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Tipping on a cruise

Lesley Bellew / 13 September 2016

If you're about to embark on your first cruise, or are thinking about booking one, it's helpful to know what's expected when it comes to tipping on-board.

Lady tipping waiter
Tipping is big subject for all cruise passengers, particularly first-timers because they will discover tipping etiquette varies from ship to ship.

We Brits are not always good at talking about sensitive subjects. We are perhaps getting better at discussing death and sex, but tipping ... that can still make even the best of friends find themselves feeling awkward.

It’s a big subject for all cruise passengers, particularly first-timers because they will discover tipping etiquette varies from ship to ship.

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What do I need to know about tipping on a cruise?

British passengers, time and time again say ‘we like to know where we are’ when it comes to holiday costs. They like to be sure about the complete cost of the cruise in advance – without any nasty surprises.

The attitude varies across nationalities; for Americans, tipping is a way of life, and they generally are used to seeing gratuities added to their cruise bill and are relaxed about dropping a note into a tour guide or porter’s hand.

We all understand that a cruise has to pay for itself and the money to run the ship has to come from somewhere. We all like to know that the crew are paid fairly, too.

Are gratuities included in the price of a cruise?

Luxury cruise lines and several smaller, boutique ships often have a no-gratuities policy because the cost is built into the all-inclusive fares. These fares can at first look higher but on closer inspection that is not always the case.

Often a lead-in cruise price can seem low but it is wise to check what is and isn’t included. Auto-gratuities can be around £10 per person per day so on a fortnight’s cruise for two that’s £280.

This is just an example of how costs rack up – some auto-gratuities are lower and some are higher, so when booking a cruise it is always important to check before you sign up about arrangements for gratuities.

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What are automatic gratuities?

Many cruise lines automatically add service charges to guests’ onboard accounts while others offer the option to arrange prepaid gratuities upon booking.

Service may also be added to bar bills and in some restaurants so once again check out the policy before you sail.

Just imagine if you felt obliged to tip a butler, baggage handlers, room service stewards, the cabin maid, bar tenders, wine sommeliers, the maitre d’ and waiters, tour guides and drivers … you could have your hand in your pocket all the time – and the cost really adds up.

Likewise, feeling obliged to scramble for a tip when your morning coffee arrives or when you have just got out of the shower is just not British.

It can be irritating, or sometimes excruciatingly embarrassing, when service staff on the last couple of days start to be over-helpful in the hope of receiving a farewell tip.

The days of little brown envelopes are becoming rarer, but even when tips are all-in if you feel a crew member has shown exemplary service you can choose to leave some cash, whether gratuities are expected or not.

Do I need to tip on shore excursions and for baggage handling?

The countries where you travel also need to be considered - in some cultures, gratuities are not expected, while others it is the norm.

Do your homework on this because non-cruise crew such as port-side baggage handlers or shore excursion tour guides will not be on the cruise ship’s payroll.

They will be paid for the job, but if for instance you have enjoyed an excursion of a lifetime, made all the better for the guide’s extraordinary ability to impart useful knowledge, it is up to you whether you want to show them your appreciation.

So choose a cruise which offers magical destinations, inspiring itineraries, excellent cuisine and impeccable service – and if the gratuities are all-in that’s another bonus.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.