A cruiser’s guide to tipping and gratuities

Tipping on cruises is a complicated affair. Some have automatic service charges that are added to your shipboard account, while others state that gratuities are optional or that “no tipping is required”. It’s difficult to know when or how much to give. At the same time, it’s natural to want to show your appreciation, particularly if someone has gone above and beyond to ensure your voyage was enjoyable. Take a look at our guide to tipping and gratuities onboard and sail away a master of this age-old etiquette.

Automatic service charges

An increasing number of cruise lines are implementing automatic service charges. These coincide with passengers’ preferences for cashless cruises where everything is charged to the same account. Larger cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean® also offer an impressive array of restaurant and entertainment options, meaning passengers are rarely served by the same staff members on consecutive nights. This system makes tipping much more convenient and removes the hassle of carrying enough cash onboard.

Although pre-paying gratuities on cruises makes it easier to budget for your trip, passengers may feel uncomfortable with tipping on the assumption of good service rather than the more personal touch of tipping directly throughout their voyage. With the exception of Norwegian Cruise Line, most ships that apply automatic service charges usually offer an opt-out option that allows for passengers to tip individuals at their own discretion. Several cruise lines including Thomson Cruises, Silversea and Seabourn run All Inclusive fares and don’t ask for additional payments however – so be sure to look at each gratuity system before you make up your mind.

If embarking on a family cruise, bear in mind that children are not usually exempt from auto-tipping and will be charged in the same manner as other passengers.

To tip or not to tip

For those passengers umming and ahhing about leaving a tip, it’s important to remember that gratuities on cruises are an expression of thanks and not an obligation. However, there are a lot of unseen hands that work on cruise ships to deliver the high standards that passengers expect, and it can therefore be difficult to distribute tips fairly across the board. Those who work in the smartest restaurants are likely to gather more tips than those who serve morning tea on the promenade, for example.

Designed for the adventurer, Hurtigruten does not encourage tipping on any of its Norwegian coastal voyages as crew members are reportedly well paid and do not rely on bonuses from passengers. Gratuities are therefore at the sole discretion of guests and are not included in the cruise fare.

Both Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean include an 18% gratuity on their spa treatments, so whether enjoying an indulgent afternoon at the spa or ordering a glass of champagne in the lounge, make sure you check your receipt to see if gratuity was included before parting with any further cash.

When to tip

If you’re using the ship’s automated service charge and wish to either increase or decrease the amount charged to your account, make a request with guest services towards the end of the cruise. From here you can ensure that all adjustments have been made before disembarking. If opting out of pre-paid tipping in favour of cash tips or adding any additional tipping for outstanding service, it’s customary to do this on the last day of your cruise using an envelope provided by reception.

However, there are exceptions to this rule, especially if you have special requests or require extra service throughout your voyage. A generous tip at the beginning of your cruise to your cabin steward will see them happily going the extra mile. Room service stewards, port baggage handlers and tour operators should all be tipped on the spot.

How much to tip and who

In most situations you’ll already have paid a daily service charge per passenger, which is usually around £10. This is with the exception of P&O Cruises who charge a lower rate of £3.95 per person, aged 12 and older, per day. If you choose to pay gratuities over and above this charge, it will be for exemplary service, and it’s worth remembering that many ship personnel rely on these tips to supplement their wages.

In most cases passengers are likely to tip the people they see most often, including cabin and room service stewards, maître d’s, bartenders and waiters, spa therapists, shore guides, organisers in the kids’ areas and butlers. When tipping staff on cruises, it’s up to you to decide how much to give, but between £5 and £10 per staff member is usually the norm.

Attempting to tip the captain or ship officers is a massive faux pas. Already well compensated for their duties, the well-thought gesture would more likely be a source of embarrassment than flattery.

Give a tip, but also say thank you

Leaving a tip may be the acceptable form of appreciation, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for the meaning behind the gesture, which is to communicate thanks. Saying thank you and mentioning the steward by name in the end of cruise questionnaire or in passing to a manager is another way of showing your thanks for work well done. If you’ve received truly exceptional service, a letter of thanks to the cruise line’s head office can also give a boost to a crew member’s career.

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