Tipping Points: Cruise Critic Readers Come to Grips With Royal Caribbean's New Gratuity Guidance

December 10, 2010
Royal-Caribbean-cruise-line-tipping-policy (3:30 p.m. EST) -- A day after Royal Caribbean announced that it would be increasing its suggested gratuities next year -- the first such hike in 13 years -- droves of Cruise Critic readers have weighed in.

For many, the response has focused on the fact that the increase from $9.75 (per person per day) to $11.65 is to the line's recommended gratuities. To clarify, RCI still relies primarily on the traditional "cash in envelope" method and offers tipping guidelines, while most lines utilize auto-gratuity policies. Maria Linden, who posted on Cruise Critic's Facebook page, summed up a common sentiment. "The tip amounts are suggested only; we base our tip(s) on level of service," she wrote. "We go over the suggested amounts generally, but have also tipped less where warranted."

Roger007 similarly brushed off the change as having little or no impact on his future Royal Caribbean cruise experience. "As we have done in the past and will continue to do, we will tip the last day according to the service we have received," he posted on the Cruise Critic message boards. "We are not bound by 'recommended' amounts nor 'auto-request.'"

But there were those who saw the increase as yet another example of cruise lines nickel and diming passengers. "I guess I won't be sailing with them any time soon. Enough is enough!" wrote Linda C. Hall on Facebook. "I will also deduct 19 percent [the increase] from the recommendations," noted Michel Wouterse. "I work in the service industry myself and never see tips like that come in."

Others were more supportive of the increases. "I guess I can fork out another couple bucks since they haven't had a raise in 13 years," posted Jmraggs on the boards. "Maybe the Porters at the terminal will want a raise in tips as well!" he added. "[It's] still a bargain," wrote H82seaUgo. "I still can't get the wife to serve me three meals a day and clean my room for $10 a day."

To the idea of a crew "raise," a number of posters wondered: If the new guidelines resulted in more tips being collected, would it mean higher wages for the crew? We asked Royal Caribbean spokesman Harrison Liu, who told us that "all the gratuities are distributed to the dining and housekeeping staff."

Some took issue with the industry model for paying crew -- of passing the vast majority of the responsibility for paying the crew onto passengers. Bluegirlum noted on the boards that "if they want to give them a raise, give them a raise and pass it on to us in the price of the cruise. That's fine. But raising the 'suggested' tipping amount? If RCI thinks its employees deserve more money, then it should step up and pay them more. Either way, it's passed on to us. But this way, it just makes anyone who complains about the increase look cheap." Puffinater wasn't convinced. "Either way there will be complaints," wrote the human behind the cute bird avatar. "Pass it on as a [cruise fare] increase and folks will start saying that since the fare went up and wages went up, there's no need to tip. [There's] no easy answer."

Julie McIntyre added a dose of international perspective, articulating the culturally based differences in tipping practices. "Well the Brits won't pay it!!!! As a Cruise Agent it's hard enough getting it out of them now! Cruise lines would be better to just include it in the cost."

Royal Caribbean has certainly echoed McIntyre's sentiments. More than a year ago, Robin Shaw, Royal Caribbean's vice president and managing director (U.K. and Ireland), acknowledged a cultural chasm between the U.K. and the U.S. when it comes to tipping. "Gratuities form part of the remuneration for our crew, and when there is a large contingency of U.K. guests onboard, the remuneration is not at the same level," she said.

To date, no policy changes have been made.

Want to add your voice to the discussion? Join the conversation in the Royal Caribbean forum.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor