Butlers, Tips and Toilets

Tim, I just booked my second cruise with NCL. It will be the first for my kids, ages 8 and 11. The cruise is one week out of New York to New England in August. Will the kids have enough to do? How is NCL's kids' program? Did I pick a good line and destination for my second and my kids' first cruise? Reece

Reece, This cruise should be quite popular with families, so I suspect your kids will have plenty to do, and plenty of company. I've never experienced NCL's kids' program firsthand (grin), but on my last NCL cruise (February), the kids on board were quite active and happy, and all the parents I spoke with were quite pleased.

I've always been fond of NCL, and I think the line's new "Freestyle" concept will work very well, especially for parents traveling with kids. It's a great itinerary, but you should be aware that the Norwegian Sea is not brand-new and the cabins, while well designed, are quite compact.

Dear Tim, Last year we were on a Panama Canal cruise on Royal Caribbean. We booked at a level where we thought we had a good chance for an upgrade to a cabin with a balcony. We did not get the upgrade. Some friends booked their cabin as run-of-the-ship, and paid considerably less than we did. They didn't have an assigned cabin until the last minute, and they were put in cabins much nicer than ours (theirs had balconies). Since that time, I have tried to get information about how this works, but I'm not getting any answers from the cruise lines. Could you please tell me how this is done? Thank you. Pat Shepich

Pat, This is a murky subject: Upgrades are like craps or roulette--you just never know what the outcome will be. Sometimes you'll score big-time; other times you'll lose out. I do know for a fact that Royal Caribbean uses a variety of methods in assigning upgrades: 1) They search the reservations for repeat customers. More cruises can equal a better upgrade. 2) They search for reservations from particularly high-producing travel agencies or agency groups (known as "national accounts" or "key accounts"). 3) They push a button and let the reservations system do random "auto upgrades". I almost never count on getting an upgrade. Heck, I write for a major cruise site, and I work for a very large travel organization where I have contact with the executive management of major cruise lines on a day-to-day basis--and I had trouble getting an upgrade on Celebrity, even though it was not a full sailing. And I paid a published fare! My advice: Always book a cabin you'll be happy with at bare minimum. If you do get an upgrade, consider it an extra perk. Never book a cabin you're not happy with and assume you'll get an upgrade to the category you'd like. Hope this helps. Tim

Tim, I'd like some information about the penthouse suites on the NCL Sky. We are booked for next September from Vancouver to Hawaii. I understand we have a butler (this is our first major suite), and somewhere else I read the suite comes with a refrigerator stocked with water, sodas, etc. at no charge, and also laundry service. Can this be true? Any helpful hints would be great. Also: How much should we tip a butler? Thanks, Susan

Susan, You are correct: You will have a butler, and you'll also have a concierge available. I know that in the past, NCL stocked the penthouses with a one-time complimentary bar set-up, but I would have to confirm that this is still the case, along with the laundry service. As for tipping, I've always tipped butlers along the same lines as the cabin steward. However, I always took into account how much (if anything) did for me. I'll be sure to get back to you! Tim

Tim, I read your article regarding changes in itineraries, etc. If a cruise line does not stop at a scheduled port of call, is the passenger entitled to a reimbursement of the port charges? Thanks. (unsigned)

That is indeed the case. If the cruise line does not stop at a port of call, it should refund the port charges, or offer some other type of compensation to the passengers.

Dear Tim, I just picked up our cruise documents, and in reading through them, found this notice printed on the back of the guest ticket: that for our convenience, gratuities in the amount of $9.75 per person, per day (their suggested amount) would be automatically added to our Sail & Sign account. This looks to me like a thinly-veiled ploy for the line to get its hands on the tips for the hard-working crew! I called Carnival's customer service, and no one could tell me if this was a new policy, or what--that I would have to take it up with the information desk when boarding. I absolutely object to this. I prefer to reward crew members myself, and in the amounts I choose. In fact, the cruise literature included with the tickets includes the phrase "gratuities are not able to be charged to your Sail & Sign card." Can you check into this? I think Carnival has completely stepped over the line. Sherry

Sherry, I do know that over the summer, Carnival started instituting this practice, and is expanding it fleet-wide. I seriously doubt Carnival would institute a policy like this as a way to "skim" extra money. Carnival is the most high-profile cruise line in the industry, and such a fraudulent practice would quickly make it into the news. Perhaps Carnival, along with many other lines, has noticed that as ticket prices drop, more and more staff are being "stiffed". Frankly, I like having the ability to auto-charge gratuities. It's quite easy, and if you wish to make any adjustments or have them removed completely, just inform the Pursers Desk.

Tim, I just returned from the maiden voyage on the Patriot. My question: Is a cruise company required to furnish working toilets in the cabins? As a first-time cruiser, I expected some problems--but nothing like what we experienced! Sue

Sue,The cruise line is indeed required to furnish you with working facilities, including air conditioning, ventilation, electricity and plumbing. We have heard some reports that the Patriot has had a less than auspicious start. You should write a letter to your travel agent, explaining your problems and expressing your displeasure. Ask the agent to forward it to United States Lines. I'm sure that the line will be willing to work out an amicable solution such as a credit on a future cruise.

Tim, I organized a group cruise last March for 46 people. One couple had a flooding problem that prevented them from using their cabin most of two full days (they slept in their beds even though the carpet was wet one night). The staff on the Norwegian Wind didn't seem to feel that this was a big deal, and I was wondering what kind of recourse a passenger would have if this happens again on our next group cruise. Doesn't the cruise line have an obligation to provide basic accommodations (a working cabin)--and if it doesn't, isn't it reasonable for the passenger to receive a partial refund? Regards, Paul Beardmore

Paul, Don't wait for this to happen on the next cruise. I would have written my travel agent and NCL soon after the cruise. If you haven't done so yet, do it now. Explain the problem and your displeasure, and be sure to let them know what level of compensation you would consider acceptable; I doubt you'll get a refund, but you might get a future cruise credit.

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