Cruising is a great way to see new places, and experience relaxation and fun on a "floating hotel". A while back I discussed some gratuity guidelines for all-inclusive resorts. Gratuities work very differently on cruises.
Most large, non-luxury cruise lines implement a surcharge of typically $12-$15 per person per day for gratuities. They are itemized on your final bill at the end of your voyage. There is also the option to prepay the gratuities.
The gratuity charge covers the cost of anyone that has helped you. Room stewards, servers, etc. The main reason for this is because many international travelers aren't as accustomed to tipping as people from the US. This give the crew a guaranteed compensation. A second reason is because passengers now interact with many more crew members than they used to. For more info, check out this article.
It's worth noting that you are always more than encouraged to provide extra gratuities to any staff member that goes above and beyond. On the first ever Spring Break Cruise in 2014, I remember tipping a magician who did a wonderful job.
An option that passengers have is to remove the automatic gratuities from their cabin. Each cruise line is different, but typically you need to go to guest services.
I’m going to recommend that you not do this. The reason is because by having it built in, quite simply it is taken care of. Everyone that touches your stay will get a piece of it. By taking it off, you put pressure on yourself to tip everyone. Some people will respond that certain employees deserve more than others. I agree, but if you are having issues with a crew member, talk with their supervisor. Don’t just automatically not give them gratuity. Most employees on cruises rely on tips (much like servers in the US), and work extremely hard.
Another time gratuities come into play is when you order alcoholic or specialty beverages, or dine in specialty restaurant. Most of the time, the gratuity is a flat 15% that is added on to the order once it is processed by the server or bartender.
One of the best parts about going on a cruise is taking the excursions when in port. For tipping on those, I follow the same guidelines that I had previously mentioned in the all-inclusive gratuity blog post.
Finally, sometimes cruises will have special sales where pre-paid gratuities will be included in the cost of the fare. These are always great deals! These specials don’t come around too often. That’s why it is important to use an experienced travel professional that an have access to these specials that in the end will save you both time and money!
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