Everything you wanted to know about gratuities but were afraid to ask.
A Guide to Cruise Gratuities: Has Cruise Tipping Gone Overboard?
The pressure to tip cruise staff is more prevalent than ever. From porters and bartenders to fitness instructors and massage therapists, who should you tip, and how?
By Heidi Sarna
Gratuities are one expense the cruise lines are only too glad to pass on to the passenger. With the exception of the high-end cruise lines, many crew members rely on tips from cruise passengers to supplement their income. Though it's not mandatory to tip if you're not satisfied with service, crew members are generally hard workers who deserve to be fairly compensated. They get very low base pay and the expectation of the cruise line and staff is that guests will tip.
As almost everyone who cruises understand the crew almost without exception work extremely hard and go out of their way to ensure you have a wonderful holiday. They often have contracts that run up to 8 or 9 months, with only a month or two off before they go back to sea. Imagine if you were a young mum and had to leave your kids for literally years during their formative years while you went away to earn enough money to provide just the basics for them? This is the reality. Many Australians are totally against tipping. I've heard many stories about passengers getting onboard and demanding that all gratuities be removed from their account. And they happily walk off the ship, not leaving an extra cent. My heart goes out to those poor staff that have given so much. Don't be that person. If you have a problem with tipping, I understand that, but if you intend to go cruising and not tip that to me is pretty poor form. It's completely different here in Australia where staff are well paid with a high hourly rate. Not so on cruise ships.
Follow this tipping guide to show your appreciation without going overboard.
How much should I tip?
Most cruise lines suggest tipping $10 to $12 per day per passenger (not per couple), regardless of age. For a seven-day cruise, this means each cruiser should budget at least $70 for gratuities, or $140 per cabin for two people.
How do I pay the gratuities?
For the past decade or so, the trend has been for tips to be automatically added to a passenger's onboard account, which can be settled at the end of the cruise via credit card or cash.
How are the tips divvied up?
The tips generally go to these crew members: Your main dining room waiter and assistant waiter, as well as your cabin steward and/or his or her assistant. Typically a smaller amount is also suggested for the head waiter and sometimes a token for the maître'd of the main dining room if you received extra assistance in some way. The captain and other professional officers do not get tips. That'd be like tipping your doctor.
If you go along with the automatic tipping scheme, the $10- to $12-per-day fee will be added to your onboard account and then distributed to the tip pools for waitstaff and cabin stewards. This pooling system works well, for instance, if you did not eat in the main dining room often or at all and didn't have the same waiters night after night. In lieu of knowing which waiters to tip, your tips will go to all of the waitstaff.
Can I tip in cash?
If you prefer having more control over what you give or if you prefer to personally hand over cash to your waiters and cabin stewards, you can go to the guest relations desk and opt out of the automatic gratuities system. Envelopes will be provided for you to distribute your tips in cash and you can hand them over to your waiters on the cruise's final dinner. For your cabin steward, leave the tips envelope in the cabin just before you disembark.
If you choose to tip personally in cash -- perhaps you frequent the main dining room and want a more personal way to say thank you to the waiters who serve you night after night -- there are guidelines to show you how to divvy them up. For example, Royal Caribbean (www.royalcaribbean.com) recently increased its tip recommendations and now suggests $3.75 per day for your main waiter, $5 per day for the cabin housekeeping staff, $2.15 per day for the assistant waiter, and $0.75 per day for the head waiter. If you're staying in a high-category suite, you may be expected to tip additional crew, like a personal butler.
Should I tip a porter who helps me with my luggage?
When you arrive at the cruise terminal at the start of your trip, porters will take your suitcases and load them onto the ship. A good rule of thumb is to give $1 per bag, like you would tip a porter at the airport. Same deal at the end of the cruise. If you use the cruise terminal's porter services to help you get your bags to a taxi, a bus, or your car, the standard tip is $1 per bag.
If you happen to be in your cabin when your bags are delivered the afternoon you embark, there is no obligation to tip the crew member. Still, it's nice to give that person a couple of dollars.
Should I tip bartenders?
There is typically a 15% service charge automatically added on to all bar and drink tabs. This gratuity goes to the bartenders and drinks waitstaff. Of course if you're feeling generous, you can add an additional tip to a bar bill or give cash tips to your favorite bartender, but there is no obligation to do this.
Do I need to tip for spa treatments?
For spa services, many lines automatically add on a 15%-18% gratuity to your bill. Again, you can adjust this amount or remove the tip entirely if you weren't happy with your service. If a tip isn't automatically added to your bill, you can add one on. Tip like you would for a land-based spa treatment, generally about 15% of the total bill.
Where does the tipping end?
High-end lines, including Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, and SeaDream Yacht Club, all have "no tipping" policies; these luxury cruise lines build gratuities into their fares (except for spa treatments). Again, passengers are free to give additional tips in cash, but there is no expectation.
As the culture of tipping becomes more widespread in everyday life, the cruise industry has embraced the trend with open arms. On a recent Carnival cruise, I signed up for a spinning class. Though the $12 fee was fully disclosed before I signed up, I was taken aback after the workout ended: As we were signing our bills, the instructor shamelessly mentioned that we could tip him if we enjoyed the class.
With the instructor standing nearby, I felt obligated to add a gratuity. Everyone in the class gave him $3-$5 each. I swear I'm not cheapskate, but where does it end? At home, I don't tip my trainer or aerobics class instructor. At sea, I've occasionally spotted hints to tip in the kids' playrooms, such as a tips box or a reminder set up on the check-in desk. Unless your child requires extra attention, I don't feel obligated to tip the youth counselors. Your call.