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

If you are considering taking a cruise you have probably heard the word “Gratuities” mentioned by your Travel Agent or Cruise Line.

Cruise gratuities can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of your cruise so they are worth thinking about ahead of time.

I’ve been on many cruises that have had many different gratuity policies. In this article, we will look at:

  • What gratuities are and who receives them.
  • How you pay gratuities and how to remove them
  • Who pays gratuities and how much do they usually cost?
Costa Smeralda

What are Cruise Gratuities?

Cruise gratuities are tips that are automatically charged by the cruise line and go to the crew.

Cruise gratuities usually average between $16-$20 per person per night.

On the majority of cruise lines, gratuities are not mandatory and can be removed if requested.

Cruise gratuities are mainly charged on a per-night basis but there are a couple of other situations where you may be charged gratuities too.

AmountCharge Basis
Daily Gratuities$16-$20Per Person Per Day
Drinks Gratuities15-20%Per Drink or Drinks Package
Spa Treatment Gratuities15-20%Per Spa Treatment
Speciality Dining18-20%Per Meal or Speciality Meal Package
Cruise Gratuity Examples

How Much Do Cruise Gratuities Cost?

Cruise gratuities usually cost between $16-$20 per person per night.

This increases to between $18-$25 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.

Cruise booking documents aren’t usually the most exciting things to read but it’s important that you do in order to avoid any unexpected surprises. All gratuities/costs will be referenced in these documents.

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

Cruise LineGratuity Cost
(Standard Cabin)
Gratuity Cost (Suite)
Royal Caribbean$18$20.50
Princess Cruises$16$18
Celebrity Cruises$18$23
Holland America$16$17.50
Norwegian Cruise Line$20$25
Cruise Line Gratuity Price Guide 2023

I took a cruise on Celebrity Edge. Celebrity charge a daily service charge, as well as gratuities on every drink, spa treatment and speciality meal.

Find out what I thought of that cruise here:

How Are Cruise Gratuities Charged? Step-by-Step Process

If you are happy to leave the automatic gratuities on your bill, you don’t have to do anything. This is the default situation.

Cruise lines assume that guests want to leave the automatic gratuities on as the majority do this.

When surveying on Threads, 67% of people said that they left automatic gratuities on when cruising. I suspect in reality that the actual figure for this is higher.

do you leave on automatic gratuities

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 your account automatically.

Tips, giving money to crew

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 pre-pay the gratuities.

I usually go for the option as I prefer to know what I need to pay upfront.

Some cruise lines will advertise pre-paid gratuities as a promotional offer meaning that you don’t have to pay for gratuities later as they are already included in the cruise fare.

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.

One benefit of prepaying gratuities is that if the price of the gratuities is set to increase, you may be able to pay the lower price.

Tracey experienced this on her last cruise:

I received an email with the offer to pre-pay as the rate was going up for that cruise. I could pre-pay at the old rate instead of daily new rate.

Tracey – source.

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 To Your Account Daily

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

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 to each person’s account separately even if you are using the same credit card to pay for the whole party/family at the end.

If you have pre-paid your gratuities these won’t always appear on your onboard account during the cruise. Some cruise lines do still show the gratuities, but others do not.

Check Your Onboard Account Frequently to Avoid Surprises

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.

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:

Cruise Ships Are Cashless Societies – Here’s Why.

Despite the majority of onboard purchases being made with your onboard account, there are still a couple of things you may need cash for – like taxis, tips for porters, and possibly even the casino!

To find out how to budget cash for your next cruise, check out this video:

Step 3 – Your Credit Card Will be Charged

On the majority of cruise lines, guests are asked to attach a credit card to their cruise account to pay for onboard purchases.

When you disembark your cruise and head home your credit 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 queues at reception, but the cruise line also has to count and exchange the currency.

Giving you credit card to pay cruise gratuities

How to Cancel Cruise Gratuities: Step-by-Step Process

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

Although I personally discourage this approach as it leaves the behind-the-scenes workers without tips, many people do prefer to do this.

The process below details how you can remove gratuities if you’d like to:

Step 1 – Select ‘No’ When Asked if You’d Like To Pre-pay

When booking the cruise you’ll usually be asked if you’d like to pre-pay 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 effectively delaying the gratuities until later.

Step 2 – Gratuities Will be Added to Your Onboard Account 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.

Find out why you don’t need to buy cruise ship Wi-Fi to use the onboard App here:

You Don’t Need to Pay For Wi-Fi To Use a Cruise Line App – Here’s Why

Step 3 – Go to The Reception Desk 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.

From the cruise line’s perspective, gratuities should only be removed when the service you receive is bad – so it’s understandable why they wouldn’t want guests to remove gratuities before the end of the cruise.

To remove the gratuities guests must head to the reception desk and ask to have them 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.

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.

When I cruised with Disney Cruise Lines, I was surprised to find that, as well as paying automatic gratuities, I was expected to put cash in envelopes and give it to the waiters at the last evening’s dinner.

Being British, and unaccustomed to tipping, I was very uncomfortable with this. Find out all about that awkward situation in the video below:

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 for obvious reasons.

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 a Cruise?

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 cruises Arvia balcony
On My Balcony

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 charges children 2 and older and Norwegian Cruise Line only charge for children over the age of 3.

Some cruise lines have discounted rates for children and many do not charge for babies/very young children.

MSC Cruises are a good example of this. Their child gratuity rates are considerably less than adult rates. (If you are booking from the UK, all gratuities are included in the standard cruise fare anyway.)

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

Cruise LineAdult Gratuity CostAge When Gratuity Applied
Royal Caribbean$18Applied to All
Princess Cruises$16Applied to All
Celebrity Cruises$18Applied to All
Holland America$16Applied to All
Norwegian Cruise Line$203+
Cruise Line Gratuities by Age

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

This is How Your Cruise Gratuities Are Split

If you are paying gratuities you may 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 based on a total daily gratuity of $18

Crew MemberGratuity Amount ReceivedGratuity Percentage
Stateroom Attendant$4.5025%
Dining Room$7.7543%
Other Hotel Services$5.7532%
Cruise Gratuity Breakdown by Staff Member

This chart shows the split on Disney cruises:

disney cruise line automatic gratuity breakdown graph

Cruise Ship Crew Salary is Comparatively Low

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

Cruise lines register their cruise ships in foreign countries so that they can take advantage of rules in areas of the world where labour is the 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

Almost All Cruise Ships Fly Foreign Flags, Heres 3 Reasons Why.

Which Cruise Lines Include Gratuities?

Many cruise lines do include gratuities in their standard fare.

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

  • Crystal Cruises
  • Regent Seven Seas
  • Silversea

In recent years some mainstream cruise lines have made the move to include gratuities. These tend to be British Cruise Lines and those selling to the UK market.

Mainstream Cruise Lines That Include Gratuities Within The Fares

British Cruise Lines – or those selling to the UK market often include gratuities. These include:

  • Marella
  • P&O
  • Azamara
  • MSC – if you are booking from the UK.

The Tipping Culture in The UK is Different to The US

In the UK it’s rare to tip – apart from possibly in a restaurant or a taxi driver if the service you’ve received is good.

People who cruise from the UK are usually 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.

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

MSC Cruises has also included gratuities for guests booking 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 fares.

To learn more about MSC’s tipping policies. Check out this post:

The Truth About MSC and Gratuities – Your Guide.

The tipping culture in Australia is similar to that of the UK and for this reason, most Australian cruise lines don’t automatically add on gratuities.

Michelle from our Facebook community has first-hand experience with this:

cruise gratuities in australia

On Which Cruise Lines Can You Remove Gratuities?

On all cruise lines apart from Costa Cruises guests can remove gratuities.

Removing gratuities isn’t an option on Costa Cruises and all guests must pay them.

For all hotel services provided on board, 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

Find out about the Cruise I took on Costa Smeralda below. The basic cruise fare was so low, I was surprised it included any food at all!

Alternatives to Automatically Added Gratuities

You Could Tip 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 – Staff 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! Laundering Thousands of bedsheets and towels…

Laundry Bag Norwegian Cruise Line Platinum Free Bag

You Could Not Tip 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 I 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 Are Often Added Automatically

Many cruise lines add a gratuity onto 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.

Massage Bed Princess Cruises Ship Shape Program Spa
Princess Cruises Onboard Spa

73% of our Facebook community members who have had a spa treatment on a cruise reported that an automatic gratuity was added.

If you do have a spa treatment on a cruise one thing to be aware of is that the treatment is often followed by a sales pitch for various products.

If you don’t want to purchase anything, be clear and firm about it.

cruise spa treatment sales pitch

Diane’s experience is very common, especially on some of the larger American cruise lines.

Drinks May Have Automatic Gratuities Added on

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 of the largest American cruise lines.

Cruise LineDrinks Gratuity Percentage
Royal Caribbean18%
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. These are usually the large, American cruise companies.

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

How Much Do Drinks Cost on Cruise Ships? Menus and Comparisons

There Are Often Gratuities on Drinks Packages

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.

The gratuities added to drinks packages can be expensive. You may be better just paying for the drinks you’ll want. Make sure you do your research and don’t just assume that “free drinks” offers a great saving.

Gratuities on Speciality Meals and Speciality Meal Packages

You may decide to splash out and pay to go to one of the ship’s “Speciality Restaurants.”

These either make an additional charge per person, or you pay for individual items in the restaurant, as you would on land.

There is no need for you to pay extra and go to a speciality restaurant at all – the food in the ship’s main dining rooms is normally very good.

You may find an extra 20% gratuity is added to your onboard account. If you buy a “Speciality Restaurant Package” – where you can eat at a certain number of restaurants for a reduced price – you will be charged an extra 20% on the cost of the package.

marella cruises speciality restaurant Kora La
Marella Cruises – speciality restaurant Kora La – No additional gratuities added.

American Cruise Lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Norwegian add this additional gratuity.

British cruise lines, such as P&O, Marella, and Fred Olsen do not.

It is important to check the small print with the cruise line you are travelling with, to see if you will incur these extra charges.

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 are generally paid a higher salary.

I’ve taken a few river cruises both of which said that gratuities were included in the fare.

On the first river cruise with Emerald I felt no pressure to tip – 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.

I have sailed twice with the budget river cruise line Tui, and again all tips were included.

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.

Find out what I thought of my “budget” river cruise in the video below:

Before You Go:

Find out how to decrease your onboard spending, before you even get to the cruise ship in the article below:

Cutting Onboard Expenses, BEFORE You Cruise. (Drinks, Speciality Meals, Excursions and More)

Find a handy guide on things to organise, and things to pack for you next cruise here:

Planning And Packing For Your Cruise, Things to Organise in Advance, Packing Essentials And More

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.