As the cruise industry continues to rebound from myriad challenges the pandemic has thrown its way, capacity levels on ships, particularly mega ships, have been making a slow comeback.
While this might be great for cruisers who relish the extra space and lack of lines on board some cruise ships at the moment, it's not so great for your cruise's crew members who rely on a fixed percentage of the overall tips received per passenger.
In short, lower-than-usual capacity numbers mean these smiling service people -- many who have been out of a job for months during the cruising pause -- are being short-changed when it comes to their tips, at a time when they are more reliant on them than ever
This means tipping on your upcoming cruise (and topping up on your prepaid tips if you can afford it) is more important and appreciated than ever -- even if you've already opted-into prepaid gratuities.
How Prepaid Gratuities Get Distributed to Cruise Ship Staff
Prepaid gratuities work by creating a pool of tips from passengers that the cruise line then distribute to cruise service staff based off a percentage. Typically, 100% of your prepaid cruise crew appreciation will go directly to cruise staff, minus any credit card transaction fees. Tips are often distributed to your sailing's service crew in lump sums every few months but might also be given out as bonuses, though this can vary by line.
Adding an Extra Tip Can Really Make a Difference Right Now
It's no secret that staff on board cruise ships, much like waiters and bartenders who work for a minimum wage, have always counted on our gestures of generosity to supplement their income.
Right now, your cruise tips are worth even more.
As mentioned, cruise ship staff tips are based off percentages and paid out from the overall tipping pool. This means the tip amounts for each crew members are directly affected by the number of passengers on a particular sailing. Put in perspective, if your cruise sets sail at just 40% capacity, at best your cruise crew is only going to receive 40% of their potential tips.
Consider Tipping on Top of Your Prepaid Cruise Gratuities (If You Can)
It's easy to see how, over time, lower-than-usually capacity numbers can add up to a big drop in income for cruise service staff. It's one of the reasons Eric Plam, CEO and founder of UpTip, recommends showing a little extra love to your cruise crew now by "tipping early and often, even if a basic tip amount is included in the price."
And we couldn't be more on board. We're not just walking the walk, either. Cruise Critic staff have all individually adopted a practice of tipping a little extra on top of our prepaid gratuities, especially if the service goes above and beyond.
This doesn't mean you need to go to extremes. During my recent sailing aboard Carnival Radiance, I simply added a buck or two to all my beverage slips. These were on top of the automatic gratuities that the line already adds for these. If I'd had cash, I would have also left $20 or $40 for my room steward on the counter (just like the old days, pre-prepaid gratuities).
Tipping service workers extra during COVID-19 isn't a new concept on land. We've all added a few extra bucks on top of our usual tips for food delivery workers, restaurant servers, bartenders and ride share drivers. If you're not in a place where you can tip extra, don't sweat it. If you can spare it, consider it. You can even stand out with these alternative ways to tip your cruise crew and say thanks.
"Many of us are fortunate to be able to work remotely from home, on the road, or on a cruise," Plam says. "Service workers don't have that luxury. Share some of the good fortune you've had with people who are trying to make your voyage enjoyable."
The pandemic has not only reminded us just how much we love -- and missed cruising -- but that we need to have each other's backs. Remember, we're all in this together.