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

Updated on October 14, 2019
Deb Vesco Roberts profile image

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

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Are Tipping Practices Sinking or Are We Going Overboard?

Cruise tipping and prepaid gratuities are a hot topic of varying opinions and practices. 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 engage in conversations with the crew members who take care of us most frequently—our stateroom attendants and main dining room staff. My husband and I enjoy learning about their backgrounds, families, and even how they spend their free time onboard. They most 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 full day off. We have also taken a few of the ship's "backstage" tours and were able to 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 filling out the post-cruise survey, explaining how heavily these influence their compensation and bonuses.

Also, we learned what their contracts include, and that's room/board, food, and their return trip to their home country at the end of their contract. 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 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.

Quoted below are some facts I found from what I feel are 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 CruiseCritic 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 CruiseCritic.

In this same USA Today article, you'll also find a breakdown, by cruise line, listing the daily automatically-added gratuities, as well as other additional service fees. Some lines have admittedly started including the gratuities into the fare, which makes 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 go on to 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 from the polls I conducted, most people do. I'll touch on as well.

What are Royal Caribbean's service gratuities (tips) price 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 | Source
Results based on 77 responses
Results based on 77 responses | Source

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 came out to be 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% that's 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 don't tip more to the wait staff.
  • Figures excluded are those tipping a portion of the gratuities at the start of the cruise and the remainder at the end. The amount is dependent upon the level of service received by the above-referenced crew members. Surprisingly, there are a large number of people who 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, the 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 who felt crew members make enough money, prefer 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% male.

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%

Call to Action

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 useful as well. Thank you to everyone who contributed their comments, data, and opinions for the sake of pulling this information together.

It's important that I 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!

Do you tip some or all of the above crew members an additional amount beyond your prepaid gratuities?

See results

What do you do with the prepaid gratuities at the end of your cruise?

See results

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

  • 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?

    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.

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

    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.

  • 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?

    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.

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

    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

Comments

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    • profile image

      Candie 

      3 days ago

      I know a number of people who have worked for cruise lines. The lower wages are balanced out by the included room and board. Not paying for rent, food and cost of travel for normal jobs add up quickly. If you were lead to believe that working these jobs were a hardship for some then you were fed a pity story to get more tips. The amount saved plus wages is already a good deal and the tips make it an incredible job if you can keep up with it. It is hard working job but it affords you enough to take a two month vacation. How many of us can afford to do that?

    • profile image

      Robert L. Bailey 

      4 days ago

      It is very easy to understand why crew members appreciate those who recognize their efforts from cultures who appreciate them appropriately and tip them accordingly.

    • profile image

      Geoff Spackman 

      5 days ago

      I’m an Australian. In Australia it is not customary to tip unless you feel the recipient has done an exemplary service, in which case you can tip as you see fit.

      The reason we don’t tip is because people in the service industry are paid a decent pre-negotiated wage. The fact that staff on a cruise ship are paid poorly has nothing to do with us, that’s between the staff and their employer.

      When booking a cruise we choose a cruise line on the basis of several criteria, the ship, the itinerary, the duration etc., and above all, the cost. When we are quoted the cost of the cruise we expect it to include ALL costs, or at the very least an explanation of what cost will be added so we can make a decision based on the figures given.

      They’d be nothing worse than to save for a trip, pay before we embark, keep track of what we spend on board and then find out as we disembark that we have to pay gratuities of $500-$600 !!!. NO ON !!!.

      As I see it, signing on to a cruise is a contract, we have responsibilities as passengers, the agent acting for the cruise line has the best responsibility of being honest by informing us of ALL costs.

    • profile image

      MIke Ktori 

      10 days ago

      We have auto tipping removed as soon as we board for a cruise. We favour cruise lines having tipping free cruises.

    • profile image

      Glenn Smith 

      2 weeks ago

      Why should we have to pay tipping when paying for the tickets. That should be asked if we want to an then they expect more tips at end of cruise. I have to save up an can't afford to buy anything due to tips an outrages prices.

      I love a couple of Royal carrabeen but feel like I'm getting ripped off.

    • profile image

      Gb 

      3 weeks ago

      Actually the wait staff and room stewards wages are 13 dollars a month. That's on all US cruise lines and has been the same since the late 1970's. The hours these days are limited to 84 hours a week. That is the maximum allowed to work and it was Disney cruise line that brought this into line previously over 100 hrs a week was normal.

      Rightly or wrongly Gratuities are the only reason the crew are there....comment cards only give financial bonus to officers and managers. The crew get bigger sections (which means more earnings)

      and time off for "Excellent ratings"

    • Deb Vesco Roberts profile imageAUTHOR

      Debra Roberts 

      2 months ago from Ohio

      Yes, that is correct with NCL if you do the free-style. We did one in July and just left a little something each dinner. Oddly, we never once saw or met our room attendant, which is a first in 15 cruises! I left some, but not as much as usual because I felt the attendant avoided us. We were on the Sun with the unlimited alcohol, so the gratuity was prepaid when we booked.

    • profile image

      Captain obvious 

      2 months ago

      On NCL, with their freestyle dining, you never get the same waiter twice in the restaurant, so there is no need for tipping the waitstaff. The only person that you deal with daily is your room steward. We always tip $10 per day. Bartending tips are included automatically every time you buy a drink at 20%

    • Deb Vesco Roberts profile imageAUTHOR

      Debra Roberts 

      2 months ago from Ohio

      Your comment is confusing to me. I have never told anyone not to respond...could you clarify? Which Facebook post?

    • profile image

      Lus 

      2 months ago

      I dont agree with auto tipping or include tipping . Tipping is something we do if we feel we received good service .but should not be mandatory. If they cruise lines wants more money for the crew pay more . Increase salaries.

    • profile image

      Jon 

      3 months ago

      Interesting that on the Facebook post you told non-tippers that you did not want them to respond, but then claim the data is unbiased. The bias is clear as the results at the end of this article show 25% don't tip extra.

    • profile image

      Aussie 

      3 months ago

      Everyone deserves to be paid for what they do.

      If the employer doesnt pay an appropriate am ou int why should the consumer make up for that?

      If we allstopped tipping the staff wouldnt work for the cruise line which would mean that the cruiae line would eother have to pay a reasonable wage or there would be no staff which means no passengers

    • profile image

      Wanderlust Beauty Dreams 

      3 months ago

      I never been on a cruise before but this was an interesting read and a topic I often hear from travelers. Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      Melanie williams 

      3 months ago

      I think that tipping should be left up to the individual and their experience of the service received.

    • profile image

      Sonia Seivwright 

      3 months ago

      Aww blesss. All that work for less. I have never been on a cruise before. The work these workers do there is amazing.

    • profile image

      The Sunny Side Lifestyle Co. 

      3 months ago

      I've never been on a cruise so had never considered how the onboard staff is compensated nor did I understand the labor laws (or lack thereof) associated with crew members. I would be interested to know the crew's thoughts on automatic gratuity versus direct tipping.

    • profile image

      Live Learn Better 

      3 months ago

      It's not a news that people in the hospitality industry are poorly paid. I just don't get it when those workers let their living be dependent on whether a customer is kind and impressed enough to tip or not.

      Those employers need to do better IMO.

    • profile image

      Alexandra 

      3 months ago

      Wow! This actually made me very sad. I have never been on a cruise but I would not have known that I need to top. And it seems that these workers really need people to tip as they seem to be taken advantage of.

    • profile image

      Julia 

      3 months ago

      I haven't been on a cruise for over 25 years - I bet things have changed a lot since then. That's was never my preferred way of travel. After reading this very informative and educational post, I will probably never go on a cruise again. I firmly believe that even the concept of gratuities should not exist! And "prepaid gratuities" are rather "robbed fees".

      This could sound harsh, but if you think about it, if companies owners start paying higher sustainable salaries to their employees, this expense will still fall on the consumers. I understand, don't mind and believe that these service workers should be paid well for their hard work. However, if it was a salary rather than hidden fees, the cards would be open, and everyone would know their expenses in advance... Some consumers, seeing the higher numbers in cruise cost, may estimate their budget better and not buy a trip because the price doesn't seem affordable for them (instead of feeling robbed and experiencing hardship after the trip). The employees would know exactly what they will earn during the trip, and may also plan better whether they want or they don't want to take the job.

      No, the rich guys don't want that. They want to deceive both sides and get away with big bucks in their pockets. Unfortunately, we and the government support these lies by allowing tipping.

    • profile image

      Snehal 

      3 months ago

      Here in India i dont think so most people tip very often. On a personal note i do show my gratitude and tip when i am able to! ☺

    • profile image

      Luna S 

      3 months ago

      I've never been on a cruise and wasn't aware of any of this! This post is extremely helpful and you are right it is eye opening.

    • profile image

      Smita 

      3 months ago

      That’s such a well researched post, very informative. I’ve not been on too many cruises so I had never thought about how important this is. Will definitely keep in mind for next time.

    • profile image

      Gina 

      3 months ago

      Wow! Fantastic information! Incredibly eye opening! Tipping is incredibly confusing. Articles like this are so helpful!

    • profile image

      Inexperienced cruiser. 

      4 months ago

      Thank you. This article was very helpful.

    • Deb Vesco Roberts profile imageAUTHOR

      Debra Roberts 

      5 months ago from Ohio

      From a Facebook reader: (Raymond Bower) Deb, thank you for the article and the education I received. I am a 15%er and now based on your article I will do the auto gratuities and tip more to those whom I am in contact with every day. I have always been an over tipper and always like to hand them to the employees themselves, Hundreds of articles and opinions on this subject but yours brought it down to earth for me. I didn't like reading "to that point, cruise industry watcher CruiseCritic 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 CruiseCritic." Having worked overseas in 3 different countries and working side by side with wonderful "foreign nationals" who were doing the same job as me and receiving a 3rd to 1/2 what I received because their pay was a high wage for them in their Country, I can see now that the cruise lines have reduced wages for the unseen and are using my tips as a wage. It explains why cruising is still so affordable.

    • profile image

      Erica (The Prepping Wife) 

      6 months ago

      I've never taken a cruise, so this article was certainly interesting and eye-opening! I had no idea that most cruise ship companies were not based in the US or required to pay employees based on those wage laws. When I do go on my first cruise, I'll make it a point to tip, and make sure the specific people who took care of us consistently receive good tips and comment cards. Comment cards never seemed important before reading this article either, because I had no idea they were tied to an employee's bonus.

    • Deb Vesco Roberts profile imageAUTHOR

      Debra Roberts 

      7 months ago from Ohio

      Yes, your drink packages includes an 18% gratuity...at least it does on Royal Caribbean. Also if you don't have the package and you buy coffee, soft drinks, or cocktails, an 18% gratuity is already on it.

    • profile image

      Tracy C 

      7 months ago

      We give our room attendant and waiters additional cash, plus tip at the bar. I didn’t realize that some cruise lines added a bar service fee. We purchased drink packages, so perhaps that was in the fine print. Tipping can be confusing, especially when guest are not accustomed to it.

    • Deb Vesco Roberts profile imageAUTHOR

      Debra Roberts 

      8 months ago from Ohio

      Me too. I had to write the article neutral and unbiased so to appeal to every varying opinion. Personally, we tip extra...but didn't used to to the degree we do now. We are way more generous knowing what we know now!

    • profile image

      Jim Robinson 

      8 months ago

      I read your entire article. I find it distressing when I hear someone automatically say they go down to Customer Service and cancel their automatic gratuity every cruise they go on. I am 65 and always remember one important saying that my parents said to us: "You get what your pay for!!" By the way, the ship has a way of putting notes in your accounts, about the removal of the automatic gratuities. It is seen every time your Sea Pass is used. Being that most of the crew get pennies on the dollar from the automatic gratuities, they subsist on the extra tips they get. I could write an entire article myself about how it feels to work in the food and beverage industry waiting on people and the "CHEAP" ones that stiff you. Enjoy your cruise and make the people that wait on you hand and foot enjoy waiting on you.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      10 months ago from UK

      In Prague we noticed restaurant staff pointing out to English-speaking guests that service was not included, when in fact it was. Globally the issue of tipping is confusing.

    • Deb Vesco Roberts profile imageAUTHOR

      Debra Roberts 

      10 months ago from Ohio

      It gets even more complex when people who are not from the US are not accustomed to tipping in their country because folks there are paid a respectable wage vs. companies relying on gratuities to carry them. You can't even imagine how ugly this topic gets on the cruise forums that I follow; it's an ongoing and often times, heated debate, so I thought it would make for an interesting topic to go with my other cruise blogs.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      10 months ago from UK

      I have read your article with great interest as we have relatives taking a cruise later this year. The whole issue of tipping and gratuities is a complex one.

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