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How Much Should I Tip on a Cruise?

cruise ship bar scaled
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One of the things that can throw new cruisers for a loop is the issue of “gratuities”.

It’s an essential part of the cruise experience because it’s directly tied to the cruise employees’ compensation.

But what exactly are cruise gratuities? How much are they? Where do they go? Can you opt out of paying them?

We’re going to lift the veil on all these questions right now.

Understanding Cruise Gratuities

Cruise gratuities are charged to cruise passengers for each day of their cruise.

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The simple way to understand cruise gratuities is that they are tips for the crew staff.

We live in a world where tipping seems to be everywhere you turn for every service no matter how mundane.

You go to a checkout in a bakery and you’re prompted to tip.

The cruise industry is a lot different.

These people work extremely hard for very long hours to make sure you have the most enjoyable vacation possible.

Who Receives Your Tips

One mistake that most new cruisers make is thinking that the gratuities only cover the people they see.

That is to say, they think it’s just the waiters, bartenders, and room stewards (housekeeping).

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And gratuities definitely cover their services.

However, it goes far beyond that.

Think about it.

After your room steward changes your bed sheets and gives you fresh towels, what happens to the dirty items?

Remember, it’s not just your dirty towels and sheets.

It’s also the other 2,500 to 6,000 people on the ship with you.

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In order to handle this amount of work, there are entire teams that are responsible for sorting, cleaning, and folding all those laundry items.

And they do this every single day of your cruise.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Pro Tip: Carry cash with you as you walk around the ship. If you receive what you feel is exceptional service, discretely slip them the cash. They’ll appreciate it.

Carry Cash for Tips

The folks in the engine room make sure that the machinery is running so that power is delivered throughout the ship for electricity, air conditioning, and propulsion of the ship.

It’s not uncommon to see crew painting the outside areas of the ship while you’re in port and even on sea days.

The crew that collects the trash and cleans the public restrooms work extremely hard to keep you comfortable.

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Your gratuities cover all these crew members. Even when you can’t see them.

Terms Used to Refer to Gratuities

Depending on the cruise line you’ll sail with, gratuities may be masked by different terms or phrases.

But they still mean the same thing.

Here are some ways you might hear gratuities referred to with your cruise line of choice:

  • Service Charges: Some cruise lines opt for this term to indicate that the gratuity is automatically added to the guest’s onboard account, covering service from the crew members.
  • Tips: A more traditional term that is easily understood by most passengers, it implies a direct payment for services rendered, often at the guest’s discretion but sometimes suggested or automatically applied by the cruise line.
  • Hotel Service Charge: This term is used to specifically denote gratuities that are distributed among the stateroom and dining service team members, distinguishing it from other types of service charges.
  • Daily Service Charge: Reflecting the practice of applying a daily gratuity rate per person, this term breaks down the overall gratuity into daily amounts that cover the entire service team’s efforts.
  • Automatic Gratuities: Some lines specify that gratuities are automatically added, highlighting that guests do not need to provide tips directly to service staff unless they wish to give extra for exceptional service.

As you can see, regardless of what they’re called, they are basically the same thing.

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How Much to Tip

How much tip (a.k.a. gratuities) varies by each cruise line and the type of stateroom you’ll be staying in.

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Those staying in suites will pay more than guests in standard cabins.

Standard cabins would be everything from inside cabins to balcony cabins (that is, inside staterooms, oceanview staterooms, and balcony staterooms).

Here are the rates for gratuities or tips for each of the major cruise lines sailing out of the United States as of the writing of this article:

  • Carnival Cruise Line: Around $14.50 per person, per day for standard cabins, and approximately $16.50 per person, per day for those staying in suites.
  • Royal Caribbean International: Approximately $16.00 per person, per day for guests in standard cabins and about $18.50 per person, per day for suite guests.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL): Close to $16.00 per person, per day for most cabins, with suite guests paying around $20.00 per person, per day.
  • Princess Cruises: Typically around $16.00 per person, per day for standard accommodations, with mini-suites and suites possibly higher.
  • Holland America Line: Generally around $15.50 per person, per day for most cabins, with suite guests paying approximately $17.00 per person, per day.
  • Celebrity Cruises: About $15.50 per person, per day for standard cabins, and nearly $19.00 per person, per day for guests in suites.
  • MSC Cruises: Varies significantly depending on the specific ship and itinerary, generally around $12.50 to $14.00 per person, per day, with different rates for the Yacht Club.
  • Disney Cruise Line: Around $13.50 to $14.50 per person, per day, depending on the cruise length and itinerary.

You might notice that Virgin Voyages is missing from this list.

That’s because Virgin Voyages takes a unique approach to gratuities compared to the other cruise lines.

They don’t charge traditional daily gratuities or service charges to their passengers.

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Instead, Virgin Voyages includes the cost of gratuities in the cruise fare.

This policy covers tips for the onboard crew, so passengers don’t have to worry about additional gratuity charges on their bill for standard services.

This approach is part of Virgin Voyages’ broader strategy to simplify the cruising experience and make it more inclusive.

By including gratuities in the upfront cost, they aim to ensure that the crew is fairly compensated without passengers needing to manage additional expenses during their voyage.

Tipping Etiquette and Guidelines

As we stated earlier, tips are charged to your stateroom daily.

You’ll see them when you check your account on the television in your stateroom or when you ask for a printout from guest services.

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You can also choose to prepay your gratuities online before boarding the ship.

Many experienced cruisers prefer this model because it means they won’t have to pay for tips in addition to purchases made on the ship.

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front of large cruise ship in port

Opportunities to Tip More

What you’ll find when you go on a cruise is that everyone working on the ship really does want you to enjoy the work they put in for you to enjoy yourself.

In the case that you want to personally give one of the crew members a tip, you are welcome – encouraged even – to do so.

Some cruise lines have envelopes that you can put cash into and leave for the crew member.

This is most commonly done for the stateroom attendant.

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However, this is not the only opportunity.

When you order a drink from the bar, many times you’ll see that the gratuity was already added.

Should you want to express your appreciation to the bartender, you can include an additional tip in the field printed on the receipt.

Another way you can do this is to discretely hand the crew member the money you want to give them.

I can think of two specific occasions where I did this.

On the NCL Escape, the hostess at the main dining room remembered us and our room number without me having to say anything.

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Additionally, she made sure to put us in prime locations.

When the band was going to be playing, she put us in the middle of the room to have a perfect viewing position.

On days when the musicians were not playing, she put us next to the window where we could view the wake of the ship in the water.

For this crew member, I placed the money in my hand, shook her hand and thanked her for taking care of us.

When she felt it, she knew what it was and thanked me while discretely sliding it into her pocket.

On a Carnival cruise, the crew member leading karaoke was great and she did something really cool in my behalf publicly at another time on the ship (what she did is out of the scope of this discussion).

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Suffice it to say, I wanted to make sure I took care of her.

During debarkation, the cruise on Carnival cruises lines up to bid the passengers farewell.

When I saw her, I called her over and briefly we talked about the incident I mentioned above.

I had the money in my hand the same as with the NCL crew member.

She, too, discretely stashed the money into her pocket.

The point?

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If at any time during your cruise you want to give a staff member – regardless of their job – an additional tip, by all means, be as generous as you like.

Staff Not Covered By Automatic Gratuities

While most crew members will divide up the automatic tips, not all are part of the distribution.

The workers in the spa, for example, do not receive anything from the daily tips.

The reason is because the spa staff is not employed by the cruise line.

They are employees of a third party that provides spa services on the ship.

When you dine at speciality dining, you can also add an additional tip in the same manner as you can with the bartender.

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Adjusting or Opting Out of Gratuities

With all that we’ve discussed regarding what gratuities or tips cover and who they cover, you might be surprised that it is possible to opt out of paying gratuities.

Is it something I recommend or encourage?

Absolutely not!

Ask anyone who is an experienced cruiser and ask him or her how hard the staff works and how pleasant their cruise experience was as a result, and you’ll find that almost all of them will say the staff is phenomenal.

Will there be one or two here and there that don’t live up to the expectation?


But with all the crew you will interact with, almost none will give you a reason to complain.

However, should you feel that the service you received was not acceptable and you do not want to tip, you can get the gratuities removed.

Simply go to Guest Services and tell them that you want the gratuities to be removed.

The way gratuities are charged is on a per day basis.

Therefore, each day, you’ll see the charge appear on your account.

As you can expect, there will be push back against removing tips.

What some do (specifically someone in my family) is to go to guest services the last day of the cruise prior to debarkation day.

Personally, I can’t give you advice on what to say because I have never done this.

But I can tell you that this family member takes the gratuities off the account every, single cruise.

And this person has taken many cruises over the years.

Just remember all the things that the crew does before you consider removing the tips.

Here’s another thing to consider.

How much would you pay in tip if you went out to dinner at a nice restaurant?

It’s safe to say that your tip in this restaurant will be more than what you will pay in gratuities per day on a cruise ship.

Also, this small amount covers – not just one meal – but breakfast, lunch, dinner, and housekeeping.

There is no place on the planet where you can get that much value for so little money.

Remember Why You’re Tipping

Is it true that cruise lines should pay their workers better so that tipping is not necessary?

Most would agree to that.

It’s also true that, under present circumstances, this is not the case.

So consider all that your tips cover, both with crew you interact with and crew you’ll never see but are pivotal to making your vacation awesome.

If you want to make life easier, you can prepay your gratuities so you know everything is covered.

Then, jump on board the ship and let the festivities begin!