No matter how many times you've cruised, tipping is a conundrum. The increasing number of multiple dining options make this even more confusing. I presented the cruise lines with the following scenario:
"Let's assume that the ship's guests have room service breakfast, lunch around the pool or at a buffet and dinner in the alternative restaurant, at the casual cafe, or even room service. Are they still expected to tip their dining room waiter, whom they have not seen all day, for that day?"
The answers included diplomatic spins, straightforward policies of gratuities that are included in the fares or automatically charged to shipboard accounts, and one totally- honest, "we're confused, too" reply.
Here's what the cruise lines's spokespersons said. The amounts mentioned are per person, per day. They do not cover bar and wine tabs, for which the usual practice is the automatic addition of a 15% service charge.
THE DIPLOMATIC ANSWERS THAT STILL LEAVE YOU WONDERING
CELEBRITY: "Celebrity Cruises considers tipping very much at guests' discretion, but does offer suggested amounts for those interested and satisfied with the service they received. Using the scenario you offered, if a Celebrity guest dined at the buffet only for breakfast and/or lunch in a particular day's time, they can most certainly weigh that in determining the total amount they choose to present for their waiter's gratuity at the end of their cruise. In the cases of dinners, however, waiters are always involved (our alternative/casual dining options feature sit-down service with full menus)."
COSTA: "Costa provides our guests with a suggested per person, per day amount for the various service personnel onboard. These amounts are merely suggestions."
CRYSTAL: "Tipping is a personal matter. Guests are free to do whatever they are comfortable with (for gratuities). The amount we list is a suggested amount. So if a guest feels that they didn't utilize the services of their waiter and would like to subtract that from the suggested amount, that's fine. However, since most of our cruises are almost two weeks, we find that 99.9% of our guests want to recognize the waiter that has served them for at least 9-10 dinners. Suggested gratuities for the waiter is $4.00 per guest, per day; assistant waiter, $2.50 per guest, per day; maitre d' and headwaiter, tipping is at your discretion."
ROYAL CARIBBEAN: "Tipping is at the discretion of our guests."
TOTALLY HONEST--"We're confused, too"
ORIENT LINES: "It is important to note that traditional cruise ship dining practices have always held that passengers tipped their waiter primarily for dinner service in the dining room. During the daytime, waiters rotate from venue to venue, and often, the main dining room features open seating for breakfast and lunch.
"Now that alternative restaurants are so popular aboard ships, many cruise lines, including Orient Lines, are entering unchartered waters in regards to handling this tip for dinner service. We believe that the amount given as a tip should be left totally up to the individual and, naturally, should reflect the quality of the services rendered. However, as a guide, we suggest that around $5 per passenger, per day, be divided between the dining room waiter and busboy."
"If a passenger spends most nights of his/her cruise dining in the alternative restaurant and they feel that they would prefer not to tip their dining room waiter for those nights, that is at their discretion. However, as the ship's restaurant staff does work long, hard hours in order to provide a outstanding dining experience, it seems fair that if the service is excellent -- regardless of whether it was in an alternative restaurant or in the main dining room -- someone should be tipped."
"It's an interesting dilemma and our "policy" may continue to evolve as time goes by."
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES: "Gratuities will automatically be added to guests' on board Sail & Sign account. The total amount is $9.75 per guest, per day, which is our recommended guideline. This program will be implemented fleetwide by the end of this year."
"Under our new system of posting gratuities to the Sail and Sign, all the wait staff have tips covered through this mechanism. Plus, the reality is that it would be an extraordinarily rare exception for someone to dine in the Seaview Bistro every evening at dinner. The norm is for people to use it once or twice during a voyage and the rest of the time eat in a main dining room."
CUNARD (Caronia, QE2) : "On Cunard, the tipping in done in a pool system. Therefore, your account is automatically charged and the people who serve you, wherever you eat, are compensated." The brochure notes that, "the gratuity amount may be amended at your discretion." The amounts vary by ship and, on the QE2, level of accommodations.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE: "Gratuities are conveniently added to each guest's onboard account. These gratuities cover all services onboard."
PRINCESS: "We have implemented a new gratuity system, just on Grand Princess at this time--and just for dining staff. An amount of $6.50 per person per day is automatically added to each shipboard account. Passengers may increase or reduce this amount, if they so choose. This new system went into effect when Personal Choice Dining launched on Grand Princess Jan. 21." This program will also be implemented on the Golden Princess when the ship debuts in late May. It will also be implemented on each ship as the Personal Choice Dining program is rolled out, which will be fleetwide by the end of 2001.
RENAISSANCE: On the R-Class ships, suggested gratuities are $12 per person, per day and are automatically added to onboard accounts at the end of the cruises. Guests may adjust the amount at their discretion. This gratuity covers room stewardesses and dining room staff; guests may also reward any individual as they deem appropriate.
THESE ARE EASY--TIPS ARE INCLUDED IN THE FARES
LEAVING YOU WONDERING--WHAT DOES "NOT REQUIRED REALLY MEAN?"
HOLLAND AMERICA: "HAL has a "tipping not required" policy. When, who and how much to tip is entirely up to the guests."
WINDSTAR: "No tipping expected or required."
How have you handled tipping the dining staff when you've eaten several meals at the breakfast and lunch buffets and at the poolside grills, perhaps given a few bucks to room service staff and paid for the service at the alternative restaurant? Do you think the new pre-paid tipping policies are the way to go?
Mary Anne Hemphill is a CruiseMates contributing editor.