Knowing your cruise gratuity rate before setting sail on your cruise ship vacation is a 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 and entertainment.
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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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 mandatory cruise gratuity requirement.
This happened on our first Caribbean cruise in April 2004.
We got our tax refund and decided to do something different - a cruise. I went online, booked and paid for a 5 day Carnival cruise to Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, Cozumel, Mexico and Nassau, Bahamas, 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 a mandatory 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 - some mandatory and others suggested - so that you can be prepared and plan accordingly.
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.
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 a mandatory 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 amounts that you should plan to pay in mandatory cruise gratuity on the following cruise lines:
Carnival Cruise Line - The cruise gratuity rate is $13.99 per-person per-day and $15.99 per-person for guests in suites. This is automatically added to your onboard account.
Celebrity Cruises - The cruise rate for Celebrity staterooms is as follows: $14.50 per-person, per-day for standard staterooms, $15.00 for those in AquaClass and Concierge Class cabins; and $18.00 for those in suites with butler service.
Other services such as bar purchases and spa treatments incur an additional 18 percent gratuity charge. All these charges are automatically added to your onboard SeaPass account.
Crystal Cruises - Their all-inclusive packages include gratuities for the crew members serving. Some things like spa treatments will incur a separate 18 percent gratuity charge added to your bill.
Disney Cruise Line - The suggested cruise gratuity rate is $13.50 per-person per-day. This is amount may be pre-paid or you may choose to have it automatically added to your onboard account. Other services such as spa treatments incur an additional 18 percent gratuity charge, while bar service will attract 15 percent gratuity.
Holland America - The gratuity rate for regular staterooms is $14.50 per-person per-day and $16.00 for those in suites. Other services will incur additional gratuity charges (ex. Bar service is 15 percent extra.) This is automatically added to your onboard account.
MSC Cruises - The daily gratuity rate is $12.50 for Caribbean cruises. Children 2-11 years are charged $6.25 daily. MSC's bar service incurs a 15 percent gratuity charge.
Norwegian Cruise Line - The cruise gratuity rate is $15 per-person per-day for guests in standard cabins and mini-suites and $18 per-person per-day for those staying in The Haven and other suites. This is automatically added to your account.
(For Norwegian Sky and Norwegian Sun, the rates are $20.50 for standard cabins and mini-suites and $23.50 for those in suites - based on NCL's open bar policy.)
Princess Cruises - The cruise gratuity rate is $14.50 per-person per-day in regular cabins, $15.50 per-person per-day for those staying in mini-suites and the Club Class, and $16.50 for guests in suites. This is automatically added to your account.
Royal Caribbean International - The gratuity rate is $14.50 per-person per-day for those not staying in suites and $17.50 for suite guests.
This is no longer a suggested rate and is now automatically added to your account at the end of the cruise.
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.
Other services such as a spa treatment incur a service charge.
Please note that the above fees are subject to change. Before you go, get the facts and avoid surprises.
Yes, I mentioned earlier that some cruise lines add a "mandatory" 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!