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 pre-pay a set amount 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 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.
How Are Cruise Line Gratuities Paid?
First things first — 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 and hand it to the crew member. These days, everything is automatic.
When you book the cruise you’ll have the ability to pre-pay gratuities. You are charged a set amount (the amount varies depending on the cruise line), per person, per day. You simply pay this extra amount as part of your cruise fare.
If you don’t decide to pre-pay the tips, then the amount is automatically charged to your account on the ship. 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.
How Much Are 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 $14 to $15 per person, per day. So a couple traveling together will see about $30 per day in gratuities.
Below, we’ve listed the current tip amounts charged by major cruise lines as of the time of this writing:
- Carnival: $13.99 per person, per day. $15.99 per person, per day for guests in suites. Guests under 2 years old don’t pay gratuity.
- Celebrity: $14.50 per person, per day. $15.00 per person, per day for those in Concierge Class and AquaClass cabins. $18.00 per person, per day for suites.
- Disney: $36 per person for 3-day cruise. $48 per person for 4-day cruise. $84 per person for 7-day cruise. ($12 per person, per day)
- Holland America: $14.50 per person, per day. $16.00 per person, per day for guests in suites.
- Norwegian: $14.50 per person, per day. $17.50 per person, per day staying in suites. $19.99 per person, per day for guests sailing on Norwegian Sky and Sun. $22.99 per person, per day staying in suites on Norwegian Sky and Sun. Guests under 3 years old don’t pay gratuity.
- MSC Cruises: $12.50 per person, per day. Guests under 2 years old don’t pay gratuity. Guests over 2 years old and under 12 years old pay $6.25 per day.
- Princess: $13.50 per person, per day. $14.50 per person, per day staying in mini-suites. $15.50 per person, per day for guests in suites.
- Royal Caribbean: $14.50 per person, per day. $17.50 per person, per day for guests in suites.
Is Every Passenger Charged Gratuities? Even Babies?
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 at the moment:
- Carnival: Guests under 2 years old don’t pay gratuity.
- Celebrity: All guests pay gratuities.
- Disney: All guests pay gratuities.
- 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 Do 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 some who receive 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 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.
Can I Pay Extra?
Absolutely. 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.
Who Gets the Gratuities?
From the passenger perspective, the gratuity amount is simple — pay a set amount per person, per day, and be done. So you might be charged $15 in tips for a day.
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 a few others.
For example, of a $15 charge, $7 per day may be distributed to your room steward, $5 to the dining staff, and the remaining $3 is spread among other customer-facing positions on the ship. The good thing about automatic gratuities is that this breakdown 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 about $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 would 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.
Do I Need to Tip Anyone Else 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% of the menu price. This happens automatically and will be tacked on to the price. 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%.
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.
How Can I Know How Much I Will Be Charged?
When you book your cruise the gratuity amount is usually disclosed in full for your trip, with an option to pre-pay 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.