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Tipping on a cruise ship: what you should and shouldn't do

17 Mar 2023

An important part of planning a Royal Caribbean cruise is knowing what is and is not included in your cruise fare. While your cruise fare includes accommodation, food, and activities, it does not include gratuities for crew members.

Many first-time cruisers are confused about how tipping works on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Who do you need to tip onboard? Should you carry cash or tip on your SeaPass card? Do you need to tip on shore excursions?

Luckily, it’s easy to understand the ins and outs of tipping on a cruise ship. From prepaying gratuities to carrying small bills, here’s what you should and should not do when tipping on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

You SHOULD know what gratuities cover

Junior Suite on Symphony of the Seas

Each passenger on a Royal Caribbean cruise pays a daily gratuity to cover the services of hard working crew members onboard. These gratuities are shared among the dining, bar, and culinary teams, stateroom attendants, and the hotel service team.

Royal Caribbean crew members work extremely hard throughout their multi-month contracts, and gratuities are a way to reward them for providing amazing service.

Wine being poured

Because they are charged on a daily basis, you do not have to worry about tipping each crew member yourself. Many passengers, however, still like to leave extra tips for their stateroom attendant and dining room waiters at the end of the cruise.

An envelope will be delivered to your stateroom for any extra (optional) tips. You can pick up more envelopes at Guest Services if there are additional crew members you would like to tip.

You SHOULD know how much gratuities cost per day

Inside cabin on Liberty of the Seas

Gratuities on a Royal Caribbean cruise are priced per day, but the amount owed depends on your stateroom category.

Guests in non-suite staterooms (including Junior Suites) pay $16 USD per person, per day for gratuities. Those in Grand Suites and above pay $18.50 USD per person, per day.

Therefore, for a 7-night cruise, you will pay $112 per person for gratuities in a standard cabin and $129.50 per person in a suite. It’s important to account for gratuities when budgeting for a Royal Caribbean cruise. When sailing with a family of four on a 7-night cruise, gratuities can add nearly $500 on top of your cruise fare.

Grand Suite on Liberty of the Seas

Depending on where you book your cruise, gratuities may already be included in the price of your cruise fare. Australians booking cruises from Australia, for example, will not incur gratuities on top of their cruise fare, but the cruise fare reflects the price with gratuities added.

You SHOULD pay gratuities in advance

There are two options when it comes to paying gratuities on a Royal Caribbean cruise: prepaying gratuities or waiting to pay them once onboard.

Prepaying gratuities means you can include the current daily gratuity rate in your cost of the cruise when booking. When paying for your cruise, the daily gratuity will be added into the overall cost, and you will not owe any gratuities once the cruise begins.

If you elect not to pay gratuities in advance, a daily charge will appear on your SeaPass account every day of the cruise. If you are on a 3-night cruise, for example, and don’t pay gratuities in advance, you will see a $16 (or $18.50) charge on your account each day of the sailing.

Related: Should you prepay gratuities for a Royal Caribbean cruise?

We almost always recommend prepaying gratuities before your cruise begins. This allows you to pay off your cruise balance early, so that by the time you get onboard, you won’t have to worry about extra charges.

Paying in advance also locks in the current gratuity rate in case it were to increase. It’s not uncommon for cruise lines to increase daily gratuity by $1 or $2 every few years. If you prepay gratuities and the price increases before your cruise, you won’t have to pay the new daily rate.

You can prepay gratuities at any time up to 48 hours before your sail date. If you booked with a travel agent, contact your travel agent and they can add gratuities to your booking. If you booked with Royal Caribbean directly, your best bet is to call or access your account online to prepay gratuities.

You SHOULD bring small bills

Bringing small bills is recommended on a cruise, as it allows you to tip crew members easily throughout the sailing. Having $1 and $5 bills handy is helpful when you want to give a bartender a small tip with your drink or tip a porter for handling your baggage on embarkation day.

If you don’t have small bills, you can ask Guest Services to break down larger bills. Simply bring a $20, $50, or $100 bill to Guest Services and they will be happy to give you change.

How much cash should you bring on a cruise? Ultimately, it depends on your travel style. Most payments on your cruise vacation will be completely digital, so most passengers only use cash onboard to give additional tips to crew members.

Related: How much cash should you bring on a cruise?

You SHOULDN’T remove gratuities once onboard

Technically, you can visit Guest Services once onboard your cruise ship and opt to remove gratuities from your account. Some passengers like to do this in order to give tips to crew members directly whenever they see fit.

While this may seem like a good idea in theory, it comes with one major drawback.

It’s unlikely you will meet every crew member onboard who would otherwise receive a percentage of gratuities. Although details on how gratuities are allocated are not shared with the public, it’s likely Royal Caribbean has a pool of gratuities that is split amongst the crew members.

By giving tips to crew members individually, you may be taking potential gratuities away from other hard working crew members you don’t meet in person.

It’s totally fine to give extra tips to crew members who go above and beyond during your sailing, but we recommend doing this in addition to the automatic gratuities.

You SHOULDN’T forget cash on shore excursions

It’s customary to tip your shore excursion tour leader, driver, and guides, so don’t forget to bring cash with you in port. Most passengers tip their guides between $5-10, but there is no right or wrong amount to tip on a shore excursion.

Aside from tipping, you should bring cash on shore excursions to purchase extras like souvenirs, drinks, and snacks. We recommend bringing around $100-200 USD with you in port each day.

You SHOULD expect an 18% gratuity on certain purchases

Massage at the spa

Certain onboard purchases are subject to an 18% gratuity on top of the listed price, including beverages, mini bar items, and spa and salon purchases.

In addition, when you reserve specialty restaurants, dining packages, drink packages, and spa services on Royal Caribbean’s Cruise Planner website, the gratuity will be added upon checkout.

Because gratuity is already included in the price of these purchases onboard, it’s not necessary to tip extra. However, many passengers still like to tip a few dollars with a drink or specialty restaurant dinner to show their appreciation.

Royal Caribbean increases gratuities for crew members on its cruise ships

23 Aug 2022

After four years, Royal Caribbean is increasing the gratuity rate cruise ship passengers will pay for the service they receive from crew members onboard its ships.

Each passenger pays a daily gratuity that covers the services of the crew members they interact with the most, and this daily rate is charged automatically unless the guest pre-pays it prior to the cruise.

As of September 7, 2022, the automatic daily gratuity charge will increase:

  • Standard cabin (Junior Suites and below) going from $14.50 to $16.00 per day, per person
  • Suite gratuity rate will change from $17.50 to $18.50 per day per person

Royal Caribbean last raised gratuities January 2, 2018.

The daily gratuities are shared among dining, bar & culinary services staff, stateroom attendants and other hotel services teams who work behind the scenes.

Royal Caribbean stipulates in the unlikely event that a guest onboard being charged the daily automatic gratuity does not receive satisfactory service, the guest may request to modify the daily amount at their discretion by visiting Guest Services onboard up until the morning of their departure.

Mariner of the Seas docked in CocoCay

For new reservations, the adjusted gratuity amounts are effective as of September 7, 2022.

Guests who booked prior to September 7, 2022 can opt to prepay gratuities prior to sailing to take advantage of the current rates. On or after September 7, 2022, regardless of when the booking was created, gratuities paid while onboard are subject to the new, increased rates.

Pre-existing bookings confirmed prior to September 7th , 2022 will not be subject to the increased guidelines as long as gratuities are paid in advance of sailing. Should guests opt not to pay gratuities until onboard, they will be subject to the newly suggested gratuity amounts.

This automatic gratuity does not cover other onboard purchases. A 18% gratuity is automatically added to all beverages, mini bar items, and spa & salon purchases.

Other cruise lines already made similar changes

NCL logo on side of ship

Other major cruise lines already increased their gratuities this year.

In April 2022, Carnival Cruise Line raised their gratuities to $14.50 per person, per day for standard staterooms and $16.50 per person, per day for suites.

Norwegian Cruise Line also raised their gratuities in April, when they changed their rates:

  • Balcony and lower cabins: $16.00 per person, per day
  • Haven and Suite guests: $20.00 per person, per day
  • Club Balcony Suite guests remains at $18.00 per person, per day

In July, Disney Cruise Line increased their gratuities to $14.50 per night, per person for standard rooms and $15.50 per night, per person for suite guests.

How gratuities work on a cruise

Wonder of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation | Royal Caribbean Blog

If you do absolutely nothing, then you can expect an automatic charge on your SeaPass account each day of the cruise.

The exception is in certain markets where tipping is not as ingrained as part of their culture, so Royal Caribbean includes daily gratuities as part of the price of the cruise.  This occurs in the Australian cruise market.

Each guest, regardless of age, will be assessed the daily gratuity as recognition for the hard work crew members do each day.

An alternative is to pre-pay the gratuity before the cruise begins.  When this opted into by the guest, then you'll pay the full gratuity amount before the cruise begins at final payment date.  It will show up as a line item on your final payment.

Pre-paid gratuities can be added to an individual reservation at any time outside of 48 hours of the sail date.

Wonder of the Seas aerial rear night

Guests that booked directly with Royal Caribbean can pre-pay gratuities by calling 866-562-7625 or logging into before their sailing.

Guests that booked through a travel agent can request their agent add pre-paid gratuities to the guests' booking prior to sailing.

More info:

Mailbag: Why do I have to pay gratuities for my toddler?

27 Jan 2021

Royal Caribbean provides excellent service to guests of all ages, and with that service comes an automatic gratuity that you can either prepay before the cruise or be charged each night of the sailing while onboard.

Every week I dive into the RoyalCaribbeanBlog mailbag to answer a commonly asked question about cruises that one of our readers has sent in.

My husband and I are experienced cruisers, but have a cruise planned soon where we will be taking our 11 month old with us. We have to bring her formula, baby food, and she will be too young to do any activities onboard.  So do I need to pay gratuities for an infant? - Jill A.

This sounds like an easy question to answer, but as you dig into the scenario more, you can start seeing the argument from both sides of the fence.

Let's start off with the simple fact that Royal Caribbean makes no distinction between anyone's age, and how it pertains to gratuities.  All guests onboard are charged the automatic gratuity.  

The gratuity applies to individual guests of all ages and stateroom categories.

In fact, Royal Caribbean does not offer a discount for younger children. The first two passengers in a cabin always pay the most, and then the third or fourth passengers pays a reduced rate that is the same if they are 6 months or 6 years or 60 years old.

In a similar way, your child is counted toward the quantity of persons that your crew member is taking care of, your child is taking the place of another passenger.

Read moreShould you prepay gratuities for a Royal Caribbean cruise?

Getting back to the gratuities scenario, don't forget that your daily gratuities are not just kick backs for the crew, but a way to recognize the excellent service onboard.

Royal Caribbean says the gratuities are, "a way to reward our crew members for their outstanding service, gratuities are shared among dining, bar & culinary services staff, stateroom attendants and other hotel services teams who work behind the scenes to enhance the cruise experience."

Moreover, the crew members onboard are servicing you and your family.  They don't make distinctions when cleaning your cabin who this was for or not for.  The cabin attendant is still emptying my kids' dirty diapers or vacuuming all the crumbs my kids left behind.  The dining room staff would bring out fruit for the kids, or even a stockpile of milk cartons that we could keep in the room so that I did not have to get some later.

Having taken both of my children on cruises when they were toddlers, I was always pleasantly surprised how much care the staff takes in ensuring my children were accomodated.

Here is a list of things crew members have regularly done for just my kids on a cruise:

  • Making the pack-n-play/crib everyday
  • Emptying dirty diapers each day
  • Vacuuming up crumbs from under highchair each day
  • Entertaining children in high chairs at dinner
  • Cleaning fingerprints from balcony door
  • Picking up loose food/crumbs in the cabin carpet
  • Bringing extra towels and other items like ice to keep bottles cold
  • Bringing the things to your table each night- like fruit
  • Cleaning up the mess on the table
  • Providing baby toys (and cleaning them) from Adventure Ocean
  • Ships with baby splash pool routinely cleaned

Read moreIntroduction to bringing toddlers on a Royal Caribbean cruise

In short, you would be surprised how much the crew does for young kids on a cruise, even if they are not taking drink orders or delivering them filet mignon.

Unfortunately, gratuities are a sore subject for some people who feel because they are technically not part of the cruise fare, that they are optional charges.

The reality is in practice, gratuities are compulsory and should be paid for all guests.  In Australia, Royal Caribbean actually includes them with the cruise fare to get around cultural differences regarding tipping.  

In summary, I think they should pay the gratuity for 11 month old, especially once they see all the attention and care the crew take to ensure everyone in Jill's family is taken care of onboard their ship.

Read moreBest reader tips for having fun with kids on a cruise

Should you prepay gratuities for a Royal Caribbean cruise?

22 Aug 2020

Royal Caribbean offers guests the choice of prepaying gratuities for select crew members on its ships.

The option to prepay gratuities means locking in the current gratuity rate, along with spreading out the overall cost of the cruise by integrating it into the cost of the cruise.

How does gratuity work on Royal Caribbean?

Part of the overall cost of a Royal Caribbean cruise is a service gratuity for recognizing the hard work of crew members.

A daily automatic gratuity rate of $16.00 USD per person, per day for guests in Junior Suites and below, or $18.50 USD per person, per day for guests in Grand Suites and above, is applied to each guest’s SeaPass account on a daily basis. It is applicable to all guests, regardless of age.

These daily gratuities go towards your dining room staff, as well as your stateroom attendant.

If you do not opt to prepay gratuities, a daily charge will appear on your SeaPass account every day of the cruise for the daily gratuity rate per guest.

The daily gratuities is in addition to the 18% gratuity automatically added to all beverages, mini bar items, and spa & salon purchases.

Why should I prepay gratuities?

There are two good reasons to prepay gratuities before your cruise.

Prepaying gratuities before your cruise means you pay off that balance early, instead of accruing a higher balance that is owed at the end of the cruise.  For guests that like to budget their vacations and spread out the total cost of the cruise, this is a popular choice.

In addition, prepaying gratuities locks in the current gratuity rate, even if the rate were to go up later.

Every so often, Royal Caribbean adjusts the gratuity rate, but if you have opted to prepay, you will be grandfathered into the old rate.

The two common rationales for not prepaying are if you have a substantial amount of onboard credit that could offset your SeaPass account charges, or if you prefer to give crew members their automatic gratuity rate in cash.

Gratuities on Royal Caribbean are obligatory, so it is a matter of when you prefer to pay them.

How to prepay gratuities

You can opt into prepaying gratuities at any time, up to 48 hours prior to your sail date.

If you booked your Royal Caribbean cruise with a travel agent, you just need to contact them and ask for gratuities to be added to your reservation.

If you booked directly with Royal Caribbean, you can either call Royal Caribbean or log onto their website and access your account to prepay gratuities.

Royal Caribbean to raise gratuity amount for guests

22 Dec 2017

Royal Caribbean will be raising its automatic daily gratuity amount that guests pay night of their cruise beginning on January 2, 2018.

Beginning January 2, 2018, guests will pay a $14.50 per guest per day service charge to each guest's SeaPass account on a daily basis. For guests in a Grand Suite or above, the amount is $17.50.

Prior to this change, the daily gratuity amount was $13.50 and $16.50. Royal Caribbean last increased their daily gratuity amount in May 2016.

If you have already prepaid your gratuities, you will be grandfathered into the current rates.  Should guests opt not to pay gratuities until onboard, they will be subject to the newly suggested gratuity amounts.

Guests currently booked that have not yet prepaid their gratuities will have until the time of sailing to do so at the old rate. After January 2nd, 2018, gratuities paid while onboard are subject to the new, increased rates. If not prepaid prior to sailing, the new gratuity rate will be automatically applied to your account onboard.

The change has already appeared on Royal Caribbean's UK and Japan sites.

Note: we used Google Translate to translate the Japanese site.

December 26 UPDATE: Royal Caribbean has confirmed the change in gratuity.  Royal Caribbean described the increase as, "Royal Caribbean is constantly reviewing our competitive environment and this adjustment positions us in-line with our competitors. The additional gratuity collected will be disbursed to our onboard crew".

After January 2nd, 2018, regardless of when the booking was created, gratuities paid while onboard are subject to the new, increased rates. Pre-existing bookings confirmed prior to January 2nd, 2018 will not be subject to the increased guidelines as long as gratuities are paid in advance of sailing.

Should guests opt not to pay gratuities until onboard, they will be subject to the newly suggested gratuity amounts.

Royal Caribbean Australia introduces streamlined cruise fares that include gratuities

02 Dec 2016

Royal Caribbean Australia announced today a new fare structure that includes gratuities for stateroom attendants and dining room staff in the cruise price.

With this change, guests will pay a single inclusive cruise fare incorporating all main meals, accommodation, kids club, entertainment and activities. Passengers will continue to have the option to provide a discretional additional gratuity.

The new cruise fares begin on new bookings made December 12, 2016 and onwards, on sailings departing on or after January 15, 2017.

The change means free gratuities will no longer be available as one of the perks included in the Go Big, Go Better, Go Best promotion.

"Guests will see no change to the published price of cruises via any Royal Caribbean point of sale, including website, advertising and call centre pricing," the company said.

Royal Caribbean raises gratuity amount for guests

29 Mar 2016

Royal Caribbean has announced it will raise its recommended gratuities for sailings that depart on or after May 01, 2016.

Effective April 14th, 2016 for all sailings departing on-or-after May 1st, 2016, a gratuity increase of $0.55 USD per guest per day will be applied. 

The new daily gratuity rates will be as follows

  • Junior Suite, Balcony, Ocean View, and Interior staterooms
    • $13.50 per guest, per day
  • Suite guests (Grand Suite & Above)
    • $16.50 per guest, per day

Royal Caribbean last increased their daily gratuity amount in May 2015.

The reasoning for increasing the daily gratuity amount is because Royal Caribbean wanted, "to better align with industry standards."

Money saving tipAny guest that a cruise reservation currently, can have Pre-paid Gratuities added to their existing reservation prior to April 14, 2016 (if you have not done so already) and lock in today's current rate of gratuities of $12.95 per day, per guest for Junior Suites and below or $15.95 per person, per day for Suite guests.

Royal Caribbean Gratuities: What you need to know

19 May 2015

When you take a Royal Caribbean cruise, one of the costs to passengers are gratuities (tips) to crew members during your cruise.  Gratuities are the way guests can recognize great service aboard their cruise.

We provide this guide to help you understand how gratuities work on the cruise, when you can expect to pay them and how much it is.

Automatic gratuities

Royal Caribbean automatically adds a daily charge to each cruise passenger's SeaPass account to reward the great service its passengers receive.  

Each day of your cruise, Royal Caribbean will add a charge per person that will be divided among several people that you interact with likely on a daily basis:

  • stateroom attendant
  • head waiter
  • waiter
  • assistant waiter

As of September 7, 2022, the daily gratuity amount is $16.00 per guest, per day for those guests in standard accommodations.  Guests in suites will pay $18.50 per person, per day in gratuities.  The daily gratuity amount is the same for all passengers, regardless of age.

Guests have the choice to pre-pay their gratuities before their cruise to help split up the cost of their cruise vacation.

If you are a My Time Dining guest, you must prepay your gratuities.  

In addition, if a guest feels they want to alter the amount of gratuity they pay, guests can go to Guest Services aboard their cruise ship and ask to have their automatic gratuity charges changed or removed. 

How to pre-pay gratuities

Pre-paying gratuities allows you to lock in the current gratuity rate, as well as assist in budgeting the total vacation cost by having part of the cost be paid at different times.

Pre-paying gratuities is a simple process. If you booked directly with Royal Caribbean, you can pre-pay gratuities by calling 866-562-7625 or logging into Royal Caribbean's website before the sailing.

If you booked with a travel agent, simply let the travel agent know your preference and they can take care of the arrangements.

Beverage gratuities

If you order beverage onboard your Royal Caribbean cruise, such as alcohol, you will be charged an automatic 18% gratuity when you receive the bill.

The gratuity amount is for the service you receive from the wait staff to serve your drink.  The gratuity amount is added to what you purchase and indicated at the bottom of your receipt.

You can add an additional tip on the receipt if you wish. 

Specialty restaurants

The surcharge you pay to dine at a specialty restaurant aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise includes the tip.

There is no need to pay a tip on top of the surcharge amount, unless you would like to.

Discretionary gratuities

In addition to the gratuities listed earlier, there are opportunities to give crew members an additional tip for excellent service.  

As the name implies, this is up to you and not expected in all cases.  Even crew members who receive an automatic gratuity can receive additional gratuities if you feel it is warranted.

Some instances where a discretionary tip may be appropriate are for room service deliveries or luggage service by porters.

You can remove the auto gratuities

As previously noted, Royal Caribbean will automatically charge you for every night of the cruise but that does not mean you have to pay it if you are not satisfied with the service. 

You can go to Guest Services at any point in your cruise and have them reduced or removed from your account if you would prefer to tip a different amount.

WOW Cards

While a monetary tip is always appreciated, if you want to recognize great service by a Royal Caribbean crew member that will have a lasting effect on their career, fill out a WOW card.

Royal Caribbean will sometimes dispense to guests at check-in special cards to write about why a particular crew member went above and beyond the kind of service you might expect.  A guest can fill out the card, give it to the crew member and the crew member will then turn the card into their manager, which will in turn be placed on their permanent file.

WOW cards can help elevate crew members when it comes time for promotions and help their careers in the long run. 

If you do not receive a WOW card at check-in, you can go to Guest Services and request them.

Royal Caribbean raises its automatic gratuities

13 May 2015

Royal Caribbean will be raising its recommended gratuities for sailings that depart on or after July 1, 2015.

The new recommended daily gratuity amount will be $12.95 per day, per guest for those occupying standard accommodations and $15.95 per person, per day for those in suites.

The new gratuity rate takes effect on sailings that depart on or after July 1, 2015.  Guests that pre-pay their gratuities for existing reservations before June 1st will be able to lock-in the current rate of current guideline of $12.00 per day, per guest in standard accommodations, and $14.95 per day, per suite guest.

Royal Caribbean says the new gratuity amount, "will help recognize the exceptional work that Royal Caribbean's staff and crew does to deliver unforgettable vacations every day."

Tip of the hat to Katina Bradley for alerting us to this change.

EDIT: For clarification, any reservations that you have already made you can have Pre Paid Gratuities added prior to June 1, 2015 if you haven't already and still pay today's current rate for Junior Suites and below of $12.00 per person per day or $14.95 per person per day for suite guests.

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast Episode - Tipping and Gratuity

23 Jul 2014

Listen to the Show

When it comes to tipping and gratuity, there’s a lot of questions out there so this week we’re going to talk all about tipping on your Royal Caribbean cruise. Who gets it, how much, why and more helpful tips for figuring out this way to reward the excellent service you will encounter both onboard and on shore.

Share with me your thoughts, questions and comments via...

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