Carnival Cruise Line has quietly raised the automatic gratuity that it charges for onboard beverages and a la carte dining outlets from 15 percent to 18 percent, matching the amount charged by other major cruise lines. But there is some controversy in the press over whether all of the gratuity will actually go to the servers.
CrewCenter.com, a website for cruise ship crew members, on Friday printed a letter from Richard Morse, senior vice president of hotel operations, announcing the increase and noting that guests’ bills also will have a line asking if they would like to add an additional amount.
“From this 3 percent increase, 1.5 percent will go to server and remaining 1.5 percent will go into the ASP pool,” the letter says. “As you know, the ASP pool funds employee compensation and benefit programs that you receive; including bar level pay, itinerary stipend pay, as well as free uniform and return airline tickets.”
The letter goes on to thank the crew for their hard work. “Our bartenders and bar waiters lead the cruise industry in compensation,” it notes. “This is a result of everyone's hard work and efforts to increase overall bar sales, as well as the success of the Working Smarter program. As we look forward to 2019, we expect this trend to continue, and this will ensure that Carnival Cruise Line remains the employer of choice.”
Asked by Travel Market Report for further explanation, Carnival spokesperson Vance Gulliksen said gratuities “are shared across all crew members who support the beverage operations, including those our guests may not see but are working to stock, clean and run equipment and support tasks. A very small portion of the gratuity pool funds items that crew members normally cover beyond what the company pays for in travel and uniform costs.”
The crew “appreciate everything our guests do for them,” he said. “They work very hard and understand the policies in place. The salary Carnival pays them and the gratuities our guests give allow our crew to provide a better for life for themselves and their family. And they are also supportive of how we administer the pool portion of the gratuity, which fully and exclusively benefits our shipboard employees.”
Carnival also raised the daily gratuity charges on its cruise ships, effective Dec. 1. The new rates are $13.99 per day per person for standard staterooms and $15.99 per person per day for suites.
Gratuities are assessed on all guests over the age of two, and whether the guest eats at a restaurant or at a buffet.
Raise prices or tack on a fee
The whole issue of gratuities is an ongoing subject for discussion among travel professionals and guests, many of whom wish the major cruise lines would just raise prices rather than tack on an extra fee.
“To say that a portion of gratuities will be used for uniforms and transportation is not right,” said Ann Erwin, manager of The Travel Shoppe. “And when the folks pay tips upfront, why should they work harder? I make sure my clients know they have the option of adjusting their gratuities, whether it be increasing them for great service or lowering them for lack of service.”
“I believe fares should be raised enough to include gratuities or a better rate of pay,” said another travel advisor on Cheryl Rosen’s Facebook page. “If we want to give a gratuity to somebody specific, they should be able to keep it.”
And indeed, many of the luxury cruise lines — including Azamara, Crystal, Seabourn, Silversea, and Viking — do just that.
But the major lines continue to bill customers directly for two reasons. First, they say, international customers from countries where tipping is not customary often do not understand how gratuities are part of the compensation of the crew. And second, the proliferation of venues means that guests have many waiters, and tipping everyone individually would be cumbersome.