Cruise Ship Tipping: the GOOD, the BAD and the UGLY!

Sep 03, 2023
tipping, cruise tips

Cruise Ship Tipping: the GOOD, the BAD and the UGLY!


Welcome back to Byte Size Cruises! Today we are going to talk all about tipping and gratuities on cruises. This is a topic that there often is a lot of confusion about, so let's clear the air and get into it. 

Here at Byte Size our philosophy around tipping is that standard tipping should be included in your cruise fare. It should not be optional for passengers and having it as a straight charge upfront would make the entire process far more simple for everyone involved. Unfortunately, tipping does not work this way and it is something you need to handle separately from the general charge of the cruise. 

So, here is how tipping works for most of the cruise lines (barring any special packages or exceptions out there.) When you book a cruise and pay just the straight fare, the general cost of gratuities is going to be $14 to $20 per day per person. When you’re on your cruise you can check the cruise app for this charge or you’ll get a bill at the end. You will see a charge for gratuities per day based on the amount of people you’re booked with, your room, etc. It’s good to know about this ahead of time; you can imagine the shock of seeing that bill if you’ve been on a six day cruise with your family of four and you weren’t expecting that to head your way at the end of your vacation. This is definitely something you will want to budget for in addition to the fair you paid when you booked your cruise. 

Now, you DO have the ability to pay these gratuities ahead of time. This can be done on the cruise app. You don’t get a discount for doing this; it’s still the same price. However, it can bring you peace of mind knowing everything is paid for on day one and allow you to sit back and enjoy your vacation without worrying about paying the bill each day or at the end. 

So, who receives this tip money you may ask? These gratuities go to the cabin stewards, the wait and waitress staff, the bartenders, and the matredes. They rely on these tips for their income while working on the ship. 

You do have the option to go to guest services on the first day of the cruise (and stand in the long line that always accumulates that first day) and request that the daily tip fee be taken off of your bill. In this case you will be then responsible for tipping individually. What we have found is that most often the people who do this don’t wind up tipping at all. There are a few people who will tip more than the standard fee this way and feel good knowing they handed the cash to the waitstaff in person; that’s awesome. However, most often this results in giving less than giving more. 

Let’s pause here and address the culture of tipping. Here in America, we have a specific way of tipping where the standard is 20%. A decade ago, tipping in America was generally reserved for sit down restaurants and for services such as cosmetology, mechanics, etc. Recently, tipping has leaked beyond that into takeout restaurants, fitness classes, etc. and we are tipping more people more often and it has become a general rule rather than based on exceptional service. Tipping is based on the concept that a provider of a service will receive a benefit for doing an excellent job; not just for showing up. Unfortunately we have arrived at a place where most businesses rely on tips to provide the salary for their employees rather than paying them a proper wage and allowing customers to tip as a bonus. This is not going to change anytime soon, and cruise ships, like other businesses, rely on tips to pay the salary for these employees. 

All that being said, we always like to leave extra for the room steward on top of the regular gratuities. Those people work very hard and generally the ones responsible for your cabin comfort while on vacation. We believe in tipping for exceptional service. Anyone on a cruise ship who provides this service to us to make our vacation more enjoyable, we absolutely want to tip them above and beyond the general gratuities. 

Right now, the biggest issue we find with tipping on cruises is just that it is confusing for everyone involved. The average cruiser is not given clear information about tipping from the cruise line and overall this tends to do the employees a disservice. Overall, if tips were included in the general cruise fare, it would take a lot of the confusion out as well as take care of everything upfront. 

Let's move onto the benefits of tipping.  The reality is that when a person is tipped for excellent service, it is motivational and encouraging. It encourages the employee to consistently provide excellent service and overall brings up the enjoyment on your cruise. Remember, a lot of the service staff on cruises are on ships for months at a time and send money home to their families all across the world. The tips and gratuities you provide are the largest part of the wage they make. 

So, what do you do if there’s poor service? Generally we recommend tipping the minimum anyway simply because it is expected for the work provided. We find that having a conversation about a negative experience and providing feedback to the cruise line is far more effective than not tipping. Now, this doesn’t mean to go to guest services and lose your temper with people. The best way to handle it is to communicate effectively and calmly with people. The old saying is true; you attract far more bees with honey vs. vinegar. 

You can also give non-monetary tips. For example, sim cards are usually appreciated or you can always ask! Make it a point to thank the room steward and bartender at the end of the cruise and ask them if they need anything that you could purchase for them on the ship. 

Finally, we all know we have a habit as a culture of complaining about negative service far more than making a point to share a positive experience. If you receive amazing service while on your ship, tell them! Stop at guest services, seek out a manager, mention the person on the survey; do whatever you have to do to brag about the awesome time you had. It absolutely will make a difference for that wait staff or room service person in the future.

That is all of our thoughts about cruise ship tipping! What’s your experience with tipping? How do you handle it? We would love to hear from you; comment below!


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