2018 Cruise Gratuity Guide

Nothing raises the passions of cruisers like the subject of gratuities. For first-timers who haven’t read through the minutiae of their documents and brochures, the end-of-cruise addition of the cruise gratuity, or service charge, can come as an unexpected surprise.

Knowing the amount of gratuity you will be expected to pay for service and drinks can save you a bundle on your cruise in the long run. Photo © Ralph Grizzle

It can also catch experienced cruisers off-guard, particularly if they have been away from their favorite cruise line for a few years. A decade ago, the standard recommended gratuity amount hovered around $9 per person, per day. Today, that number is rapidly on the rise; depending on your accommodations level (suite guests pay more almost across the board), you could find yourself paying in excess of $20 per person, per day, in shipboard gratuities.

Gratuities represent an important part of the compensation for your room attendants, waiters, bar stewards, sommeliers, and other behind-the-scenes employees that all contribute in some way to your vacation. And while some cruise lines let you tinker with this amount, moving it up or down as you see fit, many will not.

These days, gratuities are almost always added automatically to your shipboard account, which can then be settled in cash or by credit card. Sometimes, they show up daily on your onboard account, but in some cases, they’re applied in one lump sum toward the end of the cruise. That can really catch a family of four, who thought they’ve stayed on-budget, off guard.

Gratuities on many lines represent an important part of the shipboard staff’s compensation. Photo © Ralph Grizzle

To help navigate the myriad of gratuity and service charge amounts for the major lines, we’ve compiled the handy chart below. You can sort it by price, cruise line, daily amount, or view it by the average amount a couple on a seven-day voyage in a standard stateroom can be expected to cough up at the end of the cruise. Note that in many cases, guests staying in top-of-the-line suites are expected to tip more.

Don’t let these recommended cruise gratuity amounts put you off from sailing with one line or another; a lower cruise gratuity amount does not necessarily mean that line offers a better, or worse, experience. Rather, this table is designed to educate and bring awareness as to what the individual lines charge, allowing you to budget accordingly and avoid any unpleasant end-of-cruise surprises.

Note that we’ve included only major lines that charge gratuities and cater to North American travellers. We’ve omitted lines like Fred.Olsen and P&O UK that don’t actively market to North Americans, and smaller expedition lines. We’ve also left out all-inclusive and luxury lines like Azamara Club Cruises, Crystal, Seabourn and the like.

Some lines, like Azamara Club Cruises, roll gratuities into the price of the fare. @ 2013 Ralph Grizzle

Some lines – most notably Costa and MSC – have gratuity policies that vary depending on the destination, so it is always a good idea to double-check the exact rate with your cruise line. While the information here is accurate as of January, 2018, the amounts listed here are, as most cruisers already know, highly subject to change.

2018 Gratuity Guide

LINEStandard GratuitiesSuite GratuitiesPre-Pay Option?Approximate Total, per Couple, for a 7-Day Cruise in Standard Stateroom
Celebrity$14.50^$15.00 AquaClass & Concierge
$18.00 Suites
Costa$11 (North American Departures)$11 (North American Departures)Yes$154
Cunard Line$11.50$13.50 (Princess & Queen Grills)Yes$161
Disney Cruise Line$12$12Yes$168
Holland America Line$13.50$15Yes$189
MSC Cruises$12.50 (North American Caribbean Departures)$12.50 (North American Caribbean Departures)Yes$175
Norwegian Cruise Line$13.99
$18.99 Norwegian Sky*
$21.99 Norwegian Sky*
Oceania$16$23 (Penthouse, Oceania, Vista & Owner's Suites)Yes$224
Princess Cruises$13.50$14.50 Mini-Suites & Club Class
$15.50 Suites
Royal Caribbean$14.50^$17.50Yes$203
Star Clippers€8€8No€112 (approximately 134 USD)
Viking Ocean$15$15Yes$210
Windstar Cruises$13.50^$13.50No$189
Gratuities listed for major cruise lines catering to North American passengers, and are per person, per day. Current as of January 2018 and subject to change without notice. Always contact your cruise line for the most up-to-date information. All-inclusive and luxury lines have been omitted. Prices are in US Dollars unless otherwise indicated.

^Effective January 1, 2018

*Norwegian Sky sails inclusive sailings with all beverages as part of the cruise fare, and gratuities are raised to make up for lack of drink surcharge revenue. The ship typically sails three-and-four day voyages to the Bahamas and Cuba.

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