Alfredo Da Silva strolls down the corridor with elegant confidence, chatting with his guests as though he is welcoming them to his own home. Gracious, professional and entirely committed to the satisfaction of the savvy travelers aboard the luxury ship, Alfredo epitomizes what it is to serve as a Crystal Cruises butler. He is a veteran, having joined the luxury line in 1996 with several years’ experience serving aboard other lines’ ships; and his love for his work permeates all facets of his life. In his hometown in Portugal, Alfredo owns several restaurants, which he started during a brief time away from the Crystal ships, and his children continue to run in his absence.
Indeed, while Alfredo’s passion for creating unmatched hospitality experiences for guests took him further into the service field even apart from his time with Crystal, the family atmosphere and extraordinary culture of the company beckoned him back to sea after a few years.
“I truly missed seeing the guests. Being a butler with Crystal is a wonderful way to get to know people, through figuring out their needs and wishes and making their vacation as perfect as it can be,” says Alfredo. “When I returned to the ship, there were guests who remembered me from five or ten years before and were excited to see me – usually it’s us who remember everyone’s names and faces!”
This peek into the world of one of Crystal’s longtime butlers is just a snippet of the commitment to excellent service employed by the line’s esteemed team. The butler service – offered complimentary with all Penthouse accommodations aboard Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, and soon to be offered to all guest aboard the new Crystal Esprit and Crystal River Yachts – is the pinnacle of personalized service and attention to detail for which the line has been celebrated for 25 years. Guests’ butlers are essentially personal assistants for the duration of their stay on board, from accommodating each request and wish to anticipating wishes before a guest even knows they have it.
It’s this latter form of specialized attention to detail that sets Crystal’s service, and particularly the butlers, apart from other luxury hospitality brands. The line’s policies and philosophies in regard to guest experience dictate that the eagerness to assist, to make travelers as comfortable, no, more comfortable than they would be in their own homes is paramount and something that cannot be contrived. There is an authenticity and genuine caring about guests’ experience that is at the core of the butler service, beyond the favorite canapés, remembered birthdays and special touches.
Butler-in-training Dierdre Visser of South Africa knows it is this authentic love for helping and making people happy that makes the job all the more appealing to her. As the first female butler aboard Crystal Serenity, Dierdre, who currently serves guests in the ship’s casual eatery Tastes, knows that it will be the genuine connection she forms with her guests that will make their experience memorable.
“Everyone on the ship does everything they can to accommodate guests at all times,” she says. “As a butler, you are in a position to go the extra mile to make them happy; to see to details they don’t ask anyone else about.”
Crystal butlers operate independently, for the most part, in that each is fully responsible for the needs of his or her assigned penthouses, from food and beverage service to laundry and special arrangements. You will find a pen and paper in each butler’s hand at nearly all times, ensuring that no detail is missed and no preference goes unnoticed. They have what is, simultaneously, one of the most complex jobs on the ship and also one of the simplest, in some ways. As each butler will be charged with anywhere from eight to thirteen penthouses each voyage, there can be some skilled juggling needed if each of those guests wants breakfast in their room at the same time on the same days. This is when it becomes necessary for the butler’s to rely on the shipboard team and other butlers to streamline the process.
While guest requests can come at any time, 24 hours a day, it’s obviously not possible for each butler to be available all day and night. There is a strong sense of team work among the butler staff, even given their independent management of their rooms. If one butler is off duty, calls from his rooms are directed to the next butler on duty. Communication is key to maintain the guest experience in these instances.
“When I go off duty for a day, I make sure that the butler on duty has all of my notes about my guests’ preferences, so a guest who does not like milk is not served milk in the morning with her coffee,” says Alfredo.
Alternatively, it’s often as simple as eye contact, a smile and genuine interest in what people like, then anticipating that.
Says Dierdre, “It goes a long way to simply ask a gentleman if he would like his shoes shined for formal night that evening, or make sure the lady has her favorite ginger pieces waiting for her after dinner. These things take only a few minutes for us, but they do so much to show the guests that we’re paying attention and we care.”
There is a trust that builds between Crystal guests and their butlers, as the men and women are invited into travelers’ most personal space during their cruise. The butlers walk the fine line between respect for privacy and also making sure each detail is attended to. This trust has often carried forth into friendship, as so many Crystal guests return and frequently request the same butler, and continue to share travel experiences and stories with each other.
“I once had a guest on board tell me he would be in Portugal at a time I wasn’t working on the ship. I drove to Lisbon (about six hours) to pick him up and showed him around my home town. Our families had dinner together that evening,” shares Alfredo.
It’s these connections that keep Crystal guests – and crew! – returning over and again. This is evidenced by Alfredo’s nearly 20-year career with Crystal that he cherishes and Dierdre’s budding future in a position she is excited to begin. In addition to the anticipation of becoming the newest butler aboard Crystal Serenity during the 2016 World Cruise, Dierdre also notes one unique aspect to her role that is different from all the other butlers.
“I’m not worried too much about being the only female butler on board. I’ll be wearing the same uniform and doing the same job – maybe better! We have a wonderful female president and CEO, so obviously women are not underestimated at Crystal.”
Indeed, neither is the power of superior service and a genuine smile.