Tipping on a cruise ship can be a confusing endeavor, especially for those sailing for the first time.
Most mainstream cruise lines bill passengers between $12 and $15 per person, per day for gratuities — figures that have been steadily increasing in recent years. The money is then divided among staff.
And although the payments seem mandatory, passengers are entitled to a fair amount of flexibility that they may not be aware of.
Wondering whether you have to pay gratuities? Here are some of your most frequent tipping questions answered:
Q: Are cruise gratuities mandatory?
On most mainstream cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line, the automatic gratuity charge can be disputed and adjusted. The fee is not mandatory, though it is strongly encouraged to ensure quality, cruise lines say, because they supplement crew salaries.
On most luxury lines (such as Crystal, Regent, Seabourn and Silversea), gratuities are folded into the fare and are mandatory.
In both instances, the gratuities are divided among staff, including those who work behind-the-scenes and may not have direct contact with guests during their stay.
Originally, gratuities on cruise ships were optional, with envelopes left in passenger guest rooms for any cash tips they chose to leave. But that meant that some crew members, like housekeepers and waiters, were rewarded more than others, like table bussers, for example.
That’s why the concept of the auto-gratuity was introduced in recent years. Passengers can choose to increase or decrease the amount added to their bills, or scrap it altogether for cash tips instead.
Q: I would rather pay my gratuities in cash, directly to crew members who served me. Can I do that?
Yes, on most mainstream lines.
Q: Can you refuse to pay gratuities added to your bill?
Yes, though cruise lines highly discourage it and will work with guests if they are not satisfied with the service on their voyage to adjust the fee to lesser gratuities if necessary.
On most lines, you can adjust or remove your gratuity by visiting the front desk. Norwegian requires that passengers file a reimbursement request after their cruise ends to withdraw their gratuities.
Q: Do the “gratuities” really go to the staff members?
Yes, according to the cruise lines, as part of an incentive program that is additional to staff salaries.
Carnival Cruise Line, for instance, breaks down its $12.95 fee by giving $4.05 to the housekeeping team, $6.40 to the dining team and $2.50 for alternative services. Royal and Norwegian also divide the gratuity among the guest services team.