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The Ins and Outs of Tipping Policies
by Art Sbarsky
April 24, 2006

Here's an inside look at how the major lines handle automatic gratuity collections. In addition to the always-interesting reader comments on the message board regarding tips, I've been getting lots of e-mail via my CruiseMates column on the subject. Not all of it is positive; there seems to be a growing feeling that the tips are not going to the person who should be rewarded. So I've asked the major cruise lines to detail some of their policies. answers.

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In addition to the always-interesting reader comments on the message board regarding tips, I've been getting lots of e-mail via my CruiseMates column on the subject. Not all of it is positive; there seems to be a growing feeling that the tips are not going to the person who should be rewarded. So I've asked the major cruise lines to detail some of their policies.

I'm not judging the merits of one versus another other (although obviously I have my personal opinions); I'm just doing it so readers have a good handle on the issues. It's up to each line to determine what's best for them, and as long as the guest knows what's going on, it's perfectly OK.

Here are the policies directly from Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, NCL, Princess and Royal Caribbean on some of the key issues:

Who Gets What?

Question:
When a guest provides tipping via his on-board account, going along with the line's suggested amounts, do those amounts go only to the people on the list, or is part of the total siphoned off for other personnel?

Carnival: On the first night of the voyage, guests receive a letter explaining the distribution of the suggested tip amounts ($10 per person per day divided between cabin steward, dining room staff, etc.) and are made aware of what amount goes to whom. They are also advised that they have discretion as to the amounts and the distribution of the tips themselves.

Celebrity: The amounts go only to the people on the list, with the exception of "stateroom attendant" tips, as staterooms are typically cared for by two people each.

Holland America: It goes to the crew at percentages, already determined, to areas such as cabin stewards, dining, room service, laundry, etc., that have a direct impact on guest service.

NCL: The service charges of $10 per adult per day ($5 per kid) are automatically added and are divided among a pool of crew members.

Princess: The discretionary hotel and dining charge is distributed to all crew members who serve the guest directly, in food service and staterooms, as well as a portion to those crew not usually seen by the guest - in the galleys for instance - who support those staff in their efforts to serve guests. Princess distributes all money to the aforementioned crew members.

Royal Caribbean: The gratuities are only given to the crew members who were serving the guest.

Direct Tipping

Question:
When a guest gives cash directly to a crew member, is that person required to report that they have received the money, including how much they got and from whom?

Carnival: No. Shipboard employees can keep all cash gratuities without reporting it.

Celebrity: No, our shipboard colleagues are not required to report that they've received it, nor how much.

Holland America: If a guest asks that the amount on the folio be removed so tipping can be done directly, the steward, waiters, etc. are required to report that amount for pooled tips (but most guests keep tips on the bill).

NCL: No.

Royal Caribbean: No.

Notification

Question:
When tipping is done via the folio (i.e., your onboard account), how and when is the person being tipped notified?

Carnival: Shipboard employees are notified of their tip amounts the day after the cruise ends (as to not impact service standards) and are paid about a week later.

Celebrity: Any guests who opt for tipping via the folio receive printed cards/vouchers acknowledging that their gratuities have been prepaid. Envelopes are provided with the vouchers so the guests can present them to tipped personnel to assure them suggested gratuities have been handled, and to allow guests to offer additional amounts if they wish.

Holland America: Shortly into the next cruise.

NCL: They're not, but this is partially based on the Freestyle Concept since virtually all guests do not dine with the same wait staff every night.

Royal Caribbean: No later than the last night of the cruise. There are lists prepared by the Pursers' Office stating the guests who have paid onboard gratuities on their folio. These lists are also available in the crew working areas. Also, vouchers for prepaid gratuities are given to each guest so that they can slip the voucher into the tipping envelopes to hand to the crew members on the last night of the cruise.

Summary:

As with any policy, there's no complete agreement as to how things are done. I still believe the amount of tips suggested by the line is nowhere near the overall service levels given on board. That's why it's a great feeling to tip extra when it's deserved.

I'd be interested to hear from readers if they have any comments.

If you have any specific questions or comments about on-board tipping, e-mail . We’ll print some of them so you can see how your fellow travelers feel on the subject.


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