Few issues are as complex and divisive among cruise travellers as tipping or paying your gratuities to crew, with people on both sides of the argument having their pros and cons.

Reactions and opinions have been mixed to a recent move by Royal Caribbean and sister line Celebrity Cruises to start including crew gratuities for all bookings made with the cruise line in Australia, effective from late last year. The move brings Royal Caribbean into line with two of its competitors, with the likes of Carnival Cruise Line and Princess Cruises whom have both included gratuities on Australian based sailings in base fares for the past few years.

But what was promoted as a added convenience by Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises has angered many customers of both lines, many of whom are adhering to Australian culture and feel they shouldn’t be forced to tip, especially when the option to remove gratuities from your final bill is still available as it has been for many years.

This attitude is somewhat understandable considering Australia’s tipping culture is in stark contrast to countries such as the USA, where most of the world’s major cruise lines originate and are based. Each of these encourage guests to provide crew with a gratuity as a just reward for what is, more often that not, service of an exceptionally and exemplary quality.

Getting your room cleaned each day is part of the amazing service worth tipping.
Getting your room cleaned each day is part of the amazing service worth tipping.

It’s not just front line service staff that are providing great service and thus a memorable cruise holiday. On Royal Caribbean’s latest ship to sail Australian waters, Ovation of the Seas, over 1,500 crew are on hand to provide the experiences cruisers come to expect. To break that down just a little, there are six people whose primary duty is just to sort the rubbish – not to mention the hundreds responsible for waiting tables, preparing drinks and carrying out daily or twice-daily room servicing.

Crew onboard are typically earning more aboard ships than they would at home, but despite this and again in line with US customs, salaries are still quite low, with gratuities allowing many crew members to support older or poorer relatives in their countries of origin.

While $13.50 per person per day (the base gratuity charged by Celebrity Cruises) can seem like a lot of money when you add it up over the length of your cruise – but where else can you go and have essentially hundreds or even thousands of people at your disposal?

From cleaners to kids club staff, every non-officer crew member (essentially anyone not wearing yellow stripes on their shoulder) receives a slice of the tipping pool to provide an incentive on them to continue providing the line’s brand of service with a smile.

Thousands of people can make up a crew on a ship, each with a vital role in ensuring that your holiday runs smoothly and is memorable.
Thousands of people can make up a crew on a ship, each with a vital role in ensuring that your holiday runs smoothly.

“But I tip my room steward and waiter in cash at the end of the cruise instead!”. This is a statement I cringe at every time I hear it. This is one thing and one thing only – being cheap. Did you know though that most cruise lines require crew members who receive cash tips to pay those cash tips into a general tipping pool – at the risk of losing their job if they are caught pocketing it for themselves instead.

You may think that by removing gratuities from your bill in favour of handing over a $50 note directly to your steward at the end of your cruise leaves you with a clear conscience, but in reality you’re actually doing them harm. This practice is in effect reducing the total amount available in the tip pool and thus reducing the total amount to be divided among the crew.

When you divide this pool among, for example, eligible crew on Ovation of the Seas, it works out to just over $50 per crew member per day for their entire workload. This equals out at around $358 in gratuities each week – if the ship is completely full and if everybody pays their suggested tip amount, which almost never happens. This is on top of the basic wage of around $600 per month the average room steward earns. All up, it’s about $10 an hour.

Considering most onboard room stewards look after around 20 rooms and work 14 hour days, seven days a week for six months straight, it’s quite a workload, only to then learn that some of their passengers have opted to have their gratuities removed from their charge account in exchange for the ongoing scrubbing of toilets and changing of bed sheets.

A small army of crew members work together with the common goal of ensuring you enjoy your holiday.
A small army of crew members work together with the common goal of ensuring you enjoy your holiday.

In addition, cash paid to crew creates a further headache if it is not already in the same currency as what the ship is trading in. It means a senior crew member need to spend their limited time ashore getting the money changed into a more favourable currency. However, tips paid through the cruise line are deposited into a bank account which can be managed from the ship, enabling the easy transfer of money back home and a safe method of storage, and transfer, without the risk of theft.

Without tips providing the incentive for crew to provide amazing service and experiences, a cruise would not be the amazing value holiday it is. Crew add just as much to the experience as the destinations or anything else and should be suitably rewarded for their efforts.

Do you keep gratuities on your bill or prefer to hand over cash? Tell us in the comments.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Tipping on a cruise ship – the big bug bare for passengers. Views from a passenger who has seen the differences and changes over the past 50 yrs. Its simple, 4+ decades ago the crew were paid by the shipping companies and most front line positions, cabin stewards, bar and food waiters, front deck staff etc were mostly from 1st world countries and paid accordingly by the line and on top of this tipped by the passenger for extra attention to detail. The lines have now gradually over the past 30 yrs put 3rd world staff in front line positions. pay them peanuts and expect the passengers to subsidise the rest. It is pure profit taking by the lines nothing more. The passengers should have the right to tip or not and the lines should own the responsibility to pay it crew. Did you know that in the 60’s and 70’s before we ever heard about Captain Stubbing, Princess Cruises and P&O UK to use just 2 examples staffed officers, bartenders, front desk, bar waiters and restaurant waiters from 1st world countries mostly the UK and US and paid them accordingly – Princess restaurant waiters were all from Italy and was a Princess Cruises selling point, along with P&O UK with Indian restaurant waiters from Goa – not any more. The cabin stewards were from the UK or similar etc. The tenders were piloted by British Officers and not the maintenance crew they use today. The lines have made the changes gradually for a reason and now wish to the passenger to subsidise the profits on the balance sheets. I believe it is still for the passenger to decide and the lines not to dictate. Yes I understand cruising is cheaper now that is was 40 yrs ago, but also is the service, catering and attention to detail – far below the standards to yesteryear. It is all about balance, but remember with the lines it is all about exploitation and profits. Interested to hear your thoughts.

  2. Tipping should be for very good to exceptional service.
    I do find it appalling that these hard working crew ” rely” on tipping for a fair income.
    For heavens sake what wrong with cruise companies paying decent, livable, wages to all staff.
    Yes cruises will be more expensive, thats fine. And yes i am happy to still tip for great service over and above.
    Its about time Cruise companies pad decent wages to their staff without a tips pool to top them up

  3. We shopped around and budgeted and bought the best cruise we could have for the money we had. We saw nothing on the ship companies’ websites about gratuities. So now, they want to add an extra cost (a “hidden” cost) to our expenses? If we pay it, we literally cannot afford the cruise. We have already booked the cheapest (worst) cabin on the ship.

    I’m sorry, but the company should pay their employees. They know they are sailing out of Australia, and that we don’t tip.

  4. Why are we made to feel bad for the amount we tip?? Why are not the cruise ship companies asked why they pay so little in wages, after all the millions they make? Slave labour l think, then they want the customers to make up the difference in pay ,for a job they are paid to do.! Then the cruise lines continue to rake in all the profits.

  5. Two cruises ago we paid the gratuities before sailing – first time, and I was happy to do it because it meant the guys painting the ship in port etc etc all got a share. I was really annoyed that on the last night the Head table waiter who had been horrible the entire cruise almost tripped us over and had her hand out for her envelope for her tip, she was a Filipino woman. The crew up in the Viking Lounge were great, and we tipped each individually on the last cruise. I asked how tipping worked for them and was told that the gratuity applied to your drink bill was split amongst the crew that work that bar at the end of the trip. The more drinks and service they give the more tips on bills so that is why they work so hard, we still personally tipped them even though once again we had done the gratuity thing and yes they were Filipino also. We have only ever had one bad cabin steward. It was his last trip after a long 9 months or something and he just didn’t give a rats about service, he so wanted to get of the ship. He is the only steward we have never tipped. I know it would be hard to be happy for that long, but please we all work in jobs from time to time that we grow to hate and still give good customer service. Traveller 90 is correct – it surely isn’t the way it use to be. My first ship was the Himalaya, what an experience of customer service that was.

  6. I don’t believe in tipping. Why should I subsidise the cruise line for what they are supposed to do? I paid for the cruise, why am I being shamed into paying extra tip?? On the last couple days of the cruise everybody is keep mentioning how hard they work, and how they rely on tips. I work hard too, but I don’t get a single cent more than my normal wages. On one of the MSC cruises (the worst ever cruise I ever had!!) the drink water on the first two nights, gave us all two glasses of water, so he doesn’t have to come back to refill it!!! On the last night he was all over us and telling us how much he relies on the tips. Too bad. Serving is what they get paid for, not just being there, for exceptional service they get extra tip. I hardly ever give tips, for them just doing their jobs.

  7. This is an enigma that needs to be sorted, The American culture is under pay and get the customer to make up the wages with tips. The service is not any better nor is the attitude from the crew. You get good and bad. I pay in an envelope at the end of the cruise, the crew if they have given exceptional service not just service. I get paid to do my job I do not get tips if I go beyond the norm. The American cruise lines should think about the fact we are in another country who doe not have this culture either pay the guys a reasonable WAGE AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS. What would happen is cruise prises would go up by 50% and then the American cruise lines would disappear from our shore. Recently came back from a Royal Caribbean cruise and spent half the time listening to crew members telling me a bout a survey that they need to get 10 out of 10 for whata lot of crap. If the service you give is perfect then that is what you will score and a tip but if not PERFECT see what happens

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