I can’t think of a more controversial cruise topic to write about. Automatic cruise ship gratuities… and the act of removing them.
This is an extremely hot topic that has cruise line forums exploding with heated debates and arguments over the different opinions about tipping. It’s very divided. Both sides are equally passionate about defending their personal stance.
This is exactly why I think it’s important to talk about.
If you head to a cruise forum to ask questions about removing tips (or really any gratuity topic in general) you’ll be met with sarcasm, judgemental comments, and sometimes straight up bullying. Die-hard cruisers have been known to shun gratuity removers both online and in person. It’s become a hush-hush topic that leaves inquiring minds with little to no information.
Instead of judging one another or criticizing the cruise lines, I think it’s important to know more about tipping and why the cruise lines have this practice in the first place.
Before I dive into the extremely polarizing sides of this article, I want to preface that I believe tipping is important. I am a huge fan of cruising and I see the intense amount of work the staff put in, day in and day out. These workers deserve to be recognized both monetarily and through mentions to their superiors or in surveys. Some of the best customer service I have ever received in my life has been aboard cruise ships, exceeding even that of uber-luxury brand 5-star hotels on land.
When I am getting great service from my cruise family, I am more than happy to tip. However, I do understand the other side of the argument when (very rarely) people receive lack-luster service and get disgruntled by being seemingly being forced to tip anyway.
This blog isn’t to debate whether automatic tipping is good or bad, but rather as an eye opener into if gratuities are mandatory, how they are distributed, which cruise lines allow you to remove them if necessary, and why they still should be an important part of your cruise budget.
How Much Are Tips on a Cruise?
Cruise line gratuities are usually between $12 to $16 USD, per person, per day.
The average across all major cruise lines is $14 per person, per day. If you book in a higher class room, like a suite or a penthouse, auto-gratuities are charged 20% higher.
In addition to to the industry average of $14 USD per person/per day, there are also added gratuities on:
- Buying drinks without a drink package = 15%-18% of bill
- Spa Services = 15%-20% of bill
- Speciality Dining = 15%-20% of bill
How Are Gratuities Divided Amongst Cruise Staff?
Every cruise line differs slightly on how they divvy up the tips, but generally here is the breakdown:
Dining room staff in all cases take biggest cut of the gratuity pool.
There is controversy on whether or not some cruise lines actually pocket a percentage of the gratuities and add them to their bottom line. There have been a few cruise lines recently that have changed the terminology from ‘gratuities’ to ‘hotel service charge’ to make it look more like a resort fee, thereby allowing them more flexibility on how the fees are distributed.
What Do Gratuities Cost in Total Per Cruise?
Most cruise lines will allow you to pre-pay your tips at the time of booking, or charge them to your on-board account and pay them on the last evening of the cruise.
Using the industry average of $14 per person, per day – here is what you can expect your gratuities to add up to in total:
(In USD. Per cabin # based on double occupancy)
1 Day Cruise:
$14 per person
$28 per cabin
2 Day Cruise:
$28 per person
$56 per cabin
3 Day Cruise:
$42 per person
$84 per cabin
4 Day Cruise:
$56 per person
$112 per cabin
5 Day Cruise:
$70 per person
$140 per cabin
6 Day Cruise:
$84 per person
$168 per cabin
7 Day Cruise:
$98 per person
$196 per cabin
8 Day Cruise:
$112 per person
$224 per cabin
9 Day Cruise:
$126 per person
$252 per cabin
10 Day Cruise:
$140 per person
$280 per cabin
11 Day Cruise:
$154 per person
$308 per cabin
12 Day Cruise:
$168 per person
$336 per cabin
13 Day Cruise:
$182 per person
$364 per cabin
14 Day Cruise:
$196 per person
$392 per cabin
15 Day Cruise:
$211 per person
$422 per cabin
16 Day Cruise:
$225 per person
$450 per cabin
17 Day Cruise:
$239 per person
$478 per cabin
18 Day Cruise:
$253 per person
$506 per cabin
19 Day Cruise:
$267 per person
$534 per cabin
20 Day Cruise:
$280 per person
$562 per cabin
The Great Gratuity Divide:
In a recent Cruise Critic poll, 52% of people said they liked the convenience of automatic gratuities added to their bill. But what about the other half of all cruisers? For various different reasons, many cruisers do not agree with having automatically charged gratuities.
Why Some Cruisers Are Against Auto Gratuities:
→ Some people say they don’t want to be responsible for paying for a cruise lines overhead costs or to supplement the wage of employees. Cruise industry profits are soaring, so some ask “why do I need to pay your staff for you?”
→ If the traveler comes from a culture where tipping is not customary. Some countries are completely foreign to the idea of gratuities, especially ones given before hand. If a cruiser comes from a place where tipping is discouraged, having auto-charged gratuities can be a hard pill to swallow.
→ They want to control how they tip and ensure the stars get the majority of their generosity. Some cruisers get personal joy and satisfaction of rewarding good service face to face. Others also like to ensure that the crew members who stood out the most are rewarded more handsomely than others.
→ They don’t like being forced to tip on an automatic basis. Some people just frankly don't like being told what to do. They want to make up their own minds if staff deserve tips and feel it's well within their rights to decide how to spend their own money.
Why Some Cruisers Are FOR Auto Gratuities:
→ It makes the cruise a breeze. Many cruisers love the fact they don't need to carry cash, remember to bring their wallet everywhere, or hang around waiting to give out a tip.
→ They worry about the ‘hidden stars'. Some travellers understand many of the behind the scenes workers (like janitors, food runners, bus boys, etc) might not get any tips if people only cash-tipped the main faces on the ship.
→ To reward hard working staff. Frequent cruisers have compassion for the high number of hours worked per day by the staff. They start to see cruising as a sort of family and community and like to ensure they are taking care of the people who take care of them.
→ They see it as the total cost of cruising. Many people see this as a cost they would have spent anyway and should be considered into the entire cruise budget. They wouldn't dream of debating it further.
Cruise Lines That Allow You to Remove Gratuities:
Technically cruise lines cannot force you to pay gratuities, especially if you have a complaint or issue about the service you received on board. Gratuities on a cruise are not mandatory, but instead heavily suggested and added automatically. They do however differ in the method that you can remove gratuities from automatically charging on your bill.
(Personal note: I firmly believe that if you are going to remove automatic gratuities, it should only be for the sole purpose of controlling who and when you tip. Meaning, you should still be tipping. The below information on which cruise lines allow you to remove auto-gratutities is not a cheat-sheet on how you can save some money. This is for the people who prefer to tip in person.)
Here is a list of the mainstream cruise lines that allow you to remove gratuities:
- Royal Caribbean
- Holland America
With brands like Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and MSC, you simply need to head to Guest Relations BEFORE the end of your cruise and they will remove the charges for you.
Rumor has it that other brands like NCL require you to speak to Guest Relations on board, fill out paperwork, pay the gratuities and then claim them back post-cruise.
But wait, maybe you don’t actually want to remove your tips to ‘tip as you go’ – and instead you just have an issue with one particular event onboard. You can choose to increase or decrease your gratuities as well.
Increasing or Decreasing Gratuities
Increase: You may want to have Guest Relations increase your gratuities if you received great service during your cruise, but you didn’t bring extra cash to tip with. They can adjust your daily rate up by a few cents or a few dollars, the choice is yours.
Decrease: You might want to decrease your daily gratuity rate if you received sub-par service, but don’t want to remove them all-together. If for some reason you don’t agree with the amount of the daily rate, or you have a complaint about the service, Guest Relations can adjust it down for you. No one should be forced to pay tips if they indeed had a very poor experience.
Are Gratuities Ever Included In Cruise Fare?
Yes! There are two ways tips will be included on your cruise. One way is during a promotion where they are included as a free perk. Another way is if you choose a cruise line that already includes gratuities in the price of the ticket.
Cruise Lines that Include Gratuities/Tips:
There are a few cruise lines (mostly higher end luxury ones) that include ALL gratuities in your fare so there are no added charges at the end of your cruise.
These cruise lines are typically going to cost much more than a main stream brand.
- Crystal Cruises
- Paul Gauguin
Important Thoughts About Cruise Line Gratuities:
Cruising is one of the best vacations you can take, hands down. A huge part of why cruising is so great comes down to the staff. They bend over backward to give you a perfect voyage and I believe they should be rewarded for that.
Now… do I believe they should be automatically rewarded for their good service, in which they come to expect it? Not really.
I've got to be honest and say I don't necessarily agree with automatic gratuities. This is because I believe each individual has the right to determine how and when they spend their hard earned money.
Also, there is no accountability in the industry to ensure every penny IS going to the staff, we've just had to take the cruise line's word for it. As stocks soar in price and profits increase, I think it's prudent to ask: “Are a portion of these gratuities being used for something else?”
Some people argue that the cruise lines have established this system because people won't tip otherwise, but I don't fully agree. In other service industries, like restaurants, hotels and taxis, people are left to their own discretion for tipping, and they still do it 9 times out of 10.
On the flip side, and like I stated before, I 100% agree with tipping cruise ship staff. They work extremely hard and the vast majority of them deserve every penny. They are wonderful people who are masters at the art of service and I believe they deserve fair and generous gratuities.
Final Thoughts: Treat others how you wish to be treated, be kind, and have fun on your cruise!
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