Cruise Gratuities Explained

Cruise Gratuities Explained

Cruise gratuities are of the most confusing parts of a cruise. When we first began cruising it was the one aspect we were most unsure about. Tipping on a cruise ship is different from any experience we have had on a land-based holiday. It’s more than just handing over a wad of cash at the end of your holiday or leaving a few coins in a tray at the end of each meal.

Today, cruise line gratuities are completely automated and cashless with charges added automatically to your onboard account each day. While this is supposed to make it much easier, in reality, it causes confusion and controversy among cruisers.

This handy guide will give you an insight into cruise gratuities and explain what cruise gratuities are, when you tip, how you tip and explain what to do if you don’t want to tip.

What are gratuities?

There are two different types of gratuities on a cruise. The daily gratuity charge and a percentage (tax) on top of purchases onboard.

The daily gratuity is an automatic charge that is added to your account each day of your cruise. This is a set fee (varies depending on cruise line but is usually around $14), per person, per day. Most mainstream cruise lines charge this daily gratuity while some, mainly luxury lines, do not. This gratuity is then split between the crew and boosts their wage, which is usually very low: meaning they rely on your gratuity payments.

Some cruise lines have decided to wipe out this daily gratuity charge such as P&O Cruises in the UK and Virgin Voyages.

If you pay daily gratuities there is no need to tip extra on top of this. Unless you would like to further recognise exceptional service.

Cruise Gratuities on Drinks
A gratuity or tax charge is added to all drinks purchased onboard –
Photo: Cruise with Ben & David

In addition to the daily gratuity charge you will also find a gratuity or tax charge on:

  • Drinks purchased onboard
  • Food purchased onboard
  • Drinks packages
  • Dining packages
  • Spa treatments  

The amount varies but on average it’s an 18 – 20% charge on top of your bill. This charge is automatically added to your bill so there is no need to tip on top of this.

How much are cruise gratuities?

On average, the daily gratuity charge is between $12 – $18 USD per person, per day. The amount you pay varies between each cruise line and can change depending on the type of cabin you have booked. Suites usually pay a higher charge than standard cabin types.

As the charge is per person, per day it can add up. If you are a family of four travelling together, it’s going to cost you around $500 for a 7-night cruise.

We always keep this in mind when booking our cruise and budget this into the cost.

Most cruise lines offer you the chance to pre-pay gratuities when booking your cruise or before you sail. We think this is a sensible option as you don’t need to worry about being charged at the end of our cruise.

To learn more about saving money on your next cruise read our 30 Money Saving Cruise Tips.

Who do the gratuities go to?

Gratuities are split between the crew onboard. This is usually dining staff, bar staff, room attendants and people behind the scenes. The dining team usually get the biggest cut.

It’s not always totally clear what proportion of your gratuity goes to each crew member and if cruise lines take a cut.

Most people would like to see exactly who is being rewarded. Because it’s a grey area some cruisers remove the automatic charge and tip people individually with cash. The problem with this is that those behind the scenes such as kitchen staff will miss out on the tips.

Are gratuities supplementing crew wages?

Cruise lines register their ships with a flag of convenience. This means that the ship uses the local law of the country of registration. Regardless of where the ship is actually based or sailing.

You will see many cruise ships registered in; Panama, the Bahamas, Bermuda or Malta as these tend to have little or no labour laws. This gives the cruise lines more freedom to pay low wages and have the crew work long hours without days off.

MSC Seaside in Miami
MSC Seaside is registered in Malta – Photo: Cruise with Ben & David

This is why on most ships you will find most of the crew come from lower-wage countries such as India. These crew work incredibly hard and spend months away from their loved ones to support their families at home.

So yes gratuities do supplement crew wages as most are paid a very low wage. They rely on gratuities to boost their earnings.

What if I experience bad service?

Sometimes things go wrong or something does not meet expectations. Your reaction may be to simply remove your daily gratuity, but this is punishing all the crew.

Rather than removing your gratuities you should first speak to guest services or a crew manager. This gives the cruise line the opportunity to make the issue right and lets them know about the problem.

We have been in a situation previously where a crew member was very rude and aggressive towards us. Instead of removing our tips we spoke to the guest services team and they made up for it by apologising.

Cruise lines such as Princess Cruises also allow you to increase or decrease your daily gratuity charge depending on the service you have received.

How to recognise exceptional service

If you would like to show your appreciation to a particular member of the crew you can also give them a cash tip on top of the daily gratuity.

We recommend tipping in the currency of the departure port, or in US dollars, as this is the most widely accepted currency.

If you don’t want to hand over cash you can give a gift to the crew member. Some common gifts include chocolates, sweets/candy or phone cards. We like to bring gifts from the UK such as local chocolates.

In addition to directly thanking a crew member, you should also let the cruise line know they are doing a fantastic job. The best way to do this is by filling out the feedback forms usually available from guest services, leaving a letter at guest services before you depart or by sending an email to the cruise line once you are home. The feedback does get back to the crew member and can help them progress within the company.

Not paying cruise gratuities

Removing your gratuities affects crew members wages directly and like we said earlier if you have an issue onboard removing gratuities can unfairly punish more than specific members of the crew.

Whether you agree or not with cruise gratuities or you think it should be included in the cost of your cruise, gratuity charges are made clear when you book the cruise, so to remove them is somewhat unfair.

Automatic gratuities make it much easier for you to tip. You don’t have to think about how much to tip any of the crew as it’s all taken care for you.

If you do decide to remove your daily gratuity, please tip each crew member fairly for the hard work they do. The crew work very hard with intense workloads, long hours, 7 days a week for months on end.

Watch our video: Should you pay cruise gratuities?

If you are unsure about cruisng or thinking of booking your first cruise, read our post: Why you should Choose Cruise.

Ben Hewitt
I am a keen video producer and photographer. Before starting Cruise with Ben and David I worked for the BBC and Discovery Channel.