While many cruises come all-inclusive, there’s one expense that’s often not looped into the cost: gratuity. Tipping on cruises is actually a hotly debated topic among expert cruisers. It’s not just a matter of how much, but a question of who to tip, when to tip, and whether to tip per person or per room (hint: it’s per person more often than not). Of course, the answers vary by cruise type, cruise line, and type of accommodation. For example, the traveler on a domestic cruise will potentially tip at a lower price point than the traveler on a luxury Antarctica cruise with a private butler attending to their suite.
The first thing to note is that daily gratuity envelopes are out and automated cruise tips are in. When cruise lines offer automated tipping, it’s of course an opt-in charge, because tipping is inherently voluntary. Cruise Critic recommends opting in to automated tipping if applicable to “not only ensure fairness to all staff, but also save yourself the headache of having to crunch numbers and track down numerous crew members on the final evening of your cruise.”
Should you opt in to the automated service charge, it’s likely to be applied to your room daily and per guest. Beyond the automated service charge, you may want to hand out additional cash tips to crew who go above and beyond for you. That could be a swim instructor who paid extra attention to your children at the pool, a private butler, or a waiter who had your coffee ready at your preferred table each morning. Tipping on top of the automated gratuity should be done on the last night of the cruise, in person and in cash.
When automated cruise tips aren’t an option, or for cruisers who would rather handle tipping on their own, these are the crew members you’ll want to consider (and how much to give).
First, there’s the day-to-day staff: servers, bartenders, the bellmen or luggage handlers, and housekeeping. On an all-inclusive cruise, bar and dining room gratuity is often added automatically—to the tune of 15% to 18%. If alcohol or dining is charged separately, you’ll want to tip within the 15% to 20% range either as you go or in a lump sum at the end of the cruise.
If there was a waiter or bartender you were particularly impressed with, handing them an additional cash tip at the end of the cruise is appreciated—it should be a $20 or higher, depending on the level of service provided. For bartenders and housekeepers, you may also want to offer a generous tip at the beginning of the cruise (again, $20 or more, depending on your needs) to ensure great service while on board. As for daily housekeeping gratuity, $2 to $5 per person per day is a good rule of thumb. For help with your luggage when boarding and disembarking, tip the luggage handler immediately following the service.
Beyond the day-to-day staff, you may also want to tip out specialized crew members you encountered regularly. That could be experts leading your shore excursions, your spa esthetician, or anyone who looked after your children (be it a kids’ club helper, a babysitter, or a counselor guiding children’s excursions).
Finally, if your suite comes with private butler service, you’ll want to tip him or her at the end of your stay. At a hotel, the suggested gratuity for a private butler is 5% of the total room rate (or 5% of the nightly room rate for every day you have a butler).
Don’t forget that cruise tips are dependent on the cruise line to some extent. There are cruise lines where the staff is paid a slightly lower wage on the assumption that they will earn tips, much the way some servers and front of house restaurant staff are compensated. On the other hand, some high-end cruises specifically build tipping into their business model. Regent Seven Seas Cruises, for example, does not expect gratuity because it’s built into their all-inclusive fare. If guests still want to give additional gratuity, they can contribute to the crew welfare fund, which goes to special activities for the crew. To navigate this caveat, don’t hesitate to ask about gratuity when booking—the cruise line will likely be very upfront about their gratuity model.