Tipping on a cruise might be the most discussed and debated topic among both novice and seasoned cruisers. It doesn't help that tipping etiquette and different cruise line policies on the practice can be baffling. Whether you're wondering how much to tip a cruise porter or the waiter on a cruise ship, there is a lot of gray area. That's why Cruise Critic's experts have broken down when to tip, how much to tip and whom to tip. Read on for our tips on tipping, so you won't be lost at sea when it comes time to show your appreciation for the cruise crew.
Tipping isn't mandatory on a cruise, but you should consider that gratuities distributed onboard a modern cruise ship are much more than mere bonuses.
Most mainstream cruise lines pay cruise workers a low base wage. As such, on nearly all big-ship lines -- like Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian -- crewmembers are dependent upon the generosity of travelers for a good portion of their income. The cruise lines' rationale for this compensation model -- whether or not you agree with it -- is that tips help incentivize higher service standards. And, of course, the cruise companies are all too happy to keep their cruises' prices down by passing off salary costs as added gratuities tacked on to your bill.
On the other hand, many luxury and boutique cruise lines (like Azamara, Regent Seven Seas and Silversea) have no-tipping policies in place. In these cases, the staff gratuities are built directly into the all-inclusive fares, and their crewmembers are paid accordingly.
Today, most mainstream cruise companies place automatic service charges on passengers' cruise accounts, or offer the option for prepaid gratuities at booking. This has offset differing tipping customs on ships that draw international crowds and also helped ensure tip equity as specialty dining venues have become the norm on most big cruise ships
In short, gratuities should not be viewed as an optional extra, but more as a required service fee, which ensures fare wages for the hardworking cruise crew. Accordingly, when planning your cruise vacation budget, be sure to factor in the estimated cost of gratuities for the duration of your sailing.
As we said above, automatic tips ensure fairness to all staff, but also save yourself the headache of having to crunch numbers and track down numerous crewmembers on the final evening of your cruise. The charges are applied per passenger, per sailing night and are added to your cruise account. In some cases, they can be prepaid at the time of your cruise booking. Children are not usually exempt from auto-tipping (with the exception of infants and toddlers, on some lines).
Because tips are technically voluntary, most cruise lines do allow passengers to opt out of the automatic service charge and to tip by themselves in cash. However, since it is practically impossible to individually tip all the people in front of and behind the scenes whose efforts enhance passengers' shipboard experience, we would discourage going this route.
Keep in mind that even if you've opted in for automatic gratuities, or are aboard an all-inclusive luxury cruise, you should still bring along a cash stash for additional tips for exemplary or optional services (American dollars are gladly accepted worldwide, so come stocked with singles, fives and tens). You can pass these by hand or get a tip envelope from guest services.
Stick to automated tipping, which can be prepaid upfront before your sailing or applied to your cruise account as a daily or cumulative fee. If you feel that this automated service charge should be adjusted -- either increased or decreased -- you should make the request with guest services toward the end of the cruise. Any desired adjustments must be made before disembarking.
For any additional tipping, the general rule of thumb is cash on the last day of the cruise (with exceptions, of course). Don't wait till the morning of disembarkation, though, when everybody is in a frenzied transition mode and it might be difficult to locate the staffer you're seeking.
Pre-tipping can be strategic in some situations. If you have special requests or require extra service in your cabin -- nightly ice or hosting gatherings in your room, for instance -- a well-placed tip at the beginning of the cruise can do wonders to help ensure that they help you out.
Likewise, tipping the bartender at your favorite bar on the first day can mean the perfect drink every time (and maybe even faster service when you're in a crowd). The same goes for dining. If you're after a coveted window seat, a nice tip to the maitre d' on day one can help ensure that they never fails to have that table waiting.
Room service stewards should be tipped on the spot, as should non-cruise workers like in-port baggage handlers or tour operators on shore excursions.
What follows are suggested out-of-pocket tip amounts for your cruise for excellent service. Note that there are also gratuities applied automatically and separately to some optional onboard services, like drinks at the bar or spa and salon services. We've outlined those here, as well.
Keep in mind that there are some services provided by non-cruise staffers for which tips should also be paid out of pocket -- this extends to port-side baggage handlers or shore excursion tour operators.
The baggage handlers who take your bags upon arrival at the port don't typically work for the cruise line and therefore won't share in the onboard tip pool. Consider treating them as you would a bellman at a hotel -- a customary $1 or $2 per bag will do. When your cruise concludes, if the port workers aid in getting your bags to your car or a taxi, the same amount would be courteous.
Your auto-gratuities will cover all waitstaff in the main dining room, buffet restaurants and specialty dining venues alike. If you dine at the same table and enjoy regular service from one or two particularly excellent waiters, consider leaving an additional $10 to $20 at the cruise's end.
You're likely interact with your cabin attendant the most during your cruise. While the automatic service charges will cover their basic gratuities, it's generally considered good form to tip them a bit extra for a job well done, especially if you have made any special requests. Should you choose to, for a seven-night cruise, consider tipping about $2 to $3 per person, per day.
If you are in a suite or aboard a luxury cruise, you may have a butler assigned to your room. Since they typically have more duties to meet, a good guideline, is a supplementary tip of $3 to $5 per night, per person.
Room service fees have become the norm on many major cruise lines. Room service waiters are also part of the tip pool for autogratuities. Again, though, a few dollars will go a long way.
Bar service has an automatic gratuity applied on the check (usually 15%). As we said above, though, if you're planning to frequent the same onboard bar (like the ever-popular pool bar), an upfront tip of $10 to $20 just might mean faster service and perfectly crafted cocktails.
Wine ordered with meals will generally have a 15% service charge automatically applied. If the service has been exceptional, consider a tip of $10 to $15 at the end of your cruise.
You do not need to tip the maitre d', as they are a ship's officer and paid accordingly. The head waiter is part of the automatic tip pool. However, if either one has provided some extra special service -- like getting you an upgraded table or having a special cake delivered, a tip of $5 to $10 at the time of the service would be appropriate.
Tour operators are usually independent of the cruise line. For a half-day shore excursion, give the guide $2, or $4 to $5 for a full-day excursion.
Tipping is not necessary in kids' clubs (as kids' counselors are usually considered part of the better-compensated entertainment staff rather than the tip-dependent service staff).
Spas will generally add a 15% to 18% gratuity to your bill.
If you find yourself on a winning streak in the ship's casino, remember to reward your dealer as you would on land -- there's no standard for tipping dealers, so use your discretion based on your winnings.
Do not tip the captain or other ship officers -- they are already well compensated, and the gesture would more likely be a source of embarrassment than flattery.