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Tipping on a cruise ship: Guide and what to do

NCL Crew

Unless you are traveling on a luxury cruise line, there are some things that your base fare does not include. While you can expect select beverages, all-you-can-eat food at complimentary venues, entertainment, accommodation, and transportation between ports of call, there are certain things that you will need to be prepared to shell out additional money. 

Some -- like drink packages, spa treatments, and shore excursions -- are optional. You can enjoy your cruise with or without these add-ons. Then there are port fees and gratuities

Read more: 14 cruise ship extra charges you should know about

Rarely will you find these calculated into the total price on a cruise's website. If a rate is, for instance, $750 per person for an interior stateroom on a 7-night Western Caribbean cruise, you should mentally add at least another $250 per person to account for the mandatory port fees and automatic gratuities. 

How does tipping work on a cruise ship? Should you carry around cash? If you charged a daily rate, do you have to tip more? Here's a guide to tipping onboard cruises to help you better understand how it works and what to do!

What are automatic gratuities, and why do cruise lines charge a daily rate?

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Gratuities are synonymous with tips. They are divided between the hardworking crew members that work to make your vacation memorable, including stateroom attendants, dining and culinary services staff, the guest services team, and others who work behind-the-scenes and contribute to the overall cruise experience. 

If you are truly unhappy with the service you received onboard, you may speak to the guest services team and have the daily rate adjusted or outright removed. Note, however, this is not customary and is often frowned upon, as the staff members on any cruise ship work hard to do their very best!

Outside of the daily gratuity, many -- if not most -- onboard purchases are subject to additional service charges. If you go the spa, grab a drink or two, or dine at a specialty restaurant, your final bill will reflect an 17%-20% gratuity, depending on the line. 

Royal Caribbean, for instance, charges 18% on drink purchases, while Celebrity Cruises charges 20%. 

The daily rate varies from cruise line to cruise line, but most charge somewhere around $16-$20 per day for guests staying in standard staterooms, while those staying in suites will pay a little bit more, usually no more than $25 per day. 

They are charged per day and per person, so if you are traveling with a family of four, you will have to multiply the rate by four! If you are going on a weeklong cruise, you could be looking at an additional $600+ in gratuities!

How much is the daily rate?

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The daily rate differs between cruise lines and stateroom categories. Those staying in suites will pay more than those staying in standard cabins. However, everyone in standard -- interior, ocean view, and balcony -- cabins will pay the same rate. 

Carnival Cruise Line

One of the big changes coming to Carnival Cruise Line in 2023 is that they are raising their daily gratuity rate effective on sailings departing on or after April 1, 2023. 

For cruises departing prior to that date, the daily gratuity for standard cabins is $14.50 per person, per day, while the rate increases to $16.50 per person, per day for those staying in suites. 

After April 1, 2023, the daily rate for standard staterooms will increase to $16.00 per person, per day. Suite guests will also be impacted, as their rate will increase to $18.00 per person, per day. 

You can lock in the older rate if you prepay your gratuities via Carnival's website. 

Read more: Worth it or not: Carnival prepaid gratuities

Celebrity Cruises

For guests staying in an inside, ocean view, or veranda stateroom, the rate is $17.50 per person, per day. It increases to $18.00 per person, per day for guests booked in a Concierge or AquaClass room. Finally, guests of The Retreat will pay $21.00 per person, per day. 

Disney Cruise Line

The recommended daily rate for all guests in standard cabins if $14.50 per person, per day, while the rate for passengers booked in a Concierge stateroom or suite  is $15.50 per person, per day 

Holland America Line

Holland America Line just increased their rates effective February 1, 2023. Now, the gratuities are as follows-- $16.00 per person, per day for all non-suite guests and $17.50 per person, per day for suite guests. 

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MSC Seashore

MSC Cruises

Understanding MSC Cruises' daily gratuities is a little more complicated than other cruise line, as they not only by passenger age and where the ship is sailing to. 

For cruises to the Bahamas, Caribbean, Asia (China, Japan, and Korea), and South America, the rate for passengers 12 and older is $14.50 per person, per night. For guests between the ages of 2 and 11, the rate drops to $7.25 per person, per night. Any guest under 2 does not have to pay. 

Cruises that sail to the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Southern Caribbean, United Arab Emirates, India, and Red Sea bill guests 12 and older 12 euro per night and 6 euro per night for those 2-11. Again, service charges do not apply to passengers under 2.

Gratuities for South Africa cruises are $10 per guest 12 and older per night and $5 per guest, per night between the ages of 2-11. 

Note that while their website currently says "valid up to summer 2024," no increases are confirmed as of February 2023. 

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line has some of the highest daily service charges in the mainstream cruise industry. 

For bookings made on or after January 1, 2023, passengers staying in standard and Club Balcony staterooms are charged $20.00 per person, per day, while the rate for Suites and guests staying in the The Haven is $25.00 per person, per day. 

For bookings that were made before January 1, 2023, you can lock in the previous rates by prepaying your service charges before your sail date. If you are staying in a traditional stateroom, the rate is $16.00 per person, per night, while the daily gratuity for Club Balcony Suites is $18.00 and The Haven and other suite categories are $20.00 per person, per night. 

Be aware that if you're sailing to Hawaii, you'll be charged an additional 4.275% prepaid service charge GET tax. 

Princess Cruises 

Following other cruise lines, Princess Cruises is raised their daily "crew appreciation" rates effective February 20, 2023. 

Passengers in interior, ocean view, and balcony cabins can expect to pay $16.00 per person, per day, while those staying in a mini-suite or reserve collection can expect $17.00 per person, per day. The rate for guests in suites is $18.00 per person, per day. 

Royal Caribbean International 

As of September 7, 2022, the daily service charge for standard staterooms is $16.00 per person, per day, or $18.50 per person, per day for guests in suites. 

Virgin Voyages

Virgin Voyages actually includes gratuities in their advertised cruise fares! You won't be asked to prepay anything or get a shocking surprise at the end of your vacation. 

How do you pay for gratuities?

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You can either prepay your gratuities in advance when you make your cruise reservation or before sailing by calling your cruise line directly. If you booked with a travel agent, they'll be able to help you take care of it!

If you choose to wait until your cruise, your onboard account will be billed each day, and you'll have to settle it -- along with any other purchases you make -- at the end of your cruise, whether that be in cash or via debit/credit card. 

There's no right or wrong answer. It comes down to your preference and needs. 

Pros of prepaying cruise gratuities

Ability to pay them off over time

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MSC crew member

When going through any cruise line's booking process, you are usually given the option to add gratuities before even placing a deposit. In other words, you can add the total gratuities for your cruise and pay them off over time like the rest of the fare. 

Getting a better idea of your cruise budget in advance

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Making sure that your gratuities are prepaid before your vacation begins is a surefire way to ensure that you do not get any hidden surprises at the end. Potentially, you could board your cruise and not spend another penny. If, that is, you don't plan on spending any money on drinks, shore excursions, spa treatments, specialty dining, etc. 

Pros of waiting until the cruise

You can purchase other services and experiences that will enhance your vacation first

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MSC wifi

Holding off on paying gratuities might allow you to purchase other add-ons, like drink packages or Wi-Fi to stay connected throughout the trip! Sometimes, if you wait until you board, you'll be paying more for these services! 

You can wait to pay for gratuities onboard without penalty; you can't wait to pay for airfare until the last minute unless you want to pay the inflated rates. You also don't want to risk your desired shore excursions filling up!

You can have the daily service charge adjusted 

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Guest Services

If you wait to pay for your gratuities until you are onboard, you can speak with a guest services agent and have the total amount adjusted. If you've prepaid your gratuities, they cannot be changed to reflect the quality of service that you feel you've received.

This, however, is not recommended, as gratuities are essential to the crew members who work so hard to make your cruise vacation memorable, even if from behind-the-scenes. 

If, for whatever reason, you decide to speak with guest services about removing the automatic gratuities, it is advised that you tip crew members in cash.

Note that once you disembark from the ship, all accounts are considered final and no changes will be made.

Apply onboard credit

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Cunard Greeting

If you booked with a promotion that included onboard credit, you might want to hold off on prepaying gratuities. 

At the conclusion of your trip, you can use any remaining onboard credit to settle the bill. Anything added to your account (i.e., gratuities) are eligible to be paid off this way!

Unless you got the deal of a lifetime, the onboard credit probably won't cover the entire gratuity amount. 

Should you bring extra cash for tips?

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Dollar bills

Maybe you have a bartender who made your drinks just right or a stateroom attendant who went above and beyond to ensure that you and your travel party had everything you needed and more. If you decide that the service you've received warrants additional tips, the staff will surely appreciate it. 

It not unusual to hear about guests tipping their stateroom attendants. Some will even tip them throughout the week! While the amount varies, $10-$20 per day seems to be relatively common answers on cruise forums. 

Bringing extra cash to tip crew members is completely optional, though! You'll still have a fantastic vacation even if you don't carry around a few extra dollars. 

It is customary to tip the porters who assist you with your bags when you arrive to the port, which usually amounts to $2 per bag. Additionally, you might want to tip your tour guides in ports of call. For a full-day tour, you'll want to tip more than a half-day excursion. 15-18% of the tour's price is appropriate; however, if they provided exceptional service, you can always tip more! 

Bottom line

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Bartender

Gone are the days where you received envelopes on the last night of your cruise! Today's cruise gratuities are taken care of automatically. 

You can choose to prepay your service charges in advance before you begin your vacation or wait to pay them when you settle your bill at the end. 

The daily rate ranges from $10-$20 per person, per day, depending on what cruise line you're sailing with and to where. You will want to factor the total cost of gratuities into your cruise vacation budget before you place your deposit. 

You'll also want to carry at least another $100 for various tips, maybe more if you have multiple shore excursions planned. You never know who is going to go above and beyond! But, of course, this is not a requirement. You don't have to carry any cash onboard with you for extra tips if you do not want to. 

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