First Time Cruisers: Everything you need to know about tipping

You’ve saved for months and maybe even years for your cruise vacation and now it’s time to head out and enjoy your vacation at sea.  While you’re still learning the cruise lingo (aft, forward, muster, tender and so on), you’re perplexed by one rather large concern: Tipping.  These days the cruise lines automatically add gratuities to your on board account, but what exactly is it for and why do you have to have tip?  Should you tip extra?  What if you receive bad service?

The Basics: All of the major contemporary cruise lines, from Royal Caribbean to Norwegian Cruise Line to Carnival Cruises to MSC Cruises, as well as premium cruise lines, like Celebrity Cruises, Holland America, and Princess, will charge your onboard account anywhere from $11.50-$12 per person per day of your cruise.  This money is divided between the team that provides service for you during your cruise.  This generally includes your cabin steward and housekeeping staff as well as the dining room waiter, assistant waiter, and maître’ d.  You generally have the option to adjust the amount given via Guest Relations once onboard, but more on this later.

Do I have to bring cash to pay my gratuities? Not anymore.  Back in the day, people would bring cash, envelopes were distributed, and then you had to fill the envelopes and hand them back out.  The cruise lines have modernized and automated the process to make this an easy, effortless, and more importantly, less awkward process.

Tip on Gratuities: Have the gratuities added to your cruise fare when you first book  your cruise.  This way before you even step foot onboard, this extra amount has already been taken added to your overall vacation cost and you can enjoy your cruise without adding it to your onboard bill.

Tips-GratuitiesWill this cover all gratuities? No.  If you have a drink in a bar, for example, there is usually a gratuity added on that you can adjust or add onto depending on the service. This is the same for specialty restaurants and the spa.

Why is that the cruise lines don’t include this in their overall cruise fare?  While some of the luxury cruise lines are moving toward an all-inclusive system that includes gratuities, that’s not the case with contemporary and premium cruise lines, at least not yet.

What if I don’t want to pay the gratuity?  Then simply put, you probably shouldn’t go on a cruise, as this is standard industry practice.  When you consider that the majority of the crew’s salary is dependent on gratuities, you become a little less consumed by the extra expense and more understanding of why you pay it.  As someone who has worked in the hospitality industry as a waitress, hostess, banquet waitress, bartender, etc., tips are crucial to bottom line and without them you can’t make ends meet.  We could start an entirely different discussion about this altogether, but crewmembers will still get paid a low hourly salary, which is why they are dependent on tips.  When you consider how many frozen drinks you’ll have by the pool, how many times you ask your cabin attendant for something extra, or tell the dining room waiter, “Could you just…” you understand why giving a little to the many people that take care of you really isn’t a huge expense.  Another way to look at it is to consider that new handbag, pair of shoes, haircut, or piece of jewelry you purchased for your cruise.  Was it (or any combination of the above) $84 or more?  You didn’t hesitate to pay for that so stop overthinking the $12 times 7 nights = $84.

Tip on Gratuities: Instead of fretting over how much extra of an expense gratuities are, budget that into your total vacation costs before you travel including the cruise, air, hotel, etc., accept it, and move on so you can enjoy your cruise.

us-money-tippingWhat if I receive bad service?On the rare occasion that I have had less than good service, I’ve personally chalked it up to someone having a bad day.  While the cruise line might let you adjust your gratuity payment, I can’t justify spending any time in a line complaining about something so minor.  The cruise lines train their crewmembers to provide great service and I have yet to have a cruise where I received bad enough service that I changed my gratuity.  It would have to be extraordinarily bad or rude service for me to be upset enough to complain to anyone.

Can I tip extra? Yes, and you should for good service.  I can hear the moans from those of you who have never waitressed or worked for tips, but in general, I never tip the minimum amount.  I am a steady 20 percent tipper or above because I know how hard the job is.  If someone goes out of their way to really provide me with stellar service, I make sure that they know I appreciated their hard work.  If I see the same person throughout my cruise who has done a great job, I will usually give them a little extra at the end of my cruise to say, “thank you.”  Plus I also mention them by name in the post-cruise survey so their bosses know of their hard work, too.

Tip on Gifts: I am a big proponent of bringing thank you gifts along on a cruise.  Sounds strange, but I regularly buy and pack little gifts from my hometown.  Consider bringing t-shirts or other little goodies as well as candy for the crew.  You might be surprised at how much they’ll appreciate your gift and they’ll also remember you, which comes in handy when you’re looking for a drink by the pool.

In the end, it’s an expense that new cruisers find annoying, but after your cruise you won’t remember why you were so upset about it.  Personally, I would much rather pay gratuities right about now then have another day of winter.