Consumer Issues: Meal Costs, Tipping, Air Booking By Art Sbarsky, CruiseMates Consumer Affairs Editor March 31, 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
Subject: FOOD COSTS
Reader Kim writes:
I'm going on my first cruise - Alaska seven nights - and I'm a little confused about which meals are included and which ones we will be paying for. Are the room service breakfasts included, and is there a service charge? What about the other restaurants on board the ship (we are on the Celebrity Mercury). I heard that there is a sushi bar - I love sushi. Can I order all the sushi I want at no charge?
A great question from a first-timer. I was happy to tell Kim that virtually all food aboard her cruise will be covered by her cruise fare including Celebrity's outstanding sushi bar as well as room service (no service charge either). The only food costs for the most part would be the alternate dinning room for dinner (which is a great experience and worth the extra charge) and certain specialty items such as caviar. But breakfast (whether buffet or in the dining room), lunches (wherever they eat) and dinner are all included. Alcoholic beverages and many others things as soft drinks will be additional.
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Reader MT writes:
I have cruised four times, and we have given the tip amounts that were recommended, but we have noticed on the last cruise we took that our service was horrible, and we never once saw the maitre d' (we had opted for anytime dining). All the employees were rude, except our room steward; he was the only one that should have received a tip. After that experience, we have decided to take matters into our own hands, so if they provide good service they will get a tip. We can only hope for better service....
The debate about tipping continues. I've had some interesting feedback since my last column, and I am still clarifying some things with the cruise lines before I post more information about their policies. But this letter is interesting because it points out how some passengers are beginning to deal with tips being charged to their folio of on-board expenses. They are taking matters into their own hands by tipping only those who provide proper service. Readers of my columns know I totally support this. Of course, the only flaw in this is that by tipping after the fact, the ship's personnel do not have any specific incentive to go above and beyond the call of duty. So someone who does not enjoy what they do is not going to improve. But I'm also told by many cruisers now that they tip -- partially at least -- up front during the cruise, with the promise of more to come for attentiveness. Not a bad idea at all.
Subject: CRUISE LINE AIR
I've had several emails in the last month indicating lots of dissatisfaction with air travel booked by the cruise lines. The two central issues are price and routing. Most readers who wrote in on this subject said that cruise line air fare prices are almost always higher than what guests could find on their own. And, of course, routing is hardly ever to the satisfaction of the traveler. Often, it is flat out rotten and/or just doesn't make sense.
I completely agree -- especially with the latter complaint. One reader followed my suggestion on this issue -- i.e., that they complain, nicely but firmly, to the cruise line when the line wanted to charge extra for a better routing. I think this is a bogus charge the cruise lines ought to eliminate. They should do the best possible routing the first time and not try to make this a profit area. In this case, the guests got better routing without the charge. As for price, if the guests can book it cheaper, they certainly have that option. But remember that when you do, the line will not be responsible for rebooking air arrangements if someone misses a flight and is thus delayed when it comes to boarding.
One travel agent wrote in with some very good points on this subject. With his permission, here's a slightly excerpted version of it:
"Certainly I agree that the air departments of cruise lines are not as passenger-friendly as in the past. First, the price in 99 percent of the cases is much higher than if the passenger purchases their own air. I can understand this, since the cruise lines are stuck with the non-refundable tickets if the passenger cancels at the last minute. Secondly, the air itinerary is usually unacceptable, since the passenger is routed through hubs around the nation. There is absolutely no reason that a connection from the east coast to Florida should be routed through Detroit, Cleveland or Chicago.
At one time I could tell my clients that the cruise line would hold the ship, sometimes until midnight, if their plane was delayed. This was the case in the past, but I never see this happening lately. This makes me look like an unscrupulous agent. One important fact to remember is that the cruise line will NOT pay for a hotel if the passenger must pick up the ship at the next port. Another item of contention is that the next port may be an American port and the passenger cannot board at that port.
I agree that the so-called $50 per person air-deviation fee is a farce, since added fees most times come to well over $200 per couple.
I am slowly getting to realize that cruise lines are really not agent friendly. They want to sell cruises, not air."