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Complete Guide to Cruise Ship Tipping

If you’re an American, you’re used tipping for most personal services. If you’re an international cruiser, then tipping may not be as common where you’re from.

Either way, tipping aboard a cruise ship can be confusing for any passenger. Not only is nearly everyone on the ship providing a personal service, but you are also using services that most of us aren’t used to enjoying on a regular basis — massages, fine dining with multiple waiters, spas with attendants, and much more.

So what exactly is the protocol for tipping? Are you supposed to do it? Should you be carrying cash everywhere that you go on the ship just to make sure you don’t leave anyone out? How much should you tip for different services?

Don’t worry, we’re here to make you a “tipping pro” before you even set foot on a ship.

Why You Should Tip

tip-jarFirst things first. While tipping isn’t required during your cruise, these days you should consider it almost mandatory. The employees on a cruise line work hard — very hard. Most of them work long shifts with little time off. Remember, the same day that you leave your cruise ship, there are thousands of passengers getting right back on. The work is constant.

Meanwhile, the cruise lines expect the vast majority of passengers to tip for service. They even go as far as providing recommended tip amounts for guests. Similar to the United States, most of the personnel that are normally tipped make a small base wage that’s supplemented with tips.

That said, if the service is not up to par, then don’t feel bad for not leaving a tip. But don’t skip out on a tip just to save a few bucks. If you can afford the cruise, you can afford to tip.

Who Should I Tip?

As a rule of thumb, anyone that provides you with a direct, personal service while on your cruise should be considered someone that you tip.

This includes most of the obvious staff that caters to passengers like waiters (there are up to three of them in the main dining room!) and your stateroom attendant. It also includes others like bartenders, spa attendants, and room service.

Not to forget, it is also customary to tip baggage handlers like those who work at the port taking your bag to the cruise ship (these porters don’t work for the cruise line, rather, the port). If you go on a shore excursion and receive a personal tour, then you should tip them as well.

Sound like a lot? Truth is, there are quite a few people that provide you service on a cruise.

Is there anyone you don’t tip? It’s not customary to tip in many of the “free” restaurants on the ship, such as the buffet. However, if you are feeling generous, the staff would be appreciative. If you’re ever unsure, just look around to see what other people are doing.

How Much Should I Tip?

For most services, the rule of thumb is 10-20% of the bill. But what if you don’t have a bill? For example, you aren’t charged for eating in a ship’s dining room — it comes with your fare.

The cruise lines have you taken care of. Before you board (and also on board the ship) they will provide you with a listing of “Gratuity Guidelines.” These are the suggested amounts that you tip people like your dining room waiter and your cabin attendant.

Royal Caribbean offers the following tipping guidelines:

  • Stateroom Attendant: $5.00 per person, per day
  • Dining Room Waiter: $3.75 per person, per day
  • Assistant Waiter: $2.15 per person, per day
  • Head Waiter: $0.75 per person, per day
  • Suite Attendant: $7.25 per person, per day

But even these guidelines can cause some ripples. Personally, we think $5 per person, per day is particularly high for tipping a stateroom attendant. For two people on a 7-day cruise, that amounts to $70. If your room needs frequent attention, that amount is fair. But if you rarely need a room made up, we think that’s a little high.

Meanwhile, many people have a problem tipping a head waiter in the ship’s dining room when this is someone that they don’t usually interact with.

cruise-tippingAt the end of the day, these are just guidelines. No tip amount is going to turned away.

Room service is normally free on cruises, but it’s customary to tip the person who brings it to your cabin $3-5.

For baggage handlers at the port who help load your bags, $1-2 per bag is customary.

One note — before you tip for a service, make sure that gratuity isn’t already included. For many purchases you make (such as the bars on board or restaurants that have an additional charge) , a 10-15% is already included in the price. It’s usually always clearly marked on your receipt. In this case, you aren’t expected to tip additional unless you simply want to do so.

When Should I Tip?

Imagine how your cruise would be if you had to tip every time you stopped to eat, had a drink at the bar, or ordered room service.

That’s why tipping is usually a little different on a cruise — for the majority of the tips, you will simply pay at the end of the cruise.

Yes, it feels a little strange to just get up and leave the dining room without leaving a few bucks on the table. But don’t worry, it all works out in the end.

Near the end of the cruise, you will be provided with envelopes and tipping guidelines. You put your tips in these envelopes and deliver them to the appropriate person on your final day at sea.

For other services such as spas treatments or baggage handling, you tip when the service is provided. As a rule of thumb, if you aren’t going to see someone again on your cruise, go ahead and tip them now.

Should I Opt For Prepaid Gratuities?

If tipping has you in a tizzy, don’t worry, others are confused by it to. That’s why to make things easy, many lines have created the option of prepaid gratuities. You can select this option while booking your cruise, or even when you are already on the ship.

With prepaid gratuities, the tipping is taken care of for you. You pay an upfront fee ahead of time and the cruise line takes care of dispersing it.

This makes tipping pretty easy, although it doesn’t mean you don’t have to ever tip on the cruise. Extra services such as spa treatments aren’t included in the prepaid tips.

One drawback is that the prepaid gratuities are often “full price” of the recommended amounts. If you don’t use those services (such as often dining somewhere other than the main dining room) or don’t like your service, you are out of luck.

Still, given its convenience, many people opt for the “prepaid” route.

Photos: JefferyTurner | .Bala