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Everything you need to know about tipping on a cruise ship

April 06, 2022
12 min read
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Some cruise lines call them service charges. Others call them gratuity charges.

Either way, the daily service fees that some cruise lines tack onto passenger bills can be a shock to first-time cruisers.

At some lines, these charges run as high as $23 per day. And, unlike the typical service fee or resort fee found at a land resort, they are not per room. They are per person.

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At many big lines such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, it’s not uncommon for a family of four staying in a single cabin to see around $60 a day in service fees added to their bills. On a typical seven-night cruise, that’s more than $400 in fees!

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Still, not all lines have service fees that high. Some don’t charge a service fee at all. And, in many cases, the service charges are adjustable.

Service charges on ships: The big picture

Most of the biggest cruise lines automatically add some sort of service or gratuity fee onto passenger bills. Lines with such charges include both of the two giants of the cruise business, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line, as well as Norwegian, MSC Cruises and Princess Cruises.

That said, the total number of lines with a service fee has been shrinking over the years. Many smaller and higher-end cruise operators have been folding these charges into their base fares. One big line — Celebrity Cruises — recently bundled gratuities into its base fare, too.

Lines that now include gratuities in their fares include Azamara, Ponant, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea Cruises and Virgin Voyages.

For those lines that do have them, service and gratuity charges are touted as a convenient alternative to the practice of cash tipping on ships — something that once was common.

Related: The ultimate guide to picking a cruise line

Automatic gratuity charges at Princess Cruises are distributed among the crew. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)
Automatic gratuity charges at Princess Cruises are distributed among the crew. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

Cruise lines say they pass the money collected from service charges to shipboard crew. They say the money is shared not just with “front of house” crew such as room attendants and wait staff but behind-the-scenes workers, too. In that sense, the current system is more equitable than the old system of cash tipping, which favored certain workers, lines say.

Still, some critics see the charges as a sneaky way for cruise lines to make their fares appear lower than they really are. In this line of thinking, lines with these charges essentially are breaking out a good chunk of onboard labor costs as a separate line item on your bill.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

How service charges are levied

At most lines, you can pay your service charges in advance of sailing, at the same time you pay your cruise fare. Alternatively, you can have the charges added to your room bill on board.

The big advantage to paying service charges in advance is that you lock in the current rate. If your line raises the rate between the time you pay and the time you sail, you won’t pay more.

Some people also like to pay their service charges in advance for budgeting purposes. It’ll be one less thing on your final bill at the end of the cruise.

If you wait until you are onboard to pay your service charges, you’ll generally find that they automatically appear on your bill. You don’t have to do anything.

That said, if you want to, you often can adjust the charges (either up or down) while you’re on board by visiting the guest relations desk. If you are adjusting a gratuity charge downward, expect to be asked about the reasons behind the adjustment. The guest relations staff will want to know if you’ve experienced particular service issues.

If you leave the service charge on your room bill, you are not expected to also leave cash gratuities for your room attendant or waiters. That’s the whole point of the service charge.

Similarly, if you’re on a higher-end ship that lists gratuities as being included in the fare, that means just what it says. The line already is paying gratuities to the staff on your behalf. Additional cash tips are not expected.

That said, some people do leave a little extra for crew that go above and beyond.

Related: 9 times you do not need to tip on a cruise

Included gratuities as a booking perk

Lines with service and gratuity charges sometimes will throw in “free gratuities” as a booking incentive. Princess, for instance, in recent years has been running promotions that include not just free gratuities but free shipboard Wi-Fi and a free drinks package, too.

Princess Cruises is among lines that sometimes offers 'free gratuities' as a booking incentive. (Image courtesy of Princess Cruises)
Princess Cruises is among lines that sometimes offer “gratuities included” as a booking incentive. (Image courtesy of Princess Cruises)

Norwegian also often runs promotions that include “free tips” along with other freebies.

Don’t worry: When lines offer such deals, it doesn’t mean the crew will receive less gratuity pay the week you cruise. The lines that offer these deals say they’ll pay a normal gratuity to the crew on your behalf.

Related: The best cruise booking perks – and which ones are actually free

Cruise line tipping policies

Below is a line-by-line look at policies for automatic gratuity charges (called service charges or "crew appreciation" charges at some lines). The rates listed are per person, per day. They were accurate as of the publishing of this story.

Alaskan Dream Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: Gratuities for crew are not included in the fare and are at the discretion of travelers.

Azamara

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: Gratuities for crew are included in the fare. One area of exception: An 18% gratuity is added to bills for spa services.

Carnival Cruise Line

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $14.50 to $16.50 per day
  • Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $14.50. Those in suites pay $16.50. Children under the age of 2 are exempt from the charges. Also, an 18% gratuity is added to bar bills and the cover charges for the Chef’s Table and Bonsai Teppanyaki restaurants.

Celebrity Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None (in many cases)
  • Details: Gratuities for crew are now included in the line’s Always Included fare structure, under which many customers book, as are most gratuities for bar bills. That said, a gratuity charge of $15.50 to $19 per person, per day will be charged for passengers who opt out of the Always Included fare structure and instead book a discounted Simply Sail fare (these fares are less pricey but include fewer things). In addition, a 20% gratuity will be added when a passenger orders a drink that’s not included in the line’s Always Included fare structure as well as for minibar purchases, and an 18% gratuity will be added for spa and salon services.

Celestyal Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: Gratuities for crew and bar staff are included in the fare.

Costa Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $12.50 to $17.50 per day
  • Details: Passengers on ships operating on the U.S. dollar generally pay $12.50. Ships operating on the euro have an 11 euro charge ($12.01 at current exchange rates). On cruises departing from China, Japan and Singapore, the charges range from $13.50 to $17.50, depending on cabin category. Passengers under the age of 4 are exempt from the charges. Children ages 4 to 14 (up to 12 on cruises departing from Japan, China and Singapore) pay half the adult rate. In addition, a 15% gratuity is added to beverage purchases.

Cunard Line

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $11.50 to $13.50 per day
  • Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $11.50. Passengers in Grill Class suites pay $13.50. In addition, a 15% gratuity is added to bar and wine bills. There's a 12.5% service charge added to salon bills.

Disney Cruise Line

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: While Disney doesn’t add an automatic gratuity charge, it suggests that passengers pay $13.50 per day in total to various dining staff and room attendants. Passengers can prepay the amount in advance or on board. Also, a 15% gratuity is added to bar, beverage, wine and deck services bills, and an 18% gratuity is added to spa services bills.

Holland America Line

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $15.50 to $17 per day
  • Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $15.50. Passengers staying in suites pay $17. In addition, an 18% gratuity is added to bar bills and dining room wine purchases.

Lindblad Expeditions

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: Gratuities are included in the fare for passengers on the National Geographic Explorer, National Geographic Endurance and National Geographic Orion. On other ships, gratuities are at the passenger’s discretion.

MSC Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: From about $11 (10 euros) to $14
  • Details: Gratuity charges are $12.50 to $14 on voyages from and to the U.S., with the exception of sailings with pricing in euros, which have a 10 euro gratuity charge ($10.91 at current exchange rates). Children 2 to 11 pay half the adult rate on most cruises. Children under 2 years old are not charged.

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Automatic service charge: $16 to $20
  • Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $16. Those in suites or The Haven pay $20. Passengers under the age of 3 are exempt from the charges. In addition, a 20% gratuity is added to the bill at bars, extra-charge specialty restaurants and ship spas. Cruises to Hawaii also will pay a 4.275% prepaid service charge general excise tax.

Oceania Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $16 to $23
  • Details: Passengers staying in most cabins pay $16. Passengers in top suites pay $23. In addition, an 18% gratuity is added to bills at bars, the extra-charge La Reserve restaurant and at ship spas.

Paul Gauguin Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: Gratuities are included in the fare.

Ponant

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: Gratuities are included in the fare. However, passengers can give more at their discretion; Ponant recommends $10 to $12 per day, per passenger.

Princess Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $14.50 to $16.50 per day
  • Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $14.50. Passengers in mini-suites pay $15.50. Passengers in bigger suites pay $16.50. In addition, an 18% gratuity is added to bar bills, dining room wine purchases and Lotus Spa services.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: Gratuities are included in the fare.

Royal Caribbean

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $14.50 to $17.50 per day
  • Details: Passengers staying in most cabins including junior suites pay $14.50. Passengers in higher-level suites pay $17.50. In addition, an 18% gratuity is added to bills at bars, minibars, salons and spas.

Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: Gratuities are included in the fare.

Seabourn

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: Gratuities are included in the fare.

SeaDream Yacht Club

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: Gratuities are included in the fare.

Silversea Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: Gratuities are included in the fare, except for beauty salon and spa treatments.

Star Clippers

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: The line recommends that passengers pay 8 euros per day ($8.73 at current exchange rates) in gratuities, but the payment is at the passenger’s discretion. There is a 15% gratuity added for bar purchases.

UnCruise Adventures

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: UnCruise recommends that passengers pay $35 per person per day in gratuities, but the payment is at the passenger’s discretion.

Viking

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $15 per day
  • Details: Passengers pay $15 in gratuities for all cabin types. Also, a 15% gratuity is added to bar bills.

Virgin Voyages

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None
  • Details: Gratuities are included in the fare.

Windstar Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $14.50
  • Details: Passengers pay $14.50 in gratuities for all cabin types. In addition, a 15% gratuity is added to bar, beverage, wine and deck service bills.

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Featured image by Gratuity charges on Princess Cruises ships are distributed among staff. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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