Should I Tip on a Cruise?

Cruise ships are operating in some pretty rough seas these days, says money expert Clark Howard.

"Try to think of an industry more affected by COVID than the cruise industry," he says. "They've got staffing issues, everything."

So when you’re on a cruise and experience a staff member who is especially helpful to you,  how do you show your appreciation?

Should you tip on a cruise? That's what a listener of the Clark Howard Podcast recently asked.

Clark says that when he cruises, he makes sure to reward the workers who make his experience what it is: “It’s the only time I carry a wad of cash,” he says.

Many cruise lines let you pay for gratuities during the booking process.“With some of the cruise lines it is mandatory, but on others it is optional,” he says.

How Do the Big Cruise Lines Handle Tipping?

For example, Royal Caribbean.com says, "If gratuities are not prepaid prior to sailing, they will be automatically added to the guests' folios once onboard."

The Norwegian Cruise Line website says, "Unlike most other ships in the cruise industry, there is no required or recommended tipping on our ships for service that is generally rendered to all guests." The website notes that there is, however, a 20% gratuity added to all spa, salon and beverage services.

At Carnival.com, it says guests have two options for tipping the staff:

  • Prepay: "Prepaid gratuities are reflected in the 'Miscellaneous Charge' field on the confirmation and in the guest's E-Documents."
  • Sail & Sign: Carnival says if you didn't prepay, on the second to last day of your cruise, you will receive a "recommended, per person, amount" posted to your Sail & Sign account.

The cruise line recommends that guests tip either $14.50 per person, per day for standard staterooms and $16.50 per person, per day for suites.

“They put it in there. but you can do a negative option and say that ‘I don’t want to have pre-paid gratuities,’ and then you tip people with your own cash,” Clark says.

Who Actually Gets My Prepaid Tips on a Cruise?

On big cruise lines, tips are generally shared with wait staff, attendants and more.

Royal Caribbean's website says, "Gratuities are shared among dining, bar & culinary services staff, stateroom attendants and other hotel services teams who work behind the scenes to enhance the cruise experience."

Carnival’s website says, “100% of your gratuities are distributed to the crew who you interact with, such as your stateroom attendants, dining and culinary services staff, as well as others who work behind the scenes to enhance your overall cruise experience. Applying this charge automatically streamlines the recognition process and ensures our crew will share in your generosity.”

Final Thoughts

As you can see, due to the cruise lines' spread-the-wealth gratuity policies, the specific people who help you may not get the full rewards of your generosity. That's why Clark makes sure to tip those who have assisted him personally.

“The only way you know that the people on the ship who have really mattered to you are really getting the money is when you hand them the cash.”

“I hand out those tips to the people on the ship so that I know that money is going to that individual and his or her family,” he adds.

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