John Williams of Hermosa Beach, Calif., was dismayed when he learned that Princess Cruises would automatically charge him $10 a day for gratuities on his Mexican Riviera sail in April.
"Maybe I'm old school," he said, "but I don't think tipping should be automatic."
But after talking to waiters and his room steward on his cruise, he changed his mind. "They were all strongly in favor of automatic tipping," he says, "because so often they get stiffed."
An increasing number of cruise companies are adopting so-called automatic gratuity programs. The companies say such programs spare passengers the confusion of figuring out who gets what and the hassle of juggling money. Cynics may suspect the real purpose is to shanghai your wallet, but, in fact, the amounts charged are close to what travel agents recommend that customers tip anyway.
The confusion about cruise tipping is understandable. There are headwaiters, waiters, assistant waiters, cabin stewards and others who may expect gratuities -- or not. Some cruise lines, especially luxury ones, discourage tips.
Not all cruise lines that encourage tipping recommend the same amounts, and the job titles of the crew may vary too. But most suggestions are in these ranges, per passenger per day:
* Cabin steward / stewardess / attendant: $3 to $4.
* Waiter / server: $3 to $4.
* Assistant waiter / busboy: $1.50 to $2.50.
* Headwaiter / head server: 50 cents to $1.
Tips at the spa and salon, if you visit them, are typically 15 percent to 20 percent of the cost of the service.
Some cruise lines recommend adding lesser amounts for an assortment of other staffers, such as the maitre d' and table captain, but there's little consensus on these practices.
"If the maitre d' has done absolutely nothing for me and I've never seen him, I don't tip him," says Judy Lucas, manager of Concierge Cruises and Tours, an Arizona travel agency.
It annoys her that automatic gratuity programs may include such employees regardless, but she notes that the typical $10-per-day total per passenger is not far off what you should leave anyway.
The best sources for tipping guidelines on your particular cruise are travel agents and the line you book.