For Your Next Vacation, Try Norwegian's Exciting All-Upsell Cruise

Jarrod tells Consumerist that his father-in-law recently traveled to Alaska with Norwegian Cruise Line. His biggest gripe was that everything a passenger could do on board, including purchases in the gift shop, carried an automatic 18% gratuity. This would be acceptable if the service were good enough to justify a tip at all. But Jarrod notes, “[Room stewards] knew they were getting an automatic 18%, so why work for it?”

Other passengers agreed with Jarrod’s father-in-law, and wanted refunds of the mandadory gratuities. Jarrod writes:

I’m writing on behalf of my father-in-law who just returned from a Norwegian Cruise to Alaska. He was bitterly disappointed with NCL and will never patronize them again. He fully intends on writing them a letter, but the $200 or so in trip credit he would probably receive isn’t enough of an enticement for him to sail with them again.

Norwegian calls themselves the “freestyle cruise line”, offering patrons a choice in entertainment and dining options. Yes, patrons have dining options: a free “buffet” and traditional restaurants where diners have to PAY to eat.

The cruise did everything in their power to force people to the pay restaurants. The buffet featured foods that were lukewarm at best, but more often cold. The food certainly wasn’t fresh. The only way to guarantee a “hot” meal, was at one of the paid restaurants. Kind of scary that they’re sacrificing safety to make a quick buck. And one wonders why so many people get sick on cruises.

At least twice a day, they made announcements about specials in the duty free gift shop. The ship should have changed it’s name to the MSS Blue Light Special.

Whenever a purchase was made at the gift shop, they automatically added an 18% gratuity to the purchase. Really, at the gift shop? They also automatically added 18% gratuity when dining in the “pay” restaurants regardless of party size. AND, they also automatically added 18% gratuity for each person in the cabin, which translated into $24 per day, in my father-in-law’s case. The room stewards were non-existent, essentially phoning in their duties – heck, they knew they were getting an automatic 18%, so why work for it?

At the end of the cruise, there was a line of angry people demanding refunds for the 18%. The cruise gave those that asked for them a “gratuity refund request” form – an appeal letter that the customer fills out and hopes that the cruise line will process. One passenger in line told my father-in-law that he was going to call Amex to contest the charges for the entire trip.

While they had a good trip, they would rate their experience on the ship itself as poor and will never patronize NCL again. The service was sub-par and the audacity to charge an automatic 18% on every purchase including those at the gift shop is galling. And the fact that the room stewards didn’t really do much to justify their automatic 18% tip was equally disturbing.

I’m really curious to know if other Consumerist readers have had similar experiences where they’ve been nickled and dimed by cruises. Is there any other recourse that my father-in-law can take?

We’d love to hear from cruising Consumerists, but it’s also worth pointing out that the an excellent site that focuses on cruise experiences, Cruisecritic.com. They’re great for research before a cruise and griping afterward.

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Comments

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  1. wrjohnston91283 says:

    I did a week on the Oasis by Royal Caribbean. They added 18% to all pay restaurants and drinks, but not on the free restaurants (but you could tip) and not on gift shops. The stateroom attendents got what you gave (although we selected the “eat whenever” package which did include prepaid gratuities – we gave extra since the guy went above and beyond.

    • Aennan says:

      I’ve have the same experience with Royal Caribbean. The service was often so good, that I would tip even on top of the 18% at the bar/paid restaurants. And, there were no surprises about what would a required ‘gratuity’ and what was not.

    • Hooray4Zoidberg says:

      I was on the Oasis over the summer, and I agree even though everything had 18% added on, the staff was amazingly attentive and helpful and worked just as hard. Also the pay restaurants were all flat fee per person, so whether you got a Filet Minion or a soup, or both it was the same price, you could also order multiple anything so it’s was still a pretty good deal. Want a second Filet, no problem and no extra charge.

      I did somewhat feel like the quality of “free” food was lacking quite a bit compared to the pay places. That kind of gave me the feeling they were pushing you towards the pay restaurants. But the steak I got at Chops was seriously on of the best cooked, juiciest Filets I’ve ever had in my life and I’m no stranger to eating at nice restaurants. It was worth the extra cash.

  2. coffeeculture says:

    sounds about par for the course for the cruise industry. went on a really “cheap” cruise and got burned in the end…chalk it up to a life experience, never doing that again.

    save your money and do some “real” traveling.

  3. 99 1/2 Days says:

    Well, he got the message out to others. So that’s something at least…

  4. deathbecomesme says:

    Im curious to know how much of that 18% actually goes to the employees?

    • BrianneG says:

      If the cruise line has no obligation to share the gratuity with their employees, then it’s likely the employees get nothing.

      • orange20854 says:

        I happen to know for a fact that Royal Caribbean International gives 100% of Automatic Gratuities to its staff, split up amongst the 300 or so bartenders, 50 dealers, and 750 wait staff.

        However, any Additional Gratuity, (as in the notorious “tip line”) is given directly to the person whose name is on the receipt.

        Finally, all gratuities are optional, and if you feel so inclined, Guest Relations will offer you an On-Board Credit for the amount of the gratuity you’d like returned to you.

  5. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    My wife and I were given a free Holland America cruise about 10 years ago (my grandmother got sick and gave us her room). Outside of drinks, it seemed like everything on the ship was included, including some of the best food I’ve ever ate.

    I don’t know how much the room cost but I know it was incredibly expensive. The entire experience, especially the staff, were just amazing.

    • fatediesel says:

      I had the same thing on a Carnival cruise. I went on cruises in back-to-back years about 1 years ago (when I was a minor with my parents). Both times there was no automatic gratuity, the food was amazing, and everything was free, even room service, with the exception of drinks. They didn’t even have an option for higher cost food. It’s sad the industry is nickel and diming customers for everything now.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      I’m sure this used to be standard. I went on a cruise in the 90′s on the now-defunct Big Red Boat and the only thing with an 18% gratuity was the bar.

  6. balthisar says:

    Serious question: is there even a true, all-inclusive cruise line, including drinks?

    I’ve been avoiding cruises ever since I’ve been married because of all of the nickel and diming, can’t bring your own bottle of Mexican tequila to your stateroom, etc., etc. It’s not even about the total cost, but rather having a single, up-front, pay-and-your-done experience.

    Instead of going on cruises, I’ve been a huge fan of some of the Mayan Riviera all-inclusive resorts, because they are all-inclusive, and there’s no nickel and diming, and I can give everyone the tip that I want to give, and even though my mini-fridge has free alcohol, I can buy and bring back other brands that I might want. (Okay, the only nickel and diming is selling cigarettes for US$8.00 whereas they only cost 30 pesos on the local market [that's about US$2.45]).

    • john says:

      As a travel agent, I can tell you that no, there are no totally “all inclusive” cruises. Once you get on board, you will pay for what you drink.

      To do a TOTALLY all inclusive vacation, the best bet is, as you state, one of the resorts in the Riveria Maya, Cancun, or various islands in the Caribbean.

    • Geekybiker says:

      Not that I’ve heard of. I think that drinks are a major major money maker for cruise lines. If they upped their price by a couple hundred bucks you’d lose all the non-alcoholics to other lines. I just wish they’d include fricken soft drinks. Having to pay extra for soda is annoying.

    • FatLynn says:

      Some of the ultra-luxury lines include your wine with dinner, but other drinks are pay-as-you-go.

    • tungstencoil says:

      Celebrity now offers drink packages; if you purchase the top-tier it includes all beverages up to $12 per, which is everything but expensive wine, scotch, and cognacs. While it’s not entirely all-inclusive, it approaches close. The only thing we could pay for was the premium restaurant (we did; not worth it) and expensive wines (again, they had a really good selection for $12 and under a glass).

      • 99 1/2 Days says:

        I could see it work like in some hotels, for a set charge have an evening lounge for like 6-9 each night where you get free drinks…

    • wrjohnston91283 says:

      Yes. Celebrity has a true all inclusive Galapagos tour on a 100 passenger ship. 10 days, all-inclusive including drinks and excursions. Starts around $5,000 a person I believe.

    • slightlyjaded says:

      I’ll vouch for Mayan Riviera. I’d take that 100 times out of 100 over a cruise. Half hour cab ride south of Cancun, beautiful, relaxing, and true “all inclusive”–including beer, wine, and standard bar liquor. And if you don’t feel like going to one of the (usually several) free restaurants, you can chill in your palapa on the beach, and wait for the waiters to come by offering sandwiches and taking drink orders (all included).

      Damn… I need to get back to Mexico.

    • operator207 says:

      Odd, this is the 5th time this week I have heard someone talking about resorts in Playa de Carmen. It also so happens that I will be leaving tomorrow to BE in Playa de Carmen. Secrets Resorts are nice!

      Paula better die out or move NorthEast quick!

      • JixiLou says:

        I loved the Mayan Riviera. Since we’re talking about it, thought I’d warn everyone to stay the heck away from Apple Vacations. I broke my arm on my honeymoon at the Iberostar resort in Playa del Carmen- there was a puddle of standing water at the top of one of the polished marble staircases, and I fell down the entire staircase. Apple Vacations was a total nightmare to deal with, they told me things were being taken care of, and then I never heard from them again.

        If you’re going to Playa del Carmen, avoid the Iberostar, and NEVER book with Apple Vacations. Get a real travel agent or book it yourself.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      Love Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel all inclusives.I think they are the best travel deal out there.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      Regent Seven Seas Cruises includes room service 24/7, all meals at any restaurant, all drinks*, airfare, ground transfers, all gratuities, and even shore excursions. They’ll even stock your mini-fridge with whatever beer or soda you like. We were in one of the mid-level suites and the only thing we paid for was internet access for a couple of days and souvenirs.

      Of course, it’s expensive, but if you compare it to always going with the “premium” food and drink on a standard cruise line, the total might not be much more than what you would pay on a standard cruise line. And believe me, you won’t run into any service issues like the OP. You also can’t minimize your spending the way you could on a standard cruise line, but it’s a good choice for a milestone anniversary trip or something.

      *Don’t worry, it’s not a catch, per se…they have some really, really good single-malt scotches and other high-end spirits that they do charge for, but the included drinks include many bars’ “top shelf” liquors.

  7. humphrmi says:

    Went on a Princess cruise (Crown Princess British Isles Cruise) this summer, and here’s how it broke down:

    - There was a ~$18 per passenger per day tip charged to the stateroom, which covered the stewards, all restaurant staff from the bus boy to the Maitre D’, etc. You could go to passenger services anytime they were open and request a change in the tip amount – up or down, or none if you wanted. No forms, they just punched some keys on their computer and your auto-tip got adjusted.

    - Free dining at traditional seating and several whenever-you-want table service restaurants. And of course the buffet.

    - Extra $20/pp charge for the Italian restaurant and the steakhouse. No automatic tip (even for our party of eight), we tipped what we wanted.

    - Drinks and bar service food were not free at bars, and there was an open tip-line (no auto tip). Some drinks were free at traditional dinner, others were charged.

    They had announcements about “specials” at the ship’s shops, maybe every other day or so, which were pretty easy to ignore. None of the shops tried charging a tip.

    We didn’t try the spa but I’m sure that they looked for tips.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I worked on Princess for a while and they seem a good middle-road cruise line. They are not exclusive or top of the line, but also not the most expensive. And just as you describe, they are not by any means all inclusive, but they also don’t nickel and dime you at every turn.

      They are reasonable, and thus you get a reasonable experience.

      My gripe, as with all cruise lines, is the alcohol policy you described. They overcharge on booze to no end. The cruise line pays no duty taxes for the booze, but still charges cruisers NY-bar prices. The employee bar prices are sweet, since they don’t charge us duty fees. And they don’t let passengers bring booze on board – they confiscate it. I have no idea if this is some law or not, but it clearly plays into their favor.

      • humphrmi says:

        Yeah, the alcohol policy is pretty strange, you couldn’t bring anything *except* one or two bottles onboard from the disembark, but you *could* bring alcohol that you purchased at shore excursions (we were touring the British Isles; it’s pretty hard not to buy alcohol in Scotland ;) within limits. However, one interesting thing I noticed – on the Crown, you were able to cash-and-carry your duty free gift shop alcohol purchases, and the prices were actually quite reasonable. Usually ships I’ve been on hold your duty free purchases until you disembark, but the Crown gift shops allowed passengers to take it to their staterooms. Which means you could drink on the cheap, as long as you liked the liquor that they sold in the shops.

        • humphrmi says:

          I should say, you could bring one or two bottles of champagne on board, when you first boarded the ship on the first day. And I think they charged a corkage. You couldn’t bring hard liquor, except from shore excursions.

          • mattarse says:

            Just out of curiosity – how do they know if you are bringing your own alcohol? They can’t be searching everyones bags can they?

            • amuro98 says:

              Yes, they do. Any time you come back from a shore excursion, you go through security, which involves putting your bags through an airport style x-ray machine, and walking through a metal detector. (they don’t make you take off your shoes though :-p )

              If you were bringing booze back with you, you would have to try smuggling it on board on your person, as the x-ray machine would detect it in your bags.

              At the same time, however, the alcohol policy is clearly spelled out on the cruise line’s literature on their website, as well as in the rooms, and you get reminded by the staff before going ashore. I can see why they do it (more $$$ for them) and I can see why passengers don’t like it (more $$$ for them) but it’s not as though the cruise line makes a secret of it.

              However I wonder what would happen if you tried bringing aboard a few cases of pop? At least on the Princess Cruise we were on, (regular) Coffee, Tea, Milk and Lemonade were free, but all pop and of course booze, was not. A can of Coke was $2 (plus 18% gratuity) but you could sign up for a cruise long, unlimited soda pop program for $25 for a 10 day cruise.

      • One-Eyed Jack says:

        Disney Cruise Line allows you to carry on alcohol and soft drinks. No trying to hide it in your luggage. We’re taking our first DCL cruise next September. There is one upcharge restaurant on board; the fee covers your gratuity as I understand it. Sodas are included at dinner.

  8. Riroon13 says:

    I did sail on the Carnival Triumph and this was one of the disappointments of the cruise — the automatic gratutity. The only thing that didn’t have a gratuity was the drinks in the mini-bar, although they had a restocking fee at the same rate as the gratuity fee.

    The only other complaint that I had was the way billing was handled. All on-board charges were posted individually instead of as a ‘grand total’. As we were paying with a debit card, we could imagine the nightmare if there was a bank error and we had 100+ overdrafts instead of one!

  9. waltcoleman says:

    18% gratuity for a cashier to ring up a t-shirt? That’s a load of crap. I can understand tips for service, but for merchandise sales? I wouldn’t buy a single gift shop item on board.

    I’ve cruised Princess and Royal Caribbean…both added gratuity to the final bill to cover the room steward and dining staff, but I’ve never seen a mandatory gratuity on merchandise purchases. Granted, it’s been 5-6 years since I’ve cruised so that may have changed.

    I’d recommend surfing online forums such as cruise critic before signing up for a cruise, just to find out what you’re getting into.

  10. D0rk says:

    Looks like i’ll be sticking to Royal Caribbean then. I only noticed gratuity on bar drinks, and I really don’t have intentions on buying food from one of their pay establishments.
    We set up pre-paid gratuities for the stateroom/dining attendants that automatically bills you for the average % (which I forgot) and tossed in extra cash for anyone who we felt earned it.

  11. Geekybiker says:

    That is horrible. I know that cruise ships love to stick you with optional extras, but they are normally really optional. I hate the idea of mandatory gratuities in general, but when it results in flaccid service, its not acceptable at all. I’m crossing NCL off my list of cruise lines, and I take a fair amount of cruises.

  12. Kat@Work says:

    I’ve been on one and only cruise. It was Carnival and it was just OK. Not worth the price. We went to guest relations and removed the auto-tip for the room steward and just gave him the cash we thought he deserved.

    Other than alcohol, everything was included, though there was a restaurant you could pay to go to, but the included ‘dinner’ at the sit down restaurant was just as good as the buffet, honestly – just a different selection. We didn’t like the dinner as it seemed too formal, but some people love that stuff.

  13. othersteve says:

    I’ve been on a couple of NCL cruises (including one to Alaska, possibly on the same ship) in the last couple of years and some of this seems fishy to me. For starters, he claims that the only options are the buffet or the paid restaurants — that’s not true. There are two main dining rooms with no charge as well. (To be fair, some have complaints about the quality of food in said dining rooms, but they’re certainly there.)

    The service charge is $12 per person per day — not 18% of anything. That’s in lieu of gratuities for your room stewards (housekeeping) and servers in the restaurant. You can tip above and beyond that if you want, but it’s not expected.

    I’ve bought stuff in the gift shop and have never been charged a mandatory tip there. The only automatically included gratuity I can think of, other than the daily service charge, is for bar drinks. (Maybe also spa treatments, I’m not sure as that’s not my thing.)

    For what it’s worth, before going on a cruise I did my homework and researched the costs up front so there were no surprises for us. And the service was fine, automatic tips or no. (Lots of people do good work in jobs that don’t customarily get tipped; why assume cruise staff should be any different?)

    I second Consumerist’s recommendation of CruiseCritic — lots of info there, and topics like these charges are covered very (very, very) frequently on the message boards.

  14. Jacquilynne says:

    I had a similar experience with Norwegian to Alaska. Coupled with the endless upsells and gratuities came the debarkation briefing in which the cruise director spent the better part of 20 minutes berating all the passengers into rating them perfect fives across the board.

    We absolutely didn’t. And then we left a note on the form about disliking being instructed on how to fill out our feedback form. Our hope was that the comments would get back to corporate, to let them know that the crew was manipulating the survey results, but I have little faith that they did. I’d bet our survey forms got ‘lost’ rather than submitted.

    • Sardis says:

      I know that Carnival now does an email survey. I am thinking that you weren’t alone.

      The thing I hated was always being led to give the staff a standing ovation. Felt like it was tacky.

  15. j_benj says:

    I took an NCL cruise to Mexico earlier this year and the sentiments expressed in this letter echo my feelings exactly. From day 1, I felt like it was upsell city. I mean EVERYTHING seemed to cost extra and there were gratuity fees tacked on to just about every on-board purchase I made. So much so that I was actually shocked that the slot machines in the casino didn’t nick me a 5 cent gratuity for every quarter I played (I hope they don’t see this post or you can expect that fee to show up).

    What’s even worse, the “concierge” and “butler” services that were included with my “VIP” suite were mediocre at best. From what we were told when we were upsold to “VIP”, the concierge would take care of “getting us into all the good restaurants” with “priority reservations”. Didn’t work out to be the case at ALL. THREE nights my parents, my girlfriend and I attempted to use our concierge to get dinner reservations at the pay-to-play restaurants, they failed to “get us in”. In fact, two of those nights we were told we couldn’t get reservations for our restaurant of choice AT ANY TIME THAT NIGHT. WTF?! Really?

    My parents still love NCL. My girlfriend and I swear we’ll never patronize them again.

  16. FatLynn says:

    I was on NCL when they first introduced “freestyle cruising” (circa 2000?). You could still eat for free in the main dining room, but the specialty restaurants cost more. We were not supposed to tip on drinks by the pool, so people were not in our faces the whole time we were out there. I don’t recall any trouble with the room services.

    Of course, this was on the Norwegian Dawn, and I suspect the ships going to Alaska are not nearly as large as those going to the Carribean.

  17. abberz3589 says:

    I did a Princess Line cruise to Alaska and loved every minute of it. Everything was prepaid, so you didn’t have to worry; there was a 24 hour buffet and two dinner dining times. We had prepaid for the dining times so we went to those, but for lunch you could choose to go to a restaurant or the buffet. The only thing we had to pay for on the ship were drinks, and since I was below 21 it wasn’t a huge deal. They had a deal where you could pay 20 bucks for all you can drink sodas for the whole trip, which was very nice.
    We met with people from the Norweigan line whenever we stopped, and they never sounded very happy.

    • mxjohnson says:

      Ah, even more hearsay.

      We’ve taken two NCL cruises to Alaska and were very happy with them. Despite what OP (or his father-in-law) says, you don’t pay at all the traditional restaurants. Yes, there are smaller specialty restaurants which charge $10-$25 per person (and they’re worth it, in my opinion). You generally need reservations for those specialty restaurants but for the huge main restaurants you just go when you feel like eating, not at some set time.

      Like other cruise lines, NCL charges for soda but sells a card that gets you unlimited sodas. I sincerely hope they don’t charge 18% gratuity on gift shop purchases. It surprised me to read that, and I wonder how accurate it is, since OP gets other details wrong.

      The $12 per person per day is standard for NCL, and it’s $12, not 18%. I don’t think it’s unreasonable; OP is mistaken if he thinks it’s just for the steward. We’ve always had remarkably good service on NCL, which is why we stick with them. We’ve always tipped the steward beyond the included gratuity, and usually the waiters in the specialty restaurants, too. The service has almost always been extraordinarily good, and has never been bad.

      We’ve met people while cruising who tell us they always contest the service charge, period. They’re like the Mr Pinks of the cruising world.

  18. hawkeyerant says:

    I just cruised for the first time early September with Carnival Fantasy. There was an automatic gratuity charge of $50/per person… not per room as we originally thought. We were able to go to the customer service desk and change who got what. The $50 was divided between the room steward, sit-down dining waiters (fancy dining at night) and all other kitchen staff/cooks. We ended up changing our gratuity to give the room steward the most money, as he was awesome.

    An acquaintance of ours actually went to guest services and asked them to remove his gratuity, and his request was granted.

    There also was a 15% gratuity charge for beverages… and it was applied to a souvenir I bought onboard.

    I didn’t feel like anything was excessive on Carnival, but that said, I wouldn’t cruise again. Everything was so expensive and I much prefer those all-inclusive resorts.

  19. tungstencoil says:

    I just (Sept) went on an Alaskan cruise with Celebrity. In nearly every respect, it was awesome and not what the OP described with NCL. CruiseCritic.com is a great resource indeed.

    Specifically:

    1. There was one upsell restaurant, but there were two ‘regular’ restaurants and a buffet.
    2. You paid for any drink besides tap water, coffee, and iced tea – but they had several tiered beverage packages. They’re kind of pricey, but with the uber-premium package we did the math and found out we’d saved about $400 (OK, we drink a lot).
    3. Automatic gratuities could be removed with a written or verbal request to guest services. We found the service to be both outstanding AND genuine (rare indeed!), so we actually increased our gratuity.
    4. No gratuity on non-service purchases.
    5. Upsell/sell attitude was, indeed, a bit annoying. On Celebrity, it took the form of thinly-veiled “activities” designed to get you excited about spending more money. It was super-easy to avoid them, so it wasn’t a big deal.

  20. Turnabout is Flair Play says:

    The fact that “so many people get sick on cruises” is a myth.

    I sail Carnival, but as far as I know, EVERY cruise line charges gratuities each day for each person.

    Cruising is not for everyone, but tips are required on cruises, and yes, you get charged gratuity everywhere on the ship.

    • stebu says:

      I know that the Disney Cruise Line only has mandatory gratuities on alcohol. You have to go to the guest relations desk to get stateroom attendant/wait staff gratuities added to your tab.

  21. valthun says:

    I went on a cruise just this last spring on Cunard’s QM2 for my honeymoon. It was fantastic. There was an automatic gratuity for the steward and waiters in the dining room. The steward was fantastic, she called us by name when seeing us in the passageways. Knew when we were gone and had our beds turned down while we were at dinner and made while we were at breakfast.
    The waiter was a bit slow with bringing out our food, but it was always the right temperature, and after the first night knew to only place two wine glasses on the table of 8.
    There weren’t any gratuities in the library or gift shop that I was aware of and in the pub we were able to add a tip if we wanted to, it was not automatic.

  22. wootbot says:

    We thoroughly enjoyed our NCL cruise out of Miami, but I have to agree that the nickel-and-dimeing was distasteful. I didn’t have a problem with the food or service (both were excellent), we liked the “freestyle cruising” aspects of the service, and we thought the upcharges for the specialty restaurants (typically around $20 – $30) were good value.

    But the 18% across the board? Not liked. And the alcohol thing was ridiculous. Imagine you’re returning with a couple of nice bottles of wine you enjoyed sampling while on-shore. Well, forget any notion you might have had about kicking back and enjoying them on your balcony because NCL (and most cruise lines) nab those and lock them up until you return to home port.

    The CNBC program “Cruise, Inc” explained that for me – on the 7 day Caribbean cruise they followed, whether or not NCL made a profit literally came down to bar sales on the last night.

    I would have jumped at the chance to go again if it wasn’t for some of the tackiness described. I’m getting the distinct impression that I’m far from alone in that sentiment – so hopefully some cruise people are reading all of these comments and will tailor their product accordingly. If they marketed well and justified a higher price with more value then I’m sure a lot more of us would go more often.

    • tinmanx says:

      I saw the CNBC program as well. I guess my wife and I are bad customers. We don’t drink, and if we do it’s 1 or 2 per cruise. I try my best not to spend any money on cruises. If it cost money, I don’t want any.

      On our honeymoon cruise we probably spent less than $20 for the 8 day we were on board. It was for an underwater camera and dress pants ($3! Even the cashier couldn’t believe it!). We had a few drinks as well, but the $20 ship credit we received by booking via Expedia covered that. Tips are another story, since all the staff were good, I have no problems paying tip.

    • AllanG54 says:

      I’ve been on 22 cruises on 6 different lines. The gratuity is always added on bar tabs and it’s usually less than what you would give if you were in a bar or being served. If a beer is $5.00 the 18% tip is a big 90 cents. I would never give less than $1 anyway. So stop complaining. And I have never seen a tip charged in a gift shop so I think the OP’s uncle is mistaken or just full of crap. Also, the cabin steward gets a fixed rate of $3.75 per person per day, not a percentage though if you’re ordering from room service the tip is probably tacked on to that.

      • wootbot says:

        I think you missed the point. I’m not complaining about the bar tab. I’m complaining about the fact that they confiscate any alcohol brought on board. When you go on a shore excursion and visit an alcohol provider as a featured part of a tour and then buy a bottle of whatever they’re selling for personal consumption (local tax paid), then I don’t see why you can’t consume that at your pleasure in your cabin or store it or pay U.S. duty on the remainder it when you return. Apparently, you enjoy having your freedoms curtailed. I don’t.

  23. MustWarnOthers says:

    My fiancee and I (got engaged on the cruise) and another couple went to Bermuda through Norwegian back in late May/Early June.

    It ended up being about 740 per person, including port fees and up front Gratuity.

    They Nickle and Dime the hell out of you, but we didn’t really mind. You just have to pay attention.

    Each time your order drinks, the gratuity is usually included, so just don’t tip anything extra. Also, they pull that nonsense where if you order a drink, the price includes the souvenir cup, and you have to keep it to continue getting the better price/larger drink.

    Here’s an easy answer for you drinkers:

    http://www.amazon.com/Easy-Traveler-Spring-Break-Cruise/dp/B0023GKHIO/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1286987013&sr=8-4

    Best 20 bucks I’ve ever spent. Saved us probably $300+ in drinks alone. They are so reliable, that I had the smaller 8 oz flasks in my single strap bookbag, full of rum and vodka, and I didn’t even know it! I had left them in the back zipper pocket, and they went through X rays like 5 different times without showing up.

    You just fill them (the large flasks hold nearly a handle of vodka), put them under all your clothes, and they are invisible to x-ray scanners.

    Get the Souvenir cup once (we got 4), drink the drink, the just order juice/soda or get it free when you can and add from your flask. We still bought buckets of beer here and there, but it was so satisfying knowing I had dozens of drinks which cost less than a dollar or two a piece.

  24. ehchan says:

    Hmm.. I just cruised NCL last month on the Pearl from Vancouver to Los Angeles… What he says is mostly true, but we were not charged tip at the gift shop. Also, there were 3 FREE sit down restaurants that had decent hot food — 2 nicer ones, and 1 diner with burgers and salads.. THat said, NCL is a floating wallet suck. I really enjoyed Celebrity Cruise much more, even without the many dining options, due to great service, much better FREE food, and a less crowded boat.

  25. sirwired says:

    I will add that AutoTip has been a godsend for the crew. It was quite common, before AutoTip, for passengers to not tip anybody involved. It was tragically frequent that customers would skip the last dinner in the dining room (eating in the buffet) just to avoid having to tip their Dining Room steward.

    But yes, the flip side is also true that with AutoTip, some servers no longer feel obligated to give a $hit about service.

    Really, the real solution is for the cruise lines to pay their people properly, and then give tips for true service.

  26. Joseph49 says:

    I and my wife just finished a cruise on NCL to Alaska in August, and I cannot agree with the comments of the OP.

    The gratuity, which covers the wait staff and room stewards was $12 per person per day, not 18%, which on a balcony cabin for two would have been $540 vice the $168 we paid. The room stewards did an excellent job, and we rewarded them with an extra tip for their service.

    The charge for the specialty restaurants were a flat rate with no additional gratuity added. It was roughly $20 per person.

    Gratuities were added to any drinks, which we did not pay since neither of us are drinkers. There was not a gratuity added to the ship store or photo shop purchases. I still have the receipts.

    There are two NCL ships that sail to Alaska, I can only speak for the ship I was on. The main dinner room meals were hot and delicious. The buffet was average and not remarkable.

    I will admit that the nickle and diming was prevalent, and they really pushed the bingo, which was overpriced. Personnally I do not like the new automatic bingo machines, where all you have to do is look at a machine and let it do all the work. On the three NCL cruises I have taken that used these machines, people who elected to use regular cards never once won.

    They push the alcohol, which can really add up on a bill. The average mixed drink runs between $6.95-8.95, with an 18% gratuity added.

    I enjoyed my cruises, although I did see many people complain about their room stewards. We were lucky in that respect.

  27. Joseph49 says:

    I and my wife just finished a cruise on NCL to Alaska in August, and I cannot agree with the comments of the OP.

    The gratuity, which covers the wait staff and room stewards was $12 per person per day, not 18%, which on a balcony cabin for two would have been $540 vice the $168 we paid. The room stewards did an excellent job, and we rewarded them with an extra tip for their service.

    The charge for the specialty restaurants were a flat rate with no additional gratuity added. It was roughly $20 per person.

    Gratuities were added to any drinks, which we did not pay since neither of us are drinkers. There was not a gratuity added to the ship store or photo shop purchases. I still have the receipts.

    There are two NCL ships that sail to Alaska, I can only speak for the ship I was on. The main dinner room meals were hot and delicious. The buffet was average and not remarkable.

    I will admit that the nickle and diming was prevalent, and they really pushed the bingo, which was overpriced. Personnally I do not like the new automatic bingo machines, where all you have to do is look at a machine and let it do all the work. On the three NCL cruises I have taken that used these machines, people who elected to use regular cards never once won.

    They push the alcohol, which can really add up on a bill. The average mixed drink runs between $6.95-8.95, with an 18% gratuity added.

    I enjoyed my cruises, although I did see many people complain about their room stewards. We were lucky in that respect.

  28. sreppok says:

    Just a reminder to everyone:

    You SHOULD READ all info regarding to large purchases, including cruises. All cruise lines have default tipping policies, however, you can adjust the amount you tip at any time, for any reason. You must contact the Service Desk when you get on board, and you must mention to each bar or premium restaurant that you have already taken care of tips.

    Also, its very good to note that you cannot know how much of the tip goes to employees, so my suggestion is to have extra cash in your room safe, and distribute accordingly. However, there is no way you can tip the cookstaff, laundry staff, etc, so I also suggest that you tip a percentage of your total cruise price, such as 15%. You can send this gratuity to the cruise line anytime before, during, or after the cruise. A flat tip plus cash handouts is an excellent way to limit the excessive tipping and fees which can accrue on a cruise.

  29. madtube says:

    My wife and I did an Alaska cruise with NCL in May 2007 for our honeymoon. I am a penny-pincher, so I would check our bill everyday. The only time we got charged the 18% gratuity was when we ate at one of the “specialty” restaurants, which was only twice in the 7 day cruise. As far as the rest of the eating establishments go, we had excellent and hot food from everywhere. There was fresh food always at the buffet, and the always open diner never disappointed us. I feel for the OP and wish he had better treatment on his cruise. Either his experience was an isolated incident or our experience was the isolated incident but regardless, we had a fantastic time on our Alaska cruise with NCL. My hope is that the OP’s trip was a rarity.

  30. oldwiz65 says:

    I’m shocked that your only option for free dining on a ship would be a buffet that’s neither hot nor tasteful. I’ve always read that dining on a cruise ship was supposed to be one of the big draws and the food was included and would be excellent. If good food costs extra, what’s the big incentive? The cruise lines advertise ridiculously low fares then charge you extra for everything they can think of. There is zero incentive for either wait staff or cabin staff to do a good job if they are going to get a fat tip anyway. There’s no way I would go on a cruise if I have to pay an extra $20 per person for every meal just to sit down at a table with wait staff service.

    When you buy a plane ticket, the cost of the ticket is often only half of the total cost, so it’s not surprising that this would carry over to the cruise line industry. Maybe the cruise lines should also charge you $20 per piece of luggage you bring onto the ship. I’m sure a creative person should be able to think of many more mundane items they could charge you extra for. Need an extra pillow? $ 5 per day. Need another blanket? $10 per day. An 18% tip for ringing up a purchase in a shop? No way.

    Next thing you know the hotels will do the same thing; charge you an 18% gratuity per person just to have the beds made and a quick once over with a vacuum cleaner. Then they could add a fee to use the elevator, extra fee to turn on the TV, and maybe even an extra fee for soap in the bathrooms. I once spent a week in a hotel in Cincinnati Ohio that had no soap in the bathroom and repeated calls to room service produced no soap. We finally went to a drug store and bought dial.

    • humphrmi says:

      I think the OP was exaggerating about that. Several others have pointed out that both NCL ships that sail to Alaska offer traditional table service dining for free.

  31. GoTribe says:

    My wife and I have sailed with both Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. On neither of those lines did they charge a gratuity at the gift shop. The automatic tipping is there for a reason. Many times people weasel out of providing a gratuity to their waiters and cabin attendants. We have personally witnessed waiters and dining room staff busting their butts all cruise only to have a couple or family skip out on dinner altogether the last night of the cruise, where tips are usually given. The people who work on cruise lines are usually far from their homes and are working very hard for very little pay. Many times their tips get sent back to their families back home. Based on this article, I would never sail with Norwegian, but as another poster mentioned, not all cruise lines do this. Bottom line, if you don’t like the policies of a particular line, go with another. If you can’t afford to pay a tip, then you probably should stay home.

  32. Sardis says:

    “they also automatically added 18% gratuity for each person in the cabin.” 18 percent of what exactly?

    He is talking about the service charge. That is how the staff is paid. It is 12 dollars per person per day.

    The op’s statements are inconsistent with the FAQ on the NCl website, I hope that the consumerist will investigate this a little bit. I don’t think that it is good to charge a tip in the gift shop.

    On to the dining: to quote the ncl website:
    From traditional fine dining to endless buffets with custom-order action stations, there is a host of delicious options included in your cruise fare. For an additional cover charge, you’ll have access to a world of possibilities including gourmet French, Japanese teppanyaki and an upscale steakhouse – 14 different dining options in all.

    On both the star and the pearl (the two ships assigned to Alaska) they both say that traditional fine dining is included. It appears again that the op has found where NCL is incorrect on their website.

    It could be that the op didn’t know about the main dining room and only ate at the buffet. Then that is a error on the part of NCL.

  33. floridarob says:

    The ship in the picture is Royal Caribbean

  34. mechteach1 says:

    Has anyone actually fact-checked this letter? It looks like the Pearl and the Star are the two NCL ships that go to Alaska. Both of those ships have a main dining room, where you can sit down from breakfast, lunch, and dinner for free. There are standard daily gratuities included in your bill for the service staff in those restaurants (just as there are for the room stewards), but those are generally fully disclosed when you book the cruise, and are posted to your account whether or not you eat at that restaurant. Also, the letter writer makes it sound like you are charged $24 *just* for the room stewards – NCL standard policy is $12 per person per day for restaurant staff and room stewards.

    I realize that this comes off sounding like a big excuse letter for NCL. Personally, I hate the nickel-and-diming and the mandatory tips, but that is standard policy across many, many cruise lines, and to single out NCL for this (not to mention the inaccuracies in the letter) seems a bit unreasonable.

    • rhobite says:

      I was just going to post the same thing. The facts of this letter do not add up. All NCL ships including Star and Pearl have a main dining room which is included. In addition the OP must be confused, and is assuming that the $12/pp autotip equates to a percentage of their daily spend. NCL does not add a percentage gratuity to gift shop purchases, or to restaurant cover charges. Perhaps the OP saw that there is a gratuity on bar tabs and assumed this is the case everywhere?

      However I agree with the sentiment- NCL will do everything in its power to upsell you and charges you for alcohol, excursions, etc. Just get the facts straight before you complain about it.

  35. Yentaleh says:

    If you want to take a cruise up to Alaska, try the state ferries. You can even depart from Seattle and on a whole its a wonderful experience. However you are travelling basic, so no flashy lights and a dinner and a show. (Unless you want to eat up top and watch the heartier travellers……which is really entertaining, because half the boat is filled with hippies and fishermen. It gets boisterous but its safe.) You can stay in a stateroom or you can “camp” on top. (They wouldn’t allow me to do this because I’m in a wheelchair) You litterally pitch a tent and camp for the whole trip. The food isn’t bad and the stewards are actually really cordial and friendly. If you don’t mind going basic, try this route, you get to see all the things you would see on an Alaskan cruise and when you get to your destination, there is no iternary. You are in control of your holiday. (Also its great if you have a car. We did this trip from Seattle to Sitka and then drove to Juneau and Skagway. ) I imagine this route is cheaper than going on a cruise too. (For my family of four plus car, and stateroom it cost us around 1800$ U.S. Not too bad if you ask me.)

  36. sopmodm14 says:

    i’m not in favor of auto gratuities, and won’t patronize an establishment that installs one

    for large parties, 10 and over, i can probably accept, but they still have to earn it

    if the 18% of the fees where that bad and that rampant, you’d bet it’ll ruin 90% of the trip, and should be refunded so

  37. CalicoGal says:

    I am guessing that the OP:

    1- Has never been on a cruise before.

    2- Did no research about cruises before booking his.

    3- Did not read his cruise contract.

    I have been on a LOT of cruises on a number of different lines, including NCL, which was my second fave only after Celebrity.

    The bar service and specialty restaurants have always had a gratuity added.
    I am not believing the gift shop gratuity; unless it has changed recently, there is no such thing on any line.

    A few years ago, gratuities for your wait team in the dining room and your room steward were given in cash at the end of your cruise. But so many cheapskates pleaded ignorance and didn’t tip that the lines decided to add it automatically to your sail account.

    Fine by me, cause now I don’t have to gather all that cash at the end of my cruise. A passenger can certainly amend the auto-gratuity up or down to his liking.

    This guy is a whiny cruise n00b who made a big-ticket purchase without doing research or reading his paperwork.

    Do me a favor and don’t go on any more cruises… leave space for those of us who know what cruising is about.

  38. sopmodm14 says:

    we consumers prefer to get charged a fair rate for services and products, thats a given…..but to be charged something subjective is a pet peeve that crosses the line

    yes, its a business…..that deals with ppl

    you want to be in business that deals with just numbers be a statitician or accountant or lottery announcer

  39. Pax says:

    the IRS defines “gratuitas “a gift”. And further goes on to state that anythign which is mandatory, cannot therefor be considered a gift, and thus, not a gratuity.

    And they want their tax money on those not-a-gratuity dollars and pennies.

    So, is Norwegian declaring that income on their tax returns, and the wage/tax reports for it’s employees?

    If the answer is “no” … things could get very ugly, and very lawyer-laden, very quickly.

    • Liam Kinkaid says:

      I’m pretty sure the IRS doesn’t care whether or not the foreign workers (as many cruise line workers are) declare their gratuities as income. Further, as many people have stated, the amount of the gratuity can be changed up or down very easily. As such, it definitely passes the test of being a gratuity, rather than a mandatory charge.

  40. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    We went on a cruise with Carnival. It was wonderful. We paid out the butt b/c we got a balcony room, but we were also able to prepay gratuities. That was nice to see what it would be up front in one big sum. We also got a soft drink pass. The only thing we purchased on ship were a few martinis.

  41. blazingorbit says:

    I don’t think you can do much about the mandatory 18% gratuity (although strangely, I was on the Norwegian Epic two months ago and they did NOT charge a gratuity in the gift shop). However, you can go to the front desk at the end of the cruise and fill out a form to change the standard gratuity charge per passenger. However, if you wait until after the cruise, you may be out of luck.

  42. CurlyGirly says:

    We’re loyal Norwegian Cruisers and any cruise line, including Norwegian, states the gratuity fees per day up front. It’s so important to read all of the fine print in booking any vacation to know of any other fees that you may be charged. There were people complaing about all of the fees when we checked out on our last cruise, but it’s all there in the fine print people – know what you’re getting in to. We had an issue with an excursion on our last NCL cruise and we complained and were refunded more than half of the fee of the horribly botched excursion. So they aren’t all that bad. You just have to budget those extra fees in to part of your trip cost.

  43. daemonaquila says:

    This is the worst kind of scam, because staff rarely gets even a fraction (or any) of the “gratuity” when it’s added on automatically. The only way to tip and be sure the staff person gets the money is in cash.

  44. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I’ve never been on a cruise although I’d like to go sometime. My brother and sister-in-law have cruised and love it. I always wanted to go on the Princess line because when I was a kid, we always watched THE LOVE BOAT!

    Gonna remember this, about the gratuities. I wasn’t aware they were doing that.

  45. chiieddy says:

    Uh. I’ve been on NCL twice and once I was able to lower the gratuity by going to the guest relations desk and indicating I believed my service wasn’t up to par in my stateroom. It took 5 minutes.

  46. TPK says:

    If anyone is interested in seeing how the recommended staff tips and service charges compare among the major cruise lines, take a look at my Cruise Tip Calculator, found here:

    http://cruisetip.tpkeller.com/

    It was written to help people prepare for the traditional method of tipping, which is placing cash in envelopes and handing them out the last night of the cruise. Most lines do service charges now, or at least let you charge these amounts to your ship-board account.

    You can still use the web page to compare and budget.

  47. apasserby says:

    We were on the NCL Dawn to Bermuda in early May. We were certainly aware of the gratuity business because it was our second time with NCL. Therefore we paid attention to receipts and found the gratuity applied only to food and drinks not included with the cruise fare. Our room steward told us that they get paid $2400 a month, not including the tips. The steward also said the crew other than stewards, casino employees and food service do not get any of the 18%.

  48. hakkoz says:

    My husband and I went on the NCL Spirit from NYC in 2005. We loved it. The food was great and the service was wonderful. We were told that we didn’t have to tip on services because they would include the gratuity. We were also told that the gratuity percentage was not mandatory but done as a “courtesy.” We could “get out of it” if we signed the form to some extent saying that we had already tipped. Honestly, we didn’t mind it, but we made sure to warn our friends (both public school teachers) to be prepared on our second NCL cruise which was on the Majesty.

    The service on the Majesty was as atrocious as 4-hour old buffet food. However, we found a nice dress-up restaurant that came with good service and ate there the rest of the week. We learned that the small, old ship was being decommissioned and felt that was the reason the service was horrible. (Everyone in my party ordered alcohol by the pool which was served to them. I was told I had to fetch my own iced tea. Really? Was it really out of the server’s way to grab one iced tea when he knew he’d get the mandatory tip from the other three?)

    We had such a good time on the Spirit that we are willing to try NCL one more time. However, the experience in the article is disheartening.

  49. cheezfri says:

    None of this is meant to blame the OP, but…

    It’s pretty standard amongst all cruise lines to charge the automatic gratuities. Yes you can have the charges reduced, but you are supposed to bring any particular inadequacies to management’s attention right away, not just gripe at the end.

    That being said, I don’t believe our last NCL cruise included the 18% on gift shop purchases. And we also had a fairly nice cruise. Not luxury, but pretty decent for the bargain price. And I loved the fact that there was very little upselling of anything. Contrast that with my last Carnival cruise — despite the fact that we had an amazing cabin steward, we felt very pressured to buy stuff, including drinks, another cruise, jewelry, etc.