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The Truth About Gratuities

Editor's note: This story is from the Cruise Critic Archives. Content was up to date at time of publication.

To tip -- or not to tip -- is the most contentious issue we've faced in our Members Speak Out polls.

What was most interesting about the 3,700-plus responses was how evenly they were divided. For instance, when we asked "which method of tipping do you prefer," half of you answered "envelopes of cash" and the other half "put it on my onboard account."

Other nail biters included:

When it comes to gratuities being automatically charged to shipboard accounts, do you love it ... or hate it? It was a near dead-heat with 48 resenting the assumption of the process, and 52 percent appreciating the modern convenience.

The split down the middle ends with your opinion on cruise lines' recommended tipping amounts: 83 percent have tipped above, and a fairly strong 64 percent have tipped below (you'll notice these numbers add up to over 100 -- indicating some participants have done both, depending on the voyage). According to Samisaunt, in the former camp, "I often tip above the recommended amount for anyone who gives above and beyond what I consider to be normal service. On my first cruise, by the third dinner seating, the busboy knew what drinks we preferred and had them waiting. The waiter was extremely helpful with making choices and remembering what the people at the table liked. Together they were an impressive combination. They were rewarded for this."

On the other hand, Bmeddiana has tipped lower and explains why: "Our room steward on the last cruise was not particularly friendly; we hardly ever saw him. Because we slept in late (10 a.m.), our room was usually only serviced once a day. Tips should be for service rendered, not because the cruise line says you should give a certain amount." The good news is that there were quite a few comments like this one, made by Denamo: "I have never received service that I felt needed to be tipped below the cruise line's recommendation."

In Under the Captain's Table: Gratuities -- What's The Point? Cruise Critic columnist Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis discusses monthly salary ranges for crew members who are also entitled to tip. We asked, "Are the amounts too high, too low, just right?" A whopping percentage of you agreed with Joyce: "Just right."

Finally, we were curious about the luxury cruise conundrum. In many cases, luxury lines say that "no tipping is required" or build salaries into cruise fares (particularly in Europe). How many of you have tipped anyway? Fifty-four percent said "yes," and 46 percent ... no.

As always, the most fascinating part of any poll is the commentary y'all share! The themes that ran through our gratuities comments include:

Service Is Generally Excellent So Tipping is a Non Issue
"I have been fortunate enough to have excellent service ... any time I have had an issue, it was resolved quickly enough to not affect my tip." --Familyguy1010

"We've never had such 'terrible service' that we felt merited such action -- we're easygoing and easy to please!" --Stellasue

"I think that the recommended amount can be a base line to start. If service is somewhat lacking at the beginning of the cruise, I feel a responsibility to let the crew member and/or their supervisor know, so that the crew member has the opportunity to exceed or meet my expectations for the remainder of the cruise. Waiting for the last night to show your displeasure does you no good nor the crew member any good." --CruzTigger 19

"To me, tipping for service is something I do here at home (restaurants, hair stylist, etc). Why would I act any differently on a cruise? It's just an amount that needs to be factored in to the total cruise cost." --Brv2

Who Tips the Maitre d'?
Apparently no one, if our members' replies are consistent with other cruise travelers. That is, unless the maitre d' performs a special service. But few of the respondents could come up with an "extra" special service....

"What does he really do but walk around and smile?"--texjolie

"The Maitre d' told our table that the reason we had really slow service the night before was because we were late and to be on time. We all walked in when the doors opened so we knew we weren't late. Our whole table complained, got a free bottle of wine and then gave him a penny each when we left." --keksie

"I resent when the head waiter does nothing, nor even comes around to a table at any point during the week until the last night with a hand out for cash. Yes they are in charge of the staff and what not, but I'm not going to take kindly to someone who makes no effort to the guests." --clingandclatter

On the other hand, one maitre d' did deserve a tip:

"We had very poor service from a waiter and assistant waiter once. The Head Waiter ended up taking over our table, as the waiter was too busy talking to the passengers at the other table in our section, leaving it on the counter allowing our food to get cold. This happened two nights in a row. We mentioned it the first night to the Head Waiter, he observed the same thing the second night and then he took over our table for the remainder of the cruise. We did not tip the waiter or the assistant, but did tip the Head Waiter." --orenaeo

The Method of Tipping: Pros and Cons
"I still believe that tipping is for extra service. The basic service should be compensated for by the employer not the guest. I am paying a lot of money to sail on the ship, I don't feel I should pay the salaries of the staff as well. I am not opposed to tipping, just that it becomes so expected that it defeats the purpose: 'TIPs = To Insure Prompt (Proper) Service.'" --Funinthesun

"I prefer the personal exchange of handing a nicely filled envelope to those who have served me well. I would never under tip but will gladly tip above the recommended amount for a job well done -- and have done so. I've had nothing but wonderful service on board even from those room stewards who have been a bit shy. A good job should be encouraged and rewarded with a nice tip. And don't forget to say thank you, too. :)" --Mamabean

"I usually use a combination of onboard account for recommended daily, then additional for those who go above and beyond using envelopes." --WarEagle 76.

"I think it's the total lump sum amount that concerns most people. The total gratuity paid up front appears to be a lot of money. In actuality, if someone paid the 10 to 20 percent at each meal at a regular restaurant plus the gratuity paid at hotels for the housekeeping staff, I think people would actually pay far more than what the cruise line recommends." --klfrodo

"I will no longer offer extra to the cabin steward at the beginning of a cruise. I did not know that it was an insult." --Jogafur, in response to Gleeson-Adamidis' point that tipping stewards and servers upfront can be an insult to their professionalism.

"The people who work on the ships choose to do so. They know what they are getting into. Tips are for exceptional service, not to supplement their salaries. I am a nurse, who has worked many holidays, long hours, and missed events due to my job. This is my career and choice. I don't get 'tips' for extra service. I think staff is now doing just what they can to get by because they know that tips are automatically put on peoples' accounts. I think the meaning of 'tips' has lost it's meaning." --Macwoman

Wow, Talk About Generous!
"Tipping used to be 'to insure prompt service.' However, it feels as though it's become 'to get any service.' We tip very well for good service. However, if a restaurant or cruise ship forces a tip on me, then the good services gets whatever the 'charge' is (generally 15 to 18 percent). If the restaurant or cruise ship considers me adult enough to decide for myself, I generally tip anywhere between 25 and 50 percent for outstanding service." --Pandy

Exceptional Crew Have Made My Trip
"I believe that the crew onboard always try to go out of their way to enhance my cruise experience. Whether it be making monkey towels for the kids, remembering my favorite wine, or leaving a door open for my wife, the crew members onboard are truly nice people trying to make a living."--Smithers

"Some deserve more than others. We had a waiter on Carnival's Imagination in February who was wonderful to my elderly mother. It was mom's first cruise and the waiter treated her with respect and kindness. She wanted dessert before dinner, and that's what she got. He went a little above and beyond for her and we did the same for him." --momjahelka

"On one of our cruises the waitress noticed my daughter wasn't eating much and asked why. My daughter told her that she missed something she loved to eat that my mom makes. She went to the back and had it made for her. She went above and beyond." --anonymous

"We had a bartender who was excellent. Made great drinks, suggested great drinks and was a whole lot of fun." --keksie

"The extras have always gone to the room steward and the bartenders. It is for the 'extras' they provide. On our last cruise I purchased one of the little towel animals (a monkey) from the gift shop. I left it on the bed by my pillow. That night, when returning to the cabin, the towel animal made by the room steward was a monkey, it was hanging from the light and hanging off his leg was the little monkey towel animal I had bought at the gift shop. He took the extra time to make the towel animal special. It made my night! Next day went to the purser's desk for envelopes. I was not waiting until the last night of the cruise to let him know how much his 'extra touch' meant to us." --cotton32563

"We had an outstanding room steward, who if we ever needed to call would actually come to the door with what we were looking for. We also had an incredible waiter that knew our names, our on board account number (for the wine) as well as the way we liked our meat cooked by the second night of the cruise. You don't get that kind of service in a restaurant at home!" --Sweetpeas

Ways to Say Thanks ... Beyond a Cash Handout
"I appreciate the gift idea." --Ipinguping

"I hadn't thought of a letter to the corporate office. We have taken the Waiter and/or Stateroom attendant for a little off-ship excursion." --Ahab

"We have thought about righting letters for specific crew that have made our cruise even that much more fun, but never actually followed through." --gr81

"I will continue to give phone cards to deserving crew members, and use other suggestions that she [Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis] gave in her article." --piaqueenie

"When traveling with my children in the same cabin I don't feel like I should tip for them as they do not add any more work for the room steward. Also when tipping for four people it adds a significant expense to the vacation." --Eddio2


Thanks for the great input!

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