Tipping policies vary by line, so be sure to check your cruise line's tipping policy before setting sail. Generally speaking, mainstream, U.S.-based cruise lines automatically add gratuities of about $14 to $15 per person, per day, to your onboard bill. These tips are divided among the dining staff (waiters, assistant waiters and head waiters) and housekeeping staff (such as cabin attendants).
In some cases, the amounts are slightly higher for passengers in suites or for those with butler service. Most mainstream river lines recommend tipping, as well.
Many luxury cruise lines, higher-end river lines, and some British and Australian lines have a no-tipping policy, and gratuities are not required. You can always tip at your discretion, though some crewmembers are not allowed to accept monetary gifts.
Many cruise lines add gratuities to your onboard bill and charge your credit card at the end of the cruise. Some lines give you the option to prepay gratuities in advance (or require it in some cases); others charge your credit card at the end of each day. A handful of lines provide envelopes for passengers to fill with cash and hand to crewmembers on the last evening. River lines give passengers the option to pay by cash or credit card at the end of their trip.
If your ship charges tips automatically, you can go to the reception desk to increase or decrease the amounts (or give additional money in cash directly to helpful staff). However, some travelers report that decreasing or eliminating the auto-tip (even so you can hand out cash on the last evening) can lead to subpar service if crewmembers think they won't be tipped.
Many lines now have fees for some room service deliveries, but unless the menu specifies that a gratuity is being added to the fee, it is customary to tip a dollar or two with each delivery unless you are in a suite or on a luxury line where the butler delivers your room service. Butlers are covered in standard automatic tips, but feel free to tip an additional amount directly to the butler if service is exceptional.
There is no need to tip the captain, cruise director or entertainment staff. Many cruise lines add an automatic tip to bar and spa bills; check your bill, as you do not need to add an additional tip.
That said, many passengers like to tip the bartenders extra at their favorite onboard bar, especially at the start of the cruise, in order to receive above-average service. You do not need to tip youth counselors, but some people choose to do so.
The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.