Readers React to Tipping Policies

| May 11, 2006

Last month's tipping column generated considerable response. I've answered many emails directly, but I am reprinting a batch here to give our readers equal time. I've dismissed those that are 100% complimentary (I'm much too modest for that) and a couple that were quite insulting (what travel journalist has not been called a "paid shill" before?). I left spelling and grammar intact to add to the flavor of each email.

Tipping does seem to be a hot button. As far as I'm concerned, each cruise line is entitled to its own policy. I strongly feel, though, that the guests should be made aware of what the policy is; especially who receives tips when they are placed on the folio. I also feel each guest should have the right to modify the folio and handle tipping in his own way, and if a deserving crewmember receives an extra tip from a guest, he should be allowed to keep it all.

Subject: Tipping

Here's what CruiseMates readers wrote:

AS writes: I was happy to read that extra cash tips (in addition to the suggested amounts) given directly to the employees are theirs to keep for themselves. We very often bring along a collapsible ice chest and ask for daily extra ice. Typically, we tip our steward extra cash on the first day of the cruise to ensure our request is met. The steward is always very grateful as well as accommodating.

AK writes: Thank you for an informative dossier on Cruise sailings. I live in the UK & am sailing with NCL round the Med in June. I would really like to know if there is a law that says that I must pay this $10 a day per person tipping on our bill? Why can we not, just pay our tips at the end of the cruise to the people that we want? I have had this conversation with several members of the staff on the NCL Spirit last year. Bare in mind the passenger/staff ratio. They told me that they only get $35 each at the end of the sailing, and that is only the cabin & waiting staff!! The bar tipping is 15%, but they don't get any of that at all!! So where does it all go?

GVD writes: We have been on over 100 cruises, 7 to 14-days each on the higher end and mid-range ships. When the new "tipping game" came out on Holland America we were on board and the standard of service went way down in the dining room. No longer did the waiter care to chat and make you feel special. His tip now went to the laundry room. If I gave extra to him he had to turn it in.

After 330 days with Holland America we ended our cruises with them. We have been with Celebrity and find by buying the cash tip at the front desk and giving the card to our waiter with more if we feel he was excellent is a way of giving the waiter what he deserves. The service is wonderful and it's a win-win situation. When we were on Seabourn all tips were included in the price. This proved a good deal as we did not have to worry how much is enough or feel awkward the last night of the cruise. However, if the waiter was not good you were stuck. But with that line that was never a problem. On Crystal we had a horror of a waiter and requested a seat change.

With all the "pay for" areas to eat the days of a set amount per day per person is almost over. Tip as you would for each service, this seems the best solution. Cruise lines have come a long way from the days when the waiter used to beg you to put on the comment sheet how good the food was or he would not get time off.

This was a joke, where was the honest review? His service could be great but if the food was bad why should you lie? I will shun any lines who do a Holland America bit. They went from a no-tipping policy, where everyone did anyway, to this new one that has changed this fine group of Indonesian men who served the line and patrons well. This is what made the line what it was and now the ships are just ships. We continue sailing two to three times a year and go for the relaxation of fine service and food. Thanks for your great topic, let's hope the cruise lines listen.

MF writes: I was of the opinion that the reason the Cruise Lines went to including tips on your charge with automatic gratuity collection was because large numbers of passengers were stiffing the help. I therefore think that the servers should be notified as to who opted to have automatic gratuity before the cruise ends. And should an individual rescind such automatic gratuity before the cruise ends the server should be told. Except for Celebrity which has the best method, and Royal Caribbean next, the others really don't give one a reason to use the automatic method. If the server doesn't know who tipped and didn't tip until the cruise is well over, or may never know, where is the incentive, other than overwhelming kindness, to tip. The way it stands now, the individual never gets thanked for the tip, and the server doesn't know if he's been tipped so all around it doesn't encourage tipping. Holland America may be excused if the servers have always had a system for sharing tips. However, the cruise line should not put down specific amounts on the material provided the passenger if the full amount isn't going to the position named. And I would hope that NCL tells the passenger that the $10 per day is going into a general pool. It really has the poorest method. I haven't cruised either of the last two in a while so I forget what they say in their brochures. And the help may be thanking people who stiffed them. The article failed to state which of the systems produced the greatest amount of tips per passenger. Nor did it go into which method the servers preferred.

CB writes: Cookie cutter service charges produce just that. Same level of service, minimum! Gone are the days of a waiter remembering you and your choices, food that was as good as a favorite restaurant and wine stewards that knew wine, or just wine stewards. Also let us not forget the English language. Remember when you were understood by the serving staff and you could understand them? Cruising is a great value and we have gone to the lines that include gratuities in the fare and leave extra to the staff that excels. Love, love, love Windstar. The wooden box at reception and no one ever tells you it is for gratuites and the service is excellent!

TK writes: I just read your excellent article on how tips are handled by various cruise lines. I don't know if you have seen this or not, but I have authored a web page that helps passengers prepare for tipping in cash, or on lines that don't use cash, they can determine what the total charges will be. It has gotten some press, so I thought you might find it interesting:

Mr. and Mrs. JB write: On Holland America which has an account debit policy of $10/day per person my wife and I always tip extra to those who deliver extra personal attention. Included may be lounge servers, waiter, cabin steward, cocierge, maitre d, etc. We have no set formula for these tips all are done on a person by person basis. Extra tips on HA do not have to be reported if you are involved in the daily debit.

J writes: Tipping is a real pain in the neck. I don't like to mess with it at all, but always do. Why don't the cruise lines eliminate tipping and just increase the cost of the cruise in the first place, i.e., $1299 pp for inside cabin, advertise it as $1399 per person, period.

DG writes: Art, I have been on many cruises and I have excepted adding it to the ship board acount. But I like it best when the ship gives you a voucher to give to the person, it makes me feel like it is a good check & balance for all.

BL writes: Your summary on automatic tipping was very good and informative. We use the automatic tipping. The lines that have vouchers for us to present to the service folks ar very thoughtful. Its nice to let waiter, stewards, etc. know that they were included even though they may get a little extra.

A writes: We cruise quite a bit and we enjoy the tipping of those who serve us as opposed to how Princess does it now. However, we have been informed by those who served us, that they are to give and report all tips given to them and they are to be split by all others on the list. We find this very unfair. Even when we have the tips put on our account and give additional tips at the end to those who have gone above and beyond to serve us well, they also have to give and report those additional tips. The only ones who are gaining from this is the ship company. They do not have to pay everyone as much. We actually hate the new policy. It is not made for the guest but for the company. What has happened to the customer is always right? In todays society it is what is best for the company - not the consumer.

CS writes: Having been on close to 70 cruises, thus starting before the "automatic tipping," I feel compelled to voice my feelings on the new policy (not so new in some cases). On some ships, I have noticed a definite difference in attitude on the part of the dining room staff. The same applies to room stewards on some ships (various lines). I would rather the cruise lines raise their prices and pay their help instead of relying on the passengers to do it for them. Prior to the automatic tipping, I had been told by Princess employees what they received per month. After the new policy, that monthly amount dropped dramatically. To me, this means they want us to pay their employees for them.

I'm not disputing the type of service we get, only the manner in which it is paid. I prefer to hand the money directly to those who have provided the service. That way, I know exactly where the money is going. Thank you for the opportunity of voicing my opinion.

MB writes: Hi to Art. Thats a great article from you as we all ponder on this subject when taking a cruise. I understand that P&O Cruises operating out of Sydney and Brisbane in Australia have a tipping guideline of AU $4.50 per pax per day. At the current exchange rate of AU $1 = US $ 0.75 this converts to US $ 3.38 per pax per day which is roughly one third of the US operators rate. A big difference indeed. I suspect its because here in Oz the crew probably receive a union negotiated wage that would be far, far in excess over that paid to crew on US managed ships. Mind you I'd far sooner sail on the US ships as the 2 P&O ships here would probably only rate at 2 1/2 stars anyway. Thanks again.

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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