A boatload of tips about tipping

Outstanding service on cruise deserves reward

some lines do it for you

Strategies

July 11, 2004|By Arline Bleecker

If tipping etiquette baffles you while you're on a cruise, you're not alone.

After all, even the worst waiter shoreside expects customers to leave 15 percent to 20 percent of the bill as gratuity. But on a cruise vacation, it can seem that everyone -- from airport porters and cabin stewards to waiters, room service staff and masseuses -- has his hands out.

The "how much?" part is not complicated. Most cruise lines offer guidelines for whom to tip and how much. Usually, you'll find yourself stuffing crisp currency into envelopes provided by the cruise line at the conclusion of your cruise.

But in a trend that seems to be catching on, many lines include the gratuities in your shipboard bill, posting them automatically to your account. On a few lines -- Silversea, among them -- gratuities are included in the cost of your fare, which, though you're paying for tips in the long run, relieves you entirely of the conundrum. In all cases, the figuring and arithmetic are done for you.

Having sailed with a few luxury lines that include tips in fares, I can tell you it's an immense pleasure not to have to deal with the issue. In fact, on a Seabourn sailing some years ago, the service was so stellar that even when my husband and I offered our waiter an additional tip, he refused it.

"I'm happy just to serve you, and there's no need for anything more," he said.

I don't want to sound too cynical, but I suspect that part of his response was likely a result of an uncommonly good pay scale in addition to excellent training.

Nevertheless, custom prescribes that you tip and, in fairness, tip appropriately. The staff on most cruise ships depends heavily on gratuities for their income. Few of us would want to shortchange them, especially when they most often work arduously and well for our pleasure.

Cruise Lines International Association, the marketing organization for 19 major cruise lines, offers its own tipping recommendations, which can serve as useful guidelines, particularly for a first-time cruiser:

"Tipping is a matter of individual preference. A general rule of thumb is to plan for about $3 per person per day for your cabin steward and dining room waiter, and about half that amount for your busboy. Other shipboard personnel can be tipped for special services at your discretion."

Use your own judgment, of course, but if someone provides you extra service, a gratuity might be not only expected but warranted.

Art Sbarsky, former senior vice president of marketing for the Celebrity line, notes on CruiseMates.com: "Deck personnel usually work their tails off scurrying about trying to help. If they assist you with deck chairs and towels and free beverages, giving them a small amount is a very nice way of saying thanks. With deck bar personnel, when the tip is added to the price of the drink, it's not as critical."

For those of you who are forever grateful that your captain has navigated into port after port without incident and use of lifeboat, a tip is not necessary.

As Sbarsky notes: "Whatever you do, don't try to tip the ship's captain. That's a huge no-no."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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