Sailing on Royal Caribbean International’s Harmony of the Seas this month, Travel Agent caught up with Reyno Varkevisser, one of the ship’s “Royal Genies,” who strive to deliver customized, personalized service to guests staying in the ship’s 10 Star-Class suites.
Definitely put away any thoughts of a genie jumping out of a bottle, aka Barbara Eden in the 1960s TV series, “I Dream of Jeannie." But you will find service that’s kind, fun, engaging with guests and easygoing, yet professional too.
The Royal Genies are all trained at the British Butler Institute, but service isn’t “stuffy.” Instead, the affable Varkevisser, who hails from South Africa, makes his suite guests’ stays memorable.
His genie services could entail setting up an en-suite cocktail party for 10 guests or organizing a private car and van for a family beach excursion and barbecue.
Or, it could be as simple and important as recognizing body language and volunteering to take a family’s middle child -- who never gets the attention her siblings do -- to Johnny Rockets for a milkshake, much to the delight of her parents.
While Star-Class guests can tap into separate concierge services onboard, “the genie has now, as we say, become the ‘dream creator’… the excursion manager, the concierge, the front desk, the butler and personal assistant,” he emphasizes.
While most guest stays go smoothly, if any issue should develop, the Royal Genie will run interference and seek solutions – heading to guest services, the purser’s desk, food and beverage services, housekeeping or whatever department he or she needs to contact.
“Immediately it will be handled, right then and there,” says Varkevisser, noting that Star-Class guests are a top priority with crew members. “They’ll drop everything and do what you ask them to do.”
Three Genies Per Ship
Each ship with Star-Class service (essentially the Oasis-class ships and Anthem of the Seas in the U.S. and Ovation of the Seas in Australia) carries three genies, each handling three or so Star-Class suites; they include Royal Loft Suites, two-bedroom AquaTheater suites and the Family Presidential Suite.
About six weeks to a month prior to departure, agents with guests booked in these suites will receive a questionnaire that asks questions like these: “What is your perfect day when relaxing?" or “Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you most like to have dinner with?"
Answers to those and other questions are then provided to the Royal Genie, who essentially “profiles” the guest. The goal is to get a sense of the guests’ personality, likes and dislikes and gain some hints for what can surprise or delight the guest.
Then about two weeks before sailing, Varkevisser communicates with his guests directly via LOOP, an instant messaging service; it’s quick and easy, and the service is connected to the guest’s room number and sailing date, so the genie knows exactly who the guest is.
The guest also gains an instant way of reaching the genie, and the system is also used throughout the cruise.
Pre-cruise the genie often asks about excursions that the guest would like to set up, such as perhaps a private cabana at Labadee, the line’s private island experience in Haiti.
Throughout the process, genies will set up various arrangements, such as dinner reservations, and fulfill guest requests – but they’re also tasked with surprising and delighting the guest with little touches. In one case, Varkevisser took a shy, sensitive child in need of a special experience to the ship’s jewelry store to look at and touch the expensive jewels.
Genies don’t get much rest during their five-month contract, as they’re serving both guests on the current cruise, plus communicating with and planning for the arrival of guests on the next cruise.
Top suite guests can leave the ship, upon disembarkation day, as late as 10 a.m. and the new Star-Class guests arriving for the next cruise can board at 1 p.m., but that is often earlier.
That doesn’t leave much time for turnaround of the accommodations. “So those 10 suites get serviced immediately,” he stresses, adding that the genies try to guide guests for a 9 a.m. or so departure, but of course, that’s up to the guest. Some wish to stay a bit longer.
Varkevisser says it’s important for the arrival of the guest to go as quickly and smoothly as possible. A special Star-Class area of the terminal is set up for arrival of the guests.
The Royal Genie accompanies guests onboard to their accommodations, and a porter delivers luggage directly to their suite. “So by the time we get to the Star-Class suite, their luggage is already there,” notes Varkevisser.
Then he quickly goes over a few things with the guest that he may have discussed with him in the pre-cruise e-mails and tells him where to go for lunch. “We want to make that boarding day as stress-free as possible,” says Varkevisser. Also, “once you see that guest face to face, you realize what kind of service they will require” throughout the cruise.
In other words, the genie assesses the guest’s individual vacation style and perception of proper service. Is it a more formal service level or relaxed service that the guest prefers? Does the guest want the butler to help them unpack, or the opposite – not to touch anything in the suitcase?
“You pick up what they like and don’t like and by day two you’re pretty much on your way,” he notes. Each guest is different with their own vacation style and needs.
He also accompanies guests off the ship and escorts them on shore excursions, if they so desire. “We the genies will swoop them off the ship,” he says, taking the guests through typically inaccessible crew corridors directly to the pier, so they don’t have to wait in lines.
If the Star-Class guests are boarding a motorcoach, the genie takes them right to the coach so they can board first.
But many Star-Class guests prefer touring by private car or van, and Varkevisser can help arrange those, as well as order everything from a private yacht for the day to a speedboat or sightseeing helicopter.
But it’s the personal service, customized for each guest, that he loves to create. One family with three children was staying in the Family Presidential Suite. Their little girl was celebrating a birthday, and she loved cats. So Varkevisser created cat posters to decorate the suite, inside and out. One on the door featured the cat irreverently saying: “Someone told me it was your birthday and so I ate it,” a reference to the birthday cake. He said the entire family loved it.
Star-Class is the highest level of suite services. Other suites are in the Sky or Sea classes. Each has a different level of amenities and perks.
Certainly the Royal Genie – who can coordinate shopping in the ship's onboard luxury brand boutiques or plan special celebrations for personal events -- is a big perk for Star-class. So is all-day access to the Coastal Kitchen restaurant and lounge on the suite deck; complimentary hors d’ouevres and cocktails are served from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
We loved the lounge’s magnificent floor-to-ceiling window views and the quiet, relaxing aura of the lounge with comfortable seating areas; all suite guests can access this lounge. Concierges are just inside the front door.
What else is in Star-Class? Star-Class guests also receive a complimentary deluxe beverage package for those 21 years of age and older and a complimentary refreshment package for younger guests.
Other Star-Class inclusions are: free Voom high-speed Internet; access to the Suite Sun Deck; priority entry to many onboard activities; still and sparkling water replenished daily; complimentary gratuities; complimentary specialty restaurant dining; prepaid gratuities; best-in-house seats at select entertainment venues and more.
Busy couples with kids will appreciate that a Royal Genie like Varkevisser can arrange for a romantic fine dining experience, sprinkle rose petals in their master bedroom, set up a fine bottle of champagne on ice, turn on the mood music and provide the gift of “just for us time” away from the kids (having arranged for them to be safely occupied in the kids’ club for a few hours).
In that case and many others, the value of a Royal Genie is simply priceless.