Tipping Guidelines for Cruisers

While some cruise lines are all-inclusive, most others expect passengers to reward gratuities according to proper cruise etiquette.

I write a regular cruise column for a large news organization, and I recently asked my readers to send me cruise questions. What I discovered is that I often forget that most people know far less about cruising than I do. So, once in a while I like to write a basic article for people with just rudimentary cruising experience. More experienced cruisers may find things in there they forget or hadn't considered as well.

This week I want to talk about proper tipping etiquette on cruises.

It is often said that cruises are "inclusive" vacations, but that term has very specific meanings in the travel industry, and while most cruises are "inclusive" only a few select cruise lines are "all-inclusive." On most cruise lines you have to pay separately for alcoholic drinks and for gratuities for your servers and other crewmembers.

You are expected to tip your (1) room steward, (2) waiter, (3) the Maitre D' and (4) the busboy. In the old days we actually brought cash for tips with us and stuffed four envelopes at the end of the cruise. Some cruise lines still expect you to do that.

The funny about that is this, however. They still take all of the cash and divvy it out as they see fit anyway. So, why go to all the trouble to separate it?

Most cruise lines have now streamlined the tipping procedures by simply adding a certain amount (about $10 per passenger per day) to your shipboard account. This covers all of your gratuities and you don't have to do anything else to make sure all of your servers are covered.

Now, you should know a few details. First of all, when you sign for a drink, a massage or any other service, in most cases a service charge has already been added, anywhere from 10 to 18-percent. But the ticket will include a blank space for you to add an "additional gratuity."

Why tip twice? There is really no reason to give them an additional tip beyond the service charge already included.

On the other hand, there may be a time when you feel someone went beyond the call of duty for you. If you want to tip them then do it discretely in cash, in your stateroom where no one can see you, or some other quiet place. Remember that ships have surveillance cameras everywhere, and all employees who receive any gratuity are supposed to share it with the pool of tips, but if that is not your intention then tip your intended discretely.

Finally, first-time cruisers, watch out for crewmembers giving you a sob story about needing money. I have heard stories about crew members being "adopted" by passengers because they feel sorry for them. The cruise lines do not approve of crewmembers telling the guests personal stories about how much they miss their kids and how they are only working full time on the ship because they need to send the money home.

In fact, that is probably true of most of the crewmembers on board, but it is also true that they are well-paid compared to what they would normally make working in their home countries and there is no reason to feel sorry for them.

Be sympathetic, but don't be a sucker.

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