Cruise Gratuities: A Simple Step by Step Guide For First Time Cruisers


If you are considering taking a cruise you may be wondering what cruise gratuities are.

Cruise lines often talk about gratuities but rarely explain how they work in practice. Cruise gratuities cost you hundreds of dollars so they are worth thinking about ahead of time.

I’ve been on a number of cruises that have had varying gratuity policies. In this article, we will look at what gratuities are, how you pay them, your alternative options, and how much gratuities usually cost.

What are Cruise Gratuities?

Cruise gratuities are tips that are automatically charged by the cruise line which go towards paying the crew. Cruise gratuities range between $13-$15 per person per night. On the majority of cruise lines, gratuities are not mandatory and can be removed if requested.

Despite gratuities mostly being charged per person per day, there are a few other things that you need to look out for when you cruise in order to avoid any unexpected bills.

How Much are Cruise Gratuities?

Cruise gratuities cost between $13-$15 per person per night. This increases slightly to between $15-$19 for guests cruising in suites. On most cruise lines children also have to pay gratuities but some cruise lines do offer a discount for children.

Cruise lines regularly increase their gratuity prices so be sure to check directly with the cruise line before your cruise. The cruise line will confirm to you the amount of the gratuities at the time of booking in the documentation that you’ll be given.

Cruise documents aren’t usually the most exciting things to read but it’s important that you do in order to avoid any unexpected surprises.

Below are examples of gratuity costs from 6 of the largest US cruise lines.

Cruise LineGratuity Cost
(Standard Cabin)
Gratuity Cost (Suite)
Royal Caribbean$14.50$17.50
Carnival$13.99$15.99
Princess Cruises$14.50$15.50
Celebrity Cruises$15.50$19.00
Holland America$14.50$16
Norwegian Cruise Line$14.99$17.99
Cruise Line Gratuity Price Guide

How Are Cruise Gratuities Charged? Step by Step Process

If you are happy to leave the automatic gratuities on you don’t have to do anything specifically.

Cruise lines assume that guests want to leave the automatic gratuities on as the majority do this. It’s estimated that around 75% of cruisers leave on the automatic gratuities when they cruise.

One of the main benefits of automatic gratuities is that it makes tipping incredibly easy. Traditionally passengers would tip in cash but this meant carrying cash and gifting the tips in person which could be time-consuming.

Gratuities are calculated and charged to you automatically.

Traditionally gratuities would be paid in cash

What are Prepaid Gratuities?

Prepaid gratuities are tips that are paid prior to the cruise. Some cruise will advertise prepaid gratuities as a promotional offer meaning that guests don’t have to pay for gratuities later as they are already included in the cruise fare.

If you are happy to pay the recommended amounts by automatic gratuities the following process will happen:

Step 1 – The Cruise Line Will Ask if You Want to Pre Pay

The majority of cruise lines will ask you at the time of booking if you would like to prepay the gratuities. I usually go for the option as I prefer to know what I need to pay upfront.

If you book with an agent the agent will usually let the cruise line know of your preference. If you’ve booked directly with the cruise line you’ll usually be able to select whether you want to pre-pay or not.

The total amount of gratuities owed will be calculated at this point and added to your cruise fare to pay. Guests are able to add pre-paid gratuities to their cruise fare up until around 48 hours before the cruise sets sail.

Step 2 – Cruise Gratuities Will be Added on Daily

On a cruise, you’re not able to use cash to pay for things. Cruise ships are completely cashless and instead, you will have an onboard account where your purchases are added to.

Every day gratuities will be automatically added onto your onboard account.

It is as if you have ‘spent’ the gratuity each day. Gratuities are added onto each persons account event if you are cruising with somebody else and using the same card.

You’ll be able to see the gratuities split out by day and by passenger.

NOTE: If you have pre-paid your gratuities these won’t appear on your onboard account during the cruise.

Check Your Onboard Account Frequently

If the cruise line that you’re cruising with has an app it is well worth downloading it as you can often use this to see your onboard account.

NOTE: Checking on your onboard account regularly reduces the chance of any unwelcome surprises and allows you to sort any problems quickly if they do arise.

If the cruise line that you’re cruising with doesn’t have an app you are also usually able to check your onboard spend on the cabin TV.

You’ll also see everything you’ve spent on things like drinks, spa treatments, and gifts.

To learn more about why you can’t pay with cash on a cruise, including how you can pay off your onboard account in cash, check out this post:

Step 3 – Your Credit/Debit Card Will be Charged

On the majority of cruise lines, guests are asked to attach a credit/debit card to their cruise account to pay for onboard purchases. When you disembark your cruise and head home your credit/debit card will usually be charged for the gratuities.

This may be a couple of days after you disembark.

It is also possible, in some situations to pay off your onboard account in cash but cruise lines are increasingly trying to discourage this.

It’s much easier for the cruise lines to charge your card than it is to accept cash. Not only does allowing guests to pay in cash mean long lines at reception but the cruise line also has to count and exchange the currency.

The majority of cruisers attach a credit or debit card to their onboard account when embarking on a cruise.

How to Cancel Cruise Gratuities: Step by Step Process

Many guests prefer to remove the automatic gratuities, preferring instead to tip with cash.

Although I would personally discourage this approach as it leaves the behind the scenes workers without tips the below details how you can remove gratuities if you’d like to:

Step 1 – Select ‘No’ When Asked if You’d Like To Prepay

When booking the cruise you’ll usually be asked if you’d like to prepay your gratuities. Select no at this stage.

Selecting no here doesn’t remove the gratuities it just means that you don’t want to pay them early. By selecting no you are affectively delaying the gratuities until later.

Step 2 – Gratuities Will be Added on Daily

Similar to the situation mentioned above gratuities will be added daily to your cruise account. This is automatic and if you don’t do anything they will be charged to you.

You can check these on your stateroom TV or mobile app if the cruise line that you’re cruising with has one.

Step 3 – Go to Reception and Ask to Have Gratuities Removed

Some people prefer to do this at the start of the cruise although it is usually easier to do later in the cruise.

NOTE: The idea of removing gratuities from the cruise lines perspective is that it should only be done when receiving bad service so it’s understandable why a cruise line wouldn’t want guests to remove gratuities before having completed the cruise.

To remove the gratuities guests must head to the reception desk and ask to have the gratuities removed. The staff will usually ask you why you’d like to do this and they’ll keep a note of your answer for feedback purposes.

Royal Caribbean states:

In the unlikely event that a guest onboard being charged the daily automatic gratuity does not receive satisfactory service, the guest may request to modify the daily amount at their discretion by visiting Guest Services onboard and will be able to do so until the morning of their departure. 

Royal Caribbean

Some people worry about the crew members knowing that the automatic gratuities have been removed.

A number of cruise lines have said that their staff doesn’t know who has or hasn’t removed the gratuities but this hasn’t been confirmed.

Can You Have Your Gratuities Refunded After The Cruise?

If you do want to remove the gratuities it’s incredibly important that you do it on the cruise as you won’t be able to after you’ve disembarked.

Cruise lines do not allow guests to request refunds for gratuities after the cruise has ended. The cruise lines state that this is because “we have already disbursed the gratuities among the crew.” – source.

Can You Increase or Decrease Cruise Gratuities?

Cruise lines are usually happy for guests to increase the gratuities they pay.

Decreasing the amount can be a little more difficult.

Many cruise lines do allow this but some don’t. It is, however, possible to remove gratuities for some members of your party and not others meaning that if you wanted to remove gratuities for example for your children only, in theory, you could do this.

Who Has to Pay Gratuities?

On the majority of cruise lines that charge gratuities, they are charged per person per night with all adults being expected to pay.

There are no groups of people who are excluded from this. Even if a cruise was bought on a promotion, for example, buy one get one free, the gratuities will still be charged to each person.

emma independence of the seas
Me having disembarked the Independence of the Seas in Rotterdam

Do Children Have to Pay Gratuities on Cruises?

Most cruise lines do charge gratuities for children. Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, and Holland America charge all passengers regardless of age. Carnival charge children 2 and older and Norwegian Cruise Line only charges children 3 and older.

Some cruise lines have discounted rated for children and many do not charge for babies/young children. MSC Cruises are a good example of this as their child gratuity rates are considerably less than adult rates.

The table below shows examples from 6 of the biggest American cruise lines:

Cruise LineAdult Gratuity CostAge When Gratuity Applied
Royal Caribbean$14.50Applied to All
Carnival$13.992+
Princess Cruises$14.50Applied to All
Celebrity Cruises$15.50Applied to All
Holland America$14.50Applied to All
Norwegian Cruise Line$14.993+
Cruise Line Gratuities, Age When Applies

What do Cruise Gratuities Pay For?

Cruise gratuities go towards paying the crew who work on the ship such as the housekeeping teams, restaurant staff, and members of staff who work behind the scenes in places like the laundry. Cruise gratuities are split across multiple departments with varying proportions depending on the cruise line.

Cruise gratuities are usually split between the following teams:

  • Housekeeping staff
  • Chefs/Kitchen staff
  • Laundry/Behind the scenes staff

On Carnival, the $13.99-per-day automated gratuity is divvied up, with half going to the dining team, some to housekeeping, and the balance going to “alternative services” — described as culinary and hotel services, key entertainment, and guest-services positions.

source.

Cruise Gratuity Breakdown

If you are paying gratuities you’ll probably want to know how they are broken down and split between the staff members.

Stateroom attendants receive approximately 25% of cruise gratuities paid by guests. Dining room staff receive 43% and the remaining 32% is split between other hotel services.

The below figures are from Royal Caribbean:

Crew MemberGratuity Amount ReceivedGratuity Percentage
Stateroom Attendant$3.5525%
Dining Room$6.25 43%
Other Hotel Services$4.70 32%
Cruise Gratuity Breakdown by Staff Member

Cruise Members Salary

It’s important to remember that the salary of the crew on a cruise ship can be incredibly low compared to US standards and many crew members depend on tips to support their families that are at home.

Cruise ships register their cruise ships in foreign countries so that they can take advantage of reduced costs from areas of the world where labor is cheapest.

To learn more about why cruise lines register their cruise ships abroad including how this affects the ships in terms of tax, check out this post:

Which Cruise Lines Include Gratuities?

There are many cruise lines do include gratuities in their base fare.

Traditionally the cruise lines that included gratuities were luxury cruise lines like:

  • Crystal Cruises
  • Regent Seven Seas
  • Silversea

In recent years a number of mainstream cruise lines have made the move to include gratuities.

Marella and P&O, both of whom are British cruise lines now both include gratuities.

To learn more about the cruise lines that include gratuities as standard check out this post:

Tipping Culture

This shift towards including gratuities may be caused by different attitudes towards tipping between the UK and the US.

In the UK it’s rare to tip asides from possibly in a restaurant or a taxi driver if the service you’ve received is good. Cruisers from the UK are therefore happier to pay one upfront cost with gratuities included.

US cruisers who are more accustomed to tipping seem to be happier with the current automatic gratuity system as they are able to see that they have paid tips to the staff.

MSC Cruises have also included gratuities for guests sailing from the UK for this reason. Guests from the US booking an MSC cruise still have gratuities added on automatically and this difference is reflected in the cruise fare.

To learn more about MSC’s tipping policies. Check out this post: The Truth About MSC and Gratuities – Your Guide

On Which Cruise Lines Can You Remove Gratuities?

On all cruise lines apart from Costa Cruises guests are able to remove gratuities. This isn’t an option on Costa Cruises and all guests must pay.

For all hotel services provided onboard, a service charge will be added daily to the Guest’s onboard account. The service charge is an integral part of the cruise and therefore the amount cannot be altered

Costa Cruises.
Costa Cruise Best Budget Family Cruise Line
Me and my brother on a Costa cruise

Alternatives to Automatically Added Gratuities

Tipping in Cash

The most popular alternative to automatic gratuities is tipping the crew members that you see in cash. This does leave members of the crew who work behind the scenes without tips though such as chefs and the people who work in the laundry.

I’ve been in a cruise ship laundry before and what a difficult job that must be! Thousands of bedsheets and towels. Bleh!

Not Tipping at All

Some people prefer not to tip at all. I would strongly discourage anybody from doing this but it is an option and some people do take it.

I personally would much prefer that the cruise line paid their staff a decent living wage but they often don’t so feel as though it is my responsibility to tip the crew.

Other Types of Automatically Added Gratuities on Cruises

Daily gratuities aren’t the only gratuities that are added on during a cruise. Other examples are as follows:

Spa Gratuities

Many cruise lines add a gratuity onto prices listed on the spa price lists, this usually costs between 15-20% of the treatment cost. This means that if you see a massage for $100 this is likely to cost you $115-$120.

This will be mentioned in small print at the bottom of any spa information.

The spa gratuity does go directly to the spa staff and the idea is that it replaces the need to tip in cash. As cruises are largely cashless it isn’t easy to tip somebody who, for example, had just given you a massage in the same way as you might on land.

Princess Cruises Ship Shape Program Spa Couples Massage Pool
Princess Cruises Onboard Spa

Drinks Gratuities

Most cruise lines charge between 15-20% on top of drinks prices as a gratuity. The prices on the menu won’t include the gratuity so it is worth remembering this when ordering drinks.

Below are examples from 6 large American cruise lines.

Cruise LineDrinks Gratuity Percentage
Royal Caribbean18%
Carnival18%
Princess Cruises18%
Celebrity Cruises18%
Holland America15%
Norwegian Cruise Line20%
Cruise Line Gratuity Percentage

There are many cruise lines that don’t charge an extra gratuity on drinks.

Generally speaking, the cruise lines that have daily gratuities also have bar gratuities.

To find out how much drinks cost on a cruise on average, check out the post below:

Drinks Package Gratuities

One thing that’s very important to look out for is promotions that include ‘free drinks’.

If you were to book a cruise with a free drinks promotion from the UK there are usually no additional gratuities to pay.

If you are from the US and book a cruise which includes a ‘free’ drinks package you may have to pay the gratuities which can be 15-20% of the drinks package cost.

NOTE: The gratuities on expensive drinks packages can often be more expensive than just paying for the drinks you’ll actually have, so make sure you do your research and don’t just assume that free drinks offers are a saving.

Do You Pay Gratuities on River Cruises?

The majority of river cruise lines do not charge automatic gratuities. River cruise ships have considerably fewer employees than ocean ships and the staff is generally paid a higher salary.

I’ve taken two river cruises both of which said that gratuities were included on the fare.

On the first river cruise with Emerald Waterways I felt no pressure to tip and it was never mentioned.

On the second river cruise I took with Saga I felt as though I was expected to tip as tipping envelopes were left in my cabin, we were directed where to put these and it was mentioned a couple of times.

That said tips aren’t mandatory on the majority of river cruise lines and guests are free to choose what they would like to do.

To learn more about river cruising, including what a day onboard is like, check out this post: Are River Cruises Boring? Some People Say So – I Don’t.

Emerald Waterways Dress Code Top Deck Dress
Me onboard the Emerald Libertie, a river cruise ship.

To Conclude:

Guests taking a cruise should expect to be charged automatic gratuities per person per night on the majority of cruise lines. These usually range between $13-$15 per night.

Gratuities can be removed although the majority of guests do not do this. Cruisers should also be aware that gratuities may be added onto things such as spa treatments, drinks prices and in some situations even drinks packages.

***

Want to learn how to cruise well on a budget? Start here: How to Cruise For Less

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Emma Le Teace

Hey! I'm Emma. A cruise blogger, YouTuber and founder of the 'Cruising Isn't Just For Old People' Facebook community and website. You can learn more here: About Me.

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