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No Need to Worry About Shipboard Tipping If You Follow a Few Rules : Knowing what gratuities are appropriate is sometimes a mystery for passengers. Cabin stewards and dining-room servers are among those who warrant tips.

September 12, 1993|PHIL SHAPIRO | Shapiro is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer. and

On most cruise ships, tipping is a fact of life. It is an accepted, expected practice-part of the package. If you're one of those people who's never quite sure how much to tip a cab driver, or how to compute 15% of your dinner check, shipboard tipping might seem daunting. Who gets tipped? When? How much? You're presumably on a cruise in the first place to relax and have fun, and worrying about tipping can cast a pall over even the sunniest of voyages.

Fortunately, the cruise lines don't want you to have to worry about such things, and near the end of each cruise the cruise director traditionally offers hints on tipping and suggests standard amounts in each category. To give you an idea of what's involved, the official recommendations of some 37 cruise lines appear in the accompanying box. And here are some more things you ought to know about shipboard tipping:

It's customary to tip at least your cabin steward (who makes up and takes care of your cabin), your dining room waiter and his or her assistant. Two nights before the end of the cruise, three envelopes, one for each, are usually distributed to each passenger. On the last night, the envelopes are handed back to the staff with the gratuities inside.

With some cruise lines you can charge tips to a credit card. Some travel agents can also arrange prepayment of tips when they book the cruise--and to promote some special cruises, some agencies even offer to pay their clients' gratuities themselves.

A few cruise lines require that tips be shared among crew members; some even have a no-tipping policy. On ships that discourage gratuities, some passengers tip anyway, with a folded bill in a handshake, accompanied by a smile.

When should tips exceed the recommended amount? It's simply a matter of the level of service requested and rendered.

If your cabin is made up promptly in the morning and you don't have to think twice about it, your cabin steward is just doing his job well. When the ice bucket is filled every afternoon and a basket of fresh fruit appears, when the bathroom is stocked with clean towels and the beds are neatly turned down in the evening, you're not getting special service, you're on a cruise--this kind of attention is to be expected and deserves a standard tip.

On the other hand, if you want breakfast in bed, hors d'oeuvres and beverage setups in the evening or a romantic dinner on the veranda, you're asking for extra service, and that merits a little extra consideration--especially if your steward is gracious.

Should you choose to have all your meals in the dining room, your waiter will serve you 21 times during a week's cruise. If you're not asking for anything extra at these meals, the modest tips recommended by the lines themselves--often no more than $6 a day for waiter and assistant combined--are acceptable. But if you're getting good advice on the chef's specialties, have special requirements or food preferences or request additional dishes (multiple entrees or a sampling of all the desserts, say), then something more is in order. A gratuity of $70 or $80 for waiter and assistant for a weeks' worth of dining for two is still a bargain by shoreside standards.

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In addition to standard dining room gratuities, you may want to tip the maitre d' for the courteous attention he gave your special requests, as well as your table's captain, especially if he prepared crepes suzette for you tableside or the like. A tip isn't out of order for deck service personnel either, and if you spend any amount of time at the bar, 15% of your bar tab would be greatly appreciated. Tips to the sommelier and the hairdresser are automatically added to your on-board account at the time of service. It's not necessary to tip other staff members, entertainers or ship's officers.

Occasionally, there are special circumstances: On the Crystal Harmony's penthouse deck, for instance, guests are treated to "tux, tails and white glove butler service." According to Darlene Papalini, Crystal Harmony's director of public relations, "An additional $5 tip per day for the butler is suggested. It's just like staying on the concierge floor at a top hotel; penthouse guests tip at their discretion for services."

When you're less than pleased with the service you're getting on shipboard, what should you do? Don't keep quiet until the end of the cruise. Tell the service person, directly, what you expect, and if you're still not satisfied, report your displeasure to a manager and, when tipping time comes, tip (or don't tip) accordingly. Remember, even the official recommended gratuities are for standard good service.

Tip Sheet

Recommendations from a sampling if major cruise lines

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