Q & A: Extra Charges, Itinerary Changes, Tipping and More

| February 21, 2005

Art Sbarsky, CruiseMates Consumer Affairs Editor, answers letters and comments on key issues posted by readers. If you have a question about cruising, send it to .



Subject: Itinerary Changes

I received an e-mail this month from someone who found their itinerary was radically altered after the cruise started. The reason was unclear, but it raises the question of what can the cruise line do regarding changes and what cruisers can do in return.

Art says:

Presumably the cruise line did not change the itinerary for no reason. Based on my experience, it had to be for weather, mechanical problems or something equally important and unavoidable. If that's the case -- and assuming that the cruise line made a decent effort to tell guests the whys and wherefores of the change -- there's not much legal recourse. The tiny legal print in the cruise ticket spells out the line's right to do this. Hopefully the company will offer some sort of compensation, like a free booze party, a refund of port changes or something to make guests feel better.

If not, I think it is OK for individual guests to ask for something. How much is up to them, but it has to be reasonable. Missing one Caribbean port in favor of another usually isn't a big deal, and does not warrant a gigantic refund or future cruise credit. Multiple changes or massive variations are worth more.

Let's say you have a wedding planned during a multi-night call in Bermuda, and the ship cannot get there. Your guests are there waiting for you, staying in expensive hotels, etc., and you don't show up. Even in this nightmare scenario, the cruise line is not legally responsible, especially if it was a weather related situation. But in working with them, you might be able to get a refund or future credit for whatever the cruise guests paid. The cruise line is not going to do anything for the land people.

Subject: Dining Charges

Several message board postings this month talk about a cruise line starting to charge for "extras" in the main dining room. While the large number of alternative restaurants being introduced has raised the issue of extra costs for dining, this one evoked lots of discussion about nickel-and-diming of guests -- most of it negative.

Art Says:

I am opposed to cruise lines charging for things that were previously included in the cost of the cruise, while still touting their products as "all-inclusive." One example of this is mainstream lines charging for yoga classes. What's the big cost here? It's just a few mats and an instructor who's there anyway. Pilates is a gray area, but I'm against charging for this. I think it's OK to charge for tattoos, ceramics classes, wine tasting and the like.

I also am not opposed to charging for dining experiences that are sufficiently different AND upgraded from the line's normal program. An excellent example is the wonderful dinner clubs on the new Celebrity ships. These are so terrific, they're worth even more than the line charges. Same thing is true on Carnival (Scarlett's on Valor is great), Princess (Sabatini's is wonderful) and Oceania (either Italian or steak). On the more upscale lines such as Crystal, Radisson, Seabourn and Silversea, there are no charges for alternative restaurants except maybe for a small suggested tip.

However, I do not think lines should be charging extra for things like Haagen-Dazs ice cream at a specialized booth (when you can get free ice cream at dinner), or Johnny Rockets hamburgers. Where would it end? Guests already complain that juice is included with many meals -- but then they are charged for it at a bar. Or that they after a wonderful meal, they have to pay $1.50 for a cappuccino.

On the other hand, if you look at things that have been added such as sushi and seafood bars (the new one on Valor is excellent) or specialty grilled items on the buffet, it's all a trade-off. No one forces guests to indulge in the things that cost extra; it's a matter of choice. But, boy, those Johnny Rocket shakes are something special.

Subject: Smoking

Always a hot subject! This month's messages included comments from both sides regarding freedom of speech (or at least health), "can't we all just get along," and more. Can we ever solve this issue?

Art says:

It's never going to be totally solved, especially since there are no longer any ships with a 100% policy either way. But it would be nice if smokers and non-smokers did manage to get along better.

Upfront, I must admit I'm not a smoker and I don't like inhaling other people's cigarette or cigar smoke. If they would keep to the allocated smoking areas and not blow smoke directly at the non-smoking areas, that's about the best it's going to get. And if they didn't get huffy when a crewmember or fellow guest asked them to obey the rules, it would be a nicer world. On the other hand, a non-smoker cannot expect a smoker who is in the smoking area not to smoke just for the non-smoker's benefit. I say to the non-smoker: Get up and move -- it's their area. Let's just accept that smokers and non-smokers alike have rights and try a little harder to get along.

Subject: Tipping - AGAIN!

I received a nice e-mail from British first-time cruisers who were so confused on the subject of tipping, they wondered whether they were making a bad vacation decision.

Art says:

I know I will get negative comments from people who say they never tip, and that tipping should be included in the cost of wages. I think this is a non-hospitable point of view but it's your prerogative.

On the other hand, to those of you who are confused about what to do, I say read the information you get with your ticket documentation. This will give you an idea of what the cruise line considers appropriate. You may agree with all of it or just some of it. It's a free country: Do what you think best. But please take into account the nature of the cruise line. If it's predominantly a mainstream American line, tips are the norm. The luxury lines vary, but tips are usually "included" in the price on the smaller ships. If you come from a country where tipping isn't normal, go with the flow and tip.

Remember, no matter what the line's policy is, you can always add or subtract as you feel appropriate. But it is ALWAYS nice to tip for service well done!

OK, I'm off the soapbox for this month. If you have any comments on these or other issues, please let me know. Send a note to my e-mail address listed above.

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