Q & A: Misinformation, Tipping, Seasickness, Pricing Policies

| January 20, 2006

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 . click pic for Art's BIO!


Reader RW writes: My family and I will be sailing on the Oosterdam this February. I noticed an article on the CruiseMates web site that spoke of the elimination of assigned early/late dining times on HAL, and said that the Oosterdam would be the "guinea pig" in this experiment. I truly enjoy assigned tables/dining times. I also called HAL and they knew nothing of this. Have you heard anything about this? I'm a little confused. If you find anything out, please let me know.

Art says: As I had not heard of such a change, I asked the writer if he could identify the column you spoke of. He couldn't. I also sent a note to a contact at Holland America who said this was not happening. This is an excellent idea of what the rumor mill is like out there. Well-intentioned people hear or read something, get it slightly wrong and it goes and goes and goes. I'm glad the reader wrote me so I could clear it up. And that's the best thing you can do when you hear something unusual. Go to the source or an expert and clarify it for yourself. That way, it does not become an issue.

Subject: TIPPING

Reader DR writes: We just got back from our 14-day cruise on the Veendam. A lot of passengers were at the front office inquiring about gratuities, and who gets what. Before the cruise lines started the $10 a day per person, it was broken down to $3.50 for the cabin steward, $3.50 for dining steward, $2.50 for the assistant and the rest to the Maitre D'. Now the gratuity is split up with the whole crew. If you give it to the immediate crew members that did a great job for you on your cruise, they do not get it, even if you give them extra. The money has to be turned into the general tip Fund. Make sense? Not to me. Another fee added on to the shipboard card. I don't mind the fee, but the service was not like it use to be. We noticed this on our last two Cruises. Any Idea how to beat the system except to send the tip to the crew member's home address? I read CruiseMates all the time; it has many good tips for cruisers. Nice job. Thanks.

Art says: The policy of having tips added to one's folio is for the convenience of the guest. But the guest always has the option to handle it a different way. If you want to make sure your tip gets into the hands of those you want to receive it, go back to the old way of handing money, in an envelope, directly to the person involved. It's a bit of a chore sometimes but it solves the problem.


Reader JW writes: My husband and I are considering a cruise for the first time. I have a problem with seasickness, and wondered if location of cabin would make a difference?

Art says: The best way to avoid the movement of the ship -- which causes seasickness -- is to get a cabin as close to the waterline as possible, in the middle of the ship. That's the place where you'll have the least sensation of movement. Locations on higher decks get more movement, and the front and back the ship do as well. One good thing about today's generation of ships is the advent of stabilizers, which reduce a significant amount of whatever movement there may be. Also, today's larger ships offer a larger platform on which to ride the water; this helps eliminate movement as well. Subject: PRICING POLICIES

Reader SS writes: Why can't the cruise lines be honest with their pricing policies? With the advent of mandatory tipping (no small item for some), they should include this cost in base price of a cruise. Twenty bucks a day per couple can make a difference for someone on tight budget -- on an eight-day cruise that's another 160 bucks. Another story for another day is the mere fact that the customer does not really get a seven-day cruise, unless someone can defend counting the last night at sea where the ship usually sits outside the home port for hours while everyone is asleep and then makes the grand entrance at 5-6 a.m.

Art says: As for the matter of number of days, most cruise lines actually list their sailings by number of nights. So whereas a hotel package might say "four days, three nights," cruise lines will normally say seven nights and let it go at that. It may be a matter of semantics, but getting less than that final full day is just a fact of life. As for the tipping issue, these charges are not mandatory, as I said above; a guest can always make changes. But those who know me know I support the crew when it comes to getting tips. Just factor it into your cruise cost, since you know it's coming. Someone who cannot afford the tipping over and above the cruise price should take a less expensive cruise. Don't "cheat" the hard-working people who work so hard to make the experience so great. 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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