Cruise Critic Member Photo Stirs Up Tipping Controversy

May 11, 2009
Cruise Critic member Wennfred recently returned home from a cruise onboard Carnival Splendor and posted pictures from the trip on the Cruise Critic message boards. But, one photo, in particular, has stirred up a bit of controversy on an already-controversial subject: tipping.

During a behind-the-scenes ship tour, Wennfred spotted -- and photographed -- a printout of an e-mail posted on a bulletin board. On the e-mail? The names of passengers who removed their prepaid gratuities from their onboard accounts, which left many Cruise Critic members wondering whether such a list could impact service -- particularly for those who opt, instead, to tip specific employees in cash at the end of the cruise -- or general conduct among crew.

Perfect Stranger perfectly sums up the concern: "I hope another name for it isn't the 'Spit in Food' list."

Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz says that the note was not supposed to have been posted, telling the New York Post, "I've confirmed that this is absolutely not standard protocol and should not have happened. Crewmembers are not informed of which guests removed their gratuities until after the voyage is completed and guests have disembarked. This information should not have been posted, and shoreside management is in communication with this vessel to ensure that it doesn't happen again."

It's also important to remember that the sailing in question -- the April 28 departure of Carnival Splendor -- was out of the ordinary in that it was supposed to go to the Mexican Riviera, but didn't, due to last-minute, swine-flu-related itinerary changes. That resulted in some disappointed passengers' decisions to disembark in Long Beach a few days early.

voyagefiend says, "I'm one of the whiners that left the ship on Thursday ... too many sea days make me sick. I travel for the ports! I went to the purser -- what a chore (with all the obnoxious people abusing Carnival employees). What a shame, they were powerless. I was told there was no way to adjust the tips based on being on the ship four days except to take it out and tip in cash. So I guess my name is on the list ... I would never purposely stiff any of those wonderful hard-working folks!"

We won't get into the argument here of which method of tipping is proper or best -- Cruise Critic members are already discussing that at length on a thread entitled The Prepaid Gratuities Removed List, which, at press time, numbered some 13 pages. But, we will tackle this question: What exactly is supposed to happen when you decide to adjust the amount of the automatic gratuity?

Again, according to de la Cruz, Carnival crewmembers are supposed to be informed of which guests removed gratuities only after the cruise ends. Other lines we contacted didn't have such information handy. Passengers on Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess, for example, can also ask that gratuities be removed from their folio -- but spokespersons for the lines did not specify if or when crewmembers are notified of such decisions.

That leads us to another quandary: Was this really "oops" -- or are lists like the one Wennfred spotted often leaked? stthomaslover, for one, writes, "On my last cruise in January I was being nosy and searching the room stewards cart for some soap. There was a list of all his cabins, room number and a column for tips and I think it said yes and removed ... maybe that's why some people get not so good service while most others have great service."

We want to know: Have you ever altered an automatic gratuity during a cruise -- up or down, for any reason -- and experienced a shift in the type of service received? Vote in our poll!

--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor

Image appears courtesy of member Wennfred.