Tipping on a cruise ship: Everything you need to know

22 March 2023

How much to tip on a cruise is a question that trips up many first-timers. That’s because some cruise lines tack daily service fees onto passenger bills — yet many travelers still hand out additional cash gratuities, either as a matter of course or for exemplary service.

The extra cost of the automatic gratuity charges can be a shock to first-time cruisers. At some lines, these charges run as high as $25 per day. And, unlike the typical service fee or resort fee found at a land resort, they are not per room. They are per person.

At many big lines, such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, it’s not uncommon for a family of four staying in a single cabin to see around $80 a day in service fees added to their bills. On a typical seven-night cruise, that’s nearly $600 in fees. And that’s before you add in any additional tips you wish to give to your room service or favorite bartender or autogratuities tacked on to bar, restaurant and spa bills.

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Still, not all lines have service fees that high. Some don’t charge a service fee at all. In many cases, the service charges are adjustable.

Tipping on a cruise does not have to be complicated, but you need to understand the big picture to budget for your vacation appropriately. Read on to learn all about cruise ship tipping culture and how much you’ll need to tip on your next cruise, based on which cruise line you’re sailing.

Tipping on a cruise ship: The big picture

Most of the biggest cruise lines automatically add some type of service or gratuity fee onto passenger bills. Lines with such charges include both of the two giants of the cruise business, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line, as well as the next three biggest lines MSC Cruises, Norwegian and Princess Cruises.

That said, the total number of lines with a service fee has been shrinking over the years. Many smaller and higher-end cruise operators are folding tips and gratuities into their base fares.

Lines that now cover gratuities in their fares include Azamara, Ponant, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea Cruises and Virgin Voyages.

For lines that do have them, service and gratuity charges are touted as a convenient alternative to the practice of cash tipping on cruise ships — something that once was common.

Related: A beginners guide to picking a cruise line 

Automatic gratuity charges at Princess Cruises are distributed among the crew. PRINCESS CRUISES

Cruise lines say they pass the money collected from service charges to the shipboard crew. They say the money is shared not just with “front of house” crew, such as room attendants and waitstaff, but also with behind-the-scenes workers. In that sense, the current system is more equitable than the old system of cash tipping, which favored certain workers, lines say.

Still, some critics see the charges as a sneaky way for cruise lines to make their fares appear lower than they really are. In this line of thinking, lines with these charges are essentially breaking out a good chunk of onboard labor costs as a separate line item on your bill.

Related: Use these credit cards to maximize your next cruise vacation

How service charges are levied

At most lines, you can pay your service charges in advance of sailing (at the same time you pay your cruise fare). Alternatively, you can have the charges added to your room bill on board.

The big advantage to paying cruise tips in advance is that you lock in the current rate. If your line raises the rate between the time you pay and the time you sail, you won’t pay more.

Some people also like to pay their service charges in advance for budgeting purposes. It’ll be one less thing on your final bill at the end of the cruise.

If you prefer to pay for tips once you’re on board your cruise, you’ll generally find that the gratuities automatically appear on your bill. You don’t have to do anything.

That said, if you want to, you can often adjust the charges (either up or down) while you’re on board by visiting the guest relations desk. If you are adjusting a gratuity charge downward, expect to be asked about the reasons behind the adjustment. The guest relations staff will want to know if you’ve experienced particular service issues.

If you leave the service charge on your room bill, you are not expected to leave additional cruise tips for your room attendant or waiters. That’s the whole point of the service charge.

Similarly, if you’re on a higher-end ship that lists gratuities as being included in the fare, that means just what it says. You don’t have to tip on these cruises because the line is already paying gratuities to the staff on your behalf. Additional cash gifts are not expected.

That said, some people do leave a little extra for crew members who go above and beyond. Others tip their room service or wait staff at their favorite bar, either early in the cruise in the hope of getting better service or at the end to thank them for enhancing the vacation experience. How much to tip extra on a cruise is entirely up to you because it is in no way required.

Related: 9 times you do not need to tip on a cruise

Included cruise tips as a booking perk

If you dislike tipping on cruise ships, but can’t afford to sail on an all-inclusive line, look for promotions when cruise lines with service charges throw in “free gratuities” as a booking incentive. For instance, in recent years, Norwegian has been continuously running “free at sea” promotions that include not just free crew tips but free shipboard Wi-Fi and a free drinks package, too.

Additionally, several major lines in the past couple of years have begun offering bundle pricing to customers who pay for cruise tips, Wi-Fi charges and an onboard drinks package all at once in advance of sailing, potentially at a discount.

Princess, for example, has added a Princess Plus plan as a booking option. It gives passengers prepaid gratuities (Princess calls these “crew appreciation” fees), a single-device Wi-Fi plan and a basic beverage package for a single bundled price of $60 per person, per day.

Don’t worry: When lines offer such deals, it doesn’t mean the crew will receive fewer tips the week you cruise. The lines that offer these deals say they’ll pay a normal gratuity to the crew on your behalf.

Related: The best cruise booking perks – and which ones are actually free

Additional cruise ship tipping

Daily service charges are not the only cruise tips you will pay on board. Many cruise lines will tack an automatic gratuity charge onto the bill for extra-fee drinks, restaurant meals and spa treatments.

The included tip amount varies by cruise line, but is typically 15% to 20% of the bill. Be warned that the receipt often includes a line for an additional gratuity, even when one is automatically added. This can trick many cruisers into tipping twice. Never feel pressured to add an extra tip when you’ve already paid one.

Note that if you purchase a dining or beverage package, the cruise line will charge you gratuities based on a percentage of the package price. If you get one of these packages for free as a booking perk, as with the aforementioned Norwegian Cruise Line promotion, you may still be required to pay the gratuities on the free perk.

For example, Norwegian offers a complimentary Open Bar drinks package for travelers who book its “free at sea” promotion. The cost of that package is typically $109 per person, per day. The mandatory 20% gratuity comes out to nearly $22 per day. That means two people sharing a room on a seven-night cruise would pay $308 in tips for an otherwise free drinks package — on top of their daily service charge fees.

Cruisers should also bring cash to tip the porters who bring their bags onto the ship (usually $2 per bag), as well as tour guides in port ($5 to $10 per person for half-day tours, $10 to $20 for full-day excursions and $2 for non-guide drivers). Piano bar regulars know that a cash tip will increase the chances of the pianist choosing and performing your song request.

How much should you tip on each cruise line?

Butler unpacks a guest’s suitcase. LUCA LOCATELLI/SILVERSEA CRUISES

If you’re wondering how much you should tip on the specific cruise line you’re considering or have already looked, we’ve compiled that information here. Below is a line-by-line look at policies for automatic gratuity charges (called service charges or “crew appreciation” charges at some lines). The rates listed are per person, per day. They were accurate as of the publishing of this story.

Remember that all additional tipping is at your discretion. Any amount is fine and will be appreciated by the hard-working crew.

Alaskan Dream Cruises

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: Gratuities for the crew are not included in the fare and are at the discretion of travelers.

Azamara

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: Gratuities for the crew are included in the fare. One area of exception: An 18% gratuity is added to bills for spa services.

Carnival Cruise Line

Automatic gratuity charge: $14.50 to $16.50 per person, per day.
Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $14.50. Those in suites pay $16.50. Children younger than 2 are exempt from the charges. Also, an 18% gratuity is added to bar bills and the cover charges for the Chef’s Table and Bonsai Teppanyaki restaurants. Note that Carnival’s service charges are scheduled to rise on April 1, 2023, to $16 for passengers staying in most cabins and $18 for passengers staying in suites.

Celebrity Cruises

Automatic gratuity charge: $17.50 per person, per day.
Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $17.50. Passengers in Concierge Class pay $18. Passengers in AquaClass cabins and The Retreat suites do not pay a gratuity charge for bookings made after July 14, 2022. Passengers who book a Celebrity cabin under the line’s pricier All Included rate plan also do not pay gratuity charges. Additionally, a 20% gratuity is added when a passenger orders a drink that’s not included in the line’s All-Included rate plan, as well as when purchasing a minibar item. An 18% gratuity will be added for spa and salon services.

Celestyal Cruises

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: Gratuities for crew and bar staff are included in the fare.

Costa Cruises

Automatic gratuity charge: $12.50 to $17.50 per person, per day.
Details: Passengers on ships operating on the U.S. dollar generally pay $12.50. Ships operating on the euro have an 11 euro charge ($12.01 at current exchange rates). On cruises departing from China, Japan and Singapore, the charges range from $13.50 to $17.50, depending on the cabin category. Passengers younger than 4 are exempt from the charges. Gratuities for children between 4 and 14 (up to 12 on cruises departing from Japan, China and Singapore) are half the adult rate. Additionally, a 15% gratuity is added to beverage purchases.

Cunard Line

Automatic gratuity charge: $13.50 to $16.50 per person, per day.
Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $13.50. Passengers in Grill Class suites pay $16.50. Additionally, a 15% gratuity is added to bar and wine bills. There’s a 12.5% service charge added to salon bills.

Disney Cruise Line

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: While Disney doesn’t add an automatic gratuity charge, it suggests that passengers staying in most cabins pay $14.50 per day in total when tipping various dining staff and room attendants. The suggested amount for passengers staying in concierge cabins and suites is $15.50. Passengers can prepay the amount in advance or on board. Also, an 18% gratuity is added to bar, beverage, wine and deck service bills, and an 18% gratuity is added to bills for spa services.

Holland America Line

Automatic gratuity charge: $16 to $17.50 per person, per day.
Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $16 for what the line now calls a “crew appreciation” charge. Passengers staying in suites pay $17.50. Additionally, an 18% gratuity is added to bar bills and dining room wine purchases.

Lindblad Expeditions

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: Gratuities are included in the fare for passengers on the National Geographic Explorer, National Geographic Endurance and National Geographic Orion. On other ships, gratuities are at the passenger’s discretion.

MSC Cruises

Automatic gratuity charge: about $13 (12 euros) to $14.50.
Details: Gratuity charges are $14.50 on voyages from and to the U.S., with the exception of sailings with pricing in euros, which have a gratuity charge of 12 euros ($12.74 at current exchange rates). Gratuities for children between 2 and 11 are half the adult rate on most cruises. Gratuities are not charged for children younger than 2.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Automatic service charge: $20 to $25 per person, per day.
Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $20. Those in suites or The Haven pay $25. Passengers younger than 3 are exempt from the charges. Additionally, a 20% gratuity is added to the bill at bars, extra-charge specialty restaurants and ship spas. Cruises to Hawaii will also pay a 4.275% prepaid service charge called a general excise tax.

Oceania Cruises

Automatic gratuity charge: $18 to $23 per person, per day.
Details: Passengers staying in most cabins pay $18. Passengers in top suites with butler service pay $23. Additionally, a 20% gratuity is added to bills at bars, the extra-charge La Reserve restaurant and at ship spas.

Paul Gauguin Cruises

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: Gratuities are included in the fare.

Ponant

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: Gratuities are included in the fare. However, passengers can give more at their discretion; Ponant recommends $10 to $12 per passenger, per day.

Princess Cruises

Automatic gratuity charge: $16 to $18 per person, per day.
Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $16 for what the line now calls a “crew appreciation” charge. Passengers in mini-suites pay $17, while those in bigger suites pay $18. Additionally, an 18% gratuity is added to bar bills, dining room wine purchases and Lotus Spa services.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: Gratuities are included in the fare.

Royal Caribbean

Automatic gratuity charge: $16 to $18.50 per person, per day.
Details: Passengers staying in most cabins, including junior suites, pay $16. Passengers in higher-level suites pay $18. Additionally, an 18% gratuity is added to bills at bars, minibars, salons and spas.

Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: Gratuities are included in the fare.

Seabourn

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: Gratuities are included in the fare.

SeaDream Yacht Club

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: Gratuities are included in the fare.

Silversea Cruises

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: Gratuities are included in the fare, except for beauty salon and spa treatments.

Star Clippers

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: The line recommends that passengers pay 8 euros ($8.44 at current exchange rates) per day in gratuities, but the payment is at the passenger’s discretion. There is a 15% gratuity added for bar purchases.

UnCruise Adventures

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: UnCruise recommends that passengers pay $35 per person, per day in gratuities, but the payment is at the passenger’s discretion.

Viking

Automatic gratuity charge: $17 per person, per day.
Details: Passengers pay $17 in gratuities for all cabin types. Also, a 15% gratuity is added to bar bills.

Virgin Voyages

Automatic gratuity charge: None.
Details: Gratuities are included in the fare.

Windstar Cruises

Automatic gratuity charge: $16 per person, per day.
Details: Passengers pay a “hotel service charge” of $16 for all cabin types. Additionally, an 18% gratuity is added to bar, beverage, wine and deck service bills. Alternately, Windstar cruisers can upgrade their bookings with an all-in package that includes unlimited beverages, WiFi and the hotel service charge for $89 per person per day.

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