29 May 2024

A guide to tipping on a cruise ship

To tip or not to tip? In recent years this has become one of the most controversial issues among the increasing numbers of people who enjoy cruising the oceans of the world.

Traditionally, tipping was not problematic. Most cruise liners tended to be based in the same continent, or country, as the majority of their passengers and tipping policies fell in with customs in that particular part of the world. However, with passengers and crews becoming increasingly international there has been growing confusion over who to tip, by how much and indeed if to tip at all.

This, plus the tendency of modern cruise ships to have several dining locations and non-assigned waiting staff, has resulted in cruise liners levying automatic service charges on passenger fares. They argue that this makes it fairer for all their employees and ensures that all passengers pay a share of gratuities to staff who they may never see, but whose efforts are equally vital to the smooth operation of the cruise and who also tend to be universally poorly paid.


So what is the best way to pick your way through the maze of cruise tipping etiquette?

Before You Book

It is vital to look carefully at the terms and conditions and particularly at what is and is not included in your bill. Companies have to make clear if gratuities are automatically included in your fare. Some cruise lines will allow you to adjust your percentage of gratuities, but some will not. Others will have different policies for passengers choosing different dining options. For example, choosing flexible rather than set-seating dining will incur a pre-paid gratuity charge. Some companies do not expect or require passengers to tip staff at all.

On Board

After taking the company’s policies into account, if you do want to show your gratitude for good service it is traditional to tip stewards, waiters and other staff, such as bartenders, who have given you individual service. Methods of tipping vary with different liners – some provide envelopes in the Purser’s Office, while others leave envelopes in cabins. Usually tips are distributed on the last night of the cruise, but if you have someone within your party who may need special attention – perhaps because of age or disability, or sudden onset of illness – it is a good idea to give the cabin steward a portion of the tip at the start of the cruise.

Keep in Mind

Different types of cruising have different tipping traditions. For example, river and waterways cruising tends to have a lower and more flexible gratuity system than that in operation on larger, ocean-going liners. So what you pay depends considerably on what kind of cruising you choose.

Remember that tipping is discretionary and was conventionally seen as a way of thanking staff whose standard of service really does make or break your holiday and who rely on gratuities to secure a living wage. And even if you are a seasoned seafarer who always sails with the same cruise liner, be careful when you book because traditions are changing and your favourite company may well have changed its policy.