Auto-Gratuities on Cruises Make Tipping Easier, But Are These Fees Out of Control?

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Many cruise lines now add daily gratuities automatically to your bill.
Updated Feb. 7, 2024
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Embarking on a cruise can be a costly endeavor, and the age-old dilemma of tipping etiquette often leaves many asking how much they should be tipping crew members. As cruises opt to automatically add gratuity to their costs, this might relieve the stress of wondering when and how much to tip, for many. But these automatic tips can add up.

Certain cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Disney, Celebrity, and Carnival automatically add gratuities to the bill. The daily tip, which can range from $14.50 a night on a Disney cruise to $23.50 a night (per person) on a Celebrity cruise, is meant to be disbursed every day between the hotel services, dining services, and the crew.

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How people feel about tipping on cruises 

Automatic tipping on cruises is often charged per person, not per cabin, so families can be hit hardest by the fees.  The daily gratuity can add 20% to 40% to the total cost of a cruise.

Since gratuities aren't often factored into the advertised price of a trip, this can throw a vacationer's budget out of whack. Cruises have large staff, so customers are concerned that they may have to tip every worker they meet. While cruise lines like the ones mentioned above state they encourage tipping, they add it to services, food, and beverage orders.

John Heald, a Carnival Cruise ambassador, runs a Facebook page that contains information for newbies and experienced cruisers. Posts range from special requests to fans' photos, but tipping is always a hot topic. Heald gets almost daily questions about tipping.

One tipping trend discussed recently is whether it's cool or misguided to tip the crew with $2 bills, a trend that started over a decade ago. Some people argued that $2 bills aren't real money. (Wrong - They are still in circulation and still being made by the Treasury.) Others think it's fun to use these rare bills as tips or that it helps them stand out to crew members.

Interestingly enough, most of Heald’s followers on Facebook are more than happy to tip the staff. Some even add a cash tip on top of the prepaid tips. One vacationer stated, “We always give our stewards extra tips at the beginning and throughout the cruise, in addition to our prepaid gratuities.” 

Another follower posted, “...I give a little extra to my steward about the middle of the cruise."

Automatic gratuities can add up quickly

Many cruise lines opt to enforce an automatic gratuity program, which will either be applied daily to guests’ accounts or can be prepaid. These tips are automatic, but not mandatory — Passengers can opt out of the automatic tip plan before they embark on their cruise.

Cruise lines like Disney charge holiday-makers a daily tip fee per stateroom. That fee is distributed to the room attendants and dining room servers. Royal Caribbean adds an 18% tip to beverages and mini-bar items. They also add a 20% tip to all salon and spa services.

Carnival adds an 18% service charge for beverages, too. For guests enjoying the Chef’s Table and Bonsai Teppanyaki, they add an 18% service charge on top of the coverage charge for those restaurants. They also top the bills for a la carte fees at their other in-house restaurants with an 18% service charge. Celebrity Cruises automatically adds a 20% tip to any “specialty dining, beverage, beverage package, room service, mini bar and salon/spa purchases.”

For cruise lines that add service gratuity charges, you are not expected to tip the staff members an additional amount directly. 

But while the charges will cover the gratuity of staffers like waiters, room service, and bartenders, among others, considering tipping a few dollars out-of-pocket can go a long way — although not required.

Tipping at Carnival

The suggested tip fees by Carnival jumped in late 2023. Carnival Cruise, arguably the most popular cruise line, didn’t issue a press release about tipping. The company, however, stated this in their FAQs. “It is customary for our guests to extend gratuities to the shipboard staff in appreciation for their hard work and exceptional service.”

The statement goes on to read, “100% of your gratuities are distributed to the crew who you interact with, such as your stateroom attendants, dining and culinary staff, as well as other members of the onboard team who work behind the scenes to enhance your overall cruise experience.”

Carnival assigns gratuities to every guest; the only exception is for children under two. The traveler is assigned prepaid gratuities when they book or anytime before the cruise starts. Prepaid gratuities can be removed when cruising.

Bottom line

Cruise prices have steadily increased since the end of the pandemic, and the service charges may seem to only add to that rising price. Between a pre-paid daily room tip and an additional 18% gratuity added to beverages and other services, a bargain trip quickly becomes pricey.

To find out precisely what extra fees are added to a cruise, it’s always best to read the fine print and double-check tipping information by combing through each cruise’s FAQs on their website.

Remember, too, that if you use a credit card that enables you to earn travel rewards then you might be able to save some cash that you can spend on tipping, or at least make it easier to be generous. 

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Author Details

PJ Gach PJ Gach is a professional writer who has over a decade of experience covering the fashion, beauty, and lifestyle beats. Her writing credits include Shop TODAY, GoBankingRates, SPY.com, Reader's Digest, The New York Post, Rolling Stone, and more.

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