Australians who book Royal Caribbean cruises locally are set to save as the line will absorb recent gratuity price hikes imposed on those booking overseas.
Royal Caribbean International recently increased gratuities to as much as US$20.50 per person, per day for suite passengers, adding an extra AU$43 for a couple on a 7-night cruise. The Royal Caribbean rises follow similar increases from many other cruise lines.
But the gratuity the charges are absorbed into the price in Australia, the line told Cruise Passenger.
“Royal Caribbean International continues to adopt an inclusive service charge policy which is included in the fare for Australian and New Zealand bookings, wherever in the world they sail,” Royal Caribbean said in a statement.
“Whilst service charges are included, guests will still have the option to reward our crew for their exceptional service by choosing to provide a gratuity at their own discretion. Guests will see no change to the published price of cruises via any Royal Caribbean point of sale, including website, advertising and call centre pricing in the Australian market.
The new prices will affect the tens of thousands of cruisers who book outside of Australia and New Zealand.
“Bookings made through any other market outside of Australia and New Zealand will be subject to the increase in gratuities, effective November 11th, 2023,” it said.
No other line has so far made a similar offer.
Royal Caribbean International is currently charging passengers US$18 per guest, per day for non-suite staterooms, up from $16. But passengers in suites will now pay US$20.50, an increase from US$18.50. Royal Caribbean International says the automatic daily gratuity is based on customary industry standards.
Mainstream cruise lines typically add gratuities to passengers’ bills on a per-guest, per-day basis. The rates can range from about US$15 to more than US$20 per guest, per day, depending on the line and stateroom category. Most cruise lines automatically include tipping fees in guests’ onboard accounts.
Royal Caribbean is one of the last to introduce the recent hikes and it follows similar moves from other cruise lines earlier this year, including Celebrity Cruises – also part of Royal Caribbean Group – and Carnival Cruise Line.
Cruise lines operating out of Australia, such as P&O, usually use international staff and build the gratuity into their advertised prices. Guests may give tips to crew members who give them satisfactory service.
On Azamara, there’s no automatic gratuity charge either as gratuities are already built into the fare. There is, however, an 18 per cent gratuity added for onboard spa bills.
But who gets it?
“As a way to reward our crew members for their outstanding service, tips are shared between dining, bar & culinary services staff, stateroom attendants and other hotel services teams who work behind the scenes to enhance the cruise experience,” Royal Caribbean policy states.
There is a way guests can halt the charges.
“In the unlikely event that a guest onboard being charged the daily automatic tip does not receive satisfactory service, the guest may request to modify the daily amount at their discretion by visiting Guest Services onboard and will be able to do so until the morning of their departure. Guests who have pre-paid their tips will not see a daily charge during their cruise.
“Applying this charge automatically helps to streamline the recognition process for the crew members that work to enhance your cruise. We hope you find the gratuity to be an accurate reflection of your satisfaction and thank you for your generous recognition of our staff.”
Percentage rate adds to specialty costs
In addition to the daily gratuity charges, most cruise lines also add a standard gratuity percentage rate to specialty dining, bar, beverages, salon and spa purchases – sometimes as much as 18 per cent.
While tipping is common practice in the US, that is not usually the case in Australia and New Zealand, which both have a higher standard wage, AU$23.23 per hour and NZ$22.70 per hour, respectively.
In the US, tipped employees must receive a minimum wage of $2.13 per hour, known as a cash wage. That cash wage is combined with tips to reach the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The average base salary for a crew member working for a US line is $14.07 per hour, according to indeed.com.
Those who are employed locally, such as entertainers, would negotiate their own fees.