4 Reasons Tips Should Be Included

reasons tips gratuities included cruise fare
Luxury lines already include tips in their cruise fare. - Photo by Seabourn

After regularly reading reviews complaining about gratuity fees for the past three years, it’s become painfully clear to us that not many cruisers understand how tipping on cruise ships actually works.

This confusing system is source of irritation for cruisers, the staff, and the lines themselves, so we argue that cruise gratuities should be incorporated into the cruise fare and paid upfront. Here’s why:

1. Unexpected Charges = Bad Reviews

bad review tips extra charge

Feeling cheated does not inspire you to leave a good review. - Photo by Shutterstock

On virtually all mainstream cruise lines, the gratuities that passengers pay (usually around $12 per person, per night) are the service staff’s primary compensation. It’s similar to dining out in a restaurant in the US: your server is paid less than minimum wage and the gratuity or “tip” you leave at the end of the meal makes up the bulk of their pay.

Of course, plenty of cruisers (even experienced ones) don’t fully understand this. We see many reviews where the gratuities are called “hidden fees” or a cash grab by the lines "to subsidize labor costs", and to be fair, if you didn’t do your research before the cruise and weren’t expecting the charge, it can probably seem that way. Since receiving the bill is one of the last things passengers experience on their voyage, the unexpected charges can tarnish the memory of perfectly good cruise and lead them to take out their frustrations in online reviews — notice that those reviews had scores of 2 and 3 stars. Including tips in the cruise fare would alleviate the confusion over how tips work, meaning passengers come away happier and more likely to write positive reviews.


2. It’s better for the crew.

norwegian cruise bartender tips gratuities

Included gratuities would ensure the crew is compensated. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

Though the specifics vary by line, cruise gratuities are generally divided among your cabin steward, the dining room staff, and alternate dining staff (like the buffet). On foreign flag cruise ships, these staff are from other countries, spend about 9 months on the ship at a time, typically work 10 to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and send money to support family back at home. They work hard to make sure your vacation is enjoyable and memorable.

Despite this, we often hear of guests lining up at guest services to remove gratuities at the end of the cruise, like this report from Doug Parker at Cruise Radio and this Facebook post from Carnival’s senior Cruise Director John Heald. To be sure, some cruisers remove the gratuity and then follow up by tipping the service staff they interacted with in cash, but we honestly question how many of those cruisers actually tip the full, recommended daily amount in cash.

As cruisers, we may never know the exact percentage of passengers that remove the automatic gratuity, though the cruise lines certainly do. By incorporating the gratuity into the cruise fare, each crew member can work hard and offer their best service while being assured that they’ll receive full compensation for their efforts, leading to higher employee morale and even better service.


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3. Luxury lines include gratuities with no negative impact to service.

seabourn room steward tips gratuities

Luxury lines already include tips in the fare. - Photo by Seabourn

We often hear arguments that if crew members don’t have to “earn” their gratuities by providing good service each and every time, the overall level of service on the ships will go down. Frankly, this is hogwash. All the luxury cruise lines (and upper premium line Azamara Club Cruises) include gratuities in their cruise fare, and all these lines are known for a superior level of service. If the cruise lines hire the right crew, provide fair compensation and offer proper training, there’s no need to hold a carrot in front of the crew to motivate good service.


4. It’s electronic and automatic.


Tips used to be passed directly from the passenger to the crew member. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

In the “olden days” of cruising (prior to 2005 or so), cruise passengers would receive a set of an envelopes and a list of the service staff that should receive gratuities and the suggested daily amount for each staff member, like this list from Royal Caribbean in the 1980s we found on eBay. Cruisers would stuff each envelope with the appropriate amount of cash and present it to the crew member on the last day of the cruise to offer their gratitude for the service received.

In the last 10 years or so, the major cruise lines have transitioned to charging the recommended gratuity amount to the passenger’s onboard account each day. Passengers still have the option of adjusting the amount up and down (or removing it entirely), except on Norwegian Cruise Line, where the daily “Service Charge” cannot be adjusted onboard and can only be “rebated back” by writing to guest relations after the cruise.

While the move to electronic (and in Norwegian’s case, required) collection of the daily gratuity does offer some convenience, the personal touch of presenting an envelope to a crew member as an offering of thanks has all but disappeared, making the transaction impersonal and utilitarian. It makes sense that these costs be included in the cruise fare.



Join the discussion

Do you think tips should be included in the cruise fare?


Posted by sammyvelvet

I have been cruising since the early 80s. I have always tipped well when I received great service. I tip according to the service I receive. I did learn one thing a long time ago .. I tip all the people that I will have contact with as soon as I meet them and believe me when you do that you get AMAZING service. I also tip them during the cruise and at the end. So I know the people who deserve it got it ALL and not the cruise line and it is usually much more than they would have EVER gotten from the cruise line. This is another sneaky way of the cruise lines supplementing their cost. And I am not picking out only Carnival most are doing it now. A Tip is and extra thank you for good service. And many of who are accused of being cheapskates is not correct ... in many countries and cultures tipping is not required or expected. I do not want the Cruise line telling me HOW to tip or Who to tip or How much to tip I decide.

Posted by UKCruiser

The problem stems, I believe, from the Americans predisposition to tip anything that moves and do so as a sign of showing off (as in the bigger the tip "the more important/rich I am"). The sooner cruise lines adopt the Japanese model, where staff are mortally offended if you attempt to tip as it implies an insult that they hadn't done their job properly, the better for everyone. You don't tip nurses, policemen, firemen, library personnel or ticket clerks so why should waitstaff or cabin attendants be treated any different? ps the post from sammyvelvet above proves the point. He is deluded when he thinks he gets better service by tipping up front. I've got news for him - you're being taken in, big style!

Posted by Jheretired

It never ceases to amaze me that those cruisers from the UK love to bash the way we Americans do things. If the above poster had actually read the article, he would see that the gratuity is not in addition to the base pay...it is PART of the base pay. No, we don't tip police or firefighters for their service, but their pay model is not dependent on tips. I know things are done differently in the UK (and in Japan), but some people are just plain cheap...and will use any excuse to not pay a gratuity. It is people like him that make me agree with having the gratuities made part of the cruise fare.

Posted by jyohn

Gratuities are an appreciation for services received. If I did not receive said services, then why should my "tip dollars" be divided amoung strangers that I never even met? I was once told by a cruise line that the tip charges were divided amoung all employees; including cooks, laundry, etc. Maybe the cruise line needs to pay these persons a wage that is appropriate with their duties, and allow those who are directly dealing with the passengers to rely on gratuities by providing service that deserves it?

Posted by Cruisinjandl

I've always thought tipping should be done by the passenger to the people they are involved with personally. The snottiest employees on the ship, if there are any, are the bar tenders and I always put that down to the fact that their gratuities are automatic so they don't have to work for them. That said, I think the cruise line should pay the staff a living wage (keeping in mind that means different amounts to people from different countries). If the cruise line is using enforced tips to line their own pockets and it's not going to employees, I say shame on them and that needs to be fixed. There was no information on whether that is the case and I'd like to know more about that.

Posted by OldHoncho

We all know that tipping is required for staff to make anything like decent wages on mainstream lines. I simply wish that the anti-tippers would go to luxury lines or quit cruising. If you can afford to cruise, you can afford the tips.

Posted by darlene1021

I feel the crew members work hard for there money and the tips should be included in the fare, I know two couples shared an inside cabin and sailed on carnival every year and never tipped anybody. And they had plenty of money to do it just cheap. Include the tip with payment or if you want the staff payed fairly then it will be reflected in the cost of the cruise. You don't see any Americans working in dining rooms, cabin attendants, kitchen staff etc. Why because no one would work those long hours for those wages. Just tip or dont cruise.

Posted by Minxx

Literal meaning of gratuity comes from Latin "gratuitas", meaning 'gift'. Cruise Lines should pay their crew a living wage and not expect passengers to further subsidise their payroll responsibilities under the guise of a 'gift'. Services rendered onboard should be all inclusive in fare paid. Gratuities charged by some cruise lines on bar service, spa and beauty treatments are outrageous and should be outlawed

Posted by cruisellama

Makes sense. We usually give extra (cash) to crew who exceed standards along with a thank you note. We were drawn to cruising because of the "all inclusive" nature of the cost - but that's pretty much gone away - so much is a la carte now. Including tips would bring some of that back.

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