Brighten Up with Turndown Chocolates in Reverse

by Vickie Bowne

You learn a lot about people when driving a bus. My husband, Bernie, and I both drive buses for the city of Vancouver. We deal with people on their daily commutes—not exactly their finest hours—steering our buses through congested rush-hour traffic.

Getting a cheerful comment, a friendly hello or a thanks-for-the ride makes such a huge difference. It sets a sunny tone that seems to permeate the entire day.  I always say to my passengers, “I remember the good ones and the bad ones but you have to figure out which one you are!” They are mostly good, of course.

When it comes time to book a vacation, Bernie and I are off on a Princess Cruise. We bring with us our keen antennae for customer service and an extra suitcase filled with chocolates and small gifts, treats for crew members who work so hard. I realize this might seem excessive, but Bernie and I really appreciate service professionals and know how much a thank-you means.

Bernie fills his pockets with wrapped chocolates from Purdy’s, Vancouver’s best chocolatier, and we’ll leave a candy on our receipt at the International Café, put one on the purser’s desk, give one to the masseur and cabin attendant. It’s a turndown chocolate in reverse. The delighted reactions we receive from the crew always exceed our efforts.

Doing this has opened the door to many friendships with the crew, none greater than the one we share with the funny, charming and caring Peter John. We go out of our way to book cruise vacations with Peter John and now, after knowing him for a few years later, we consider him to be like family. He’s that special to us.

We met Peter just after he’d been promoted to Captain Circle Host on Island Princess, so he was extra attentive to his charges, making sure everyone was happy and well entertained. By coincidence, we sailed with him again a few months later on the cruise ship, Emerald Princess, and that’s when we really clicked and started spending time together.

Peter is a riot. We’d find ourselves laughing over everything from Botox to his love life. It doesn’t matter what we talk about, he radiates good cheer. We started to keep in touch.  

A year later, he proved what a true friend he’d become. I took an Alaska cruise on Diamond Princess with a girlfriend. Without being asked to do so, Peter stepped into Bernie’s shoes and joined us for every dinner, escorted us on port visits, took us to the shows and sipped afternoon tea with us. He was the consummate host and we felt cared for and pampered.

The next time I boarded with Bernie, it was for a month-long cruise on the Star Princess going cruising from San Francisco to Mexico and on cruising to Hawaii. It was wonderful spending an entire month with Peter. Every day, we would surprise him with a small gift to brighten his day as he had brightened ours. Our extra bag was filled with candy, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, fancy moisturizers. Every day, we’d put something on his desk to surprise him.

Of course, that bag is also packed with treats for other crew members, but we do go above and beyond for our friend Peter.

Our working lives are marked by long days—my shifts start at 5 a.m. and I’m in bed most nights by 9—so we don’t have much of a social life in Vancouver. When we get away with Princess Cruises, we are there to relax. But, as Bernie and I came to realize, we are also there to connect.

The relationship we have with Peter and those with others we’ve bonded with over the years have made a real difference in our lives. We keep in touch with Peter and other crew by email, phone and Facebook as we save and plan for our next Princess cruise. These connections have added a lot to our lives and it’s amazing when you realize that it all starts with a friendly word and a surprise piece of chocolate.

Vickie and Bernie live just outside Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  When they are not working, they hike local trails, have dinner parties with friends, and of course talk cruising with anyone who will listen.

Vickie, Peter and Bernie in Vines
Vickie, Peter and Bernie in Vines