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Cruise tipping and gratuities: What's the story?

Cruise tipping and gratuities: What's the story?

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UK cruise passenger numbers hit a record 1.9 million in 2016, and that's expected to grow in 2017; perhaps even hitting the 2 million mark. That's a lot of people on ships, big and small.

And the topic of cruise gratuities is one that comes up again and again, so we decided to clarify some of your most common queries and debunk some long-held myths about tipping on these big boats.

What are gratuities?

Gratuities is a fancy cruise term for tipping for good service. The charges are usually between £5-£10 per person, per day, depending on the cruise line, length of cruise and cabin type booked. Children are usually exempt from paying and the money goes to service staff across the ship, including cabin attendants, restaurant waitstaff and other behinds-the-scenes workers.

Why are they so controversial?

Recently, the majority of cruise lines have begun automatically adding a set amount to people's cabin charges as gratuities which they are expected to pay in addition to the price paid for the cruise. In fact some cruises are now giving you the "opportunity" to pre-pay gratuities before you take the cruise, as if it's an advantage to you.

The reason this is controversial is obvious; expecting someone to pay for a service they haven't yet received is very presumptuous. Also, many people complain that these "optional" tips, aren't really optional and amount to an additional cost which should be advertised and included at the time of booking.

So is it legal?

Unfortunately, yes. As most cruise ships are registered in the US or Asia, where minimum wages are notoriously low, they can contract staff from these places and expect guests to supplement their wages with tipping. It's not a very ethical procedure, and certainly skirts the lines when it comes to legal entitlements, but it is, in theory, permitted.

What should you do about them?

While most people feel that the only options are to avoid cruising or to grin and bear it, there are actually a number of options open to you as a cruising guest. These are:

  • Read the fine print - a number of cruise lines include tipping in the advertised price (like Crystal Cruises and Azamara) so what you see is what you get. Others (like Costa Cruises) insist on mandatory tipping so it's worth checking the policy of each company before you book


  • Look for special offers - often, cruise lines will offer freebies as part of promotions. We've frequently seen pre-paid gratuities offered alongside the likes of free Wi-Fi, drinks packages, speciality dining and shore excursions, so you should definitely keep an eye out for these type of deals


  • Ask for them to be removed - on most cruise lines you can, in theory, go to guest services during your cruise and ask for them to be removed. However, it's worth noting that this is considered really poor form (akin to not tipping wait staff in the States) as many people rely on these gratuities to supplement their wages. We aren't saying this is fair but it is a fact so if you don't like this practice, we recommend finding a cruise line that pays their staff a fair wage


  • Do it your own way - ask for them to be removed and instead opt for individual tipping envelopes so that you can tip an amount that you deem appropriate for the staff that you feel deserve it


If you wish to hop of the cruise bandwagon or looking for your next one, check the links below to embark on your next adventure on the seas!

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