While researching this, a few crew members told me that mafias exist onboard, and you need to know how to work with them. That revelation threw me, but as you will hear, there is a real positive in there for us.
I also discovered that taking pictures of crew members could create serious problems for them. And I finally unraveled what the crew really think about gratuities, and what they would like is to do.
You are about to discover these and some other genuinely surprising cruise tips I have gathered from talking to crew members.
A friend of mine in the service industry (not a crew member) once said to me, never be unpleasant or rude to someone who’s alone in your bathroom with your toothbrush or prepares and brings you your drinks or makes you your food. The images that conjured up has never left me.
Now, I am not saying crew do anything suspect along those lines, but the point my friend made is true on ships.
I was told by every crew member is that we should be nice or nicer. As one did say to me on a recent Princess cruise, it’s straightforward, being nice will get you way further than if you’re rude or angry.
He kept stressing that the crew don’t set the prices, they don’t sail the ship, they’re not paid particularly well but (as he put it) they work their butts off for every single passenger and are expected to be super friendly while they do that. And being kind and considerate in return will go a long way to enhance and smooth your cruise.
This is where the “mafia” I mentioned comes in. It was pointed out that crew are incredibly inter-connected and it’s often these informal connections that can unlock and make things happen for you. Things work not just through the official channels, using the informal system can be a real plus.
The crew member’s roommate, friends and people they hang out off duty could be the very ones to get things done for you or solve problems.
Whether it’s a show that’s sold out, an excursion you missed out on or any other problems you’ve got they may know just the person on board who can make it happen – and not through the usual channels.
I have found that works. I once needed to fix my suitcase and asked at Guest Services who said the ship could not help but spoke to my stateroom attendant and they were able to get a handyman friend to fix it.
The tip crew members told me is start with your stateroom attendant. If they don’t know the answer, they will know who to ask.
I once asked if they knew of a great Indian restaurant in a particular port and she checked with an Indian friend where they go to eat. So, if it’s where to buy something, best thing to see or best place to hang out and get free Wi-Fi, start with your stateroom attendant. They will know or know who will.
However, just how far does being nice to your crew member go? They had tips around this too!
Getting To Know You
I found this out the hard way, we were a four-week cruise on the Queen Mary 2 and became extremely friendly with one of the fitness instructors through doing so many of her fitness classes. We started to meet up with in some ports and go out and have a great time.
She got into serious trouble because she was seen out with us in a bar being, and it was felt she was being “too friendly” and was reported to her manager by a senior crew member. Nothing romantic or inappropriate was happening, but she got told off and received a written warning.
I asked numerous crew members about this area, and they had some sober and good tips.
First, all crew members said ”it’s important to get to know crew members.” Not only as they are a font of knowledge, but crew members like us to remember their names, take an interest in them as individuals and not treat them as an anonymous service agent.
But being too friendly can be an issue, as we found out, and hitting on the crew romantically can cause them big problems.
There is a strict, no tolerance rule when it comes to relationships between the crew and passengers. Many cruise lines train crew how to diffuse a situation if people come on too strong. If the crew are found having inappropriate relationships with passengers, they are usually fired.
There is also a real fear of being accused of inappropriate behavior.
One crew said to me, ”If passengers ask to take a picture with me, I resist them wrapping their arms and hands around me, and I never put my arm and hands around them.” He says he always thumbs up gesture with both hands in shot, so his hands are showing when anyone takes photos.
If you’re taking photos of the crew, do it in a way that’s sensitive and not likely to cause any issues
Get to know the crew but understand the boundaries. Don’t push it too far, and don’t ask then to take you into crew-only areas, as that too could get them fired.
I also discovered another reason the crew are so keen for you to get to know them and remember their names. And I had not appreciated why it was so important to them.
Answer The Questions
I’m had never been particularly diligent at filling out the end-of-cruise questionnaire, until I found this out.
Every crew member, when they heard I didn’t always fill it out, begged me to do it. And critically, call out any crew member by name who has provided incredible service.
And getting their name right is so key that they suggested I either write their name down or take a photograph of their name badge. This also has an added effect as it means they know that you’re going to mention them in that survey.
Taking the name badge photos struck me as a genius tip, as after on my last cruise I only got round to doing the questionnaire a week later, and I couldn’t properly remember everyone’s name and how to spell it. I felt bad, because they had given amazing service and it hadn’t been properly recorded.
Those end-of- cruise questionnaires are important, because while the overall score that an area gets can affect incentives or rewards, more importantly the names of those called out go to the managers and it genuinely affects ability to get promotions and advancement.
Fill out the cruise questionnaire, and make sure you have recorded crew names to get them right.
That is one tip on how to help the crew, but what about the most contentious topic of all? What tips do the crew have on that?
Some crew on some lines told me that they see the list of passengers that have taken off or reduced auto gratuities, so they know who has done it. I don’t know if that is true as never seen a list but consider that if you take off auto gratuities, the crew may know that you have.
Gratuities is one of the most divisive topics in cruising, and I was keen to see what crew had to say about what we should be doing.
All confirmed that auto gratuities, which is now the common approach if not included in the fare, go into a pool that’s split between a wide range of people behind the scenes and passenger facing.
The crew ask, not surprisingly, we don’t take them off as they are a key part of their remuneration.
It’s a separate discussion about whether cruise lines should be paying higher base wages, but today crew rely on gratuities to bolster their pay.
Crew don’t earn huge salaries and pointed out not everything on the ship is included in their wages. For example, you see so many crew hanging around free Wi-Fi spots in town or in port, because many cruise lines charge their crew for Wi-Fi. So, to stay connected to their family, there is a cost to do that.
The other tips they had was that first, of course, they appreciate extra tips for amazing service or extra things they do, but if you are going to do so then cash is king.
I know some passengers, as I get asked this often, like the idea of giving gifts from home to the crew, whilst of course that’s appreciated, nothing beats cash.
Many people are onboard and sending money home to their family, kids, parents, and grandparents. So, cash is always king.
And talking of money, there is another big tip on this too.
The costs involved can be enormous and crew do see passengers rack up personal scary bills occasionally. All of which could be avoided.
If those passengers had taken out and ensured it was the right travel insurance which includes medical, and specifically costs from the medical centre.
The crew told me that some travel insurance policies do not cover ship medical centre costs, which can be very expensive, including seeing the doctor, prescriptions and so on. Then if you must be Medevacked off the ship or disembarked for medical reasons into a local hospital the costs can mount fast and be eye-watering.
The tip from them is have insurance and make sure it covers everything.
When I first asked crew for tips, they said there are 3 things they keep seeing passengers do on every cruise, so although these are not new, I thought I should include them as it seems we are still not getting these right.
People forget to put phones into airplane mode and ramp up crazy costs.
Many passengers forget to set their watch, clock, or phone onto ship time, and so arrive early or late for breakfast, excursion meet times or almost (or do) miss the ship sailing in the evening. This is most common when passing through time zones.
And the third is passengers not booking everything early, particularly on big ships where there are lots of options and they get sold out quickly.
They stress using pre-cruise online planner to book, dining, excursions, activities, spa treatments, and so on as they spent so much time with passengers frustrated things that are sold out.
They said if you don’t do it before on embarkation day, the minute you get on board go and book, with one of the quickest ways via the interactive television or app, which means no lining up to get it sorted.
ABOUT TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
Gary Bembridge’s Tips For Travellers aims to help you make more of your precious travel time and money on land and when cruising the oceans or rivers of the world. To help you, in every video I draw on my first-hand tips and advice from travelling every month for over 20 years and average of 10 cruises a year.
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