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Everything you need to know about tipping on a cruise ship

Dec. 06, 2022
12 min read
Dining during a Princess Cruises cruise
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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 $25 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.

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 $80 a day in service fees added to their bills. On a typical seven-night cruise, that’s nearly $600 in fees.

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

Service charges on ships: The big picture

Most of the biggest cruise lines automatically add some type 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 are folding these charges into their base fares.

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

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For 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: A beginners guide to picking a cruise line

Automatic gratuity charges at Princess Cruises are distributed among the crew. PRINCESS CRUISES

Cruise lines say they pass the money collected from service charges to the shipboard crew. They say the money is shared not just with “front of house” crew, such as room attendants and waitstaff, but also with behind-the-scenes workers. 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 are essentially breaking out a good chunk of onboard labor costs as a separate line item on your bill.

Related: Use these credit cards to maximize your next cruise vacation

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 on board 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 can often 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 is already 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 members who 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. For instance, in recent years, Norwegian has been continuously running "free at sea" promotions that include not just free gratuities but free shipboard Wi-Fi and a free drinks package, too.

Additionally, several major lines in the past couple of years have begun offering bundle pricing to customers who pay for gratuity fees, Wi-Fi charges and an onboard drinks package all at once in advance of sailing.

Princess, for example, has added a Princess Plus plan as a booking option. It gives passengers prepaid gratuities, a single-device Wi-Fi plan and a basic beverage package for a single bundled price of $50 per person, per day.

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

Butler unpacks a guest's suitcase. LUCA LOCATELLI/SILVERSEA CRUISES

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 the crew are not included in the fare and are at the discretion of travelers.

Azamara

  • Automatic gratuity charge: None.
  • Details: Gratuities for the 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 person, per day.
  • Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $14.50. Those in suites pay $16.50. Children younger than 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. Note that Carnival's service charges are scheduled to rise on April 1, 2023, to $16 for passengers staying in most cabins and $18 for passengers staying in suites.

Celebrity Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $17.50 per person, per day.
  • Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $17.50. Passengers in Concierge Class, AquaClass cabins and suites do not pay a gratuity charge. Passengers who book a Celebrity cabin under the line's pricier All-Included rate plan do not pay gratuity charges. Additionally, a 20% gratuity is added when a passenger orders a drink that’s not included in the line’s All-Included rate plan, as well as when purchasing a minibar item. 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 person, 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 the cabin category. Passengers younger than 4 are exempt from the charges. Gratuities for children between 4 and 14 (up to 12 on cruises departing from Japan, China and Singapore) are half the adult rate. Additionally, a 15% gratuity is added to beverage purchases.

Cunard Line

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $11.50 to $13.50 per person, per day.
  • Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $11.50. Passengers in Grill Class suites pay $13.50. Additionally, 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 staying in most cabins pay $14.50 per day in total when tipping various dining staff and room attendants. The suggested amount for passengers staying in concierge cabins and suites is $15.50. Passengers can prepay the amount in advance or on board. Also, a 15% gratuity is added to bar, beverage, wine and deck service bills, and an 18% gratuity is added to bills for spa services.

Holland America Line

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $15.50 to $17 per person, per day.
  • Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $15.50. Passengers staying in suites pay $17. Additionally, an 18% gratuity is added to bar bills and dining room wine purchases. Note that Holland America's service charges are scheduled to rise on Feb. 1, 2023, to $16 for passengers staying in most cabins and $17.50 for passengers staying in suites.

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 gratuity charge of 10 euros ($10.91 at current exchange rates). Gratuities for children between 2 and 11 are half the adult rate on most cruises. Gratuities are not charged for children younger than 2.

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Automatic service charge: $20 to $25 per person, per day.
  • Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $20. Those in suites or The Haven pay $25. Passengers younger than 3 are exempt from the charges. Additionally, a 20% gratuity is added to the bill at bars, extra-charge specialty restaurants and ship spas. Cruises to Hawaii will also pay a 4.275% prepaid service charge called a general excise tax.

Oceania Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $16 to $23 per person, per day.
  • Details: Passengers staying in most cabins pay $16. Passengers in top suites pay $23. Additionally, 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 passenger, per day.

Princess Cruises

  • Automatic gratuity charge: $16 to $18 per person, per day.
  • Details: Passengers in most cabins pay $16 for what the line now calls a "crew appreciation" charge. Passengers in mini-suites pay $17, while those in bigger suites pay $18. Additionally, 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: $16 to $18.50 per person, per day.
  • Details: Passengers staying in most cabins, including junior suites, pay $16. Passengers in higher-level suites pay $18. Additionally, 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 ($8.73 at current exchange rates) per day 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 person, 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: $16 per person, per day.
  • Details: Passengers pay a "hotel service charge" of $16 for all cabin types. Additionally, an 18% gratuity is added to bar, beverage, wine and deck service bills. Alternately, Windstar cruisers can upgrade their bookings with an all-in package that includes unlimited beverages, WiFi and the hotel service charge for $89 per person per day.

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Featured image by 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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  • Redeem your reward points for statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, flights, hotels, and more
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