There are subtleties to the Pride of Aloha policy. Under certain circumstances, you may be able to get part of the service charge refunded. But forget about making that request on your last day at sea.
Instead, he urged customers to complain about service problems when they arise so management can fix them immediately or offer compensation, which may include rebating the service charge.
"We're not going to insist on people paying $10 a day for atrocious service," Veitch said.
In the past, about 5% of Norwegian's customers have opted out of the service charge, he said. A few complained of poor service, but most of the 5% said they wanted to tip in cash, then skipped out without tipping, Veitch said.
Evoking frantic scenes of passengers calculating tips and trying to locate recipients at the last minute, Veitch said a fixed charge was a "more appropriate way to pay people than chasing them around with cash." It also allows staff to be "equally compensated," he said.
But as with many automatic gratuity programs, Aloha's $10-per-day service charge doesn't cover everything. Spa treatments, for instance, carry an extra 15% service fee, plus guests are encouraged to add "appropriate gratuities," NCL's Robison said.
Cruisemates' Campbell and several travel agents said the Aloha cruise was not always a happy journey. Long waits for food and service from the inexperienced American crew left passengers "livid," she said.
Complaints were so common, for instance, on the June 13 Pride of Aloha cruise that Norwegian refunded half the service charge.
Norwegian has been an industry leader. It pioneered casual dress and multiple dining options in its Freestyle Cruising program, home-ported ships in the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and recently revived New York-to-Caribbean year-round itineraries.
Other cruise lines have copied Norwegian's bold initiatives, but I hope the mandatory service charge is one they'll leave at the dock.
Hear more tips from Jane Engle on Travel Insider topics at http://www.latimes.com/engle . She welcomes comments but can't respond individually to letters and calls. Write Travel Insider, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.