Monthly Archives: December 2018

Cruising Ducks

Cruising Ducks

(Editor’s Note: for our first example, please see here.)

Sometimes, you hear something so strange (and possibly insane), you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. This is one of those occasions.

First, an aside – After all the time I’ve spent with GPS units, you really think I would have become more serious about Geocaching

Geocaching is a sport / avocation / hobby where people hide caches and then leave the GPS coordinates and hints on a website, so others can go out and find them. When you find a geocache, you sign the log book if it’s available and then log your cache on the website. There are also trackables – small items that look like dogtags with serial numbers, so their position can be tracked by serial number. You can watch trackables move around the world, as geocachers take them along on trips and leave them in new and exciting places. 

Someone either didn’t know about trackables, or someone did, and thought, “Serial numbers. Tracking databases. Logging. That seems like a lot of work.”

It’s also impossible to do on a cruise ship, since the GPS coordinates change frequently, and even if you just use the coordinates at the pier, it’s not like the security team is going to let somebody onboard to “look for a geocache since you’re here”. 

Why is life so complicated? Why not just hide something on a cruise ship, have people find it, tell you about it on Facebook, and then hide it again, either on the ship or on another ship on their next cruise? 

Hence, Cruising Ducks.

My wife discovered this Facebook group and immediately ordered rubber ducks (plastic, actually, I think), some custom labels, adhesive labels to print the Info to put on the custom labels, and began chatting incessantly about how fun this would be. 

So, the first secret to getting her involved in anything (she has zero interest in geocaching) is to require her to go shopping. If it’s shopping for something cute, so much the better. 

She is not spoiled by geocaching so she thinks hiding ducks is brilliant. I’m thinking “How do you track the duck from ship to ship? There’s no serial number. There’s no name (well, I named all of her ducks.) There’s no space on the label to write where it has been, just where it started.” 

Apparently, I’m sucking all the fun out of this. 

So, there are a multitude of people (I joined the Facebook group) who go around hiding rubber ducks on cruise ships. Most of them are hidden in plain sight, but most of the passengers are slightly inebriated, so it cancels out. When you find a duck, you follow the instructions on his name tag (hopefully – as in, hopefully, you follow them and hopefully, the owner put them there) and post a photo to the group and then either keep the duck or hide it somewhere else. 

Apparently, the crews all tolerate this. This may be why the daily service charge keeps going up. Duck maintenance. 

The bad part is that there are twenty ducks labeled and ready to go in my house, ten for this cruise and ten for our next one (the second ten are actually Duck Pirates.) I’m wondering what of mine will be left home to make way for ducklings. 

The good part is that someone else posted in the group this week that she had hidden 50 ducks on a five-day cruise and my wife said, “50? Fifty?!!? That’s CRAZY.” 

We’ll see how long she thinks fifty ducks on a cruise is crazy. I give it two cruises. 

Tips, Gratuities, Service Charges

This is an opinion piece, but it’s really just all the stuff I’ve managed to prevent myself from posting on other sites because this is a discussion that seems to come up every five minutes or so, and it’s always the same two groups – “Just leave the tips alone” and “I want to tip whom I want.” 

It’s just like the insurance discussion – a complete waste of time, in my opinion. 

Most cruise lines today have a daily service charge. It goes to a pool for distribution to some non-specific group of onboard employees, some customer-facing and some not. It’s annoying, but it’s not as bad as a Days Inn charging a “resort fee” which is pretty much the same thing. It raises your fare but they can advertise the fare as lower than you will actually pay. At least onboard, I am using the services of the people in the pool. (Do yourself a favor, and splurge on the behind the scenes tour some cruise. You’ll meet a lot of people in the pool down on the lower decks, and along I-95.)

How did we get to this point? Well, it helps the cruise lines with their books, since the service charge is different income than the cruise fee. Travel agents may or may not get commission on it. There’s a whole bunch of really good accounting reasons to separate the service charge. So, like many policies that seem to make people crazy, accountants and lawyers. 

The other reason to have a service charge? It makes sure more people actually tip. In the golden age of sailing, everyone had assigned seating and assigned dining times, so everyone had the same waiters each night. On the last night, you slipped him or her an envelope with some cash for their service. Or, you went to the buffet and stiffed them.

How to avoid stiffing the waiters? Make the tips automatic and call it a “service charge.”

This incenses some people. I’m not really sure why. I suppose they are the ones who went to the buffet to stiff the staff, or constantly lost some of the tip in the casino on their “hot night”, and therefore tipped less. 

I’m sure that when I tip some waiters in some restaurants, the tips are pooled and they pay out to the busboys and the runners. Some places collect the tips and distribute them on their own. New York chefs get sued for this a lot. 

Nobody complains about that. 

People complain a LOT about the same practice on a ship. 

Now, it’s possible Norwegian and Carnival and Royal Caribbean are pocketing all the money, but the employees still get paid, and they are still working there, so it’s just accounting. I don’t understand the issue. 

The usual complaint is “Oh, those poor third world people. They are so underpaid. The cruise lines are so cruel.” When I see a ship that is staffed 60-70% or more from the same nation, I’m pretty sure word has gotten around that this is not a bad way to earn some money. I’ve had dinner with some of those Third  World people who have been promoted multiple times. They seem happy with the job. 

So, can the virtue police just shut up? If you want to stiff the staff, just go fill out the form. If you had a good cruise, just leave it be. 

If you had a great cruise, slip ’em a bit more cash. 

That’s my take on it.