When you go out for dinner and the service was great, you probably think nothing of leaving a 20 per cent tip on top of your bill, as a thank you for a nice experience.  While that may seem perfectly normal in North America, you may be surprised to learn that would be more than double the normal tip you would leave in Latin America or much of Europe, and that some Asian countries have no custom of leaving any tip at all.  In fact, tipping is considered rude in Japan.

With such huge cultural differences, it’s no wonder that the issue of gratuities has become quite controversial when it comes to full service vacations, such as cruising.

Tipping on a cruise is expected, but just like the cultural differences between countries, every cruise line has a different set of guidelines for tipping.  Some will charge you 15 per cent automatically on your stateroom, dining room or bar charges.  Other cruise lines leave it up to your discretion.  Many allow you to pre-pay your gratuities.

While none of this may surprise you if you’re American, Mexican or Canadian, many travelers from other parts of the world find 15 per cent far too high, or the automatic charge for gratuities problematic.

With many cruise lines operating out of American ports with American customs, and the profile of cruise vacationers becoming increasingly international, cruise ship tipping is becoming a hot topic in the travel industry.

In Britain, recent polls have shown that more than half of British travelers didn’t approve of being required to pay a gratuity.  The British see a tip as reward for good service, and feel it should not be mandatory.  In fact, most British travelers felt gratuities should be included in the overall price of the cruise.

With such confusion over tipping, some cruise lines are opting for a more direct system, and moving away from the traditional idea of leaving the tipping up to the individual.  Some are adding a 15 per cent service charge to your bill, as is common practice in European hotels.  But while this may solve some problems, it can cause others.  The automatic charges have upset travelers who feel the additional costs are too high, or act as subsidies for staff salaries. The automatic charges also offend people who feel that they should be able to tip when they feel it has been earned, not as a matter of policy.

Some luxury cruise lines such as Cruise West, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea have policies of “no tipping expected”.

What’s important is for you to be aware of the tipping policy on your particular cruise.  You don’t want to leave a tip, only to find out you’ve already been charged an automatic service fee.  You probably also don’t want to leave the staff empty handed if they’ve provided good service, and you weren’t aware that gratuities were not included.

Every cruise line outlines their own tipping guide on their website.  If gratuities are left to your discretion, the cruise line will also post an outline of who you should tip, and how much is expected per day, and you can add or subtract from there.

With so many different customs around the world, and people traveling more than ever before, the debate over who to tip, when and how is not likely to be settled soon.  So before you set sail on your next cruise, find out what your ship’s customs are when it comes to properly rewarding the staff for their hard work at making your vacation perfect.

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