Aboard Silversea, It’s Likely the Butler Did It

I have been in thrall of butlers since my first encounter with this indispensable member of the household. Impeccably groomed, his was the iron fist in the velvet glove.  Alas, my encounters with this man servant were confined to Sunday nights, “Masterpiece Theatre,” and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

It wasn’t until my first cruise on Silversea, whose service includes butlers assigned to all of its suites, I experienced this world in real life. On Silversea, your butler is, in essence, a personal assistant. He — or she — is in charge of all food and beverages in your suite, filling your mini-bar, ensuring your fruit bowl is fresh and delivering in-suite meals. Butlers oversee your wardrobe. They assist with laundry, pressing and, if you wish, unpacking and packing your luggage.

Curious how butlers work on Silversea?

Aboard Silver Dawn on its inaugural sailing last spring, I sat down with Jonas Vanden Abeele, Silversea’s Fleet Butler Service Manager, to learn more. Belgian-born Vanden Abeele, 30, already has an extensive background in hospitality. Beginning at the age of 12, he was washing pots in the kitchen of his family’s banquet hall. At 18, he graduated from hotel school in Belgium and began working in a four-star hotel. He quickly rose to head concierge in charge of valet service and porters.

At 25, determined to make a life “in service,” he chose Belgium’s School for Butlers and Hospitality. Today, Vanden Abeele trains every butler aboard the 10 ships in Silversea’s fleet.

Here, he shares his insights into the butler profession, life on Silversea and how such service will enhance your voyage.

If you think butlers are a dying breed, think again

As the super wealthy proliferate, so do butlers.  You may think that butlers are a British institution, but the world’s foremost schools for butlers are in Belgium, South Africa and the Netherlands. All offer an eight-week education to aspiring butlers. By contrast, Britain’s best-known butler school offers just four weeks training.

Where does Silversea find its butlers?

Butlers unpack — and repack — your suitcases on arrival and departure

There is a surprising number of candidates with butler experience, Vanden Abeele says. Many start in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, working at minimum wages and learning the trade. “The other day, I received a resumé from a gentleman who was a private butler to the King of Saudi Arabia, he says. “We have really good people,” he notes, hailing from 19 countries, including Ecuador, South Africa and St. Lucia. “And of late, fully 10 percent of our butlers are women,” he says.

As was Rosie, my butler on my Silver Dawn voyage. Her attention to detail was outstanding. Not surprising given the training butlers receive on Silversea.

Silversea butlers go through a 108-point training program

Vanden Abeele calls his fledgling butlers “butterflies.” Teamed with a veteran, these novices “fly everywhere,” he says. “We have day butlers and night butlers,” he adds. “And we have an in-suite captain who supervises room service.” The trainees work with all of them.

Moreover, room service aboard Silversea is the provenance of its butlers, not the food and beverage department. “At least 30 percent of our guests have breakfast in their suites,” Vanden Abeele says. “You wake up, you don’t need to get dressed and your breakfast arrives.” 

Some guests take a day or two to adjust to having such service at their fingertips. And guests can pick and choose some aspects of having a butler, including packing and unpacking. Some travelers find that uncomfortable, and if that’s so, it’s their decision. If you do take advantage of unpacking, remember to leave your luggage key in plain sight.

Having Rosie draw a bath for me, part of Silversea’s Otium Wellness experience, was a first for me. Every task she executed was done with professionalism and courtesy. As Vanden Abeele notes, “Butlers are here to free up time for our guests to enjoy their vacations.”

Your butler’s attention to detail is extraordinary

The delight is in the details. Your ice bucket is filled. Each hanger in your closet faces the same direction. Your eyeglasses and sunglasses are cleaned, and your digital devices are tidied up. Your books are carefully arranged. Your shoes are polished. After one particularly muddy shore excursion, my trainers (Americans call them sneakers) were scrupulously cleaned without my even asking.  

“We always say you don’t need to see the butler, but you need to feel the butler,” Vanden Abeele says. “And you can feel it when you come into your suite.

“Now your trousers are hanging in the wardrobe or folded on your chair. It’s technique, passion, an eye for detail, anticipation and planning. That’s our definition of butler service.

“When we train, we train standards. There are standards we need to follow, Silversea standards for luxurious hotel butler service.”

One more thing…

On Silversea, butlers are known as ladies and gentlemen looking after ladies and gentlemen. Your butler is in charge of your complete satisfaction throughout your voyage and even after it.

Indeed, when I arrived home, my suitcase had been beautifully packed. The rustle of Silversea tissue had the unmistakable hallmark of the silent partner in the extraordinary service at sea from my butler, Rosie, whose work topped anything PBS portrayed.