Once upon a time, it was about rewarding special service.

Look up “gratuity” in the dictionary, and you’ll find it defined as a money gift for services above the beyond.

So when did tipping suddenly become like this, taken from a major cruise line’s notes for passengers:

Effective on cruises departing on or after 1 July 2015, Royal Caribbean will automatically add a USD 12.95 gratuity, USD 15.95 for Suite guests, to each guest’s SeaPass® account on a daily basis. This gratuity replaces our previously recommended gratuity guidelines, and will apply to all guests who did not pre-pay gratuities before 1 June 2015. The new daily gratuity amount is USD 0.95 more than the previously recommended daily gratuity amount (USD 1.70 more for suites)

Not much about “above and beyond” in that statement, right? So what should we, the ordinary cruise passenger, do about tipping and gratuity payments?  Here’s our guide.

If you pay gratuities to the cruise line, should you not tip staff who go above and beyond?

Don’t feel obliged to pay staff more unless you want to. Remember, many river and ocean cruise lines now include gratuities in the price of the fare so you don’t have to think about it. Lines like P&O Australia, Princess Cruises, Scenic and Avalon Waterways include tips on your bill. So you are not required to pay staff more unless you want to. High-end lines like Silversea include gratuities in the fare but say services received shore side or at the spa are at the guest’s own discretion. Ponant recommends a figure to their guest, but again, it is discretionary. Scenic rely on the guest scores to work out bonus payments for staff. If you give them a high score, they get a bonus. Makes sense to us!

If you do tip staff who go the extra mile, should you cancel your gratuity payment?

It’s up to you, though you wouldn’t know it reading the small print. Royal Caribbean itemise the gratuities on your bill so you can see how much is being allocated to the staff. We like that. But some readers have told Cruise Passenger they prefer to tip their cabin staff themselves. Some lines still place gratuity envelopes in cabins at the end of the cruise. Again, do not feel obliged to leave a tip.

If you don’t get good service, how do you stop gratuity payments?

You can ask the concierge to remove the gratuities when you pay your bill at the end of the cruise. You can also adjust the automated service charge – increase or decrease it. Check with guest services towards the end of the cruise.

Some lines have service charges at the bar, shore excursions and spa. Does this go to staff? And if you pay them, should you cancel gratuity payments?

Most cruise staff – like butlers, bar staff, shore excursion guides – are paid through automated gratuities when you purchase a drink or a shore excursion. You are not obliged to pay extra tips. On this principle, you are paying for above and beyond. So it really should be above and beyond to warrant more.

In-Port Baggage Handlers

Baggage handlers don’t work for the cruise lines so they are not part of the pool. Think of treating them like a bellman at a hotel, especially in North America and in Europe. When your cruise finishes and they help you bring your bags to your taxi, your tip is really important to them.

Cabin staff and Butlers

These are the crew members you interact with the most. So it’s hardest not to tip them if they’ve been friendly and gone the extra mile. Their gratuities are usually included in your final bill, but if they have done an exceptional job, you can slip them a bit of extra cash. Just don’t feel obliged – especially if they haven’t deserved it. Remember. you’re spoiling the market for other cruisers.

On luxury sailings, butlers are assigned to cabins along with a cabin boy. They usually have more duties like shining your shoes or keeping your favourite beverages in stock. Giving them an extra couple of dollars per person, per day is often advised.


Bar service has an automatic gratuity applied to your check (usually around 15 per cent). Sometimes, to ensure your bartender gives you enough attention when it’s busy, tip them when you order your first drink. You might be looking around $10. Personally, we’d wait and drink tap water.

Shore Excursions

Tour guides are usually independent of the cruise line so if you feel they provided great service, then by all means, you can pay them a small tip. Around $2 or $3 will be sufficient if you want to tip.

Spa Services

Most spas will add around 15 to 18 per cent gratuity to your bill. But you can adjust this according to what you think of the service. Be brave and think of the next customer!

Dining Room Waiters and Sommeliers

Your auto-gratuity will cover the wait staff in the dining room and the buffet. But often you have exceptional experience at a specialty restaurant, or even in the main dining room. These are the best trained staff on the cruise and the good ones are exceptional. Tip your waiters around $10 or $20.0

What percentage of included gratuity payments actually get to the staff?  

Most cruise lines give their staff around $12 per person, per day – but remember that automatic gratuities vary by cruise line and tips vary according to cabin class as well. Cruise lines rarely disclose the percentage. If you are really determined to create a level playing field where only the exceptional get tips, you need to declare you won’t pay automatic gratuities and top only those who are special.

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