If you’re a first-time cruiser, then there’s little doubt that you have questions about gratuities and tipping on your cruise. We’re here to help.
First of all, if you’re feeling a little confused, don’t worry — you aren’t alone. In fact, we can’t think of a place where gratuities are handled the same way as they are on a cruise ship.
Gone are the days of simply slipping a waiter some cash or leaving a couple of bills for the room steward at the end of your trip (although you can still do that if you want).
Instead, gratuities on a cruise ship are highly automated, with most people just electing to prepay or being charged a set amount for each day on the ship.
While this is intended to make things easier, the honest truth is that having automatic gratuities can actually lead to more questions. Who gets the tips? How much is charged? What if service is bad?
If you’ve never cruised, then there is no doubt that these questions and more might be floating through your head. To help explain everything about cruise line gratuities, we’ve answered a number of common questions that will make everything clearer before you set sail.
In This Article...
Explained: What Exactly Are Cruise Ship Gratuities
While the name sounds fancy, gratuities are nothing more than a tip paid to the staff members for service during the cruise. The staff works hard to ensure that your vacation is a great one. As a thanks for their service, it’s customary to provide a tip.
The gratuities go to staff that provide passenger-facing services. That means people like the room steward who cleans your cabin and the dining staff. Some cruise lines distribute them even wider to the staff.
These days, the gratuities are set daily amounts paid by each passenger. Instead of one passenger paying a lot and another paying hardly anything, these set amounts ensure that everyone pays the same. The cruise line then distributes the payment to staff.
My Cruise Line Calls it a Crew Incentive or Service Charge. Is that the Same Thing?
Depending on your cruise line, you might find different language used than the word “gratuities.” We’ve seen these charges called tips, gratuities, crew incentives, or service charges.
No matter the language, they all end up being the same thing — a set daily charge to passengers that’s passed on to the crew.
How Much You’ll Pay in Cruise Gratuities
The amount you pay will vary by cruise line, but they are all in the same ballpark. You can expect to pay about $15-$20 per person, per day. Most lines charge $16 at the moment, but it steadily rises each year.
A couple traveling together will see about $30-$40 per day in gratuities, or about $200+ over the course of a week-long cruise.
Below, we’ve listed the current tip amounts charged by major cruise lines as of the time of this writing:
- Carnival: $16.00 per person, per day. $18.00 per person, per day for guests in suites. Guests under 2 years old don’t pay gratuity. Source.
- Celebrity: $18.00 per person, per day. $18.50 per person, per day for those in Concierge Class and AquaClass cabins. $23.00 per person, per day for guest of The Retreat. Source.
- Disney: $14.50 per person, per day. $15.50 per person, per day for those staying in Concierge Staterooms and Suites. Source.
- Holland America: $16.00 per person, per day. $17.50 per person, per day for guests in suites. Source.
- Norwegian: $20.00 per person, per day. $25.00 per person, per day staying in suites and The Haven. Guests under 3 years old don’t pay gratuity. Source.
- MSC Cruises: $16.00 per person, per day. Guests over 2 years old and under 12 years old pay $8 per day. Passengers under 2 years old don’t pay gratuity. Source.
- Princess: $16.00 per person, per day. $17.00 per person, per day staying in mini-suites. $18.00 per person, per day for guests in suites. Source.
- Royal Caribbean: $16.00 per person, per day. $18.50 per person, per day for guests in suites and higher. Source.
How Are Cruise Line Gratuities Paid?
How do you actually pay tips on the cruise ship? In the past, the process used to be that the cruise line would put envelopes in your room on the last day of the cruise. Passengers would then put cash in the envelope for the crew members. These days, everything is automatic.
When you book the cruise you’ll have the ability to prepay gratuities. You are charged a set amount, per person, per day. You simply pay this extra amount in full for your cruise as part of your cruise fare.
If you don’t decide to prepay the tips, then the amount is automatically charged to your onboard account each day. When it comes time to settle your final bill at the end of the cruise, you’ll have the gratuity charges to pay as well.
Want to tip more? You can still hand out cash to individual members of the staff that you appreciate, although it’s not required.
Is Every Passenger Charged Gratuities?
The vast majority of passengers are charged these tips, no matter if they are young, old, have special requests, eat in the main dining room, or only hit the buffet.
That said, some cruise lines make exceptions for small kids. For example, Carnival does not charge tips for kids under two years old. Norwegian Cruise Lines doesn’t charge gratuities for kids under three. However, for the most part you can expect that every passenger on your trip will see a charge.
Here are the policies for major cruise lines:
- Carnival: Guests under 2 years old aren’t charged gratuity.
- Disney: All guests pay gratuities at their discretion.
- Holland America: All guests pay gratuities.
- Norwegian: Guests under 3 years old don’t pay gratuity.
- MSC Cruises: Guests under 2 years old don’t pay gratuity. Guests over 2 years old and under 12 years old pay half amounts.
- Princess: All guests pay gratuities.
- Royal Caribbean: All guests pay gratuities.
How Can I Know How Much I Will Be Charged in Tips?
When you book your cruise, the gratuity amount is usually disclosed in full for your trip, with an option to prepay the amount with your cruise fare.
If you’d like to calculate exactly what your gratuity amount will be before you book your trip, then you can use our calculator here. Simply enter the cruise line, length of trip, and the number of passengers and it will show you precisely how much you’ll be charged.
Can I Adjust the Amount of Gratuities?
For most people, the service they receive on a cruise is outstanding. They recognize that the staff goes above and beyond to make their vacation enjoyable. But that’s not always the case. With millions of passengers sailing every year, there’s inevitably going to be someone who feels they received poor service.
If that’s the case — and you decide you want to change the amount you are charged for tips — then you can do that. Gratuity charges are typically not mandatory and can be adjusted. To do so, simply head down to Guest Services on the ship to tell them that you want to change your tip amounts.
That said, it’s unusual to adjust the gratuity amount, and the staff works extremely hard to make your trip enjoyable. If you have a major issue, however, you can change your gratuity amount accordingly.
What If I Don’t Pay Gratuities on my Cruise?
With the introduction of automatic gratuities, it’s much more difficult to avoid paying tips on your cruise. That said, in theory you could request that tips be removed from your account and not tip at all.
So what will happen? As far as your trip, likely very little. The staff isn’t likely to treat you any differently or even know that you aren’t tipping (after all, some people still like to pay cash at the end of the cruise). They will still go out of their way to make your cruise comfortable and enjoyable.
That said, if you don’t pay gratuities, then it’s the staff that will be hurting — not the cruise line. The cruise line collects the tips and then distributes them accordingly. Without your contribution, the compensation for the staff members will decrease. For staff members that rely on these dollars, that can be a major blow.
How to Pay Extra (If You Want)
Want to pay more in gratuity? That’s allowed. In fact, the staff will love that you want to give them more money. If you want to pay extra, we suggest simply handing cash directly to the people you want to recognize for their service. This happens regularly for passengers feeling generous or thankful for the staff’s work during their trip. In fact, your cruise line might leave a few envelopes in your room exactly for this purpose.
Should I Prepay the Gratuity Charges?
When you book your cruise, you’ll be given the opportunity to prepay the gratuities. In this case, you can simply choose to have them lumped in with your cruise fare, paying them all at once.
The advantage is that you get your payment out of the way ahead of time. So when you’re on the ship, it’s one less charge to worry about.
On the other hand, many people choose to instead pay the gratuity charges automatically through their onboard account once on the ship. Each day there will be a gratuity charge — or a lump sum added at the end of the trip.
The advantage here is that you get to hold on to more of your money for longer. Instead of handing over the charges well in advance of your sailing, you can keep it until you’re actually on your cruise.
Bottom line is that it comes down to personal preference. You can get the charge out of the way early, or hold onto your money until you actually sail.
Who Gets the Gratuities That You Pay?
From the passenger perspective, the gratuity amount is simple — pay a set amount per person, per day, and be done.
On the cruise line side, that money gets cut up to be distributed. The tips are spread out between the room steward, dining staff, and others that have customer-facing positions. That said, cruise lines are quiet on exactly how the charges are distributed.
The good thing for passengers about gratuities is that this distribution is done automatically by the cruise line instead of having to give tips to several different staff members at the end of your cruise.
Why Aren’t Gratuities Just Included in the Price of the Cruise?
For some cruise lines (usually luxury lines), gratuities actually are included in the fare — you don’t pay anything extra apart from your cruise fare.
However, for the majority of mass market cruise lines the gratuities are extra charges on the price of your cruise. These can be a surprise to some people, especially first-time passengers.
While the cruise lines might say differently, we think that gratuities aren’t included in the headline price for marketing purposes. There’s little doubt that the extra tips can be expensive. The cost for two people on a week-long cruise can be well above $200.
Meanwhile, cruise fares are often shown as dirt-cheap prices. They are often expressed as the rate for a single person (despite having to pay for double occupancy) and don’t include port fees or taxes. Having to add in gratuity costs to these advertised rates could make them less attractive to potential cruisers.
How Often Do the Gratuity Rates Increase?
The tipping rates charged change from time to time. We’ve seen instances of multiple increases in a year and other times when rates won’t change for a year or two. Just like the price of anything else, you should expect over time for these rates to continue to rise slowly but surely. Typical increases are around $1 per person, per day and seem to happen about once a year.
One perk of pre-paying gratuities is that if you pre-pay and the rate later increases, you aren’t charged the higher rate.
Who Else to Tip While On the Ship
You would think that paying a hefty daily tip would cover everyone on the ship. In fact, there are a couple of instances where paying additional gratuity is recommended or automatic.
First, any time that you buy a drink from the bar, you will be charged an extra tip, usually 18%-20% of the menu price, depending on the cruise line. This happens automatically and will be tacked on to the price. So a $10 menu price on a cocktail is actually around $12.
Be aware that when you sign the receipt there will be another line for an additional tip. Unless you are feeling generous, there’s no need to tip more.
Second, any time that you purchase anything service related — such as dinner at a specialty restaurant or a service at the spa — expect there to be a tip added on to the cost. Again, this normally runs around 18%, but can range from 15% to 20%, depending on the cruise line.
Finally, if you order anything from room service, then it’s expected that you give a couple of bucks to the staff member that delivers the food.
Other than that, your gratuity charges cover the housekeeping and dining staff. So when you leave the room you don’t have to put down any extra cash (unless you want to). And when you leave the dining room, no need to drop down any money on the table.