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My acute embarrassment - an analysis of cruise tipping for Europeans

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As a resident of Spain I was rather confused on my recent first-time cruise of the eastern Mediterranean as to the ins-and-outs of tipping on Celebrity. At first I opted out of the default automatic tipping charge as recommended by Celebrity. My reason was that I wanted to experience the quality of the service before I chose to accept the recommended levels. But then I got to speaking to some cruise veterans and this led me to pose questions to Guest Relations and finally to a senior dining officer. What I learned shocked me.

Those recommended 'tips' are not what we Europeans understand them to be. Most cruise lines are either managed from the US or follow US practice, so even when in the Med on a Malta registered boat, US habit reigns. And I subsequently learned that these also apply to most restaurants in the US itself. Those 'tips' are in fact supplementary salary elements because most US restaurants and cruise companies pay their staff well below the minimum wage. I am not making this up - it is an easily verifiable fact. I felt so strongly about this issue that I wrote a special blog in which the detail of my research can be found - http://pedro-in-spain.blogspot.com/

And if you think that by opting for the automatic gratuity system you are free from having to 'tip', you will be confronted by sad faces from the ship's service staff when you provide them with nothing at the end of the trip. I was not prepared for this second round of 'tipping' and so I arrived unprepared (no cash in my pocket) on the last night.

I remain rather bitter at the industry for conning us that 'tips' are a voluntary recognition of a high service quality, when in fact they are a sly way for the restaurant or cruise company to move legitimate operating costs (in this case salaries) from themselves onto their guests and trying to camouflage this as a payment for exemplary attention and quality. And it gets even worse as I posted on the blog. Amongst these are that tipping levels have reached 20% in New York and Miami, and seem set to go even higher.

As a result of my extremely awkward embarrassment on that ultimate cruise night, I offer this post to first-time European cruisers so as not to make the same gaffe as I did. I also advise them to evaluate their 'dining out in the USA' and their cruise trip values by adding at least 15% to the seeming 'full cost' that they are expecting.

So if you are ever accused of being tight-fisted because you usually tip 10% and not the ridiculous 20% or more, then take solace in the fact that you are used to companies paying a liveable basic wage.

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