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BAK1061 - I just read this to my hardened NY-er husband who responded, "that's right!". I cannot say that I disagree with anything you've written... and that is rather sad.
From what I read in comments and reviews, expectation outruns reality in the hundred-mile dash every time. Far too many people are naive and often seem completely uninformed about what to expect of their cruise vacation. They believe the marketing hype and do not bother to do their own homework. They don't understand the pricing structure and the charges above and beyond the cruise fare. They are under the mistaken belief that a cruise is an all-inclusive vacation - WHICH IT IS NOT in most cases. There are higher end lines that are more inclusive but the popular mainstream lines are not.... period.
As for tips, there is a cultural divide to acknowledge. Some cultures do not tip the same way that Americans are accustomed to. That aside the cruise industry has clearly targeted the American market. Just look at the number of voyages out of U.S. ports.
I believe that the people who don't tip on ships are the same people who are crappy tippers on land. Some may tip, but they do not tip to 15% let alone the 18% that is the standard auto-gratuity on many ships.
The cruise lines are the MOST to blame for this issue. They are not clearly stating that cruise vacations are not all-inclusive. They sucker new customers into cruising with pretty pictures of a wonderful time... which it is and has been for us for many years. The cruise companies will not raise baseline prices in order to remain competitive. The tipping policy is (as perceived by some) a sneaky way of raising crew compensation that does not carry an impact to the baseline cruise price.
So should the baseline cruise price increase to the amount of crew compensation that is made up by tips and then discretionary tips really are for individual recognition of service excellence?
I disagree with you on the cruise lines not letting customers know that cruises aren't all inclusive. Just about everything I have ever read on cruises let you know that you are responsible for the cost of your excursions, your alcohol/soda purchases and anything else(specialty dining, etc.) that doesn't pertain to your included meals and the cost of the cruise itself. I most definitely knew when I took my first paid myself cruise(1st cruise was in high school) that it wasn't the same as an all inclusive resort where you do not have to pay for your alcoholic drinks, do not necessarily have to tip, and have basic water sports included.
I always prepaid my gratuities and think if your room steward or wait staff do a great job of taking care of you, that you should set aside extra monies to give to them at the end of your cruise.