It’s one of the most controversial and hotly debated topics in the cruising world. Cruise International Contributing Editor Sara Macefield has the lowdown on cruise gratuities

Expert advice: Cruise tipping

One could argue that gratuities are one of the curses of a cruise. For first-timers it can come as a shock when they see how much this charge adds to their bill, and even regular cruisers can lose track of how much it varies from line to line.

Tipping the crew has been a cruising tradition for years, evolving from a ritual where passengers left cash in envelopes for a roll-call of staff, to the current system of a daily charge that is automatically added to each passenger’s onboard account. The latter is more convenient for all concerned, but I can’t help thinking that it has become something of a cash cow for some lines.

As soon as one line breaks rank to raise the amount, others soon follow – and this seems to happen fairly often.

Cruise lines say such charges are discretionary and can be reduced or cancelled by contacting guest services – but this is not actively encouraged, for obvious reasons.

Another confusing factor are the differing amounts between cruise lines. On the whole, US lines such as tend to charge higher rates – at around $13.50pp per day. For a family of four, this soon adds up. On a two-week sailing, they’d have to cough up an extra $756 (£582) – a considerable sum.

Passengers in premium cabins are liable for additional gratuities if they opt for a suite, especially if it comes with a butler. It’s also worth noting that some American cruise lines whack between 15 and 18 per cent on top of drinks and spa bills.

This compares with UK companies such as Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and P&O Cruises which charge £4pp and £6pp respectively and also do not levy gratuities on youngsters under 12 or add on service charges.

To get around the British reluctance to tip at such levels, some American lines try to persuade passengers to pay gratuities ahead of their cruise – though I’ve never understood how you can reward staff for good service before receiving it. Why not sink this outmoded practice once and for all, incorporating the cost into the overall fare?

After all, the luxury “Six Star” lines such as Crystal and Seabourn include gratuities in their cruise prices. Tips are also included by many river cruise operators, cultural lines, and some expeditionary companies.

In fact, the number of lines including gratuities is slowly growing and, in my experience, this practice doesn’t seem to hit staff morale or service.

The biggest mainstream name to follow Thomson and Saga Cruises in doing so has been Norwegian Cruise Line, which changed its tipping policy in April. It’s a bold move and one I hope that other lines will follow. Tossing this anachronism overboard once and for all would be a positive step forward for the cruise industry, as well as its customers.


Gratuity amounts and polices (per person per day) among ocean cruise lines:
Carnival Cruise Line – $12.95 rising to $13.95 in suites
Celebrity Cruises – $13.50 rising to $17 in suites
Cruise & Maritime Voyages – £5 and £4 on cruises longer than 16 nights
Cunard – $11.50 rising to $13.50 in suites
Disney Cruise Line – $12
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines – £4 for passengers aged 12+
Holland America Line – $13.50 rising to $15 in suites
MSC Cruises – Amounts differ according to passenger age and cruise itinerary. On Mediterranean sailings passengers of 13+ pay nine euros; children 3-10 years pay 4.5 euros, under-3s pay nothing
Oceania Cruises – $16 rising to $23
P&O Cruises – £6 for passengers aged 12+
Ponant – recommends 10-12 euros a day
Princess Cruises – from $13.50 rising to $15.50 for suite guests
Royal Caribbean International – $13.50 rising to $16.50 for suite guests
Star Clippers – recommends 8 euros per day
Variety Cruises – recommends 10-14 euros per day
Viking Ocean Cruises – $15
Windstar Cruises – $12

Cruise lines that include gratuities in the cruise fare include:
Azamara Club Cruises
Crystal Cruises
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
Norwegian Cruise Line
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Saga Cruises
SeaDream Yacht Club
Thomson Cruises
Voyages to Antiquity

Whether you’re looking for a cultural holiday or relaxing break, find your perfect cruise with our Cruise Finder.