Tipping practices vary greatly amongst the cruise lines today, ranging from a required added service charge to no tipping at all. It is very important that you know the policy of the cruise line before you cruise so you can budget accordingly. When planning your cruise, check with your travel agent or the cruise line about the tipping policy. Often the recommended tips, which run from about $10 to $15 per passenger per day, are published in the cruise brochure or on the cruise line Web page. The cruise director will also remind passengers (sometimes over and over) about how much and who the cruise line recommends you tip.
Most tips on cruise ships are really service charges, which is one of the reasons why cruise lines seem to be moving towards adding a flat fee to your onboard account rather than make the tip amount entirely optional. New cruisers need to realize that most cruise lines do not pay their service staff a living wage, and tips or service charges make up much of their compensation. In order to keep the advertised price down, passengers are expected to subsidize the service staff through these added service charges or tips.
All tips used to be given to the stewards and dining room staff on the last night of the cruise. Envelopes were passed out to the passengers and you presented the cash tip to the steward in the cabin and handed it to the wait staff at dinner. Some cruise ships still follow this policy, but others add a flat fee per day to your onboard account which may or may not be adjusted downwards, depending on the cruise line. If the fee is required and cannot be adjusted downward, it is a true service charge, and is no different than a port charge. Most cruise lines add the recommended service charge to your account, and you can adjust it if you think necessary. Personally, one of the things I love about cruising is the excellent service and wonderful attitude of the crew. I've never understood people who did not think the crew deserved at least the recommended service/tipping charge.
The last few years, cruise lines have moved away from traditional tipping for two reasons. First, as cruising as become more international, cruise lines recognized that many passengers from western Europe and the Far East were not accustomed to tipping. It was easier to just add a service charge to the bill (as is done in most hotels in Europe) than to educate the passengers. Second, many large cruise ships have added multiple alternative dining rooms and have moved away from fixed seating times and tables. Passengers have different wait staff each evening, which makes tipping more problematic. Adding a service charge to be split amongst all the wait staff is easier for all, although the top cabin stewards and dining staff probably make less than they used to since the service charge is split into more pieces.
Many cruisers wish that all cruise lines would adopt the "no tipping expected" polices of upscale lines such as Cruise West, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Silversea. However, it looks like the service charge concept is here to stay.
Below are links or information on the tipping policies at some of the major cruise lines.
Tipping Policies on Some of the Major Cruise Lines
- Carnival Cruise Lines Tipping Policy
- Celebrity Cruises Tipping Policy
- Crystal Cruises Tipping Policy
- Cunard Line - adds $11 to $13 per day service charge per passenger, depending on the class
- Hapag-Lloyd Cruises - Tipping is not obligatory on board. Acknowledgment of particularly good service is at the discretion of each guest.
- Holland America Line Tipping Policy
- Norwegian Cruise Line Service Charge and Gratuity Policy
- Oceania Cruises Tipping Policy
- Princess Cruises Tipping Guidelines
- Regent Seven Seas Cruises - onboard gratuities are neither required nor expected
- Royal Caribbean International Tipping Policy
- Seabourn Cruises - onboard gratuities are neither required nor expected
- Silversea Cruises - onboard gratuities are neither required nor expected