Escape the winter chill: “Tips” make for a perfect sea cruise

Escape the winter chill: “Tips” make for a perfect sea cruise

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Taking a cruise? Your ship stewards, servers and staff live off tips. Only American workers receive a minimum wage. Take some extra ones and fives to ensure a perfect sea cruise

Selling conch shells to the tourists in Nassau | Image by Tim Kern

INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 8, 2016 – It’s January. During many winters, I’ve looked heavenward and pleaded, “One day when it’s warm! Just give us one day!”

Wouldn’t it be great to get away for a few days, to worry about a sunburned nose, to wonder what to do next, to relax, to enjoy great food and be able to ignore everyone except the ones you really wanted to see?

That’s easy, and cheaper than you might think.

When I was presented with this proposition a year ago, I thought it might be a neat idea, but a cruise? Gawd, how awful! Stuck on some Love Boat with a few thousand people I don’t know, kids running all over, old bats trying to pick me up.

But my travel companion is the loveliest lady I know, and she asked me to at least try it. We had cruised four years earlier, on a different ship, and I didn’t mind it; however, it did not demand a “repeat” performance.

This time, she promised it would be better – on a new ship. I was going to say yes anyway. I always say yes to her.

Crewing on a cruise ship: hard work, pleasant surroundings

So we sailed out of Miami on Carnival’s flagship, the Breeze. The fare came to about $600 (more than a third of which represented taxes and port fees) for seven days, six nights, and four Caribbean ports – Antigua, Nassau, U.S. Virgin Islands and San Juan.

We didn’t need to pull out the passports, though they made things easier.  Regardless, if you leave America’s shores, take your passport.  Always.

Breakfast on board the Carnival Breeze | Image by Tim Kern
Breakfast on board the Carnival Breeze | Image by Tim Kern (click to enlarge)

The food was great, the cabin service was top notch. There was plenty of time to do whatever we wanted, whether on board or ashore.

But enough about me.

This is about the crew and the experience of being aboard a giant cruise ship, and the people who take care of the passengers and never let on that there is ever a problem.

On the Carnival Breeze, we noticed the clean, fresh-looking décor. It is engaging and without the garish look we noted on the old (since remodeled and renamed) Carnival Destiny.

“It’s Less Vegas,” we heard more than once, and we agreed.

The line’s new German designer has done the entire ship in just five pastel colors, with different textures on walls and floors, giving a “relaxing, integrated island feel” to the ship. As Pierre Camillieri, who ran the “passenger side” of the ship noted, “The exceptions are small, and deliberate.”

There are few things cruisers should know thatwill make things better for everybody.

The crew receive salaries, but live for tips. Workers on the ships are paid according to country of citizenship. Asians are lowest; Europeans are paid a little more. Bring a couple hundred dollars in singles and fives, and spread them around liberally.

Vacation ideas: The benefits of a cruise

Tips get things done. If someone’s “particular customer” asks for, say, a pizza at 2 a.m. and they have run out of the pre-made pizzas by then, your waiter has to pay the cook to make more. This time, it was $5, paid by the waiter to the cook.

That can be a day’s salary – tip the man!

We wanted an extra blanket; our steward had already done his own work and was finally on his brief sleep break, but the steward I found had to call our steward, who returned to his station and got us a blanket, immediately.

That was definitely worth a tip.

Our cabin steward left us plenty of surprises | Image by Tim Kern (Click to enlarge
Our cabin steward left us plenty of surprises | Image by Tim Kern (Click to enlarge)

Our cabin steward was super-attentive to our every whim, and surprised us with nice little extras. We gave him a couple dollars here, five there – and he was worth it!

The security guard took a photo of us together. He didn’t ask for a tip, so we tipped him.

Oh – and known non-tippers (everything apparently goes on your “permanent record”) are put at the crummiest tables, with other non-tippers; they are served by the least-experienced waiters, and last.

Significantly last.

Those at the “last” table can be getting their entrees after other tables’ diners have finished their desserts.

Find out which nationality predominates in the kitchen, and whenever that nation’s “special” is offered as the dinner entree, order it.

National pride tastes good!

Carnival joins its other cruise lines in discouraging scooter rentals on shore. It’s not just that the lines don’t make any referral money from these independent operators. It’s that the road-worthiness of the scooters is unpredictable, as are the operators.

And the ship’s doctors are tired of treating scrapes and bruises… and worse.

“Prices” on shore mean little; negotiating is expected. In Nassau, David sold conch for $10. They cost us $5. A sun hat for my companion was $25; make that $15. My hat was $20, but really $12. Banks are closed on Sundays, and ATMs are scarce, except in the hyper-touristy marketplaces.

Purchasing take homes - prices are negotiable! | Image by Tim Kern
Purchasing souvenirs: All prices are negotiable! | Image by Tim Kern

Carry cash, but not a big wad; and don’t be obvious about it. Several small packets of small-denomination bills allow you to carry plenty of money, but never show more than a little.

Stick to the tourist traps. Though it’s tempting to go exploring, you don’t want to become a target. If you really must go native, go in a group of eight or 10, and don’t break that group up among many taxis – jam half your group into one taxi, skip a couple taxis in the line, and put the other group into a second.

And don’t have the first taxi leave until the second is with you.

And as Camillieri said, the single most important thing passengers must remember is to “Stay on ship’s time. Don’t believe your smartphone!” Remember, your smartphone gives you only local time; the ship’s clock is coordinated to its port.

If you’re an hour late getting back to the ship, you may need alternate transport home or to the next port, and that’s expensive!



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