June 21, 2018

That Time I Tipped The Cruise Crew...

If you ask people about tipping in a message board, or message-board-like format (translation: Facebook), you will be met with an onslaught of opinions and fighting. This pertains to the mainstream cruise lines (which I researched), but probably applies to all US cruise lines; but maybe not the European ones, where tipping is not a thing....

I don't like to tell people what to do so here are the facts:

1) Cruise lines all have a set amount that they deem an appropriate amount, currently between $13-18 that mostly goes towards dining and housekeeping staff. "Dining" does not just mean your restaurant servers, it also includes those who stock the buffet and bus the dirty dishes in the buffet area.

2) The purpose of the automatic gratuities is to give you a flat amount to budget for and so that you don't have to worry about dealing with cash tipping during your vacation.

3) If you hypothetically requested to pay 1/2 the amount because you want to tip your room steward in cash; you can't specify that you only want your gratuities to go to dining services, the amount you left will be split the same way the full amount would have been. 

Here are the different schools of thought:

1) "Since cruise crew aren't protected by US labor laws, they get paid such a small salary that I am happy to pay the automatic gratuity. Additionally, If I get good service at dinner, I'll tip a couple (or several) extra dollars since my vacation costs less than if I was in hotels, eating meals out, and flying to all these different destinations!"

2) "Since cruise crew aren't protected by US labor laws, they get paid such a small salary that I am happy to pay the automatic gratuity. But, I've already splurged on this vacation so I'm not tipping any extra."

3) "Since cruise crew aren't protected by US labor laws, they get paid such a small salary that they should absolutely be tipped. However, I want to make sure that the people I interact with myself are the ones that get tipped, so I am going to remove my gratuities and just generously tip cash as I go."

4) "I can't afford to tip, so I'm going to remove my gratuities and that is that."

I said I wouldn't tell you what to do, and that you should make your own choices (because I don't want to fight with you), but here are my opinions on the above:

1) This is what I do; I am a "couple" extra dollars person, not a "several" extra dollars person at the dining room and restaurants; and about $5 per day for the steward, left in the room on debarkation day.

2) I did this on my first cruise and don't feel bad about having done so. I think the automatic amount already adds a lot, but is fair. I started tipping extra to servers who are very good, and to bartenders so that they learn that I tip (~$1 per drink) and then give me better service (really it's my husband who is doing the latter b/c the cruise line already sticks a percentage on your bar drinks, including non-alcoholic).

3) I can see how this sounds reasonable and fair to the crew. Especially if you are tipping even more that the $13+ per day. One problem is that it takes away from the earnings of those you don't interact with who are "enhancing your experience" such as those stocking the buffet and busing buffet dining tables. The other problem is that not everyone is following this procedure, so: all of the auto-grats get split between all dining/housekeeping/etc, including those you interact with, but all of your cash tips go to only those you interact with, causing inequity between those whose guests tip cash-only and those who auto-grat.

4) People who don't tip are bad people and should feel bad, and also I heard that there is a special hell for those that do not tip. Let me break my (not subtle) strong feelings about tipping as they apply to restaurants, which I extend to cruising: I really hate tipping as a concept, but as long as it is an industry standard, I will support tipped employees appropriately (to me an appropriate tip for a restaurant server is 20%; tip slightly less if it feels like the server didn't care about getting stuff right; and only tip "poorly" if the server is out-right rude).

I would love to live in a world... oh wait, country.... that did not use tipping as a wage garnish. Restaurant owners should price their menus accordingly so that the 20% tip is built-in and servers are paid a respectable wage. It is ridiculous that restaurant-goers can affect a servers income because the kitchen got backed-up or the server's short-term memory failed them once, or your party of 20 was a bit overwhelming, or the drink you are trying to order has a pre-made base and they aren't able to customize it, or because they "can't afford it".  
Not tipping restaurant servers doesn't teach the restaurant that they should abolish tipping (it makes your servers give you bad service when you come back, and also sad probably) and not tipping on a cruise doesn't teach the cruise line that they should abolish tipping (it makes the crew sad).

If you "can't afford" to tip at a restaurant, then you can't afford to eat out; and if you "can't afford" to tip on a cruise, then you can't afford to go on a cruise.

If you are still with me, I want to mention "pre-paid gratuities" and how they are different from "automatic gratuities."

1) They are not different. They are pre-paid.

That's literally it. But let me elaborate because: I have seen a bunch of people who think that the purpose of pre-paying is so that they don't have to tip cash once on board. The purpose of pre-paying is purely for budgeting purposes. If you are a person who books a cruise and then makes a payment every month up until the final payment date, then you should pre-pay your gratuities so that they are built into that monthly payment (or make it as your last thing you pay for before cruising, depending on the cruise line). $14 per-person-per day, does really add up.
If you are a person who has money set aside for vacationing (or for whatever), then do not pre-pay. Leave your money in your savings account earning interest for you instead of paying it to the cruise line early so that they earn interest on it.
Whether you pre-pay or not servers, don't think you're stiffing them when you don't leave money. Though I heard they do have access to whom have removed their automatic gratuities; don't know if this is true or not.

Last, in this very long post, I will leave you with specific auto-grat information for the popular US cruise lines:

(As of 1/15/24)


  1. I've heard about this from friends who used to work as seamen. I didn't know it was that important

  2. Tipping is important when the person is making less than mininum wage. I think this had great points.

  3. I've never been on a cruise so I can't tell you how I would tip, however, I think I have a similar school of thought as you. When I was growing up my Mom worked in restaurants so I always understood the importance of tipping. I also wish we lived in a world where wages were not subsidized via tipping, but I now think about tips as an expense that is tied to the meal. If you can't afford to tip then you can't afford to eat out. I can see how it would be exactly the same on a cruise where the workers have very demanding jobs!

  4. This is really awesome and eye opening to a lot of people. As a former bartender myself ( not on a cruise ), I have always been an over tipper. I am that person who always tips high and tips everyone.

  5. This is so good to know! I've never been on a cruise so will definitely keep this in mind for when I do.

  6. Thank you for this, the first time we were in a cruise we were a little confusing about the tipping. This post really helps.

  7. As someone who waitressed for 5 years (and made far less than minimum wage per hour) I am in the #1 school of thought. I keep the automatic gratuities but I bring extra for those crew that I become friendly with throughout the week.

    This has turned into a "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine." On my last cruise my husband and I made friends with one of the bartenders at the Alchemy bar and got stronger drinks, etc. We tipped out room steward extra because she was AMAZING and the happiest person we had ever met. Etc. etc.

    They work hard and deserve it!

  8. This is really helpful info, thank you! We're going on a cruise next March and I think it's important to be aware of the extra fees you might not think about. Personally I hate the idea of tipping. I lived in Japan for 5 years and there's no tipping there. Salaries and wages are higher and you are paid by your employer for your work. Simple as that. But it is what it is, and when you are in a country or place where tipping is expected, well, you gotta suck it up and do the right thing!! Just wish they'd change the system and include all costs in the ticket or meal or ride or whatever it is, ya know?!

  9. This is good to know as I never realised that workers on cruises were paid below the minimum wage. Why isn't there an association set up to support these workers going forward? I don't mind tipping now that I have the information but I believe that the long term solution is giving these workers equal pay just like restaurants on land.

  10. Great to know! The staff work so hard and are entitled to a fair pay!

  11. I am obsessed with this. I worked on a cruise line for over 10 years. The salary is extremely low for all the servers, bartenders, housekeeping, etc. They work around the clock to serve your needs and should be rewarded any way they can. Most have families that they are supporting back home. So I agree, if you are not going to tip, because you can't afford it...then you should not cruise. This also goes for any restaurant/hospitality industry. If you can not tip...then you should not be dining out! Thank you for this post!

  12. I live in Europe and I will never understand the way tipping works in America. The staff should be paid properly and not rely on the guests to tip them... I am not used to tipping so when I book a cruise I don't expect to pay once more the cost of it in tips...

  13. This is definitely useful information. I like the idea of giving tips to those who gave me an excellent service, but I also believe that an automatic gratuity is good since they get paid a low salary. I know that they do not receive the best salary so I always tip. Thanks for sharing!

    Candace Hampton

  14. I have never been on a cruise and never thought that tipping on a cruise can also be an issue. But I am going to save this blog as it going to come handy when I'll finally be on cruise one day. Fingers crossed.

  15. I didn't know about this. This is so sad. I didn't know they were underpaid and you can't tip as much you want. Thank you, it was an eye opener.

  16. 15.00 a day x2 is 30.00 per day we as a couple are paying in gratuities. Now multiply that with the thousands of folks on the ship paying gratuities. The crew lives on the ship and chose that career. Ive saved months for this cruise and dont have money to pay on top of that.

    1. I didn't at any point say that anyone should tip more. I said they should not remove their gratuities. I also said how much I tip extra when I choose to tip extra, but made it clear that it's optional.