What You Need to Know About Tipping on a Cruise
Few things are more confusing to cruisers than the gnarly question of tipping, and even experienced travellers find it difficult. Every cruise line has its own policy, so there’s no simple answer – but yes, you usually do need to tip. Here are some pointers when it comes to the when, who and how much.
In theory, you don’t have to tip, and nothing prevents you from being a scrooge. However, most cruise ships are run on the American model, which means that staff are working for low wages and dependent on the extra income that tips provide. Tipping generally also keeps service standards high.
Added service charge
With ever-increasing numbers of uncertain, non-tipping, non-Americans onboard, most mainstream cruise ships have addressed the problem by automatically adding a service charge to your bill at the end of the cruise (you can sometimes opt to prepay it). This means you don’t have to work out who to tip, or how much, and the charge is more fairly distributed among all the ship’s crew. The amount varies between companies, but expect about US$12 per day per person, including children. Technically the charge is voluntary, so you can ask for it to be removed or adjusted, but this is frowned upon. Companies that automatically add a gratuity include Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Cunard Line, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, MSC, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Windstar Cruises. An exception is P&O Australia.
Exceptions to the rule
Many cruise companies add a service charge to optional onboard services such as bar drinks and spa treatments. This is usually around 15 per cent and isn’t optional, but saves you from tipping those staff members. However, remember some staff aren’t part of the ship’s crew, so you might want to tip a good guide on a shore excursion (about US$5) and port baggage handlers (US$1-2 per suitcase).
But wait, there’s more
Whether your service charge is included in the fare or added to your bill, you might feel an individual staff member has gone out of his or her way to be particularly helpful. Some passengers reward them with additional tips, best distributed person-to-person on the last day of the cruise (not on disembarkation morning, as staff might be reassigned to other tasks and nowhere to be found). Around US$20 per week is a nice gesture. It’s also considered good form to tip your housekeeper (and butler if you have one) about US$5 per day.
Some cruise lines don’t add an automatic service charge to your bill, but include it in the overall, up-front cruise fare. As a rule of thumb, these are luxury, small-ship companies. Among them are Azamara Club Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Saga Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, SeaDream Cruises and Silversea Cruises. River-cruise companies, including APT, Avalon Waterways, Scenic Tours, Tauck, Uniworld and Viking River Cruises, also include service charges. Sometimes river-cruise companies ask that you tip the cruise director, who doesn’t share in the service-charge pot. If you wish, US$5 per day is appropriate.