We find the HAL/Windstar gratuity policy confusing. What are they trying to tell us? When we asked our travel agent, she said that with HAL/Windstar - even though the brochure says tipping is not required on their ships - if a steward goes above and beyond, and if we were so inclined, it would be OK to slip a little extra reward to that steward for his extra effort.
We have been on at least three dozen cruises and can tell you that tipping is not necessarily the incentive for excellent service. If it were, why did we receive such a high degree of service on Radisson Seven Seas Cruises (five cruises) and our one cruise on a Seabourn two-for-one. The price of our cruise on these ships included all shipboard gratuities. You pay at the outset - and it's worth it. As far as we know tipping on those lines would be an exception. They certainly in no way encourage it.
Contrast... The Cruise Staff's spokeswoman at the Wnd Surf disembarkation briefing on our cruise last October, went to great lengths to explain that the Holland America/Windstar Tipping-Is-Not-Required-Policy does not mean 'no-tipping'. She proceeded to recite the typical cruise line 'put-your-gratuity-in-the-envelopes-and-give-them-to-your-stewards-on-the-last-night' routine. This seemed to be a bit of a surprise to most, and when prompted she added that the amount of each is purely personal and discretionary. From the chatter after the seminar, most of the unitiated had assumed that staff was better compensated by the company than on other lines, hence their waving the Tipping-Is-Not-Required flag as an incentive to book Holland America/Windstar.
In truth, every line could use that slogan. Tipping is never 'required' any place, anytime. If it were, it would be a service charge, not a tip. TIP was originally an anacronym for 'to insure promptness'. .. a voluntary donation to reward and therefore encourage above average service from staff.
Although we only saw him a couple of times (that's fine - no problem there) our cabin was always clean (with the exception of the grout), fresh towels daily, etc. We left a note of thanks and $40 for the week. With his 15+ cabins , he would be happy with that average of over $2400 a month. After giving him his envelope the last morning, our cabin steward asked politely if he had done anything wrong or if there was a problem with our stateroom. We said that every thing had been fine and our only comment (which we had noted on our comment sheet) was that the shower needed new grout.
From his expression, it was not simply a courteous question. It took a moment to register as we walked away, that he was disappointed with $40. We were tempted to run back and give him another $40 - which he probably expected - but thought better of it. It was an uncomfortable ending to what had otherwise been a nice week.
Only today, after years of cruising, did we find that most lines take the tips from the stewards and spread it around as compensation to other employees. This reinforces our thinking that a service charge should be added to the cost of the cruise in the beginning. Instead, they try to lure people aboard with cut-rate pricing then pile on the expenses on board. Wouldn't it be wonderful if more cruise lines would simply total cruise fare, port charges, and gratuities (read that payroll) - the basics - and lay it out for the customer to begin with.
Do not be fooled by the HAL rhetoric - which began long before the more recent system on some lines of automatically adding the gratuity to the bill. Apparently, on Holland America/Windstar, tipping is the same as on most of the other lines. It is definitely expected, probably $4 per person per day to each steward and $2 pppd to the bus boy. They should just drop the meaningless slogan and be up-front about it. Their customers need to know what is expected of them.
Personally, we much prefer having the staff compensation included in the cost of the ticket. We have never been disappointed with the service when it was.
HAL's recent announcement of it's $225 million "Signature of Excellence" program included the following:
"In addition, other service enhancements include a convenient folio posting of nominal, optional gratuities, as well as automatic service charge postings to bar-bills, thus simplifying the sometimes confusing cruise tipping system."
The HAL boards at various sites have always had perpetual discussions of "what does the tipping slogan really mean?" Most people who have cruised HAL at least once are aware that tipping is very similar to other lines, but you have had to make the effort to get envelopes at the Front Office (or hand out cash) for the usual staff. Service is generally so good on HAL that people have no problem with tipping, but there is confusion caused by the slogan, which seems to be on it's way out. From what information has been gleaned from HAL is that the program will begin in the spring (probably).