When planning for your next adventure on the high seas, leave an opening in your budget for cruise gratuities. This is an expense that many travelers overlook when tallying the cost of a voyage. Yet, it can add hundreds of dollars to the final numbers and falls into the category of an important item for most passengers.
In This Article…
What Are Cruise Gratuities?
Cruise gratuities are the tips that each passenger pays during the trip. These are usually calculated on a per person/per day (or night) basis by the cruise lines.
While the exact fees can be determined by the type of cabin you book, they are different than a hotel stay in that every person in the cabin will be assessed the charge. (Children three years old and younger excepted in some instances.)
On your bill, cruise gratuities may be listed in several different ways: tips, service charges, crew appreciation fees, crew incentives and others. These costs are added onto the price of the journey and are often an automatic charge.
The stated reason for the latter (compulsory nature of this fee) is to ensure that all passengers pay their fair share. Although not technically “required,” tips are nonetheless expected.
Charging every passenger an automatic cruise gratuity also assures that crew members who work behind the scenes to deliver an exceptional vacation experience receive a share.
In the years past, cash in envelopes would only benefit the staff who directly interacted with the passengers. This “new” practice of automatic cruise gratuities allows a greater number of the crew to add this important contribution to their income. It is also a simple way for passengers to tip since all the calculations and distributions are handled by the cruise line.
To determine the final total of these costs, simply visit your selected cruise line’s website. All the exact numbers are there to help you plan accordingly for the actual price of your upcoming cruise.
How to Pay Tips on a Cruise Ship
There are three basic ways to pay tips on a cruise vacation. The first is to pre-pay cruise gratuities when you book your reservation. Passengers say that the best benefit to using this method of payment is sticker shock avoidance. While it may not sound like much money when quoted as a per person/per day cost, seeing the total on your final onboard bill can feel expensive.
Additionally, if you pre-pay and the tip amount per person/per day increases before your cruise date, you have saved some money by locking in the lower rates. While raising the tip rates does not often happen, if it did, your cumulative costs for the trip would be higher.
The second option is to allow the charge to be added each day to your onboard account. All expenses accrued (and not included in the price of your trip) will be due at the end of the voyage. For most large lines, cruise gratuities are part of the line items charges along with other “extras” you bought along the way.
Since all purchases on cruise ships are “cashless” (with the possible exception of the casino), it is a good idea to keep an eye on your onboard account. Download the app or check on your cabin’s TV for up-to-date charges.
The third option for tipping is to pay the old-fashioned way – cash. (See below about removing automatic cruise gratuities from your bill.) These cash tips can be given at the time of service or at the conclusion of your trip.
The benefit here is to directly thank specific crew members. However, it is unlikely that you would be able to tip any of the crew members who work out of the public view with this option.
You may also want to create a hybrid method by combining the basic options. For example, you can pre-pay and supplement with cash to those crew members who are above-and-beyond in their service skills.
This is also the suggestion for covering the tips for the personnel who are not in your cruise line’s automatic gratuity group. (See below for who does not get a share.)
NOTE: Most luxury lines fold tips into the price of the cruise. Additionally, some have a “no tipping” policy for their crews. With that said, however, exceptional service may warrant a gratuity offer. On these ships, your offer may be accepted or politely refused.
Who Shares the Automatic Cruise Gratuities
It takes a combined effort of a team of crew members to keep the ship in tip-top shape and create an enjoyable experience for the passengers. While we only interact with certain people in particular positions, they represent dozens of others who work hard at their jobs.
In former times, tips were only given to the crew who had face-to-face interactions with the passengers. This practice favored the front-of-the-house staff while others working behind the scenes had little opportunity to make more money.
For example, passengers were once assigned a dining table and saw the same wait staff throughout the voyage. Today, we can eat in any number of venues and have a host of different servers.
The newer system of charging cruise gratuities on a per person/per day basis has helped equalize this situation. In addition to the waitstaff and room stewards receiving portions of the fee, the funds are also shared by some cruise lines with crew members in other jobs. For example, food preparation, general housekeeping and maintenance, laundry and other important positions may receive a percentage.
Who Does Not (typically) Get a Share of Cruise Tips
With so many activities and venues to enjoy on a cruise ship, you will interact with a number of other crew members who will most likely not receive a portion of your automatic gratuity fee.
One example of this situation is childcare services. The people working in the areas responsible for the safety and entertainment of your children will (likely) only receive a tip if you offer one!
For some cruise lines, bartenders will have to “earn” their tips during the voyage. If you find a favorite spot at the same bar, chances are quite good that the bartender will learn your name (and maybe even your choice of beverage). Start the cruise with a nice tip upfront, and thank him or her at the end with another.
Similarly, if a waiter (or sommelier) is keeping track of your wine bottles, they are also expecting to receive an appropriate gratuity. And, if you enjoy ordering room service, it is still customary to offer a small tip each time the staff appears at your door with delicious food.
If a visit to the spas or salons onboard will be part of your cruise, keep in mind that these crew members may not be part of the tip-sharing program. After receiving good service, leave a nice tip.
Another circumstance where tipping is recommended beyond the automatic cruise gratuities is during shore excursions. If you have booked a tour with your cruise line at a port of call, your guide should receive a tip at the end.
This is also true for any tours booked with local guides. Look for a tip jar at the front of the bus or van; if you are on an extended tour with other shipmates, passing around an envelope to collect tips may be in order.
Also, anytime you hire transportation onshore, gratuities for the driver are appropriate (public transit excepted). This is often an important part of their income stream.
The last (and first) person you will likely see is the luggage porter or baggage handler. Just as in other travel situations at airports, hotels and so forth, this person should be on your list to tip. This is particularly true if you are a “heavy” packer!
NOTE: When paying the cost of any of these or other services on the ship, check to see whether an automatic tip has already been included in the bill. This can be quite specific to the activity and the cruise line.
For example, some cruise lines have an automatic gratuity charge per drink or drinks package (including “free drink packages,”) and others add a tip percentage to all spa treatments.
So, if it is unclear, it is acceptable to ask if and which tips have been automatically charged to your bill. This will allow you to add an appropriate gratuity AND avoid double tipping.
How to Remove Cruise Gratuities from Your Bill
The debate continues as to the inclusion of “forced” cruise gratuities on board ship. Depending on your customs, culture or country, this will either seem perfectly fair or an unnecessary expense for services that are “part of the job.” Still others feel that tips should be earned and given in recognition of a “job well done.” Regardless of where passengers stand on the issue, this remains a monetary consideration during the next cruise vacation.
Should the occasion occur that you feel the service on your cruise is consistently below standards, you do have the option to remove the gratuities from your bill. Prior to doing so, however, speak with someone at the front desk (purser’s desk or reception desk) to try to resolve the issues.
If this does not solve the problem, then you can request a refund of all or part of the amount; or, reduce the rate. Depending on the cruise line, this may be removed from your bill or issued as a ship credit. This can only be done on the ship prior to the end of the cruise since all funds will have been distributed to the crew after that point.
If this is your course of action, consider offering a cash tip to those individuals who provided good service during your voyage. It is not often the case that all interactions with all crew members are substandard. So, take this opportunity to recognize the folks who worked hard to make your cruise pleasant.
Additionally, make a list of the employees who provided the best service and send a note of appreciation to the cruise line with their names included.
NOTE: If you are opposed to automatic gratuities and have decided to cancel them regardless, it is a good idea to let your room steward and front desk know that you will be tipping throughout the voyage instead. This is a respectful way to advise the crew ahead of time about your plans.
Also, there are certain cruise lines that do not allow cancellation or alteration of this expense. Read the fine print when you make your reservation.
How to Give Extra Appreciation
Whether you opt for pre-paying cruise gratuities, having them added to your charges during the voyage or passing out tips along the way, bring small bills (lots of them!). Waiting in line to exchange large denominations at guest services can be a hassle.
Also, bring along some envelopes or even a pack of small, printed thank you cards. When you have great service (or need to tip those above who are not part of the gratuity pool), hand the cash, envelope or card directly to the person. And, as the time to disembark approaches, make sure you let the crew members whom you have come to know that you appreciate them.
NOTE: With all the folks depending on tips for their income, the captain, officers, directors, executives and performers (piano bar performers excepted) are not. Do not tip them! Instead, write them a note of appreciation or mention them specifically in any positive reviews of your trip.
Final Note on Cruise Gratuities
While planning for your next voyage, search for cruise lines that are bundling onboard items and selling them at a discounted price. For example, you may be able to secure significant savings by purchasing a WiFi, drink and tips bundle when you book your reservation.
This usually requires deciding and paying in advance. And, the crew will still get their regular share even though you have received a discount on the cost.