Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Be a generous Tipper

Be a Generous Tipper on Your Next Cruise

By the Rev. Marsh Drege,
Executive Director of Seafarers and International House

Tipping on cruise ships is often the subject of confusion. Travelers often don’t know how much to tip, who to tip, or when to tip. Sometimes, the cruise company includes a gratuity on the final bill. Even then, people aren’t sure whether it’s enough to cover a job well done, or whether they should give extra. 

When the Carnival Cruiseline’s Triumph was in the news recently for breaking down, it reminded me again of the confusion surrounding tipping policies. While most luxury liners provide upscale accommodations and wonderful vacations, the working conditions and wages for the staff are very often less than desirable, and the crews depend on tips.

Not many people realize that the average pay for the hotel and service staff on cruise ships is as low as $1.20 cents an hour. With the addition of tips, staff can earn from $1,000 to $3,000 a month, which is considered a good income back in their native country. If they had to depend on hourly rate, they barely make a living.

The pressure to tip cruise staff is more prevalent than ever, according to Frommers, a well-known travel guide company. “From porters and bartenders to fitness instructors and massage therapists, who should you tip, and how?” says the company’s website, Frommers.com.

Cruise ship companies will justify paying their staff a low hourly rate by arguing that the crew is getting room and board included, in addition to worldwide travel exposure. But this argument is misleading. Yes, life onboard a ship can give a worker broad travel experience, but it also can be very lonely and disenfranchising. Port chaplains greeting arriving ships at U.S. ports, often report that the crews are depressed and tired. They long to get on land and to have a quick bite to eat, call home, shop for sundries, and just talk to someone other than the people they’ve been onboard with for six to eight months.

When traveling this year, please keep the crews in mind for the work they do to assure you have a great trip. In general, cabin stewards, butlers, dining room waiters and assistants, head waiters, bartenders, and excursion guides are tipped, in addition to anyone who provided a service. The general industry standard is a total of $10 to $12 per day. For two people traveling, that would amount to a tip of between $140 and $168 to cover all services during a seven-day cruise. Fifteen dollars a day is considered generous and much appreciated by these hard workers. Beverage bills usually have 15 percent tacked on.

Beginning with the porters who load bags on the ship, getting roughly $1 tip per bag, to the spa staff giving massages and facials, and getting 15% to 20% cost of the treatment, there is no shortage of tipping opportunities aboard a ship. Be sure that tips aren’t already included in your bill.

Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, charges the gratuities for dining and stateroom staff to a traveler’s onboard account, according to its website, www.carnival.com. The total amount is $11.50 per guest, per day, for guests over 2 years old. For beverages purchases, 15 percent is automatically added to the bill.
Carnival uses the following tipping breakdown:
$ 3.70  - Per Day Stateroom Services             
$ 5.80  - Per Day Dining Room Services        
$2 - Per Day Alternative Services: distributed to kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members.

High-end lines, including Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, and SeaDream Yacht Club, according to Frommers, all have "no tipping" policies and add a gratuity on the final bill. Check the policy before you book the trip.

Seafarers & International House, a Lutheran advocacy group for seafarers and asylum-seekers, advocates for better working conditions and wages on ships, for both cruise staff and merchant seamen. We also advocate for the care of their spiritual, emotional and practical needs when the ships are in our ports in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

This year, let’s be mindful of those working on the cruise ships, and to be a generous tipper, when we can, especially if we are so blessed to be able to travel the seas on vacation.

More information may be gotten on our website, www.sihnyc.org.

-- The Rev. Marsh Drege is an ordained minister for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

About Seafarers & International House
SIH is a mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  It was founded in 1873 as an Augustana Lutheran mission from Sweden on the premise that we are all called to welcome the stranger. Working at sea or immigrating to a new country is a lonely experience, and SIH welcomes these seafarers and asylum-seekers with pastoral care, hospitality, social assistance, advocacy and prayer, seeking to nurture the human spirit, and foster human dignity. SIH serves in the ports in New York/New Jersey, Connecticut/Rhode Island, Philadelphia and Baltimore. The chaplains meet incoming ships, provide phones and Internet connections for the seafarers to call home, and take them into town to shop, sightsee or get a bite to eat. SIH also provides overnight accommodations, counseling, social work and support services to asylum-seekers at its offices and guesthouse at 123 East 15th St. in Manhattan.  Its website is www.sihnyc.org.

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