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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cruising with a butler

Papa, our butler aboard the Crystal Serenity, serves afternoon shrimp and champagne in our penthouse suite.

It’s almost embarrassing to reveal how much I loved having a butler aboard our Crystal Serenity cruise.
I am, after all, a woman who prides herself on being self-sufficient and not self-indulgent. Although the skill I bring to things may be debated, I clean my own house, iron my own clothes, cook my own meals and organize my own life. Although I do get my hair styled a couple times a year, I never even had a pedicure until I was 60.
So when my daughter and I arrived in Venice and checked in with the Crystal Serenity for our Sept. 30 to Oct. 8 cruise we were stunned to discover we’d been upgraded to a penthouse suite with a butler.
It all turned out to be far beyond our wildest dreams.
Our butler, all spiffed out in a tux, introduced himself to us with his Egyptian-sounding name but told us to call him Papa.
 “It was like having a daddy,” my daughter later recalled. She and I both lost our own fathers when we were just girls so we loved having this sweet man beam at us every time he saw us and treat us like we were his own princesses. Although he also served as butler to another half dozen penthouses on our same deck, every time we saw him it was as if he'd been waiting to learn how he could make our day even better. He proved to be a born nurturer.
When we arrived in our suite on Deck 11, Papa offered to unpack for us. But we were immediately smitten with its elegant spaces and wanted to do that for ourselves- discovering its clever nooks and crannies as we found perfect places for our things.
“Just leave everything out that needs pressing,” Papa told us. “And I’ll have it back to you shortly.”
We had initially planned to drop off our bags and go into Venice to explore. But I was just days removed from outpatient surgery and the long flight and jetlag had taken more than its usual toll.
The 491-square- foot suite was so welcoming I soon wondered if I would ever leave.
 Thick wool carpeting underfoot, tufted silk headboard, high thread count bed linens, a jetted bathtub and separate glass enclosed shower, pair of sinks, a desk and dressing table were just the beginning. The walk-in closet included lingerie drawers, wooden and padded hangers, and a pair of robes (Frette linen and terrycloth) for each of us. Dimmer switched lighting, Aveda bath amenities, two hairdryers and even a scale awaited.  A sofa and comfy arm chair framed a round cocktail table that we later learned could be elevated to dining height. Room service was available 24/7 although we took advantage of it only once — and that was on our verandah - a large space with lounge chairs.
There were two flatscreen TVs, a DVD player and a refrigerator stocked with wines - red, white and bubbly - plus bottles of flat and bubbly mineral water, all constantly replenished. Reidel crystal glasses filled the cabinet next to it. Fresh fruit appeared in a silver fruit bowl every day and delicate flowers were changed before they wilted.
Soon Papa was back with apertifs — a generous plate of shrimp and lobster and another bottle of chilled champagne. He asked about our beverage preferences, promising to keep our refrigerator stocked. This was to become daily tradition at about 4 p.m. — and we made sure to be back on board in time for it, even passing up lunches ashore.
One afternoon my daughter was feeling really punk and had taken to her bed. Papa expressed his concern and asked what he could do to help.
“A lemonade would be nice,” she said. After calling the kitchen on his cellphone he told us it wasn’t available. “But wait,” he said. “I’ll be back shortly.”
Ten minutes later he returned with a small pitcher of cold lemonade. He’d found a half dozen lemons, squeezed them, added sugar, ice and water and voila! Lemonade for Sascha.

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