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Updated: Jan 1, 2023

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 understands 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 $16-18 per day per passenger (not per couple), regardless of age. 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. 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.

Read the next post in this series.

FAB - Step by step guide to find your perfect cruise

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