What’s the difference between a cruise ship concierge and butler?

Sep 14, 2020

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When you thumb through cruise line brochures, you read a lot of jargon that might not be defined. If you’re new to cruising — or even if you’re just new to booking a higher cabin category — you may not necessarily know the difference between the terms concierge and butler. TPG is here to define the roles of these crew members and how they both can make your voyage a whole lot more enjoyable.

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What’s the difference between a cruise ship concierge and butler?

Silversea butler champagne
Butler serving champagne on Silversea Silver Wind. (Photo courtesy of Silversea)

In simple terms, a concierge is in charge of assisting you with things outside of your cabin while a butler’s domain is very focused on your cabin and its amenities. There is some crossover, of course, but that’s the general delineation.

For example, a concierge may greet you upon arrival to the pier check-in area on embarkation day, make dining reservations on your behalf or arrange for tender tickets when it’s time to go ashore. The concierge usually has a desk in the ship’s reception area or, if specifically for passengers in a certain cabin category, the concierge may have a desk in the library or a special VIP area of the ship.

Related: Are drinks packages worth the price? A line-by-line guide 

A butler, on the other hand, is much more focused on your in-cabin experience. He’ll offer you a choice of high-end soaps, shampoos and conditioners when you arrive in your cabin for the first time. He may pour a welcome glass of Champagne, determine your pillow preferences and ask what beverages you want to be stocked in your minibar. You will interact with your butler inside your cabin or pass him in the hallway as you walk to and from your suite. Luxury line Silversea offers butler service in every single suite on its ships — regardless of category.

It’s fun to cruise with a butler at least once. You can make all kinds of special requests and he’ll do what he can to fulfill your shipboard dreams. I love Schweppes bitter lemon, but it’s not distributed where I live. Whenever I check into a cabin with butler service, the first thing I ask is: Does this ship have bitter lemon and can you fill my minifridge with it? It works every time, and I get my soda fix. I may also ask for chocolate delivered to my cabin each evening. Hey, you only live once!

Butlers aren’t run-of-the-mill cabin stewards. They are usually specially trained, both by the cruise line and off-site when they attend “butler school.” Case in point: Norwegian Cruise Line offers butler service in The Haven suites. Each butler serving that special VIP area of the ship received formal training at the International Institutes of Modern Butlers. Oceania Cruises sends its butlers to the Guild of Professional English Butlers. The quality of a butler can vary but cruise lines put great emphasis on training so passengers are usually wowed by the service they receive.

Related: The 5 best cabin locations on any cruise ship

Who gets a concierge and/or butler on a cruise?

concierge desk aboard Celebrity Silhouette
The concierge desk aboard Celebrity Silhouette. (Photo by Michel Verdure/Celebrity Cruises)

Many cruise ships don’t have any concierges or butlers at all. Some have just concierges but no butlers. Some lines, like Silversea, have a butler for every suite. Others have both, but they are only available to passengers in certain cabin categories (usually concierge- or suite-level accommodations for which you pay an upgraded cruise fare).

Butler service is something usually offered to passengers who’ve booked a top-level suite.

Let’s take a deeper look with these two examples.

Concierge service aboard Disney Cruise Line ships

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Concierge passengers get special priority check-in on embarkation day. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Disney Cruise Line offers four cabin categories with the creme-de-la-creme being Concierge. In addition to more spacious cabins and suites, Concierge passengers get upgraded amenities like down duvets, a pillow menu, robes and slippers and free Wi-Fi. But the extra services are the real reason cruisers love Disney’s Concierge level.

You’re assigned a concierge preboarding, and you can tell him or her your preferences for onboard reservations 125 days in advance. That person will then execute your requests so you don’t have to run around booking dining times, spa treatments or shore excursions. The concierge can also help you plan special occasions and celebrations. Once you’re on the ship, your concierge is available to tweak reservations, make new ones and arrange for priority tendering in ports of call.

In the case of Disney, Concierge passengers also get access to some exclusive areas of the ship. You’ll feel like a VIP — and you are one! — with access to a private retreat where you can enjoy complimentary food and nonalcoholic beverages throughout the day. Disney cruise ships do not offer butler service.

Related: Is Disney Cruise Line concierge level worth it?

Sail Celebrity Cruises and get access to a concierge and/or butler

Celebrity Solstice Reflection Suite butler
A family enjoying the Reflection Suite aboard Celebrity Solstice. (Photo by Quentin Bacon/Celebrity Cruises)

Celebrity Cruises is one of those lines that offer both concierge and butler service. You can book a Concierge-level cabin to unlock access to the ship’s concierge team or you can book a suite and get treated to concierge service and an in-cabin butler.

Booking a suite is a pricey endeavor but it can be worth it with all the perks you’ll receive: an included premium beverage package, prepaid gratuities, $300 per suite onboard credit to spend on the ship any way you like, free Wi-Fi and a personal butler.

Your butler will set up your suite to your specifications, serve meals personally in your room or on the balcony and sometimes accompany you to the theater to show your reserved seating on Evening Chic nights.

The concierge, on the other hand, is available precruise to help you make reservations for dining, spa treatments and more. Onboard, you’ll find a concierge at The Retreat, the special VIP areas of the ship — indoor lounge and sun deck — where only Concierge-level and suite passengers are allowed. the concierge will ensure you get priority check-in and departure as well as priority tendering to port. If you’re in the Iconic Suite, you can even ask the concierge to have a Peloton bike delivered to your cabin!

Related: 11 extra charges on cruise ships that will drive you nuts – and what to do about them

Things a cruise ship concierge may do for you

While cruise lines may deputize their concierges to do slightly different tasks, here are the sort of things you can expect a concierge to handle on your behalf.

  • Available precruise to assist with onboard reservations for restaurants, spa treatments, shore excursions and more.
  • Greets you at the cruise terminal on embarkation day for priority check-in and to assist as you board the ship.
  • Is your point person for information on ship happenings day-to-day.
  • Makes onboard reservations for everything from meals to child care to shore excursions.
  • Assists with priority access to tenders to shore.
  • Makes reservations for evening shows and other entertainment options.
  • Assists with priority disembarkation.

Related: 21 tips and tricks to make your cruise go more smoothly

Things a cruise ship butler may do for you

Cruise ship butlers execute all sorts of tasks each and every day. Yours may or may not perform the following functions but this quick list will give you an idea of what to expect the first time Jeeves is at your service.

  • Serve a welcome glass of Champagne upon arrival to your cabin.
  • Explain your cabin amenities and make sure you know how to use all of its features.
  • Present different brands of soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion for your selection and then set them up in your cabin’s bathroom(s).
  • Explain the pillow menu and deliver your selections to the room.
  • Unpacks your luggage upon arrival and packs it before disembarkation.
  • Oversee the staff that cleans your room.
  • Send your laundry/dry cleaning out and monitor its safe return.
  • Serve afternoon canapes and/or afternoon tea in your cabin/suite.
  • Serve room service meals in your cabin or on your balcony.
  • Draw a bath with bubble bath or flower petals.
  • Helps make restaurant, spa and shore excursion reservations.
  • Help you plan and execute a cocktail party you host in your suite.
  • Give your shoes a shine.
  • Clean your luggage before departure.

Related: Inside Regent’s new $11,000-a-night super suite 

Bottom line

Do you need a concierge or a butler to have a fantastic cruise? No. But, either or both of these individuals do hold the keys to amping up your experience and making you feel like a VIP. If you have the opportunity, try out a cabin category that offers the assistance of either or both types of crew members and then you can decide for yourself if access to them is worth the extra money.

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Featured image by Luca Locatelli/Silversea

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