June 21, 2018

That Time I Tipped The Cruise Crew...

If you ask people about tipping in a message board, or message-board-like format (translation: Facebook), you will be met with an onslaught of opinions and fighting. This pertains to the mainstream cruise lines (which I researched), but probably applies to all US cruise lines; but maybe not the European ones, where tipping is not a thing....

I don't like to tell people what to do so here are the facts:

1) Cruise lines all have a set amount that they deem an appropriate amount, currently between $13-18 that mostly goes towards dining and housekeeping staff. "Dining" does not just mean your restaurant servers, it also includes those who stock the buffet and bus the dirty dishes in the buffet area.

2) The purpose of the automatic gratuities is to give you a flat amount to budget for and so that you don't have to worry about dealing with cash tipping during your vacation.

3) If you hypothetically requested to pay 1/2 the amount because you want to tip your room steward in cash; you can't specify that you only want your gratuities to go to dining services, the amount you left will be split the same way the full amount would have been. 

Here are the different schools of thought:

1) "Since cruise crew aren't protected by US labor laws, they get paid such a small salary that I am happy to pay the automatic gratuity. Additionally, If I get good service at dinner, I'll tip a couple (or several) extra dollars since my vacation costs less than if I was in hotels, eating meals out, and flying to all these different destinations!"

2) "Since cruise crew aren't protected by US labor laws, they get paid such a small salary that I am happy to pay the automatic gratuity. But, I've already splurged on this vacation so I'm not tipping any extra."

3) "Since cruise crew aren't protected by US labor laws, they get paid such a small salary that they should absolutely be tipped. However, I want to make sure that the people I interact with myself are the ones that get tipped, so I am going to remove my gratuities and just generously tip cash as I go."

4) "I can't afford to tip, so I'm going to remove my gratuities and that is that."

I said I wouldn't tell you what to do, and that you should make your own choices (because I don't want to fight with you), but here are my opinions on the above:

1) This is what I do; I am a "couple" extra dollars person, not a "several" extra dollars person at the dining room and restaurants; and about $5 per day for the steward, left in the room on debarkation day.

2) I did this on my first cruise and don't feel bad about having done so. I think the automatic amount already adds a lot, but is fair. I started tipping extra to servers who are very good, and to bartenders so that they learn that I tip (~$1 per drink) and then give me better service (really it's my husband who is doing the latter b/c the cruise line already sticks a percentage on your bar drinks, including non-alcoholic).

3) I can see how this sounds reasonable and fair to the crew. Especially if you are tipping even more that the $13+ per day. One problem is that it takes away from the earnings of those you don't interact with who are "enhancing your experience" such as those stocking the buffet and busing buffet dining tables. The other problem is that not everyone is following this procedure, so: all of the auto-grats get split between all dining/housekeeping/etc, including those you interact with, but all of your cash tips go to only those you interact with, causing inequity between those whose guests tip cash-only and those who auto-grat.

4) People who don't tip are bad people and should feel bad, and also I heard that there is a special hell for those that do not tip. Let me break my (not subtle) strong feelings about tipping as they apply to restaurants, which I extend to cruising: I really hate tipping as a concept, but as long as it is an industry standard, I will support tipped employees appropriately (to me an appropriate tip for a restaurant server is 20%; tip slightly less if it feels like the server didn't care about getting stuff right; and only tip "poorly" if the server is out-right rude).

I would love to live in a world... oh wait, country.... that did not use tipping as a wage garnish. Restaurant owners should price their menus accordingly so that the 20% tip is built-in and servers are paid a respectable wage. It is ridiculous that restaurant-goers can affect a servers income because the kitchen got backed-up or the server's short-term memory failed them once, or your party of 20 was a bit overwhelming, or the drink you are trying to order has a pre-made base and they aren't able to customize it, or because they "can't afford it".  
Not tipping restaurant servers doesn't teach the restaurant that they should abolish tipping (it makes your servers give you bad service when you come back, and also sad probably) and not tipping on a cruise doesn't teach the cruise line that they should abolish tipping (it makes the crew sad).

If you "can't afford" to tip at a restaurant, then you can't afford to eat out; and if you "can't afford" to tip on a cruise, then you can't afford to go on a cruise.

If you are still with me, I want to mention "pre-paid gratuities" and how they are different from "automatic gratuities."

1) They are not different. They are pre-paid.

That's literally it. But let me elaborate because: I have seen a bunch of people who think that the purpose of pre-paying is so that they don't have to tip cash once on board. The purpose of pre-paying is purely for budgeting purposes. If you are a person who books a cruise and then makes a payment every month up until the final payment date, then you should pre-pay your gratuities so that they are built into that monthly payment (or make it as your last thing you pay for before cruising, depending on the cruise line). $14 per-person-per day, does really add up.
If you are a person who has money set aside for vacationing (or for whatever), then do not pre-pay. Leave your money in your savings account earning interest for you instead of paying it to the cruise line early so that they earn interest on it.
Whether you pre-pay or not servers, don't think you're stiffing them when you don't leave money. Though I heard they do have access to whom have removed their automatic gratuities; don't know if this is true or not.

Last, in this very long post, I will leave you with specific auto-grat information for the popular US cruise lines:

Rates are per-person-per-day and in USD unless otherwise indicated (MSC).

$17.50 The Haven and Suites
$14.50  all other stateroom types
Goes to:
"Staff members including complimentary restaurant staff, stateroom stewards and behind-the-scenes support staff"
Applies to: guests 3+ years old.

$13.99 standard stateroom accommodation
$15.99 suites
Goes to:
About half goes to dining team, 1/3 goes to housekeeping Team and the rest to Alternative Services: $2.50 (other personnel who are in guest-facing customer service positions such as culinary, entertainment and guest services)"
Applies to: all guests, with the exception of children under the age of 2

Royal Caribbean
$14.50 standard stateroom accommodation
$17.50 Suites
Goes to:
"shared among dining, bar & culinary services staff, stateroom attendants and other hotel services teams who work behind the scenes to enhance the cruise experience"
Applies to: all guests

$14.50 standard accommodations
$15.00 Concierge Class and AquaClass® staterooms
$18.00 Suites
Goes to:
"shared by your stateroom attendant, dining services staff, and housekeeping staff members who help enhance your vacation experience"
Applies to: 2+ years (specified on Infants & Toddlers FAQ)

$15.50 per guest for suites
$14.50 per guest for mini-suites and club class
$13.50 per guest for interior, oceanview, and balcony staterooms.
Goes to:
"shared among those staff who help provide and support your cruise experience, including all waitstaff, stateroom stewards, buffet stewards, and housekeeping staff across the fleet."
Applies to: not published (assume all guests)

Holland America
$13.50 Staterooms (interior, ocean-view, lanai and verandah)
$15.00 Suite
Goes to:
"Dining Room wait staff and the stewards who service your stateroom each day [and] many others who support their efforts whom you may never meet, such as galley and laundry staff"
Applies to: all guests

$ 12.50 USD or 10 Euros
Goes to:
"staff throughout the ship who provide you with excellent service [and] many staff and crew who work hard behind the scenes to ensure you enjoy every moment onboard."
Applies to: guests 12+ years old; 1/2 price for 2-11 years old

More on cruising :)


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