Jump to content
New Features: Member Referral Links, Top Posters, Member of the Month!

Read more here


  • Create an account or sign in to get involved

    Create an account

    Ask questions, share experiences and connect.

    Register a new account

    Sign in

    Already have an account? Sign in here.

    Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Jason

Storm over mandatory 'tip' policy

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

Janet Fullwood: Storm over mandatory 'tip' rocks cruise line

By Janet Fullwood -- Bee Columnist

A story last Sunday about Norwegian Cruise Line's new policy of adding a mandatory, nonrefundable service charge to passengers' shipboard accounts stirred up quite a tempest, and the storm has yet to pass.

In an unusual move, NCL late last week acknowledged service problems aboard its newest ship, Pride of Aloha, and agreed to compensate passengers. While stopping short of rescinding the controversial $10 per-person, per-day assessment, the line said it would reimburse half the fee charged to everyone who has sailed the refurbished vessel since it began cruising in the Hawaiian Islands in July. In addition, passengers will get a credit, equal to 20 percent of their Pride of Aloha fare, good toward a future NCL cruise.

The gesture is almost unprecedented among cruise lines, which seldom issue blanket apologies or credits to dissatisfied customers. But the remedy doesn't go far toward assuaging the displeasure of passengers who were deeply disappointed by their experience aboard the first major cruise ship to fly the Stars and Stripes in more than half a century. And it doesn't answer the question of when a tip is a tip, or just who gets what when a lump sum paid at the purser's office is involved.

Norwegian and other lines have assessed an automatic gratuity for several years, but it's always been voluntary and adjustable at the passenger's discretion.

Given the option, Pride of Aloha passenger Al Himenes of Sacramento might well have adjusted the amount down. He found service aboard the American-crewed vessel fell far short of expectations - and yet apparently ended up tipping twice for it, to the tune of $20 per person per day.

Himenes and 20 members of his extended family booked their Pride of Aloha cruise in October, at which time they agreed to prepay a daily gratuity to the crew of $10 per adult, $5 per child. The charge, totaling "about $1,200 or so," was added to their bill; final payment on the $28,000 tab was made in May for the cruise departing July 18, Himenes said.

Then, shortly before departure, the family's travel agent advised the group that another $140 per cabin would be added to their onboard account as a service charge covering unexplained costs.

The Himenes clan figured that since they'd already prepaid a gratuity, or a service charge, or whatever the line wanted to call it, they'd easily be able to straighten out the misunderstanding.

Little did they know.

The first sign that all was not right aboard the 2,000-passenger ship came on Day 1, when family members had to wait until 11 p.m. to be admitted to their staterooms because of housekeeping delays. (Normally, cabins are ready for passengers upon boarding.)

Things went downhill from there, Himenes said, citing a litany of unmade beds, three-hour waits for dinner, dirty tables in the cafeteria, food shortages, bars that closed at 10:30 p.m. - and breakfasts served on paper plates.

"We didn't pay all this money to eat off paper plates," he says.

The ship obviously was short-staffed, he said, and the young American crew members appeared "so exhausted they were like zombies. ... There were no smiles, no 'good mornings,' just long faces."

Adding insult to injury, when the Himenes clan went to settle the bill at the end of the cruise, there it was: a daily service charge of $10 per adult, $5 per child, due immediately - along with an unexpected $5 per person mandatory donation to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

"We got double billed, no two ways about it," Himenes says. "There was no remorse, no apology, and nobody onboard had any authority to refund anything back to us."

Himenes said family members were told by the disgruntled crew that the service charge was established to pay for benefits and did not go into a tip pool.

NCL has not addressed the benefits charge but said in a statement to the press that it acknowledges and apologizes for "start-up challenges that have affected some of Pride of Aloha's guests." The company said it is taking "aggressive actions to address specific issues" on the ship.

The Los Angeles travel agent who booked the Himenes family's cruise asked not to be identified in this column. But she confirms the "miseries" the passengers encountered, and she is following up on the party's plight.

"NCL ruined their experience, so do you really think they are about to use the credit extended them to rebook with NCL? Not in my lifetime," she said.

What's clear from all this is that NCL is taking a lot of heat for what amounts to a back-door price hike. And while an American-crewed ship might sound like a commendable endeavor, it's a risky one. Several previous ventures in Hawaii have failed in the wake of labor issues and complaints about American workers who don't cotton to the long hours a cruise-ship job entails.

A job at sea may sound glamorous, but when it comes down to it, changing sheets in an ocean-going hotel isn't so different from changing sheets in a land-based one - except you can't go home at night.

NCL isn't giving up. The line says it is committed to "delivering a high-quality and unique vacation experience in Hawaii" and expects the "experience aboard Pride of Aloha will be very quickly up to the company's high standards."

It remains to be seen how the mandatory service charge will play out on NCL's 12 other ships: The line apparently isn't waiting until its stated timetable of summer 2005 to impose the charge fleetwide.

Earl Worley of Sacramento has already received his documents for an October cruise out of Baltimore aboard NCL's Norwegian Crown. He learned about the charge ("For your convenience, NCL now automatically applies a service charge to your shipboard account ...") at the bottom of page 10 of the "Welcome Aboard" booklet enclosed with his ticket.

"I was taken aback by it, because I had paid the full price of the fare already and didn't think there was any basis for charging extra," he says.

The cruise booklet takes a decidedly vague stance in describing where the passengers' $10 a day goes. "All of the service personnel onboard receive gratuities from this service charge, and there is no need for you to think about additional tipping," it reads.

The next sentence: "Separately, a 15 percent gratuity is included in bar tabs and spa services."

Worley said he has written the cruise line's president suggesting a change in the policy.

You can bet he's not the only one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

NCL was once my favorite line. The entertainment was the best at sea; the food was excellent; and the service near-perfect.

Since they were taken over by Star, it has been all downhill. several years ago, I was on the Norwegian Star, and Norwegian Sun, after the 'takeover' and the introduction of "Freestyle Cruising."

The food was mediocre, at best, at the service horrendous!!! Since this was a while ago, you would think that NCL would have remedied the situation by now....but, apparently, not.

Those were the last times I will step foot on an NCL ship!

Give me Princess, Celebrity & Carnival (yes, Carnival! When the mood strikes...)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This story is months old, notice no dateline.

Let me add to the update from a newsletter I received today which includes the remarks from someone who just returned from a cruise on Pride of Aloha:

"On the positive side, the crew was friendly, the food was good and freestyle dining was convenient. We ate in the main dining room and never waited more than 5 minutes for a table. On the negative side, the timing for our port calls in Kauai and Maui was changed by several hours from the schedule, but no announcement was ever made to inform guests. Word spread by word-of-mouth among the passengers, and we had to confirm the actual port times at the front desk on both occasions. Also, availability of the ship's shore excursions was very limited for those who had not booked in advance of sailing."

I asked Bill about service levels onboard, and he described them as "mediocre". He added, "There was nothing outstanding about the ship, the onboard activities or crew. Our room steward took care of our room but did not add any kind of personal touch or have a presence in the vicinity of our room that would earn an above-average service rating."

Nevertheless, Bill states that his entire group--parents, aunts, uncles, significant other--enjoyed themselves thoroughly. And in contrast to the widespread grumbling from passengers on earlier sailings--with good cause, from what I understand--Bill heard no negative comments from other passengers except for those related to the changed port times. <]

"I would recommend the Pride of Aloha as an excellent way to see the Hawaiian islands in one convenient trip, especially for first-time visitors to Hawaii," he said.

It would appear that Norwegian has overcome most of the problems that plagued the early sailings of the Pride of Aloha, when passengers suffered long lines at restaurants and shortages of everything from plates to waiters and cabin stewards. Norwegian has blamed those problems on staffing complications related to the requirement that this unique, US-flagged ship must sail with an all-American crew. This meant that the line was not allowed to transfer experienced international crew members from other ships in their fleet for the launch, which is common in the industry.

High crew attrition has also hurt customer service, and Norwegian has reportedly replaced more than half of the 750 crew members in the past three months. Fortunately, the ship now appears to be fully staffed and the crew is performing adequately, if not admirably. Certainly the number of negative comments we have received has fallen sharply over the last 45 days, and we have begun to receive positive comments from returning guests as well<].

Now the challenge for Norwegian is to rise above mediocrity and capture the true Aloha spirit onboard, and do justice to the magnificent Hawaiian islands.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

WE HAVE SCHEDULED A CRUISE ON THE NORWEGIAN SPIRIT, DEC 3. I WISH I HAD DISCOVERED THIS SITE EARLIER, NCL WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN OUR CHOICE. NO WONDER THE DEAL WAS SO GOOD FOR A 9 DAY CRUISE. I GUESS THEY EXPECT TO CLEAN UP ON SERVICES CHARGES. ANYBODY ELSE GOING ON THIS CRUISE? IT WILL BE OUR 6TH ON NCL, THE FIRST 4 BEING IN THE '90'S ON THE NORWAY, STARWARD & SKYWARD. IN 2003 WE TRIED NCL SEA FOR 5 DAY CRUISE AND DECIDED TO TRY LONGER TRIP THIS TIME.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Welcome aboard, ANNE. We're very glad that you found us. Please feel free to post your cruise dates, birthdays and anniversaries to our CruiseCrazies calendar and check it often to see if anyone else will be sailing with you. Hope to see you posting often and hope to get to know you. Cheryl :cool: alt text

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi everybody,

If the tip deducted automatically is a mandatory one then it should be consolidated in the cruise fare to reflect the true cost of the cruise.

In many cases, but not all, service is better when it is the passengers prerogative to leave the tip as is, supplement the charged tip or eliminate it all together contingent upon the type of service received.

Fortunately, I have always received excellent service and felt I needed to supplement the automatic deduction.

I would adjust the automatic deduction if service was poor.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The problem with including the cost of service in the fare is that would artificially inflate the fare, making the cruise appear more expensive than cruises where the cost of service is separated out. Unless all competiting cruise lines make the switch simultaneously, no one cruise line can make the change unilaterally without suffering a significant loss of business (with the possible exception of Carnival, given its relative size).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
    • 4 Posts
    • 628 Views
    • 4 Posts
    • 461 Views
    • 5 Posts
    • 196 Views
    • 1 Posts
    • 145 Views
    • 4 Posts
    • 148 Views

×