**Cruise ship photograph by letsjustgophotography. All other photos provided courtesy of Unsplash.
“Grateful for small things, big things, and everything in between.” -Unknown
My favorite way to travel is by cruise ship and as a 15-year veteran cruiser, I can’t recommend it enough!
However, if you are new to cruising, there are some features of the industry that you might need help with and one of those might be tipping. If you need advice on how tipping works, who to tip, and who not to tip, I’m happy to help.
How tipping works
Tipping is technically not mandatory but it is customary and common practice across the cruise industry.
I would want to point out that I have seen firsthand how hard crew members work. They work very long hours for months at a time, far away from home. Unfortunately, they are paid low wages by the cruise lines so the tips they receive certainly augment their base pay.
To make tipping easy for passengers, most cruise lines automatically charge tips to your onboard account. Your onboard account is attached to your credit card during embarkation and your gratuities are then divided between your cabin steward, waiters, and other support staff behind the scenes.
Also, depending on how your cruise is booked, tips are sometimes covered as part of a promotion or “sale” under which you book your cruise. For example, your cruise line could offer “free tips” or “free specialty dining.”
Do your research
As you budget and plan, be aware that the cost of your cruise includes your cruise fare, port fees, and taxes. Tips are typically an additional expense added during your cruise for which you need will need to budget. Before you book a cruise, be sure to understand the tipping policies of the individual cruise line on which you hope to sail.
To keep my gratuity tips current, I won’t cover the exact amounts that individual cruise lines charge because they can vary widely and change often. However, most cruise lines charge per-day tip rates for each person in the cabin. For example, if you are traveling with a spouse, in your onboard account, you will see two line items for tips (one for you, one for your spouse) for each day of your cruise. Tip rates could also vary by the type of cabin you choose. Cruise lines should be transparent on these charges on their websites so you should be able to determine what is customary and how to budget.
How to pay your tips
Most cruise lines automatically charge your onboard account for daily tips which you can easily monitor on your cabin TV or, if your cruise line offers one, on the cruise line’s app on your phone. However, some cruise lines allow you to prepay your tips before your cruise so you don’t have to worry about extra charges onboard.
To tip or not to tip
In addition to the staff already covered by your daily tips, it is customary for some services to receive tips while others do not require additional tipping. How do you know? These are a few notables:
Porters: On embarkation day, porters will meet you at the cruise terminal or at the airport and will handle your luggage, ensuring that it follows you onto the ship. We always tip our porters $2-$3 per bag.
Specialty Restaurant Waiters: If you visit a specialty restaurant, the tip is typically not included, however, this can vary between cruise lines. You should receive a bill, just as you would in a normal restaurant at home. If tips are already added, the bill will reflect it and it is not necessary to add more unless your service was exceptional and you choose to do so. Some of the best service we have experienced has been in these restaurants so I would recommend tipping extra depending on how much tip has already been taken. We are generous tippers when service is excellent so we try to make sure that a tip of no less than 20% is provided.
Tour guides, bus drivers, & taxis: When you step off your ship and head off on shore excursions, be prepared to tip the people who show you around their home towns.
Bar Tenders: It is typical for bar tabs to already have a large gratuity added. You will see space on your bar bill to add a tip but this is optional.
Spa Services: These services may also already include tips for these services so again, an additional tip is optional.
How we handle tips and how to recognize excellent service
When my husband and I cruise, we prefer to prepay our tips when possible. However, we appreciate outstanding service when we see it so we will tip extra especially if the service is outstanding. These are three options that we use:
I carry thank you cards with me to leave a personal note of thanks to the crew members who are so deserving, tucking some extra cash inside. This has often been our room steward but I have been known to leave something for crew members who go above and beyond.
Besides the extra cash, I want to be sure that these hard-working crew members get the praise they deserve so I always make sure to write a note of recognition when the cruise line asks for it on the last day or so of the trip.
To make sure that a specific crew member is recognized for exceptional service, we have gone to Guest Services and arranged for additional tips to be assigned to that person. This way, we did not have to carry cash for this purpose and the extra tip is simply charged to our onboard account.
One last thought
I am often amazed by the crew on our ships. They see a different ship of new passengers turnover every few days yet they quickly call us by name and ask about our preferences, always making sure that we are comfortable and happy. Our room stewards are always just steps away if we need them and they always greet us with a bright smile. I don’t know how they do it!
Don’t forget to return the favor! Do what you can to remember the names of the crew assigned to you, learn about them, don’t leave a mess, thank them for their service, and leave a positive review.
In addition, consider recognizing the people who will make your trip a special one by leaving your favorite crew members candy, especially chocolate bars, as treats. Other treats for staff include travel-sized essentials and even phone cards so they can call home during shore days.
To me, it feels like customer service is disappearing so I tend to be a little cynical on the topic of tipping, even though my husband and I try to be generous tippers. However, on a cruise ship, the crew is there to make sure that you have a safe, enjoyable vacation. They want you to be happy and many go to great lengths to make you comfortable. Be sure to be kind and reward the best of them for their hard work.