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Automatic Gratuity Programs

Here is an article by Jane Engle, a travel writer that we read and would like to share some excerpts with you. To read the complete article which appears in the Orlando Sentinel,click here.
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 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. As recently as 2 years ago, Seabourn Cruise Line staff members could be fired for accepting tips, says spokesman Bruce Good. Now they may accept them but can be fired for soliciting them.

Alas, 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.

Bartenders are a special case. Many lines automatically include 15 percent for service in the bar bill, meaning you needn't tip.

Passengers traditionally leave tips in envelopes on the last night of the cruise, which can lead to quite a backup at the purser's desk. With automatic gratuity programs, you avoid that, obviously. But an important point about such programs is that you usually can opt out of them or increase or decrease the amounts by notifying the purser once you're on board. You don't have to do it their way.
Your best sources for tipping guidelines on your particular cruise are travel agents and the line you book. Here's a roundup of some lines' general practices. (All amounts are stated per passenger per day, unless otherwise noted.)

Carnival: The line has an automatic gratuity program (which it calls a "reverse gratuity program") on 10 of its 16 ships, with a daily charge of $9.75. The company hopes to expand the program fleet wide within a year, says spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz. In alternate dining rooms (outside the main one), the reservation fee includes a tip. Bar bills include a 15 percent gratuity.

Costa: On Caribbean cruises, the suggestion is $3 each for steward and waiter, $1.50 assistant waiter, $1 headwaiter. On European cruises, the amounts are $1.50 steward, $2.50 waiter, $2.50 "assistant waiter team," 50 cents for maitre d' and "headwaiter team." Bar bills include 15 percent gratuity.

Cunard: An automatic gratuity program, begun in 2000, charges $7 on Caronia and $11 to $13 on the Queen Elizabeth 2, depending on cabin category. Bar bills include a 15 percent gratuity.

Crystal: The line suggests $4 each for stewardess and waiter in the main dining room; $2.50 assistant waiter, $4 for butler (penthouse only); an additional $6 per meal for alternate restaurants. Passengers can tip in advance when they book the cruise. Bar bills include 15 percent gratuity.

Disney: The line gives suggestions by length of cruise; on average per day, about $3.60 for steward, $3.70 server, $2.70 assistant server, 90 cents head server. You can tip in advance, as do about half the guests, a spokeswoman says. Bar bills include 15 percent gratuity.

Holland America: Advertises a "tipping not required" policy and declines to suggest amounts. "You're free to tip if you feel it's warranted," spokesman Erik Elvejord says. "To be honest, most people do tip." Bar bills do not include gratuity.

Norwegian: Automatic gratuity program charges $10 per day for ages 13 and older, $5 for children 3 to 12, no charge younger than 3. Bar bills include 15 percent gratuity.

Princess: Automatic gratuity program fleetwide charges $10 per day; the final two ships added to the program in July were the Royal Princess and the Regal Princess. Bar bills include 15 percent gratuity.

Radisson Seven Seas: No tipping is expected.

Royal Caribbean: It suggests $3.50 each for waiter and steward, $2 assistant waiter, 75 cents headwaiter. Passengers can tip automatically by asking at guest relations (purser) when they board. Bar bills include 15 percent gratuity.

Seabourn: "Tipping is neither required nor expected," the line's Internet site says. "Our staff doesn't expect it . . . and we pay them well," spokesman Good says. But he adds: "If the guest wants to give a tip, who are we to say no?"

Silversea: "No gratuities are required or expected" on this luxury line, where fares can average $800 per day and up, says spokesman Brad Ball. Passengers can tip if they want, "but we don't encourage it," even for spa treatments, he adds.

Windstar: The line advertises a "tipping not required" policy on its Internet site. "Gratuities are not encouraged at all," sales coordinator Jordan Marona says. "But if people want to tip, that's their prerogative."

Jane Engle is a writer for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper

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