Knowing your cruise gratuity rate before setting sail on your cruise ship vacation is a vey smart thing.
A Caribbean cruise is arguably the best form of family vacation and fun due to the fact that so much is included in a cruise package: accommodations, food, entertainment plus new places and cultures experienced.
However, there is one exclusion that may catch some people by surprise (it caught us) - cruise gratuity. That's right!
Most cruise lines require each passenger to pay a fixed amount of gratuity charge per day.
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Arriving in Barbados
I mentioned earlier that this can catch you by surprise if you do not have a travel agent who is versed in cruise details, or you book your cruise at an online travel agency which fails to inform you of any arbitrary cruise gratuity requirement.
This happened on our first Caribbean cruise in May 2004.
We got our tax refund and decided to do something different - a cruise. I went online, booked and paid for a 5-night Carnival cruise to Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands and Cozumel, Mexico and thought all the major expenses were taken care of. (I knew that I had a parking bill to pay when we got back to Tampa.)
On the last night of the cruise we got a bill stating that we owed $200 in gratuity (4 people x 5 days @ $10/day) plus some additional charges for cruise photos and non-alcoholic drinks we had ordered.
We were shocked!
I had failed to find out that there was an arbitrary cruise gratuity requirement on Carnival cruises. I knew that we would have to tip the workers, but thought it was a voluntary exercise.
However, we learned from then on to check on the cruise gratuity rate whenever we book an inclusive family Caribbean cruise.
If you have never booked a cruise or you are preparing to cruise with a new cruise line, I will set out for you what some of the cruise lines charge in cruise gratuity - so that you can be prepared and plan accordingly.
With Carnival in St. Lucia
First off, let me insert that each cruise ship sets sail with 100's of crew members to better serve the passengers. It is fair to add that the service on board is really excellent - in most cases.
Everyone makes an effort to ensure that your time onboard is special. As a result, some cruise lines use that as one rationale for adding an arbitrary cruise gratuity rate - a way to ensure that crew members are adequately recognized for their service.
To some extent I believe that it is quite fair, because unfortunately some guests would leave without tipping the crew ("My cruise ticket cost enough already!") and others cannot afford it.
On the other hand, I believe one should be allowed to tip according to one's pocket and for the service one receives.
Here is an idea of the amount that you should plan to pay in arbitrary cruise gratuity, whenever you book a vacation with one of the following cruise lines:
Carnival Cruise Line - The cruise gratuity rates for Carnival Cruise Line are $14.50 per-person per-day and $16.50 per-person for guests in suites. This is automatically added to your onboard account.
Celebrity Cruises - The cruise gratuity rates for Celebrity Cruises are as follows: $15.50 per-person, per-day for standard staterooms, $16.00 for those in AquaClass and Concierge Class cabins; and $19.00 for those in suites with butler service.
All these charges are automatically added to your onboard SeaPass account.
Crystal Cruises - Their all-inclusive packages include gratuities for the crew members serving you. Some things like spa treatments will incur a separate gratuity charge added to your bill.
Disney Cruise Line - The suggested cruise gratuity rate for Disney cruises is $14.50 per-person per-day.
Holland America - The cruise gratuity rate for Holland America is as follows: regular staterooms is $15.50 ($16 as of 2/01/23) per-person per-day and $17.00 ($17.50 as 2/01/23) for those in suites.
MSC Cruises - The daily gratuity rate for MSC cruises is $14.50 for Caribbean cruises. Children 2-11 years are charged $7.00.
Norwegian Cruise Line - The cruise gratuity rate for Norwegian cruises is $16 per-person per-day for guests in standard cabins and mini-suites, $18.00 for guests in a Club Balcony suite and $20 per-person per-day for those staying in The Haven and other suites. This is automatically added to your account.
Princess Cruises - The cruise gratuity rate for Princess Cruises is $16.00 per-person per-day in regular cabins, $17.00 per-person per-day for those staying in mini-suites and the Club Class, and $18.00 for guests in suites. This is automatically added to your account.
Royal Caribbean International - The gratuity rate for Royal Caribbean cruises is $16.00 per-person per-day for those not staying in suites and $18.50 for suite guests.
1. Gratuity or service charges may be prepaid or you may choose to have them automatically added to your onboard account.
2. In addition to the gratuity which is charged per-person per-day, cruise lines add an automatic gratuity charge to the purchase of beverages such as soda, wine and specialty drinks.
3. Other services such as a spa treatment incur a service charge.
4. Children under 2-years of age are not usually assessed gratuity charges.
Please note that the above fees are subject to change. Before you go, get the facts and avoid surprises.
Hardworking Carnival Dining Room Staff Member
Yes, I mentioned earlier that some cruise lines add an "arbitrary" or automatic gratuity charge to your onboard account.
I also mentioned that there are many crew members on board the ship that work extremely hard to give you and your family the very best vacation - and these people deserve to be rewarded.
Now, let me add that while certain cruise lines arbitrarily add a charge for tips, you have the right to request that the charge be increased or decreased.
Yes, you may visit Customer Service/Guest Services and ask for this be done.
One thing I encourage, however, is that whatever you decide to do, please ensure that the people who serve you are rewarded.
Tipping onboard ship (see this cruise tipping guide) is similar to the tips we give at home to the waiters and waitresses at our favorite restaurants.
That being said, your family will have fun no matter what! Bon voyage!