CNTraveler: Cruise Ship Etiquette: Breaking Down Tip Culture

27.10.2023


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Cruise Ship Etiquette: Breaking Down Tip Culture

Who to tip, when to adjust gratuities, and more guidance for cruise ship tipping.

Tippingon cruise ships has changed over the years. Cash used to be king, dispensed at a passenger’s whim. But nowadays, many large lines are both cash-free and have automated tipping as part of the daily dues, meaning passengers no longer need to carry around a wad of bills. But, there are caveats. For example, not all crew is included in the general tip—some are actually forbidden from accepting gratuities—and sometimes, currency matters. Below, what you need to know about tipping on a cruise, and how to make sure no onboard tip gets lost in the shuffle.

Standard tips

A large number of cruise lines, including Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard,Disney, Holland America, Princess, Norwegian, MSC Cruises, and Royal Caribbean include gratuities for stateroom attendants and dining room staff in onboard charges on a passenger’s stateroom account. The amounts, starting around $11.50 to $16, are generally paid per passenger, per day, and vary among cruise lines and stateroom categories (larger staterooms and suites are generally a couple dollars per day more than standard accommodations).

Thesecruise linesalso add gratuities as a percentage—ranging from 15 to 20 percent—to most specialty dining, bar, and spa charges; those amounts cannot be adjusted.

Who to tip and not tip onboard

So stateroom attendants, dining room and bar staff, and spa attendants are taken care of, but who else should be tipped separately? Onboard casino staff are not part of the larger tip pool, so passengers should tip as they play, in cash or chips. Many cruise lines also suggest tipping separately for room service deliveries, a few dollars per person. As most tips are cashless, just sign the receipt and add your tip amount on the line provided. And to note—shoreside porters are not cruise line employees, and many ports have signage indicating it is not necessary to tip them. But of course, that is the passenger's decision and a few bucks per bag is customary.

Cruise lines generally prefer to have tips given electronically to maintain cashless environments onboard their ships, but passengers who do prefer to tip in cash should give cash in the ship’s stated onboard currency. On most large, global cruise lines that’s US dollars, but some of those lines change onboard currencies based on the region they’re sailing. Princess, for example, uses US dollars onboard virtually all sailings—except for a select few departures in Australia, where Australian dollars are the onboard currency.

There are also staff onboard for whom it isnotcustomary to tip. Royal Caribbean spokesperson Susan Lomax explains that gratuity systems onboard their ships are modeled after land-based resorts, adding that “guests are welcome to tip anyone,” but that “officers, the medical team, and security team are a hard ‘no’.” She also noted that some officers and crew may decline tips, and guests shouldn’t take offense. It may also be awkward if guests continue to attempt to tip after a worker has politely declined.

Tipless cruise lines

Some cruise lines eschew the practice of tipping. Azamara, Seabourn,Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises,Virgin Voyages, Paul Gauguin Cruises, Crystal, P&O Cruises, P&O Cruises Australia, and Ponant include tips in the cruise fares, although it’s important to note that each line does not prohibit passengers from tippingcrew memberspersonally in cash if they provide above-and-beyond service. Many of these cruise lines automatically add gratuities to bills for spa services.

Tom Baker, president of Cruise Center, notes that when guests wish to tip on a “tipless” cruise line, “this is personal and there’s no rule or guideline for this.” On some cruise lines, gratuities may go into a “staff fund” that is used to purchase equipment, events, and other things that benefit the collective crew.

It’s worth noting that cruise lines that do not add gratuities or have any expectation of tipping onboard tend to promote this. Baker further explains that the majority of passengers stick to what’s customary, whether gratuities are on the bill or not: “Most guests who prepay or pay onboard for the tips, don’t tend to tip much unless they have a butler, a favored waiter or bar staff team member.” He again notes that the desire to tip is highly personal.

Adjusting gratuities

Most cruise lines that apply gratuities automatically to shipboard accounts do allow cruisers to adjust the amount of the daily gratuity up or down depending on their satisfaction with the service they have received—but only if they haven’t prepaid the gratuities as an optional add-on with the purchase of their cruise fare. An exception is Costa Cruises, which considers the service charge integral to the cruise fare, and does not allow adjustments.

Manycruise linesare now offering fare bundles that include prepaid gratuities, so it’s worth considering when selecting a fare type, although the vast majority of cruisers do not elect to reduce the daily gratuity amounts. Gratuities that are included for free as part of a booking promotion are also not eligible to be reduced or refunded for credit.

But when should cruisers adjust the amounts downward? That can be tricky, considering the automatic charges cover services provided by stateroom attendants and dining room attendants—services the overwhelming majority of cruisers will benefit from during their voyage. Cruise lines that allow passengers to adjust the amounts downward if they’re dissatisfied with the service will have to make the request to the purser or hotel staff.

Passengers who are considering reducing the gratuity amounts due to service deficiencies should also present their concerns early during the voyage to give the cruise line ample time to address their complaints. They should also consider that gratuities are pooled across several groups, so that deficiencies in one particular area may not warrant the complete elimination or significant reduction of the gratuities.

It's also not advisable to request removal or reduction of the gratuities on principle. The cruise lines have published detailed information on how the gratuities go toward compensation packages for their staff, and train their staff to provide excellent service in any case. Rather than stiffing the hardworking crew members by reducing the charges, passengers wishing to stand on principle can always choose a cruise line that includes tips in fares, or encourages passengers to tip individually—for the experience that most closely matches their expectations.

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