If you’re new to cruising, or it’s been a while since your last cruise, it’s important to know about cruise tipping guidelines before you sail. Tipping on a cruise ship isn’t mandatory, but it is customary, and many crew members rely on tips as a large part of their income.
I’ll explain everything you need to know about cruise gratuities—from who you should tip, how much you should tip, and who you should never tip on a cruise ship.
Why is tipping on a cruise even a thing?
The practice of tipping is controversial, even in the United States where paying tips is part of the culture. In some service industries where wages are substandard, customers are expected to pay a gratuity, typically 15 to 20% of the bill, to augment the workers’ low hourly wages.
Tipping is supposed to encourage excellent customer service from workers, because (in theory at least) customers will tip generously for friendly, prompt service.
Most mainstream cruise lines have their headquarters in the US. So they follow this model with many of their crew members who perform services for passengers. Tipped crew on many cruise lines include housekeeping, dining, and laundry workers.
Cruise lines pay these workers very low wages for the long hours that they work each day, and expect that passengers will tip to increase the crew members’ earnings to a reasonable rate.
So why don’t cruise lines just increase the price of fares, and pay their crew a living wage with a decent hourly rate?
Cruise lines typically flag their ships in countries with lax employment laws. They pay their crew (usually recruited from countries with limited economic opportunities) per contract, not by the hour.
If mainstream cruise lines decided to abolish tipping and pay all crew members a reasonable rate per hour, they would have to significantly raise the cost of cruise fares.
Many luxury all-inclusive cruise lines include gratuities in their cruise fares, or have a “tips neither expected nor required” policy. But the sticker price of their fares tends to scare off many budget-minded travelers. However, you might end up paying a similar total price on a mainstream line when you factor in gratuities, drink packages, shore excursions, and the like.
For many cruises that operate in the Australian market where tipping isn’t part of the culture, automatic gratuities aren’t added on to passenger bills. Instead, passengers can tip—or not—at their own discretion.
What are automatic gratuities?
Automatic gratuities, also called autogratuities or autograts, is the cruise term for the system most cruise lines now use to simplify tipping for passengers. Some cruise lines refer to these tips as a “service charge”.
Until fairly recently, cruise passengers customarily tipped only in cash, in person. Cruisers would have to tip each of their service personnel (the cabin steward, restaurant servers, bartenders, etc.) separately, near the end of the cruise.
Now, with automatic gratuities, the process is much simpler and you don’t need to carry all that cash. The cruise line assesses a daily fee and divides the money among the tipped crew.
With the autograt system, many crew members who rarely received tips before now get a share—like the laundry or kitchen staff on some cruise lines.
On the flip side, passengers have less control over where their money goes with autogratuities. You can’t choose how much each crew member gets.
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How much are automatic gratuities on a cruise?
Most mainstream cruise lines will charge you about $14 to $15 per person per day for automatic gratuities. Each passenger is charged for these tips, including kids. However, a few lines don’t add autogratuities for babies and toddlers under age two or three.
Here are some daily automatic gratuity costs for several popular ocean cruise lines in USD (prices accurate as of summer 2021):
- Carnival: $13.99 per person, per day ($15.99 for suite guests). Gratuities waived for kids under 2.
- Celebrity: now includes gratuities in the fare. (guests who booked prior to November 17, 2020 will pay $15.50 per person, per day ($16.00 for Concierge Class and AquaClass guests, and $19.00 for The Retreat).
- Disney: $40.50 per person for 3-day cruises. $54.00 per person for 4-day cruises. $94.50 per person for 7-day cruises. (This equates to $13.50 per person, per day)
- Holland America: $14.50 per person, per day ($16.00 for suite guests).
- MSC Cruises: $12.50 per person, per day. Kids 2-11 pay $6.25 per day. Gratuities waived for kids under 2.
- Norwegian: $15.50 per person, per day ($18.50 for guests in suites, Concierge, and The Haven). Gratuities waived for kids under 3.
- Princess: $14.50 per person, per day ($15.50 for mini-suite guests and $16.50 for suite guests).
- Royal Caribbean: $14.50 per person, per day ($17.50 for guests in grand suites and above).
- Viking Ocean: $15.00 per person, per day
- Virgin Voyages: includes gratuities in the fare.
Should you prepay automatic gratuities?
Unlike with the deals you can get for prepaying for drink packages and some other add-ons, you won’t get a discount for prepaying your automatic gratuities. But many cruisers (including myself) choose to prepay to avoid a big charge at the end of the cruise.
I like knowing that my bill is all set before I sail! The only charges that should appear on my final tab are any extras I decided to add on during the voyage.
But if you don’t want to prepay, that’s fine too. The cruise line will assess your fee each day, then they’ll charge your credit card on file at the end of the cruise.
Can you remove or adjust autogratuities on a cruise?
On most cruise lines that collect automatic gratuities, you’re able to remove or adjust the charges by visiting the passenger services desk. One notable exception is Norwegian Cruise Line. On NCL, passengers who don’t want to pay autograts need to file a claim for reimbursement after the cruise.
For other cruise lines, you’ll be able to adjust your autogratuities at the Passenger Services desk. You can raise them, lower them, or remove them altogether.
What you can’t do is adjust or remove automatic gratuities for a specific crew member.
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Why you shouldn’t remove autogratuities
Most cruisers wouldn’t dream of removing the automatic gratuities. It’s a part of our cruise vacation cost and helps the hardworking crew make a living. Tipped crew make the majority of their income from gratuities!
But let’s say you have a negative experience with your server in the dining room, or you feel that the cabin steward isn’t doing their job. You might want to remove their tips as a punishment for poor service.
Since you can’t remove the automatic tips for just that one crew member, removing or lowering your automatic gratuities hurts all the tipped employees. A better solution is to have a discreet word with the crew member’s supervisor about your concerns. You’ll likely get much better service by doing that instead of just removing the tip!
Other cruisers, often people who remember cruising before autogratuities, prefer tipping crew in cash. They might feel that it gives them more control over tipping, rewarding the crew based on their level of service. Others just prefer the face-to-face experience of handing over a cash tip.
However, cruisers don’t always see all of the crew who work behind the scenes for them, like the kitchen and laundry workers. Often, these crew members are part of the tip pool, and they lose part of their expected income each time a passenger removes autogratuities.
If you enjoy tipping in cash, consider giving an extra cash tip to the crew members who gave you excellent service on your cruise.
Who else should you tip on a cruise ship?
Automatic gratuities cover just about every tipped crew member on the ship. There are a couple of exceptions, though. If you order room service, it’s customary to give the person that delivers your tray about $1-2 per meal.
If your kids had a great time at the kids’ club on board, giving a tip at the end of the cruise to their favorite staff members is always appreciated.
It’s also a nice gesture to tip the maître d’ or head waiter in the main dining room, especially if they were helpful with special menus or seating arrangements.
Do you need to tip for drinks, meals, or snacks on a cruise?
Cruise lines usually add a service charge, usually 15-18%, to all beverages that aren’t complimentary. If you don’t have a drink package, they’ll add the price of each drink plus the service fee to your onboard tab. There’s no need to add an extra tip for each drink.
With a beverage package, you’ve already paid the service fee when you bought the package, so the tip is included.
In the main dining room, buffet, specialty restaurants, and other dining venues, your tip is included in the automatic gratuities.
Some cruise lines employ a sommelier or wine steward in the main dining rooms, who isn’t included in the tipping pool. $10-20 at the end of the cruise is a nice gratuity for their service.
In for-a-fee specialty dining restaurants, you might see a spot on your bill (if you get one) to add a tip. Tips are either covered by the autogratuities or there’s a service fee tacked on, so you don’t need to tip again. You can always add extra for exceptional service, though! Just remember that a cash tip goes to your server, and a charged tip gets added to the tip pool.
If you have a special in-room dining experience, like Ultimate Balcony Dining on Princess (which I highly recommend, by the way), it’s a nice gesture to add an extra cash tip for the servers who brought your meals up and made your dinner a special experience.
Do you need to tip at the spa on a cruise?
Some cruise ship spas, like those on NCL and Royal Caribbean, add on a service fee or gratuity, usually about 18%. Check your bill after your services to see if your tip is already included. If not, 15-20% of the bill (excluding any products that you buy) is customary.
Should you tip extra on a cruise? How much?
Many cruisers opt to give extra cash tips to crew members who made their vacation that much more enjoyable. You might want to reward your cabin steward, favorite bartender or MDR server, or any other crew member you think did a great job.
The amount you tip is up to you—I generally give about $5 per person per day to my stateroom steward. For favorite bartenders or waitstaff, I give about $20 to each for a seven-day cruise.
Some cruisers swear by tipping at the beginning of the cruise to ensure excellent service. That’s up to you! I prefer waiting to see how the service is before deciding on an extra tip, but that’s just my preference.
You can just hand over folded cash, or use the tip envelopes you’ll find in your stateroom or at Passenger Services. It’s a good idea to hand over your tips the day before disembarkation. On disembarkation day, you probably won’t find your fave crew members in their usual spots!
What currency should you use to tip on a cruise?
When you’re tipping in cash on a cruise, it’s always best to use the official currency on the ship. Giving service staff tips in a currency they can’t easily use means they’ll have to pay a fee to change your cash tip into another currency.
Most cruise ships have ATMs, and some have currency exchanges on board. Or you can plan ahead and take enough cash in the correct currency to cover any tips you might want to pay.
Tip: Want to avoid paying hefty ATM fees on the cruise ship to get cash for tips? Some cruise lines allow you to use your cruise card to deposit money in the casino. Then you can take your deposit out in cash at the casino cashier.
Who should you never tip on a cruise?
When you’re on a cruise, you shouldn’t tip the captain or the officers. These cruise line employees are highly compensated, and offering a tip isn’t necessary. Even if you try, they’ll likely graciously turn down your offer.
You also shouldn’t tip the cruise director, the entertainment staff, or any independent entertainers like musical guests, comedians, or magicians. One exception is the piano player in the lounge—most accept tips for song requests or if you enjoyed their music.
What else can you do to show the crew your appreciation?
If there’s a crew member who goes above and beyond for you, there are some other ways to show your appreciation. Beyond leaving a cash tip for your cabin steward, or favorite server or bartender, some other small gestures will go a long way.
Near the end of your cruise, you’ll probably receive some comment cards in your stateroom that you can use to leave feedback about a member of the crew. You don’t need to write a novel—just a few sentences about how the crew member made your cruise even better will do.
These feedback cards mean a lot and sometimes lead to a stellar crew member getting a raise or even a promotion!
If you don’t see the cards in your room, ask at the Passenger Services desk, or leave the feedback in your post-cruise survey. (You’ll often see a survey pop up in your email inbox a few days after your cruise.)
You can also leave a small gift for your favorite crew member. Just remember that cruise ship crew live in very tight quarters, without much room for personal belongings. So something edible (maybe a favorite candy or snack from your home region?) will be more appreciated than something they would have to store.
But honestly, they’d prefer cash over a gift basket—no matter how yummy your treats are!
Other people you should tip during your cruise
During your cruise vacation, you’ll probably receive services from other people who aren’t cruise line employees—but you might not realize it! Here are some other people you should tip during your cruise.
1. Luggage porters
On embarkation day of my very first cruise, a porter came up to my taxi and whisked my luggage away, seconds after I got out of the car. I had prepaid my gratuities, and I assumed the porter was a cruise line employee, so I didn’t tip him.
Later I learned that the porters outside of the cruise terminal are not cruise line employees at all! In North America, most cruise terminal porters are longshoremen. At some North American ports, you’ll see signs stating that the porters do not accept tips. However, most cruisers do tip them for their service.
About $1-2 (or the equivalent in local currency) per bag is fine.
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2. Shore excursion guides and drivers
Even if you prepay for your shore excursions directly through the cruise line, it’s customary to tip your tour guides and drivers in cash after each excursion. Cruise lines just have contracts with their preferred shore excursion companies—the guides and drivers aren’t employees of the line.
Most cruisers tip anywhere from $2-$10 per person (or the equivalent in the local currency) to the tour guide, and hand a couple of dollars to the driver. You can adjust this based on the length and complexity of the tour. I’d give a much larger tip to a knowledgeable tour guide who led us on an intensive nine-hour experience compared to a guide who did a basic three-hour city walking tour.
If your shore excursion includes lunch, you generally don’t have to leave a tip—the tour company takes care of the lunch bill.
But if your excursions include free time where you eat lunch on your own, it’s a good idea to research the local tipping customs in the countries you’ll be visiting before your cruise.
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What do you think about the custom of tipping on a cruise ship? Do you tip above and beyond the automatic gratuities? Or do you remove them altogether? Let me know in the comments below!
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