The Low-Down on Cruise Ship Gratuities

Tips should be discretionary. So why do most cruise lines levy a daily surcharge for gratuities?

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The protocols for offering gratuities to waiters, hotel maids and others in the service industry can vary considerably by country. So it’s a bit of a relief to know that, between the eight major lines serving North American cruisers, no matter where they sail they share fairly consistent guidelines for tipping.

In general, cruise lines expect you to leave a tip of $11.50 to $12 a day per person to cover services by your cabin attendants and waiters. A somewhat higher tip might be recommended for those staying in suites. The cruise lines keep the process relatively simple by adding these “auto-gratuities” to your shipboard account, distributing the tips behind the scenes.

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Not including mandatory service charges for beverages, the auto-gratuity for two can total around $168 on a typical seven-day cruise.

Gratuities should be discretionary. If you feel the service you received fell short, go to the front desk and have the tip reduced; if the service was great, you can also request to have gratuities increased, or leave an additional cash tip for a particularly deserving individual. Keep in mind, most cruise ship workers are paid substantially lower wages than most Americans working in service industries, and tips usually represent a substantial portion of their monthly income.

Other places where tipping comes into play (or not):

Drinks — Expect a 15 percent service charge to be added not only to bar bills, but minibar purchases and to bottles of wine you buy onboard to consume in your room. Most cruise lines have a line on charge slips for “additional tip,” a concept that confuses many guests. To its credit, Holland America does not encourage this type of double-dipping.

Room service — Most cruise lines do not charge for room service, but many passengers provide a small tip upon delivery of food or drinks.

Spa and gym — Some lines add a 15 percent auto-gratuity for treatments and even fitness classes; others leave any tip up to you.

Specialty dining venues — In general guests are not expected to leave a tip on top of a surcharge for specialty restaurants, despite the appearance of a line on the charge slip for—you guessed it, “additional tip.” Remember, the daily auto-gratuity charged to your room is supposed to cover tips in restaurants.

Most of the upscale and boutique lines—Azamara, Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea—include tips in their cruise fare and additional gratuities are not expected. Major exceptions: Oceania, which adds $15 per day for gratuities; and Windstar, which levies a $12 per day service charge.

Tipping Policies for the Major Cruise Lines

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Carnival Cruise Lines — Carnival adds a tip of $11.50 per day, per guest for crewmember services, other than bartenders. The full amount is added to onboard accounts on the second day of the cruise. The amount is distributed as follows: $3.70 for cabin services, $5.80 for dining room services, and $2 for “alternative services” (kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members). Passengers can request that the tip amount be adjusted up or down, and they may also ask to have them eliminated in order to personally hand the gratuity to servers and cabin stewards.

For bar service, a 15 percent service charge is automatically added to all beverage tabs, including minibar purchases and drink packages.

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Celebrity Cruises — Celebrity “recommends” a tip of $12 per day, per guest for crewmember services, other than bartenders. The amount is automatically added to onboard accounts during the cruise, but “may be adjusted at your discretion” (though 48 hours prior to disembarkation, the amounts are locked in, Celebrity says). The amount is increased to $12.50 for guests in Concierge Class or Aqua Class, and $15.50 for guests in suites. The tip is distributed to your Waiter, Assistant Waiter, Dining Room management, and Cabin Steward.

For bar service, a 15 percent service charge is automatically added to all beverage tabs, including minibar purchases and beverage packages. A 15 percent service charge is also added for spa services and gym classes.

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Cunard Line — A hotel and dining service charge is added to the checkout bill for all guests, divided between waitstaff, cabin stewards, buffet stewards and others. The amount is $11.50 per day, per guest (including children). For those staying in Grill accommodations, the service charge is $13.50 per day, per guest. Cunard calls this a “discretionary charge,” and guests who wish to remove it or make adjustments can contact the Purser’s Office before the end of the cruise.

A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to every drink order, including minibar purchases.

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Disney Cruise Line — The tipping guidelines for Disney Cruise Lines recommend a total of $12 per day allocated toward dining room server ($4), assistant server ($3), head server ($1) and cabin steward ($4). The recommendations are per person, regardless of age. The day prior to disembarkation envelopes are provided for gratuities; tips can be provided in cash or they may be charged to the room account in exchange for tip vouchers.

For bar service, a 15 percent service charge is automatically added onto all beverage tabs. Tips for spa staff are at the discretion of guests. The surcharge for dining at Disney’s specialty restaurants Palo and Remy includes the tip.

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Holland America Line — A gratuity of $11.50 per day, per guest is charged to shipboard accounts, or $12 for passengers staying in suites. The gratuity is shared by room stewards and dining room waiters. If service “exceeds or fails to meet expectations,” guests may adjust the amount at the end of the cruise.

A 15-percent gratuity is automatically added to all bar charges and to wine purchases in dining rooms.

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Norwegian Cruise Line — A service charge of $12 per person, per day is automatically added to onboard accounts, for all guests age 3 and older. The service charge is divided between restaurant staff, cabin stewards and behind-the-scenes support staff. Norwegian says “guests should not feel obliged to offer a gratuity for good service,” but they note that staff is permitted to accept cash tips. The line recommends a gratuity “commensurate with services rendered” for concierge and butler services. The charge can be adjusted if guests are not satisfied with the services received.

A 15 percent “auto-gratuity” is added to drink charges, including anything from the minibar, and 18 percent is added for spa services.

Princess Cruises — A discretionary gratuity of $11.50 per day, per guest is added to onboard accounts for crewmember services, $12 per day for guests in Mini-Suites and Suites. The gratuity is shared between waitstaff, buffet stewards, cabin stewards, and housekeeping staff.

For bar service a 15 percent service charge is automatically added onto all beverage tabs. Tips for spa and casino staff are left to the discretion of guests.

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Royal Caribbean International — Royal Caribbean automatically adds gratuities totaling $12 per day, per passenger to onboard accounts. The gratuity is shared by Dining Services staff, Cabin Attendants other Housekeeping Services personnel. The amount is increased to $14.25 for guests staying in suites. In the event that a passenger does not receive satisfactory service, they may request to modify the daily amount by visiting Guest Services.

An automatic 15 percent gratuity is also added to all drink purchases, including minibar items and beverage packages. A 15 percent gratuity is also added for spa and salon services.

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