butler.
At the exact time we had noted on our order, the telephone rang: "This is Kenneth; breakfast is ready to be served if you like." I opened the door and Kenneth served breakfast that was as hot as if he had just cooked it right outside our door.
Within minutes after we finished eating, Kenneth returned to clear the table and tidy up the dining room. His impeccable timing must have come from years of experience, training, and a keen instinct.
I discussed with Kenneth the possibility of having friends in for cocktails that evening. He gave me the name and number of the ship's event planner, where I could order any food we'd like to serve, and asked us to let him know what type of liquid refreshments we'd like available. Kenneth also suggested which appetizers we might like to order, based on his experience of items previous guests had enjoyed.
In short order we had planned a cocktail party for 30 in our suite for 4 p.m. that afternoon. At 3 p.m., Kenneth came in to prepare the suite, bringing tablecloths, wine to cool, glasses, corkscrews, and a few dried snack foods.
When our guests began to arrive, bartenders brought in a service cart with other drinks we'd requested, and Kenneth began serving the appetizers we had ordered. After all the guests had left, Kenneth returned to clear the empty trays and glasses, and put the suite back in order.
Though we have hosted similar cocktail parties in our home, none had ever been as easily organized, nor had any gone so seamlessly.
After Kenneth's work for us that day, I felt I had already received my full benefit from having a butler, and jokingly told him we'd likely give him the rest of the week off. He assured us the service was his pleasure, and made us feel as though there had been no imposition.
In discussing our plans for the next day, a port call at Casa de Campo, we discovered that my golf excursion would get me back to the ship too late for our scheduled dining time in the dining room. Kenneth quickly volunteered to serve dinner in the suite, from the dining room menu, to us and the couple we were traveling with.
Almost halfway through our cruise, we had gone from not knowing what to do with a butler, to finding him indispensable and not knowing what we'd do without him.
As the Butler
On Day Six of our cruise, I was about to see the butler's life from the other side of the service cart. The day prior, Celebrity had assembled a team of experts to turn me from a spoiled, rotten passenger into a professional butler. My teaching team consisted of Kenneth the Butler; the Chief of Housekeeping, Theo Sklaventis; the Assistant Chief Housekeeper, Dimitris Kranidiotis; and Tailor Luis Rojas.
The first order of business was to make me a full butler's uniform in a size "bigger than a ballast tank." I had two fittings, until they scrounged enough material to make me presentable. I was good to go! Theo, my boss, told me I should be ready to start work at 6 a.m. the next morning.
Feeling sorry for the new guy, Kenneth woke me instead at 6:45, brought me a cup of coffee, and helped me dress. Somehow, I understood he wasn't likely to be nudged this gently to start his own day.
He led me to the butler's pantry on Deck 6 aft near the penthouses. I was surprised to find a small but efficiently designed and spotless area equipped with coffee and tea machines, juice dispensers, refrigerators stocked with breads, bagels, etc., and toasters to make them fresh. There were also warming ovens, cutlery and tableware cupboards, and a complete dishwashing system.
Simple requests from the suite passengers like toast, juice and coffee are prepared on trays here for ease and speed of delivery. For full meals, whether breakfast, lunch or dinner, orders have to be taken down to the galley on Deck 3, and the butler waits until it's prepared. He then delivers it hot and fresh to the suite.
We had a couple of breakfast orders to pick up and deliver, so that's how I began my work day, under the careful guidance of Kenneth. Our first call was to the guests in the penthouse suite, and I admit to being slightly nervous about pouring and spilling coffee in their hair or lap. After all, I was wearing my "butler-in-training" name tag, and wanted to make the butler team proud.
Our next breakfast delivery was to some guests in another Royal Suite, and I was already feeling more comfortable. Kenneth had instructed me thoroughly: serve from the left, remove from the right, and quit tasting the guests' food.
After breakfast, it was time to take the clothing guests had left to be laundered down to the laundry. The laundry is deep in the bow of the ship. I quickly discovered how much walking a butler does in a day.
On the return trip upstairs, we swung by the message center, a small office behind the Guest Relations desk. Here the butlers pick up invitations, faxes, etc., for the guests in the suites and deliver them.
We returned to the butler's pantry and delivered a late breakfast request, then found a few minutes to visit with the entire butler team of the Millennium.
Each butler carries a telephone, and their guests have their direct numbers for ease in making requests. In the time I spent with these men, I was amazed at just how often those telephones rang, and how quickly they responded.
On the Millennium, the team consists of five butlers and one helper. And they truly do work as a team. It's essential to maintain a seamless experience for their guests. When Kenneth was busy serving our cocktail party, the other butlers assisted with his calls from other guests.
Early afternoon came, and there was a slight lull in demand for butler services, but as 4 p.m. drew near it was time to prepare for tea service, where party-sized sandwiches and mouth-watering dessert treats are laid out on rolling carts and delivered door to door, stopping at each suite.
As we rang the bell at each suite, each door was opened by a guest wearing a broad welcoming smile. Like Pavlov's dog, they obviously had been trained to know that treats awaited them when their doorbell rang at 4 p.m. Most avoided choosing the few items I had already taken bites out of as we made our way down the hall, but there was still enough left for everyone.
This was the end of my first training session, since -- unlike the real butlers -- I had to prepare for formal night dinner in the dining room. I almost felt bad leaving "the team" to work for another few hours.
But as you might expect, I didn't feel bad enough to stay instead of going to dinner, and back to being a guest.
It was an eye-opening experience to live, if ever so briefly, both sides of the butler's story. I learned that the butlers I worked with are hard-working, interesting, devoted, and good-humored people. And that they have to be to serve guests like me!
While I enjoyed experiencing both sides of this life, there's no question I'd prefer more "training" in the role of being the guest of a butler!
If you're ever fortunate enough to be able to take this training in the future, here's a brief recap of things you can look forward to.
- You can count on the butler being available from 7 am. to 9 p.m.
- You can count on the dining table being set the night previous, with a breakfast menu inviting you to order in full breakfast.
- You can count on full lunch service in your suite, if you choose.
- You can count on tea service delivered at 4 p.m. daily.
- You can count on hors d'oeuvres delivered prior to dinner.
- You can count on full dinner service, served course by course, in your suite, either at the dining room table or on your balcony.
- You can count on you butler to entertain guests in your suite for cocktail parties or dinners.
- You can count on the butler to fulfill nearly any legal request, as they are trained that 'no' is not an acceptable answer.
- You can count on your butler being totally discreet; for as much as I tried to cajole these men into telling me some "butler stories," their lips were sealed.
The next time you hear the phrase "The Butler Did It," don't be surprised. The butler really does do everything!