The Ultimate Guide to Cruise Ship Tipping

Should you be ready to tip left and right? Can you just provide one lump gratuity at the end of your sailing? AFAR’s special cruise correspondent weighs in on the dos and don’ts of tipping on a cruise.

Seabourn cabin steward

Seabourn is among the select luxury cruise lines that includes all gratuities in its cruise fares.

Courtesy of Seabourn

Cruise lines are very upfront about their tipping policies. Unless you are on an all-inclusive ship that covers gratuities in the cruise fare, such as luxury cruise lines Azamara, Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Virgin Voyages, it is recommended that you tip the crew.

How much to tip on a cruise is actually easier to figure out than you may think, with major cruise lines providing precise tipping guidelines and even automatically adding a suggested gratuity amount to passengers’ onboard account. Some cruise lines even allow passengers to prepay gratuities before they board. Thus, there’s usually no need to determine how much to tip each individual crew member, such as the waiter or the housekeeper—you can often do it all in one lump sum at the start or end of the cruise.

Why are tips expected? The gratuities are supplemental income for the international crew, who often work for low base wages knowing that tips will help augment the amount they are paid—in a similar manner to the tips waiters at your local restaurant receive. While not technically required, tips are generally expected when noted by the cruise line.

No matter the suggested amount, you are free to visit the purser’s desk on your ship to adjust based on the service you were provided. Passengers who are impressed by the service they received might add more, if they make any adjustment at all.

Here’s what to know about tipping on cruise ships.

How much are the suggested gratuities on a cruise?

The total daily tipping rates for cruise waitstaff, cabin stewards, and other shipboard personnel are typically outlined both on the cruise line’s website and on passengers’ cruise documents that they receive prior to their cruise.

The average suggestions for cruise tips amount to between $12 and $16 per passenger, per day—which for a standard seven-night cruise comes to between $84 and $112 extra per person, or $336 to $448 extra for a family of four. There may be an additional suggested amount (typically another $4 per day) for those staying in a suite with a personal butler. Some cruise lines (but not all) will suggest waiving gratuities for children under the age of three.

Many river cruise lines include the gratuities, but for those that don’t, the suggested range is between $10 and $20 per passenger, per day. Similarly, some expedition cruise lines include gratuities while those that don’t recommend a gratuity of around $10 to $15 per person, per day.

The money collected for tips is divided up between the dining service team (servers and assistant servers, for instance) and the cabin steward team (the people responsible for tidying accommodations). In the past, passengers had an assigned table and the same waitstaff throughout the entirety of their cruise. But now, on most cruise lines, guests can choose to dine wherever and whenever they like—a tipping pool ensures that everyone who takes care of passengers receives a tip.

cruise ship room service

It’s not necessary, but a small tip can be offered for in-room dining.

Photo by Shutterstock

Personally, when I have a great housekeeper, even on a ship that includes gratuities, I will leave a small cash bonus (maybe $20 per passenger) at the end of the cruise. The same goes for waiters. It’s also a nice gesture to hand a small tip ($1 to $2) to room service attendants, especially if they come to your cabin with heavily laden trays when you, for instance, order breakfast in bed.

While the bulk of tips may be made by credit card at the end of the cruise, having some small bills on hand during your cruise vacation is never a bad idea for some of the added gratuities you may want to provide. For these smaller tips, U.S. dollars are typically fine, though it doesn’t hurt to offer it in the local currency if you have some available.

Bar, spa, and specialty dining tipping

Tips for bar personnel are usually included in the bar bill at a rate of 15 to 20 percent of the total bill. The same automatic tipping applies in shipboard coffee bars and ice cream shops. Note that there may be a space on the bill for a tip, which passengers can use to add anything extra on top of the included gratuity, but it’s not necessary.

Some cruisers like to give a bartender a tip of around $20 at the start of a sailing hoping that they will get extra attention, but of course this strategy is completely at each passenger’s own discretion. At the end of a cruise, some may also hand off a few dollars to a favorite bar waiter.

cruise ship bartender

Whether or not to tip a cruise ship bartender is at each passenger’s discretion.

Photo by Shutterstock

Big ships will automatically add a gratuity of about 18 percent to your massage at the spa or to a blowout in the salon. There may also be a space for an extra tip if you want to add one. Small ships might not automatically add a tip, so be sure to check the bill and leave around 15 to 20 percent if a gratuity wasn’t included and you feel the service warrants it. Also, the spa is one service for which a tip often isn’t included even on luxury cruises that cover all other gratuities. So again, be sure to take a close look at the line’s policy regarding tipping.

At specialty restaurants where meals costs extra, gratuities are typically (but not always) included in the added fee, so be sure to ask about whether or not they are. Even if included, you are free to add more for service that goes above and beyond.

Additional gratuities off the ship

On shore excursions, it’s expected that passengers tip tour guides and bus drivers. How much you tip on cruise excursions is entirely up to you, but a suggested starting price is $3 per person for a half-day tour and $6 per person for a full-day tour for the guide and $1 to $2 for the bus driver. You can, of course, increase that amount based on your experience on the excursion. Bond with your snorkel guide? Up the tip to $20.

Also expecting tips of around $1 to $2 per bag are the porters who collect bags at the pier. If a cruise includes a pre- or post-cruise hotel night, consider leaving a gratuity for the housekeeping staff at the hotel—I typically leave $2 to $5 per day.

Don’t tip everyone on a cruise

While cruisers can get overwhelmed by the extraordinary service and generous amount of tipping that can take place on any given sailing, there are some circumstances under which reaching into your wallet is neither expected nor customary—for instance, it is generally considered bad form to try to tip the captain, officers, and the rest of the management team, such as the hotel director, cruise director, and executive chef.

cruise ship entertainment

Cruise ship entertainers—such as these performers on Royal Caribbean’s “Symphony of the Seas"—don’t expect a gratuity.

Photo by Roy Riley/RCCL

The same is true with the entertainment team, with the exception of a piano player performing at a bar who may have a bowl for both tips and song requests.

No tipping is expected for the youth counselors who watch children at onboard kids’ clubs, though passengers can offer a gratuity to them if they would like.

Fran Golden covers cruises for AFAR.
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