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ON THE SPOT

Tipped off

September 28, 2008|catharine hamm

Question: After booking a cruise with Princess Cruises and paying for it, I learned that $11 a day per person would be added to our stateroom bill for tips. For an 18-day cruise, that adds up to $396 for two of us. I called to object to this and was told I would have to go to the purser's desk when we are on board. Am I to spend every day in line at the purser's office to cancel a charge that should not have been there in the first place? When did this way of tipping become the norm? I thought one tipped for good service after receiving it, not before.

Edna Broman

Redondo Beach

Answer: There seem to be two hot-button topics in the world of cruising -- tipping and attire -- and they may be related.

In a perfect world, one would tip for service after receiving it, and in a perfect world, one would actually receive it -- the good service, I mean. Not always true.

Except, perhaps, on cruise ships, where the crew works long hours for a tiny paycheck yet generally still manages to be nice. Imagine having to be professionally pleasant for a living, something few of us, especially journalists, could do.

The automatic gratuity became the norm when specialty restaurants were introduced and with the relaxation of the rigid dining schedule on many lines. Princess put its auto-tipping program in place in 2001 after it launched "personal choice dining," which means you can eat at any of its restaurants at the time you want and in the style you want (formal or casual) or at a specialty restaurant. Once those variables came into play, it became more difficult to compensate your waiter, the wine steward, the table captain and anybody else who serves.

The money collected is "distributed to all of the service staff on board," said Karen Candy, a spokeswoman for Princess, adding that it's a convenience to passengers because of confusion about whom to tip.

If you prefer to distribute tips yourself, you can do that too, with just one trip to the purser's, Candy said.

In my heart of hearts, I also have to wonder whether the automatic gratuity isn't a way to ensure that the crew is compensated by those who "forget" to tip because they've simply forgotten that it's good manners to say thank you. These may be the same folks who "forget" that cutoffs aren't appropriate for formal occasions, either on the ship or off. That too is a matter of manners.

Philosopher Edmund Burke said, "Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in."

When it comes to tipping, just take a deep breath and do the right thing, by whatever means you choose.

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Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com.

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