How I learned to stop worrying and love my cruise butler
By: Nicholas Hune-Brown
My butler Karthik has seen me in my underwear. Hes seen me slightly tipsy and brain-throbbingly hungover. Hes seen me draped in the cruise lines plush waffled bathrobe first thing in the morning and then again late at night, guiltily answering the door to accept a Guacamole Tumbler just hours after gorging myself in the ships restaurant.
He is, to be accurate, no longer my butler, but for 10 days aboard Silverseas Silver Spirit, as we sailed from Barbados to Fort Lauderdale with a half-dozen Caribbean ports in between, Karthik witnessed exactly what can happen when two self-conscious people unused to pampering are set adrift at sea with near infinite luxuries.
Assigning a personal butler to every Silversea passenger is one of the latest innovations in the luxury cruise business butlers are shared between a handful of passengers, and their job is to manage your voyage, booking tables for you at the various onboard restaurants, taking care of your laundry, bringing you room service.
Above all, they are there to use their powers of observation and intuition to anticipate any possible need you might have on your voyage.
My girlfriend Lorna and I meet ours on the first day of our cruise. After boarding the ship in Bridgetown, Barbados, and inspecting our 11th-deck suite, a marvel of comfort, the buzzer sounded and Karthik appeared a clean-cut, Sri-Lankan-born 30-year-old who politely batted away our attempts at small talk.
Can I unpack your luggage for you Mr. Brown? he asked.
The question caught us off guard. Were not aristocrats. Or Batman. Were young Canadians who had somehow found ourselves on a press trip on one of the worlds most luxurious cruise lines. The idea of this courteous stranger sorting through our grubby possessions delicately hanging up my worn-out T-shirts seemed absurd. Embarrassing, even.
Thats fine, I think well be all right, I said brightly.
Karthiks face fell.
Lorna and I looked at one another. Had we insulted his professional pride? Maybe unpacking our own belongings was impinging on his territory, like charging into a restaurant kitchen and cheerfully telling the chef not to trouble himself with the ol steak, well just grill the sucker ourselves.
Is there anything else I can do you for you? he asked anxiously. We looked around the room, scanning for possibilities. A bottle of Champagne sat chilling on ice. The mini-fridge was stocked. We were on an all-inclusive cruise floating in the warmth of the Caribbean Sea. What could we possibly need?
There was an awkward silence. Maybe some more water? Lorna said uncertainly.
Absolutely, Karthik said, looking relieved. And please phone me if you need anything else.
For the rest of the afternoon we explored the Silver Spirit, a 642-foot ark of blindingly white surfaces and smooth, rounded edges. With room for 540 passengers and almost as many crew members, the ship is the newest and largest vessel in the Silversea fleet. It has an art deco theatre, a small pool, a spa, a casino, and five bars and lounges. Its six restaurants serve delicious, extravagant dishes that always seem to include at least a little foie gras, as if just to show off.
We spent the next day off the coast of Grenada, snorkelling in a submerged sculpture garden and sipping rum punch on the deck of a sailboat as we shuttled along the coast.
Back in our room, sun-soaked and tipsy, we found that Karthik and his invisible team of housekeepers and stewards had anticipated our needs almost eerily well. The day before I had carelessly left a beer from the pool bar on our table and Lorna, feeling a little sniffly, had left a roll of toilet paper by the bed. Today the mini-fridge was filled with bottles of that particular brand of beer. The toilet paper had been replaced with a box of the worlds softest tissues, ensconced in a leather case that looked as if it had been hand-crafted by Italian elves.
It was incredible, but we couldnt help feeling a little awkward about the whole thing. The social anxieties of shore life had followed us on-board. I couldnt shake the thought that Karthik was somehow disappointed in us. Had he really trained at the prestigious Guild of Professional English Butlers, where the servants of the British Royal Family learn their trade, just to be assigned to a pair of schlubby young Canadians?
According to The Remains of the Day, my only source for butler psychology prior to our trip, a butlers prestige is only equal to the people he serves. There were judges on-board, wealthy surgeons, too, and Karthik was stuck with us. It was obvious: We were bringing him down.
But everything changed on Formal Night, during which passengers are encouraged to dress in tuxedos and ball gowns. I had brought a charcoal grey suit that I immediately realized would be completely inappropriate.
I buzzed Karthik, and he came to our door within minutes.
Karthik, do you know which restaurants the least formal tonight, because I dont have a tuxedo, I asked in what I hoped was a breezy, nonchalant fashion. He looked at me, a hint of pain in his eyes.
Yes, I noticed that Mr. Brown. He noticed I didnt have a tuxedo? But everywhere is formal tonight and you must eat in the main restaurant. Its captains night. He sounded truly disappointed. Ill talk to my manager to see what I can do about this predicament.
I imagined Karthik sheepishly asking the matre d to make a special dispensation for our slovenliness.
Were calling in room service, I told Lorna melodramatically. Were not going out there!
When our door buzzed an hour later, I answered with dread. Karthik stood in the doorframe with a barely suppressed grin on his face.
Mr. Brown, I have found a tuxedo for you, he said, revealing a freshly pressed dinner jacket. And it is in precisely your size!
I felt nothing but gratitude. Gratitude and a new determination to stop being such an idiot. I would be the kind of person my butler deserved.
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