USA TODAY Takes A Look At Cruise Ship Gratuities

 USA TODAY published an article today titled USA TODAY's Guide to Cruise Ship Gratuity Charges

This is a topic which we write about quite often, as the cruise lines try to maintain their high profits while building bigger and bigger cruise ships which are getting more expensive to operate.  

Any discussion involving cruise ship gratuities really involves three issues, in my view: (1) cruise lines are dictating that everyone pay a gratuity of a certain amount, regardless of the level of the services, (2) cruise line are diverting monies paid in gratuities to fund the salaries of crew members "behind the scenes" (like cooks, cleaners, etc.) who typically do not receive gratuities, and/or (3) cruise lines are Carnival Cruise Gratuitiesdiverting the income paid in gratuities into the cruise lines' profits?

The article addresses the first issue head-on and points to the general belief of the public that "tipping is a personal matter that should be left to passengers." Many critics of mandatory/automatic gratuities say that a gratuity must be earned; if the guest receives excellent service, they will tip well (sometimes more than the recommended amount), but if the guest believes the service is bad, they will pay a lower amount or perhaps nothing at all. 

But many crew members such as waiters or cabin attendants do not receive any salary at all. They earn 100% of their income from passenger gratuities. For the longest time, Royal Caribbean paid its waiters and cabin attendants received a salary of only $50 a month, although hard working waiters and motivated cabin attendant could collect several thousands of dollars a month from tips and gratuities. But the tips are tighter now and, with the auto-gratuities, less likely to end up with the waiters and cabin attendants. It is unfair for them to work for a pittance. 

Many cruise lines permit the guests to adjust or remove the gratuities while they are on-board the ship. NCL requires its guests to go through a onerous process of filling out forms after the cruise before a gratuity can be lowered or removed. 

Many crew members complain that many passengers wait until the last day of a cruise to remove all of the gratuities from their bills. 

Last year, Carnival crew members published a Facebook post (since taken down) showing the names (subsequently redacted) and cabin numbers of Carnival passengers who removed their automatic tips. Some of these people may have removed the pre-paid gratuities and paid cash but many may have stiffed the crew.

The real problem as I see it is that cruise lines are not being transparent with who exactly receives the automatic gratuities. The USA TODAY article writes that cruise lines say that the increased gratuities "will be passed on to crew members in recognition of their service." But many guests do not want to tip crew members who they never see (such as a galley worker). Many also believe that the cruise lines should pay their crew members decent wages and not require the passengers to be responsible for the crew's salary.

The USA TODAY article touches upon this issue, writing that "some see the charges as a thinly disguised method for cruise lines to push the responsibility for paying crew members to their customers." Disguising the real purpose of a gratuity is a type of fraud, in my opinion, where a cruise guest may believe that he or she is paying the extra gratuity to their wonderful waiter or cabin attendant who went above and beyond for their family for a week, but the reality is that their gratuities are spread throughout the housekeeping and dining room departments to pay salaries as well as for "alternative services," according to Carnival. (See Carnival's explanation of where the tips go here; and Royal Caribbean's explanation here; NCL does not disclose any details as far as I can tell). The USA TODAY article says that "as much as 95% of pay for some cruise ship workers now comes from automatic gratuities, according to CruiseCritic."

And does anyone really trust that the cruise lines are not pocketing the gratuities as part of onboard revenue? The USA TODAY article does not touch this topic. Over 25 million people will sail on cruise ships this year. Whereas the luxury lines like Azamara, Crystal, Seabourn, Regent and SeaDream do not charge automatic gratuities, the mass lines like Carnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean do. If 15 million passengers are charged at a rate of several hundreds of dollars a week in auto-gratuities, there are many hundreds of millions of dollars at play over the course of a year. (Carnival charges an average of over $360 a week for a family of four staying in a standard stateroom). 

NCL's CEO Frank Del Rio said during an earnings conference in 2015 that for every dollar collected in an increased gratuity, NCL earns an extra $15,000,000. Does anyone really think that the crew members are enjoying this extra income?

Between the greedy cruise executives and the miserly passengers who remove gratuities, the hard-working crew members seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

April 3, 2017 Update: A crew member wrote today, to me saying: Yes cruise lines are diverting tips to pay salaries of . . . even managers . . they use the tips to pay the bar manager, asst bar manager, housekeeper chief, asst housekeepers manager and food and beverage manager - they all get a slice of the tips."

Royal Caribbean Cruise Executive Concerned About Crime in Nassau

Oasis of the Seas Nassau BahamasThe Tribune newspaper in Nassau reports that during a meeting between the CEO of Royal Caribbean International brand, Michael Bayley, and Prime Minister Perry Christie, the cruise executive stated that he is “concerned” about high levels of crime in the Bahamas. 

Mr. Bayley says that he has previously communicated his concerns regarding the issue of crime affecting his Royal Caribbean customers to the Bahamian government through the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA).

He claims that his cruise line's ships bring around 1,700,000 guests to the the Bahamas each year. However, if his cruise customers do not feel safe visiting the country, they will no longer vacation in the Bahamas, he says. 

Many cruise passengers to Nassau have told us over the last few years that they do not get off of the cruise ship upon arriving in the Bahamas because of crime ashore. 

Mr. Bayley says that Royal Caribbean is "committed to maintaining a concrete relationship with the country and plans to double visitor numbers over the next 10 years."  If true, this is an ambitious goal given the high crime rate in Nassau and the opening of ports in Cuba to Miami based cruise lines. 

Ironically, the Royal Caribbean CEO was meeting with the Bahamian Prime Minister about the development of the cruise line's private destination in Coco Cay, Bahamas. With the development of a large fixed pier, the priavte cay will be able to receive larger cruise ships including the Oasis-class ships which carry up to 5,400 passengers.

As reflected in the comments to the article, many people feel that numerous  islands in the Bahamas are being developed as private resorts for the cruise lines to escape the problems with crime and trash which detract from Nassau's reputation as a top cruise port. 

In a PR news release, Royal Caribbean promised to increase the number of Bahamians employed by the cruise line in the next five years. This is an issue where the cruise line has failed miserably in the past. Compared to other countries like Jamaica where there are many thousands of cooks, cleaners and cabin attendants working in Royal Caribbean ships, there are relatively few crew members from the Bahamas working for Royal Caribbean.

Have a comment? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

March 9, 2017 UpdateGovt Should Be Concerned At Cruise Line’s Worries.

Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas in Nassau, Bahamas - Baldwin040 - CC BY-SA 3.0, commons / wikimedia.

Royal Caribbean Crew Members Smuggle Cocaine from St. Maartan to Port Canaveral

Royal Caribbean Cruise DrugsWFTV reports this evening that two Royal Caribbean crew members were arrested for smuggling cocaine aboard the Freedom of the Seas into Port Canaveral.

One of the Royal Caribbean crew members identified is Junior Ellision, age 31. The news station said that when "Ellision left the ship, he took a shuttle to a Merritt Island Walmart. Authorities said Ellision would pick up sandals filled with cocaine in St. Maarten and would wear them off the ship. Ellision would then go to the Walmart, buy a pair of sandals, and then put the cocaine filled sandals in the Walmart bag to deliver to someone else."

The other Royal Caribbean crew member, also from the Freedom of the Seas, is identified as Sheldon Grant. We do not know the job positions or the home countries of these two ship employees.

WFTV reports that the two crew members admitted that "they had made multiple deliveries and that someone paid them $1,250 each time" that they delivered the drugs. 

Drugs busts of Royal Caribbean and Celebrity passengers and crew members are not uncommon:

Allure of the SeasEmpress, Enchantment of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas, HorizonJewell, Liberty of the SeasSplendor of the Seas, and Summit.  

Video and image credit: WFTV

April 27 2016 Update:  Crew members have told us that the two crew members on the Freedom of the Seas are from Jamaica and worked as galley utility. 

 

 

Sexual Assault: Royal Caribbean Crew Member Sentenced to 13 Months In Jail

A newspaper in New Jersey reports that crew member Karan Seechurn was sentenced today to 13 months in jail for "abusive sexual contact."

Although federal prosecutors declined to identify the cruise line or cruise ship, the crime occurred on Royal Caribbean's new cruise ship the Quantum of the Seas sailing from Bayonne, New Jersey last December.

Seechurn was responsible for restocking minibars in guest cabins on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship. While he was off-duty, Seechum used a master key card and sneaked into a woman's cabin at night when she was sleeping.  He molested the woman in her bed. When the woman awoke and pushed Seechurn off her, he threatened to burn the cruise ship down if she told anyone. 

Seechurn is from Mauritius. We have previously reported on the crime here when he was arrested and here when he pled guilty. We are aware KARAN SEECHURNof many sexual crimes on cruise ships where male cabin attendants or room service employees use master card keys to enter cabins and attack women.   

Seechurn faced up to three years in prison but received just 13 months. Because he has already served 7 months and 2 weeks, he will be given credit for time served and will serve a maximum of another 5 months and 2 weeks. If released early, which is probable, he will serve less than a year in jail and will be home by Christmas. A light sentence no doubt.

The newspaper also says that Seechurn will have a year of supervised release. This will be impossible because Seechum will be immediately deported when he is released from jail. It is impossible to supervise him once he returns to Mauritius.

Over 15 years ago, Royal Caribbean commissioned experts to study the problem of sexual assault in the Royal Caribbean-Celebrity fleet.  The experts concluded that sexual misconduct occurs frequently and that most crew members think that the worst thing that will happen to them if they engage in a crime is that they will simply be fired and flown home.

It is important that sexual offenders on foreign-flagged cruise ships serve stiff jail penalties in order to spread the word on the ships that there are real consequences if you sexually abuse women or children at sea.   

Unfortunately, a 13 month slap on the wrist does not act as a deterrent to such a crime. 

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Photo Credit: Karan Seechurn Facebook page

Crime, Crew Member Treatment & Environmental Practices - Not "Wow" Gadgets - Will Shape the Millennials' View of Cruising in the Future

This week I have read a couple of articles about the Cruise Lines International Association's (CLIA) "Cruise 3 Sixty" conference in Fort Lauderdale. I read an article in the Sun Sentinel (Cruise Execs Talk About Industry's Future) and an article in Travel Weekly (CEOs Say Cruise Lines Must Wow Travelers).

CLIA's Christine Duffy moderated the conference attended by the travel agent loyals. She discussed the future of cruising with the executives of the major cruise lines like Richard Fain (Royal Caribbean), Arnold Donald (Carnival), Kevin Sheehan (NCL) and Pierfrancesco Vaga (MSC Cruises).

"The Millennials"

To attract more first-time cruisers, CLIA is targeting the "Millennials" (consumers born between 1980 & Millennials2000).  

The Sun Sentinel quotes Ms. Duffy saying: "This demographic group offers a window into the next generation of travelers and provides opportunity for serious growth. They have a strong desire to travel and to share experiences."

In simple terms Ms. Duffy is talking about the next generation of young people from age 14 to 34 (like my children and nieces) who CLIA is targeting as the next wave of 25 to 55 year-old cruisers. 

Who are these "Millennials?" What will they be interested in for their vacations?

Selling cruises to the the "Millennials" will not be an easy task. 

First, they are poorer than prior generations. They have more debt and student loans. And it won't be difficult to sell them cruises just because they will have lower incomes and less wealth. It's because there will be a disconnect between what the Millennials are interested in and what the cruise lines are offering, and because the Millennials will have a greater social consciousness than the current cruisers.  

Wow Gadgets Won't Wow the Millennials

The articles report that the cruise industry is trying to attract more first time cruisers by offering the public "more innovative ships with 'wow' features."

A recent publication correctly called the Millennials "digital wizards." Like my kids, they have grown up with high tech gaming toys seemingly before they could walk or talk. I don't see the Millennials being impressed by the "gee-whizz" and so-called "wow" gadgets being touted by Royal Caribbean (virtual balconies & the "North Star" device) or Princess (the "SeaWalk"). The Millennials are smart and their taste for technology is sophisticated. My kids have been mastering Apple products for 15 years. They Royal Caribbean Bumper Carsare not easily impressed with what I or the 60 and 70 year old cruise executives think are "cool." 

Some of the new attractions touted by the cruise lines are hardly wow gadgets in the first place. The bumper cars projected to appear on Royal Caribbean's next ship are a silly, old-school idea.  The Travel Weekly article even talks about "bowling alleys and self-leveling pool tables" and quotes Royal Caribbean's Chairman Richard Fain saying: "All of that conveys what cruising has to offer. It says something about what the industry stands for.”  Circa 1950 bumper cars, bowling alleys, pool tables for the Millennials? You have to be kidding me.   

The Millennials are less privileged, more diverse, and more liberal than today's cruisers. 4 out of 10 will not be white. They will be more sensitive to the plight of workers in the international community being over-worked and underpaid. They will be more attuned to environmental issues. They will have a greater understanding of the fragility of the air and water ecosystems that the cruise lines routinely abuse.

Human Rights, Not Bumper Cars

In the last three months, one cruise line in particular, MSC Cruises, has repeatedly made the news in the worst sort of way. Just this year, passengers and crew members have accused it of dumping garbage bags at seas in marine sanctuaries. The police and labor authorities raided one of MSC's ship to investigate allegations of the cruise line abusing crew members. MSC has drawn the ire of environmentalists by sailing through the San Marco basin and damaging the port in Venice.  

The traditional newspapers, like the Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald, and travel publications like Celebrity Crew MemberTravel Weekly, have given little attention to these type of horror stories.

The image of the cruise industry will be shaped by issues like crime on cruise ships (a Disney crew member allegedly molested a 13 year old girl yesterday), crime in ports of call (a NCL crew member was shot and killed this week in Roatan), treatment of crew members from around the world (Carnival & Royal Caribbean seem to be competing to see who can best screw the crew members), and the cruise industry's pollution of the air and sea (have you seen the videos of MSC dumping trash?)

These are important issues that the Millennials will focus on. In the next 10 to 20 years, we will see the continued rise of social media and the presence of more contemporary publications focusing on issues of relevance to the Millennials.

Old school newspapers, which often blindly cater to the cruise industry, will continue to decline in readership and relevance.  

The bumper-car-and-pool-table and gadget-promoting cruise lines will lose the Millennials as customers unless they understand what the future really holds and begin to address issues of crime, crew member rights and environmental problems.  

After a Series of Power Outages, is the Royal Princess Really Ready to Cruise?

On Sunday we reported on the 3 - 4 hour power failure aboard the Royal Princess when it was sailing in the Mediterranean between Greece and Italy.

The Princess cruise ship finally limped into Naples (where it remains today, see Princess Cruises web cam) and the cruise line canceled the remainder of the cruise.  Several thousands of passengers were flown home from Naples.  

The BBC reports that the Royal Princess next cruise is scheduled for Friday, September 27th from Barcelona, but that cruise was in doubt given the power failure and need for repairs.

Today, Princess released a press statement indicating that the Royal Princess will be starting its Royal Princess Web Camnext cruise this Friday from Barcelona and that the cruise is scheduled to be a 12 day event ending in Venice. The cruise line said that the necessary (although unspecified) repairs would take place as the ship sailed from Naples to Barcelona. 

Princess finally disclosed today that the cause of the power outage may have been an electrical breaker. 

Several readers of this blog brought to my attention that the power failure this weekend is not the first power outage the Royal Princess has suffered since its inaugural cruise in June. A Cruise Critic member posted a review of the Royal Princess indicating that the new ship had a power failure last month. Here's what the member posted:  

The new Royal Princess cruise is full of technology, state of the art entertainment facilities, an amazing showroom, a breath-taking sea bridge, and a service level that reflects Princess fleet of large cruises. However, I was surprised that when we sailed out of Athens on August 20 at around 9:30pm that the power went out on Black Out twice in a row in the cruise ship which on the second time caused the ship to stop or halt completely offshore for at least 30 minutes until power was restored.

On the second black-out we heard an announcement "Assessment Team to Bridge" however passengers were not fully informed of what happened and why the standby generators failed to bring power up for the first time which probably caused engines to over heat and thus open decks 4 and 5 for ventilation especially that the ventilation and A/C systems did not work and kitchen fumes came out.

Next morning the Captain gave us assurances that all systems were restored and that the ship had an emergency reserve system to sail safely to the nearest port. I guess this was an embarrassment to the manufacturers of the boat and electrical systems especially that the boat is brand new!

Professor Ross Klein's website has a similar post about a power outage from a cruise passenger which you can read under an entry on August 23.

There is no indication regarding the cause of the power outage last month or whether the cause was the same for both outages.

The 12 day cruise starting this Friday is also the start of a thirty day cruise. On October 9th the Royal Princess will begin to head west for a cruise across the Atlantic to Fort Lauderdale.

Let's hope that the proper repairs to the problems are made and that there are no power outages during the transatlantic cruise in October.