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Cruise Ship Tipping and Prepaid Gratuities: Should I Tip More?

I have a passion for writing and reviewing cruise ship travel, tips, etiquette, and packing hacks that makes cruise vacations better.

Should I tip more on a cruise?

Should I tip more on a cruise?

Are Tipping Practices Sinking or Are We Going Overboard?

Cruise tipping and prepaid gratuities are hot topics in the cruise community. Cruise lines claim to add prepaid gratuities as a "passenger convenience," but some folks beg to differ.

I didn't always tip beyond the "prepaid gratuity" fees, so I opted to educate myself and share the findings with others in the "same boat." This project was eye-opening, so keep reading to see what I discovered

Crew Member Employment and Wages

One of the first things a new cruise passenger learns is ships are registered in other countries while their headquarters are in the United States. This practice allows companies to avoid U.S. labor laws. In a nutshell, this means crew members do not receive pay per the U.S. minimum-wage standards.

As a frequent cruiser, I frequently engage in conversations with the crew members who take care of us—our stateroom attendants and primary dining room staff. My husband and I enjoy learning about their backgrounds, families, and even how they spend their free time onboard. They often work 7–10 months at a time and 12–14 hours per day for seven days straight before having a half or even a whole day off. We have also taken a few of the ship's "backstage" tours and could see where the crew members reside, dine, kick back to relax, etc. If you can afford to do this just once, it's highly enlightening and educational, and we recommend it. Crew members have also expressed the importance of completing the post-cruise survey, explaining how heavily these influence their compensation and bonuses.

At the end of the contract, we learned what their contracts include regarding room and board, food, and return to their home country. However, their actual hourly wages are much less than one would think. Rather than speculate or express personal opinions, I've researched the most credible sources to find reliable data and figures to share in this article. I've also taken the time to collect data via polls from numerous cruisers in the large Facebook cruise group of over 105,000 I follow regarding tipping practices. I'll share those stats later in this article.

Below are some facts I found from credible sources. I feel confident I've provided the most accurate information:

According to the JOURNAL OF WORLD-SYSTEMS RESEARCH,

U.S.-owned cruise companies have managed to create the ideal context for contemporary corporations: very little government oversight of labor relations, an available pool of very cheap labor dispersed across the globe, lax environmental regulations, high profit margins, and corporate tax rates around 1%. A typical cruise ship leaving the U.S. contains workers from 75 to 90 nationalities. Crew members performing menial service work are recruited exclusively from “poor countries” in Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Crew members typically sign 10-month contracts stipulating 10-14 hour workdays/7 days a week without vacation or sick days. There is a striking correlation between workers’ pay/status and their countries’ position within the world system.

Although these companies were founded in the United States, the FOC (Full Operational Capability) system allows companies to choose which countries’ flag under which they fly. The “flagging” country then assumes responsibility for supervising and enforcing the ship’s compliance with their national and international regulations on ship safety and working conditions. Panama, Liberia, and the Bahamas currently account for 50% of the FOC business. These countries charge registry fees and tonnage fees, but companies are not taxed on any of the revenue they generate on ticket sales, tours, and shipboard purchases. If they flagged ships in the United States, they would be subject to domestic labor laws and corporate taxation.

Seafaring workers have explicit rights enshrined in international law (freedom of association and collective bargaining) and they are specifically covered by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and International Maritime Organization (IMO) conventions. ILO Convention 147 (1976) explicitly states that each country that registers ships (flag state) must pass laws specifying minimum standards for employment and living conditions. This convention also states that employers must pay for travel costs associated with taking a leave. ILO Convention 180 (1996) specifies that seafarers should work no more than 72 hours in any 7-day period.

Another article I found subjective yet informative regarding prepaid gratuities came from USA Today, April 2017:

Critics of the charges say tipping is a personal matter that should be left to passengers. Some see the charges as a thinly disguised method for cruise lines to push the responsibility for paying crew members to their customers. To that point, cruise industry watcher Cruise Critic has reported that some lines now pay housekeeping and dining department workers on ships as little as $2 per day in base wages, relying on the automatic gratuity to provide the great bulk of their compensation. As much as 95% of pay for some cruise ship workers now comes from automatic gratuities, according to Cruise Critic.

In this same USA Today article, you'll also find a cruise line breakdown listing the daily automatically-added gratuities and other additional service fees. Some lines have admittedly started including the gratuities into the fare, making it more difficult to ascertain how much is going to the crew members.

How Are the Prepaid Gratuities Distributed Amongst the Crew Members?

According to Royal Caribbean's website, prepaid gratuities are used and distributed in the following manner, which doesn't specify accurately which "other" crew members, aside from those serving food, drinks, and stateroom attendants, receive this money; or what percentage. They also say passengers still have control over this charge and may have this amount adjusted by guest services if they feel there's a need.

I understand these funds are shared with those preparing the food, handling baggage, cleaning the ship and recreational areas, guest service attendants, and those operating the children's programs. These members wouldn't usually be in the public eye to receive optional tips from passengers.

Bar and spa services have service fees added to each transaction at the time of purchase and are in addition to the prepaid gratuities. Many passengers are unaware of this. In that case, it may not make sense to add additional tips to those bills, although most people do from the polls I conducted. I'll touch on this as well.

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What are Royal Caribbean's service gratuities (tips) prices and policy?

According to the website,

The automatic service gratuity is $14.50 USD per person, per day for guests in Junior Suites and below, or $17.50 USD per person, per day for guests in Grand Suites and above, applied to each guest’s SeaPass account on a daily basis. The gratuity applies to individual guests of all ages and stateroom categories. As a way to reward our crew members for their outstanding service, gratuities are shared among dining, bar & culinary services staff, stateroom attendants and other hotel services teams who work behind the scenes to enhance the cruise experience.

In the unlikely event a guest on board being charged the daily automatic gratuity does not receive satisfactory service, the guest may request to modify the daily amount at their discretion by visiting Guest Services on board and will be able to do so until the morning of their departure.

The automatic daily gratuity is based on customary industry standards. Applying this charge automatically helps streamline the recognition process for the crew members that work to enhance your cruise. The cruise lines hopes you find the gratuity to be an accurate reflection of your satisfaction and thank you for your generous recognition of staff.

An 18% gratuity is automatically added to all beverages, mini bar items, and spa & salon purchases.

Results based on 695 responses

Results based on 695 responses

Results based on 77 responses

Results based on 77 responses

Additional Details and Comments Received From My Polls of Approximately 700 Contributors

According to the results of my three polls:

  • 61% tip their stateroom attendant an additional $20–$40 per couple per week, 26% tip $40–$70, and 13% tip an additional $70–$140.
  • The average amount tipped to the head waiter was an additional $20–$50 per week per couple.
  • The average amount given to the assistant waiter per couple for a seven–day cruise averaged about 1/2 of the head waiter's tip to anywhere from $1–$5 per person per day. It's often dependent upon whether they also brought wine or alcohol from the bar, in which case, it was stated they tip, on average, $1 per drink.
  • 75% of people said they tip the bartender and bar server $1–$2 per drink, in addition to the service charge of 18% added to each drink bill. (except for those who purchased the prepaid drink package).
  • Several people stated they don't eat in the main dining room (MDR); therefore, they don't tip more to the wait staff.
  • Figures excluded are those tipping a portion of the gratuities at the cruise's start and the remainder at the end. The amount depends on the level of service received by the above-referenced crew members. Surprisingly, many people tip in this manner. Another portion wrote that they prefer to tip their wait staff each meal, including the buffet or other dining areas.
  • Some cruises stated they tip the ship tour guide, pool staff, Kid's Club and nursery workers, photographer, hand-washing attendants, piano player, room service attendant, omelet maker, or a specific bartender.
  • Some people expressed they reside in a country where tipping is not a customary practice; therefore, they don't feel the need to tip at all while cruising.
  • A small number felt crew members make enough money, preferred not to tip at all, or received poor service and asked to have gratuities removed.
  • 79% of the contributors to this poll were female, and 21% were male.

The age ranges of the contributors to this poll are as follows:

  1. 21–30: 10%
  2. 31–40: 3%
  3. 41–50: 41%
  4. 51–60: 24%
  5. 61–70: 21%
  6. >70: 1%

Cruise Ship Staff Thank-You Cards

Call to Action

Thank you to everyone who contributed their comments, data, and opinions to pull this information together. I love to write articles and reviews about our cruising experiences, which many folks find helpful. I hope you've found this one informative and valuable as well.

I must provide unbiased, factual, and accurate data for my readers, and I'll continue to collect additional data to keep this information as current as possible.

Please don't leave without casting your anonymous votes in the polls below. I value your comments, too, and thank you for taking the time to vote and leave feedback!

If you've enjoyed this article, please check out my popular tips on cruise ship cabin organization and packing!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: If you tip additional cash on a cruise ship, does the individual service person (bartender, steward, server, kid's club, etc) get to keep it? Or do tips go in the big pool that gets split between all positions at the end of the cruise?

Answer: If you give the cash directly to the individual, they get to keep it. The cruise line provides envelopes if you want to give it to a specific crew member. I bring my own envelopes and thank you cards and hand the cash/card to each person to ensure it goes where I want it to.

Question: How many items should I take on a five days cruise?

Answer: I recommend you check out my cruise packing articles in my profile; there are two that are very popular. Those will help choose your non-clothing essentials. As for clothing, I allow for 2-3 outfits each day: something casual for lounging or shore excursions, swimwear, and something nice for the evening. I pack flip flops, nice sandals, dressy flats or heels, and running shoes. I pack articles I can mix and match and if you are female, that also means sundresses I can dress up or down.

Question: Recently the Carnival Vista experienced a dry dock for some engine propulsion repairs. I'm wondering how this affected the crew. Were the crew of the Carnival Vista cruise compensated as usual during the engine repairs or did they receive some time off?

Answer: If I had to guess, I'd think they were paid their regular salaries or placed on other vessels. That is a very good question and I'll see if I can find a solid answer to that.

Question: When traveling in a Suite where you have a Genie, is their gratuity included within the PrePaid gratuities or do you tip them separately?

Answer: I am fairly certain it is included because the prepaid gratuities or suites is a higher daily/per person amount. If you received exceptional service, it's your discretion if you want to give additional money that you know goes 100% to their pocket.

© 2019 Debra Roberts

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