EMILY BAMBER learns how to really pamper passengers on a cruise
MY HANDS were shaking and the silverware on the tray was tinkling as a list of tasks raced through my mind. I knocked politely on the door and stepped inside. Who'd have thought a butler would have so much to remember?
I was in a suite on the cruise ship Azamara Journey serving wealthy, seasoned travellers Mr and Mrs Monet who were expecting a professional butler rather than a rookie with only a morning's crash course and a couple of months' waitressing experience back in her teens. Click here now for amazing offers to Barcelona!
Azamara Club Cruises (ACC) is a premium cruise line whose two 694-passenger ships are like boutique hotels at sea.
Smart and stylish, with lavish touches such as a Martini bar, oriental rugs and a Regencystyle library, the ships cruise out-of-the-way ports in Europe, Asia, South America and the Caribbean and are popular with well-to-do clients who like to combine adventures ashore with fine dining and facilities on board. Butlers are now offered as standard in the ships' top 40 suites - part of an upmarket drive that also includes more overnight stays in popular destinations.
I joined Azamara's butler training course to learn one of the oldest trades in the world.
A butler's job is to anticipate and attend to their employer's every need, from morning tea to nightcaps, their social lives and travel plans. While they traditionally work in private homes the role is changing and you'll now see butlers on yachts, private jets and on cruises.
On Azamara ships a butler has to be a one-stop shop.
They make a guest's onboard reservations, arrange excursions and visit cabins up to six times a day to tidy, provide refreshments and oversee housekeeping. They will even unpack and manage your wardrobe right down to laying out outfits and organising laundry. It's like having mum on board but without the nagging.
Nowhere does a butler need more flexibility than at sea. Want incredible offers to Barcelona? Click here now...
Passengers constantly change and they come from a variety of countries so getting up to speed with their needs is a challenge.
How easy is it, for instance, to source fuchsia shoe polish in a far-flung port? There are also a host of other problems to deal with such as seasickness and the fact the ship's motion can make precision service impossible.
Attempting not to trip or get muddled I had earlier showed the Monets to their suite, trying to recall my key training skills of communication, decisiveness, sincerity, flexibility, motivation, responsibility, friendliness, humour and teamwork.
I had also been at work well before their arrival going through the cabin with a fine-tooth comb with head butler Pravin. We'd wiped door handles, turned bottle labels forward, straightened cushions and double-checked everything from pillow choice to the drinks cabinet catalogue.
Pravin had even discovered from butlers on sister ship Azamara Quest what sort of flowers the Monets liked.
It emerged Mr Monet had a dinner ashore that night so at 6.30pm I was to run a bath, lay out his tuxedo, polish his shoes and book a car. When he said: "I think I'll take a nap, " I took my signal and retreated, leaving my number with them in case I was needed.
Privacy is a delicate balance as, although cruise ship suites are pretty spacious, they are tiny compared to private homes where butlers normally operate.
The chances are butlers will know where you are outside your suite too. Whether it be in the ship's spa (a good one with a thalassotherapy pool and Elemis treatments) or sipping fine wine in the softly lit steakhouse Prime C, bidding in an art auction or at a culinary demonstration, they will probably have arranged it.
Despite the onboard activities ACC is also a great choice for those wanting to spend more time ashore. On French Riviera cruises next year guests will be able to visit the Monaco Grand Prix or tour vineyards during the harvests.
Other itineraries include sailing up the Amazon or following the Mumbai-toSingapore spice route. Shuttle buses make it easy to explore independently and with stops in destinations such as Venice, Monte Carlo and Copenhagen you can eat out locally on most evenings if you wish.
Fortunately the Monets were not real guests but Rob and Lesley from Triple S, the ship's training consultancy who are also members of the Guild of Professional English Butlers.
They are in hot demand too as the luxury sector booms - UK top-end cruise bookings were up 50 per cent last year and cruise lines are including more perks to keep their passengers.
I won't be giving up the day job though; being a butler is a much harder job than it looks. GETTING THERE: Azamara Club Cruises (0845 456 0523/ www.azamaraclubcruises.co.uk) has an 11-night French Riviera cruise on Azamara Journey from £2,140 per adult in an inside cabin (two sharing), or from £3,558 per adult for a suite with a butler. Prices include return flights from Heathrow to Barcelona. Departs May 15, 2011.