Luxury lines such as Silversea, Seabourn, Regent, Crystal or SeaDream are considered non-tipping ships, even though the cost of cruise tips are already wrapped up in the overall cruise fare. On the brightside, guests never have to think about who should get a tip, how much to tip or when to tip. Not having to deal with tipping helps make the vacation stress free -- but this can also backfire.
Even though your tip has been taken care of, once onboard you might start feeling guilty about not handing out tips for the luxury lines' extraordinary service, especially when we're so used to doing so on land. Or you simply might wish to tip your hat -- monetarily speaking -- to a member of the crew who went above and beyond. What then?
Here's our best advice on how to think about tipping on a non-tipping ship.
How to Tip on a Non-Tipping Ship
Sometimes you want to give someone a little something extra. That is a personal choice and never a requirement; it should never be considered the norm. Luxury cruise lines carefully train their staff to never ask or expect tips. If you do wish to tip a member of the crew, you may do so in a variety of ways.
1. Offer a Gift
Luxury cruise ships can become a second home to some travelers, and it's possible to get to know crew members over time as you travel with them again and again. When that happens, it's nice to return to the ship armed with gifts for your favorite staff members.
Some cruisers prefer to bring something that represents where they're from (maple syrup from Vermont or salt water taffy from the New Jersey shore), while other people give things like an Amazon gift card for any items they might need or want, or a prepaid telephone card for someone who's expressed a wish to talk with family back home more often. It's also very common for cruisers to bring gifts for the children of the crew members they know; gestures like this seem to be especially appreciated.
Small token gifts are a fun and easy way to say thanks, even for crew members you've just met. When we go into port, we'll buy small gifts for our cabin stewards and/or butler. Maybe a scarf or T-shirt from one port or cookies and candies from another. These little "thank-yous" can go a long way to forging happy long-term relationships with the ship's staff.
2. Contribute to the Crew Fund
One of the best ways to express your gratitude to the entire crew is to donate to the crew fund. Nearly every cruise ship has a crew fund, which is sometimes used for the express purpose of improving the lives of the staff. That can mean throwing an onboard party when the team needs a morale boost, or buying something like a pinball machine or video game system that all crew members can enjoy during their off-hours.The fund might also help staff in times of trouble, for instance, if someone needs to make an unexpected trip home due to a family emergency.
If you'd like to make a donation, visit the cruise ship reception desk. You can make your donation in cash or charge it to your onboard account. Your donation is often announced to the entire crew so you may receive a personal thank-you from certain crew members if you donate early on in the voyage.
3. Speak Up for Good Service
One of the easiest ways to show your appreciation to a crew member is to mention him or her on the comment card that's left in your suite, or to write a note to the hotel director, cruise director or captain to let him or her know about the outstanding service provided. Your unsolicited endorsements will be noticed and could even help someone advance in his or her career.
4. Tip in Cash
If you truly want to provide a tip on top of what's already been included in the cruise fare, you may do so, but remember that it is not necessary or expected on a non-tipping ship. If you're offering a bartender a few dollars here and there, he or she will likely take it with a sincere thank you and smile.
However, if you offer larger sums to crew members, they will likely try to turn down the gift and remind you that no tips are required. If you offer a second time, the act of generosity is usually accepted.
If you're not sailing from a U.S. homeport, don't worry about whether to tip in U.S. dollars or the local currency.
When Should You Not Tip Extra on a Cruise Ship?
The fact is, luxury lines roll up crew gratuities in the cruise fare, so you actually have prepaid your share of tips. Many luxury travel agents will specifically tell their clients not to tip on these types of ships because it tinkers with the remuneration plan the cruise line has already carefully calculated and may set a precedent for certain crew members expecting tips even when the ship is officially tip-free.
Who to Tip Extra on a Non-Tipping Cruise Ship
It probably goes without saying that the captain and executive officers of a cruise ship never expect a tip and would graciously turn down any gratuity offered. Likewise, shipboard entertainers are often contractors that are paid by a third-party company, and most cruisers generally shouldn’t worry about tipping them.
Most often, you'll consider extra tips for your butler, suite steward, restaurant maitre d', waiter or waitress and bartenders -- the people you interact with frequently throughout your cruise. However, that leaves out a lot of behind-the-scenes crew members that work hard to make sure you have a wonderful experience -- another big reason pooled tips are so carefully divvied up by the cruise line.
Any extra tips should generally only be a reward for someone that went above and beyond the call of duty.
Time Your Extra Gratuities Just Right
Service aboard luxury cruise ships is usually uniformly excellent, so the practice of tipping upfront is rare. If you have decided to tip someone for outstanding service, it's best to discreetly offer a gratuity at the time the service is rendered or shortly thereafter.
If you're tipping a bartender per drink, you can follow what you do at home and offer a dollar or two per pour. If you're tipping for a special service -- for example, to thank your butler for helping you throw a party ensuite -- you should select a dollar amount that makes sense to you.
The amount of your extra tip is a completely personal decision, though you should keep in mind you’ve essentially already doled out a tip for top-notch service when you paid for your cruise. There is no standard amount because a monetary thank you is not expected.