Tipping on a cruise ship isn’t as straightforward as I’d like it to be.  Often it’s confusing to first-time cruisers.  It can also be a little controversial.

Who do you tip? How much do you tip? And with auto-gratuities do you need to tip on top of what you already prepaid?

Avoid some cruise tipping mistakes so you can focus on enjoying your vacation.Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

I’ve listed 10 common cruise tipping mistakes that are easily avoidable.

I know this can be a touchy subject, but no matter your perspective in regards to tipping I hope you can learn a couple things that will be helpful.

* This article was updated since the date of its first publishing

Even seasoned travelers who cruise often can make a few of these cruise tipping mistakes that are mentioned below.

Remember, you can enjoy an amazing cruise only because of an amazing crew. The people behind the scenes, making sure your vacation is as smooth as possible, work long and hard hours.

Crew members are the unsung heroes of every cruise ship, so make sure you reflect your gratitude by avoiding these cruise tipping oversights.

That being said, tipping is somewhat subjective. I may tip someone you would not tip and vice versa. The interactions with the crew on a daily basis will vary passenger by passenger.

Rather than being iron-cad rules, these are merely some suggestions I would make for most cruisers.

Read more: 5 reasons you should prepay your tips and 1 reason you shouldn’t

Tipping basics on a cruise

On most cruise lines you will be charged a daily gratuity between $15 and $25 per person per day. Suite guests will pay daily rates on the higher end of that spectrum.

This is typically paid ahead of time, but you can wait until your cruise and pay it then if you would like. If you wait to pay for gratuities it will be added to your bill each day, and you can settle it with a credit card at the end of your voyage.

Where does the money go when you prepay gratuities?

The daily gratuities get divided up between several crew positions on your ship. Some of it goes toward your cabin steward, some to the main dining staff, and some to other housekeeping crew members.

The auto-gratuity system that most mainstream lines have implemented was to address the issue of passengers trying to run around with envelopes of money to hand out to different crew members.

The system of automatic gratuities is simpler, but still causes confusion to some who wonder if they need to tip on top of it. I hope we can address that today.

Here are the biggest cruise tipping mistakes I’ve seen people make.

1.  Not bringing cash

I recently wrote about why I always bring cash on a cruise, and a lot of it comes down to tipping. One of the first things you will want to do before you board your ship is tip the luggage porter, the person who takes your large bags and gets them on the ship for you.

You will need cash to do this.  The porters don’t walk around with credit card processing machines or Venmo QR codes. The amount you tip is up to you, but anywhere from $2 – $5 per bag is typical. Porters work hard every day at the cruise terminal and rely heavily on the tips they receive. Bring some cash and make sure you’re prepared.

Luggage porters aren’t the only ones you may want to tip in cash. Some of the points below explain other situations in which a cash tip is best.

2.  Only bringing large bills

Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

So, you’ve passed step number one and have cash for your cruise, but what about smaller bills? If you only have 50 or 100 dollar bills, you might have a hard time getting change. I always try to make sure that I have a nice blend of denominations with my cash.

I recommend bringing along a bunch of one-dollar bills in addition to fives, tens, and a few twenties as well. Don’t expect to get change when you tip, and even asking for change when tipping might be slightly condescending. I have never regretted having smaller bills to show my gratitude on a cruise. It’s always good to have some five-dollar bills on you.

3.  Only tipping for exceptional service

Some have the viewpoint that tipping should only be done when service is surprisingly beyond compare. But this is a mistake. We can debate about whether or not cruise members are paid enough for all they do — this is an entirely different discussion–, but the simply truth is that tips are a large part of their income.

And while you will almost always have fantastic service on a cruise, don’t withhold a tip if you weren’t exactly blown away. Some passengers set expectations so high that it helps them justify not leaving a tip at all. The crew will occasionally make mistakes, but a kind word and a small tip in spite of it can go a long way.

4.  Forgetting about the dining staff or room steward

Your prepaid gratuities already go toward your stateroom attendant and dining wait staff, so you might not feel the need to tip any extra. And that’s well within your prerogative.

Maybe it’s just because it’s in my American mindset to tip for services like this, but I always like to leave the cabin steward some extra cash in the room before the cruise is over.

If I did use the main dining room more often than not on a cruise, I will leave them some extra as well. Of course, with my-time dining options it will be harder to do this as you may have a different wait staff each time.

Note: Your automatic gratuities do go towards the wait staff and cabin steward already. If you’re financially strained, don’t’ feel like you have to tip any extra on top of this. But if you do have tips removed from your account (as mentioned in another point below) make sure you at least tip these two crew members.

5.  Forgetting to tip for room service

With cruise lines recently making changes in regards to room service fees you might think tipping is optional with room service. And while some of the major cruise lines are adding gratuities automatically to a room service bill, you can still leave few dollars in cash to your delivery person. In some cases you can add it to the receipt, depending on the cruise line.

Room service is still free on a few of the major lines– for the continental breakfast– and almost always complimentary on an all-inclusive cruise. When you receive room service for free you may not even think to tip or know what to tip, and that’s mainly why I’m making this point. Make sure you show your gratitude for having that delicious food brought right to your cabin.

Some cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean still offer a continental breakfast for free on their room service menu. So, it can be easy to forget to tip if you’re used to having the charge already put on your account.

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Related: Cruise ship room service and what each cruise line charges

6.  Tipping in the wrong currency

This one is especially true when tipping while in port and off of the ship. Tipping in the wrong currency can cause a few issues while on a cruise or in a cruise port city. First, it can be an inconvenience for the recipient as they may have to exchange the currency, which can result in bad exchange rates and extra fees.

Also, it can be seen as disrespectful to the local culture and currency. So, it’s always best to tip in the local currency to avoid any misunderstandings or offense.

To avoid tipping in the wrong currency, it’s a good idea to do some research before your trip. This way, you can ensure that you’re following the local customs and showing respect to the culture. Remember, respecting local customs is an essential part of traveling, and tipping in the right currency is a simple way to show that respect.

7.  Thinking if you prepay gratuities you will get lower quality service

Some people mistakenly think that if they prepay gratuities through the cruise line ahead of time it will result in poor service. We mentioned this in another article about cruise tipping that leaving a cash tip on day one of your cruise is not necessary to get quality service.

I know some cruisers that like to start their cruise by tipping right out of the gate. This is fine if you just want to pay forward your gratuity, but don’t do this if you’re motivation is to be treated like royalty. In most cases, you will receive excellent service regardless.

8.  Forgetting to tip tour guides and drivers

Always bring some of that aforementioned cash with you when you go on a shore excursion. If you do a tour or take a trip on a bus make sure you tip both your tour guide and bus driver. These workers are often overlooked on many cruises I’ve been on.

The same goes for tipping taxi drivers when you’re in port. Again, cash might be the only thing they will take, and in most of the Caribbean you can tip in U.S. currency.

As a side note, it can be nice to have some cash on your cruise so you can also tip people like street performers while in port. A good rule of thumb is that if you stop to take a picture or listen to a musician on the street, you should put a little something in the tip jar.

9.  Removing gratuities

Yes, you are able to have all gratuities removed from your bill. But this is something I would not recommend unless you then proceed to handsomely cash tip the many crew members on your ship that helped make your vacation happen.

If you didn’t receive the service you expected, you should talk to guest services about it and they will make it right, but crew members rely on these tips to make ends-meet. And the last thing you want to do is remove the auto-gratuity and then forget to tip your cabin steward and dining staff in person.

I’ve heard of cases where some cruisers chose not to prepay for tips, but then after seeing the charges added to their account they got a little sticker shock and asked to have them removed. This is why I recommend prepaying for gratuities ahead of time, so you know exactly what you are paying.

10.  Feeling like you have to tip when the gratuity was already added

Bar on Sky Princess. Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

After ordering a beverage or service on a cruise ship you may see a service charge added to the actual price. If a gratuity has already been added, don’t feel that you absolutely must tip extra on top of it. You can, of course, tip extra if you feel the crew went above and beyond.

Some first-time cruisers feel pressured to tip extra on top of these gratuity charges, so I want to make sure they know this is optional. A few points below will explain situations in which a tip is not essential.

A few cases when you don’t need to tip

Tipping is voluntary, so you can still tip in these situations if you would like. But there are a few cases where it’s not necessary.

After spa service: Cruise lines will typically add an 18% gratuity charge to your bill. You can tip more if you would like, of course.
If the crew helped with a special request: You are not expected to tip if a crew member gets you extra hangers for your room or padding for your mattress.
Kid’s club workers: This service is offered for free on most cruise ships and you’re not expected to tip, but slipping that worker a twenty for allowing you to have a date night with your special someone is always appreciated.
Entertainment: Whether it’s a magic show or comedy show you don’t have to tip these workers. You can always tip the pianist at the piano bar if you enjoyed the performance or have a song request.
Maintenance staff: If one of the crew fixes that leaky faucet in your stateroom you don’t need to tip, but hey, it’s up to you.

Below are the current gratuity rates for other mainstream cruise lines.  Prices are per day, per person in the stateroom.

Cruise Line
Standard Cabin
Holland America Line
Carnival Cruise Line
Royal Caribbean
Norwegian Cruise Line
Princess Cruises
Celebrity Cruises
$23 (Retreat)
Disney Cruise Line

Final thoughts

The concept of tipping is fairly American in a lot of ways. If you’re from another part of the world you might think tipping is unnecessary and strange, and perhaps it is. But it’s a big part of the cruise industry and how these ships are operated.

Some of the crew members on a cruise ship are from very poor countries and spend six months or more away from their families. Even a little tip can go a long way.

I hope you found these pointers helpful.

Got any thoughts on tipping on a cruise ship? Let us know in the comments below, even if you disagree with 100% of what I said. I’m just glad you came by.

Read more: 5 reasons you should prepay your cruise tips and 1 reason you shouldn’t

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