Daily gra­tu­ity charges

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - TRAVEL -

Gene Sloan

There per­haps is noth­ing more con­tro­ver­sial in the world of cruis­ing than the gra­tu­ity charge.

It is a fee of as much as $23 per per­son, per day that many of the big­gest cruise lines, in­clud­ing Car­ni­val, Princess and Nor­we­gian, au­to­mat­i­cally add to pas­sen­ger bills, say­ing it will be passed on to crew mem­bers in recog­ni­tion of their ser­vice.

The charge is levied whether or not a pas­sen­ger feels he or she has ex­pe­ri­enced good ser­vice, though at many lines it can be ad­justed or re­moved while on board.

The prac­tice of adding au­to­matic gra­tu­ity charges to cruise bills has sprung up over the past few decades, re­plac­ing a more in­for­mal sys­tem where cruis­ers tipped room stew­ards and wait staff at their own dis­cre­tion, in vary­ing amounts.

Many of the lines that au­to­mat­i­cally add gra­tu­ity charges to bills say they do so as a con­ve­nience to pas­sen­gers. It’s just plain sim­pler for cruis­ers to pay an au­to­matic gra­tu­ity than to be tip­ping crew mem­bers who give them great ser­vice one by one, the lines say. Cruise lines also note the money is shared with be­hind-the-scenes crew mem­bers who play an im­por­tant role in the pas­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ence but might go un­re­warded.

Crit­ics of the charges say tip­ping is a per­sonal mat­ter that should be left to pas­sen­gers. Some see the charges as a thinly dis­guised method for cruise lines to push the re­spon­si­bil­ity for pay­ing crew mem­bers to their cus­tomers. To that point, cruise in­dus­try watcher CruiseCritic has re­ported that some lines now pay house­keep­ing and din­ing de­part­ment work­ers on ships as lit­tle as $2 per day in base wages, re­ly­ing on the au­to­matic gra­tu­ity to pro­vide the bulk of their com­pen­sa­tion. As much as 95 per­cent pay for some cruise ship work­ers now comes from au­to­matic gra­tu­ities, ac­cord­ing to CruiseCritic.

While mass-mar­ket ocean lines such as Royal Caribbean and Nor­we­gian are hik­ing the fees at a rapid rate, a grow­ing num­ber of up­scale ocean lines in­clud­ing Aza­mara, Crys­tal, Se­abourn, Re­gent and SeaDream have been elim­i­nat­ing them. The prac­tice also is dis­ap­pear­ing at some river lines.

The list­ings look at the amounts ma­jor lines cater­ing to North Amer­i­cans cur­rently are charg­ing to pas­sen­ger bills in au­to­matic gra­tu­ities. In ad­di­tion to a flat-fee, per-day charge for gra­tu­ities, some lines also add a 15 to 18 per­cent gra­tu­ity to bar bills on ships. The rates for daily charges are per per­son, per day. None

TODD AN­DER­SON/DIS­NEY

The Dis­ney Won­der em­bod­ies the com­pany’s blend of the grace of early 20th cen­tury ocean lin­ers with con­tem­po­rary de­sign.

CAR­NI­VAL

Car­ni­val Cruise Line is hik­ing the amount of gra­tu­ity it adds.

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