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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, They’re great for research before a cruise and griping afterward.

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