Understanding How Tipping Works on a Cruise

Understanding how tipping works on a cruise can make your voyage much smoother and more enjoyable. When you step onto a cruise ship, you’re not just embarking on a journey across the sea; you’re also entering a world where service staff work tirelessly to enhance your experience. You’ll find that tipping customarily comes in a few forms: automatic gratuities added to your bill, individual tips for exceptional service, and tips for specialized services such as spa treatments. Knowing these details ahead of time empowers you to show appreciation to those who make your cruise unforgettable, all while ensuring you stay within budget.

Understanding How Tipping Works on a Cruise

Have you ever wondered how tipping works on a cruise? You’re not alone! Tipping on a cruise can be confusing, especially if it’s your first time setting sail. Knowing who to tip, how much to tip, and when to tip can make your cruise experience smoother and more enjoyable. Let’s dive into the complex yet fascinating world of tipping on a cruise so you can sail the seas with confidence.

Why Tipping is Important on a Cruise

Before we get into the specifics, it’s essential to understand why tipping is so significant in the cruise industry. Unlike many hospitality services on land, cruise ship staff often rely heavily on tips as a part of their income. Tipping ensures that the hardworking crew members who make your vacation memorable are fairly compensated for their efforts.

Crew members, including waiters, cabin stewards, and other service staff, often work long hours to ensure your comfort and enjoyment. Your tips not only reward them for their dedicated service but also show your appreciation for their hard work.

The Tipping Culture: A Global Perspective

When it comes to tipping, cultural norms can vary widely around the world. On a cruise, you’ll encounter staff from various countries, each with its own tipping customs. While North Americans are generally accustomed to tipping, Europeans may find it less common. However, it’s crucial to align with the cruise line’s tipping policy, irrespective of your cultural background.

Different Tipping Policies

Cruise lines often have distinct tipping policies. Some include gratuities in the fare, while others add them to your onboard account or expect you to tip in cash. Understanding your specific cruise line’s policy will save you from any unexpected surprises:

Cruise Line Policy
Royal Caribbean Automatic gratuities added to onboard account; optional additional tipping available
Carnival Cruise Line Tips added to onboard account but can be adjusted at guest services
Norwegian Cruise Line Gratuities added to onboard account; optional additional tipping welcome
Disney Cruise Line Gratuities added to onboard account; envelopes provided for additional tipping
MSC Cruises Service charges added daily to onboard account

Understanding How Tipping Works on a Cruise

Automatic Gratuities: How They Work

Many cruise lines have adopted the practice of automatic gratuities. This means that a set amount is added to your onboard account each day, covering tips for key service staff. Here’s a closer look at how it breaks down:

Cruise Line Daily Gratuity Per Person
Royal Caribbean $14.50 – $17.50
Carnival Cruise Line $14.50
Norwegian Cruise Line $15.50 – $18.50
Disney Cruise Line $13.50
MSC Cruises $12.50 – $14.00

These automatic gratuities cover staff such as dining room waiters, assistant waiters, head waiters, and cabin stewards. If you receive exceptional service, you can always give additional cash tips to show your appreciation.

Opting Out or Adjusting Automatic Gratuities

If you feel that the service you received does not justify the automatic gratuities, most cruise lines allow you to adjust the amount at the guest services desk. However, it’s always wise to think twice before making adjustments, as crew members often rely on these tips as part of their standard income.

Tipping Different Service Providers

Not all service providers on a cruise are covered by automatic gratuities. It’s essential to know who else you should tip and how much to give. Here’s a handy guide to help you out:

Cabin Stewards

Your cabin steward ensures that your room is clean, tidy, and stocked with essentials. They typically receive a portion of your automatic gratuities but may appreciate an additional tip if they go above and beyond:

  • Standard Tip: Included in automatic gratuities
  • Extra: $10-$20 for exceptional service at the end of your cruise

Dining Staff

Waiters, assistant waiters, and head waiters in the main dining room also receive automatic gratuities. However, if you dine in specialty restaurants, an additional tip may be expected:

  • Standard Tip: Included in automatic gratuities for main dining
  • Specialty Restaurants: 15-20% of the bill, if not already included

Bartenders and Bar Staff

Bartenders and bar staff generally appreciate tips for good service, although a service charge is often added to your drink bill:

  • Standard Tip: 15-18% service charge added to drink bill
  • Extra: $1-$2 per drink if service is excellent

Room Service

If you order room service, it’s customary to tip the person delivering your food. Some cruise lines include a service charge, but it’s always nice to offer a little extra:

  • Standard Tip: $1-$5 per delivery, depending on the size of the order

Shore Excursion Guides

While tipping isn’t mandatory for shore excursion guides, it’s a thoughtful gesture if you enjoyed the tour:

  • Standard Tip: $5-$10 per person, depending on the length and quality of the tour

Spa and Salon Staff

Tipping at the spa or salon is similar to tipping at a land-based establishment. A gratuity may be added to your bill, but leaving an additional tip for exceptional service is always appreciated:

  • Standard Tip: 15-20% of the bill, if not already included

Understanding How Tipping Works on a Cruise

How Much Should You Tip?

The amount you should tip can vary based on your cruise line, the service you received, and your personal preferences. Here’s a summary to make it easier for you:

Service Provider Standard Tip Extra Tip
Cabin Stewards Included in automatic gratuities $10-$20 for exceptional service
Dining Staff Included in automatic gratuities 15-20% at specialty restaurants
Bartenders 15-18% service charge on drinks $1-$2 per drink
Room Service $1-$5 per delivery
Shore Excursion Guides $5-$10 per person
Spa/Salon Staff 15-20% of the bill, if not included Additional tip for exceptional service

Tipping Practices for Different Types of Cruises

Your tipping approach might change depending on the type of cruise you’re taking. Whether you’re on a luxury cruise, a river cruise, or an expedition cruise, it’s crucial to understand the nuances of tipping in each setting.

Luxury Cruises

Luxury cruise lines often have a more inclusive approach, where gratuities are part of your fare. However, tipping for exceptional service is always a nice touch:

  • Examples: Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas
  • Tipping Practice: Gratuities included but optional tipping for exceptional service

River Cruises

River cruises usually cover gratuities in the fare or add them to your onboard account. As with luxury cruises, additional tips for outstanding service are appreciated:

  • Examples: Viking River Cruises, AmaWaterways, Uniworld
  • Tipping Practice: Gratuities included or automatically added

Expedition Cruises

On expedition cruises, tipping can vary based on the cruise line. Some include gratuities in the fare, while others may leave it up to guests:

  • Examples: Lindblad Expeditions, Ponant, Hurtigruten
  • Tipping Practice: Varies; check with the cruise line

Tips for First-Time Cruisers

If it’s your first time cruising, the tipping process can feel overwhelming. Here are some handy tips to help you navigate:

Research Your Cruise Line’s Policy

Before setting sail, take some time to research your cruise line’s tipping policy. Knowing what to expect will help you budget better and avoid any surprises.

Carry Small Denominations

Having small bills handy makes tipping easier, especially for room service deliveries or spontaneous gratuities for exceptional service.

Personalized Touch

While automatic gratuities cover the basics, a personal thank you note or an additional tip can leave a lasting impression and express your gratitude in a meaningful way.

Budget for Tipping

Make sure to factor in tipping when budgeting for your cruise. Understanding the expected amounts can help you avoid unexpected expenses and ensure you have a stress-free vacation.

Pros and Cons of Automatic Gratuities

To help you understand the impact of automatic gratuities, here’s a quick rundown of their pros and cons:


  1. Convenience: You don’t have to worry about carrying cash or remembering to tip various staff members throughout your cruise.
  2. Fair Distribution: Ensures that tips are fairly distributed among all staff members, including those working behind the scenes.
  3. Ease of Budgeting: Helps you budget your trip more accurately since you know the gratuities are already accounted for.


  1. Perceived Impersonality: Some people feel that automatic gratuities lack the personal touch of handing cash directly to the staff.
  2. No Control Over Service Levels: Automatic gratuities don’t always reflect the quality of service you receive.
  3. Potential for Overcharging: Some guests feel that automatic gratuities can be higher than what they would have tipped voluntarily.

Understanding Service Charges vs. Tips

It’s also essential to differentiate between service charges and tips. While both are forms of financial appreciation, they are not the same.

Service Charges

A service charge is often a mandatory fee that is added to your account. It usually covers all staff members and is designed to ensure fair compensation.

  • Example: A 15-18% fee added to your bar or spa bill.


Tips, on the other hand, are voluntary and are given directly to the staff member. They are an acknowledgment of exceptional service.

  • Example: Handing $10 directly to your cabin steward for excellent service.

Handling Unique Situations

Sometimes, you might find yourself in unique situations that require a different tipping approach. Here are a few scenarios to consider:

Large Group or Family Cruises

When cruising with a large group or family, you may receive extra attention from the staff. It’s a good practice to acknowledge their efforts with additional tips:

  • Recommendation: Pool in extra tips from all family members or group participants.

Repeated Exceptional Service

If a staff member consistently goes above and beyond, consider giving them an additional tip mid-cruise. It not only boosts their morale but also ensures continued excellent service:

  • Recommendation: An additional $20-$40, depending on the level of service.

Special Requests or Needs

If you have special dietary requirements or unique needs that require extra effort from the staff, a little extra tip shows your appreciation for their extra care:

  • Recommendation: An additional $10-$20 based on the complexity and frequency of your requests.

What If You’re Not Satisfied with the Service?

Sometimes, service might not meet your expectations. In such cases, it’s important to address the issue while maintaining courtesy.

Speak to a Supervisor

Before adjusting your automatic gratuities, consider discussing your concerns with a supervisor or the guest services desk. Often, issues can be resolved to your satisfaction.

Adjusting Gratuities

If the service remains unsatisfactory, most cruise lines allow you to adjust the gratuities at the guest services desk. Be sure to explain why you are making the adjustment, so the feedback can be used for improvement.

Summary of Key Points

Understanding how tipping works on a cruise is essential for a smooth sailing experience. Here are the key takeaways:

  1. Automatic Gratuities: Most cruise lines add daily gratuities to your onboard account, covering essential service staff.
  2. Additional Tips: While automatic gratuities cover the basics, additional tips for exceptional service are appreciated.
  3. Different Providers: Know who to tip, from cabin stewards to spa staff, and how much to give.
  4. Type of Cruise: Tipping practices can vary depending on whether you’re on a luxury, river, or expedition cruise.
  5. Personalized Touch: Adding a personal note or handing the tip directly can make your appreciation more heartfelt.

Armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to enjoy your cruise with the confidence of knowing exactly how to handle tipping. Bon voyage!