Life On Board

Paying for Things on Board and Tipping

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Paying for Things on Board Tipping

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Because a predominately cashless society prevails on cruise ships, you'll be issued, upon check-in, an onboard charge card that doubles as your stateroom key. Except for the casino and a few instances where cash tips are expected, you'll pay for almost everything else with that card. Except on a few lines where tips are not expected, most gratuities will be charged automatically to your shipboard account, either before or during the cruise, though there are some exceptions and alternatives to the tipping process.

Paying for Things on Board

When checking in, an imprint is made of your credit or debit card (beware of using a debit card unless you have a sufficient balance), or you must place a cash deposit for use against your onboard charges.

Tip: If you can, always use a credit card to guarantee your shipboard account, since releasing a hold on funds in a debit account can take as much as a week. Seriously.

Need to Know

  • Each person sharing a cabin can have a separate credit card guaranteeing his or her personal charges, or one person can guarantee all charges from a cabin.
  • If you use a debit card to guarantee your shipboard account, the cruise line will reserve a part of your available funds for the duration of your cruise and beyond.
  • Casino gaming cannot usually be charged to your shipboard account.
  • You'll get an itemized bill on the last night of your cruise; on most ships you can view your daily charges on your TV, or you can ask for an interim bill.
  • If you question a charge, do so before the last night, when lines at the purser's desk can be very long.
  • If you are due a refund from a cash deposit, the cruise line will usually mail you a check within a week. You won't get the refund in cash.


Tipping aboard a cruise ship is possibly one of the biggest and most debated topics of conversation among cruise passengers (unless, of course, you're on an all-inclusive cruise line that includes gratuities in the upfront fares). Whom should you tip? How much should you tip? Should parents tip the full amount for children? When should you tip?

For better or worse, most cruise ship service staff depend on gratuities for a major portion of their compensation. Consequently, most cruise lines nowadays automatically charge gratuities of $11 to $15 per person, per day (excluding some luxury lines, which include gratuities in the upfront rates); some cruise lines let you prepay for the gratuities for your entire cruise. In most cases, you're free to adjust the amounts up or down to more appropriate levels, or you can ask that the charge be removed altogether if you prefer distributing gratuities in cash. Gratuity recommendations are often higher if you're staying in a suite with extra services, such as a butler.

Per-person gratuities also apply to children and additional adults that occupy a cabin, though some cruise lines suggest lower rates for each child occupying the parents' cabin.

Tips for bar staff and staff in the spa or salon are typically added automatically to bills at a rate of 15% to 18%.

Automatic Gratuities by Cruise Line

Here are the expected tipping amounts for most major cruise ocean-going lines.

Azamara Club Cruises: No tipping expected

Carnival Cruise Line: $12 per person, per day

Celebrity Cruises: $12–$15.50 per person, per day

Costa Cruises: $11 per person, per day

Crystal Cruises: No tipping expected

Cunard Line: $11.50–$13.50 per person, per day

Disney Cruise Line: $12 per person, per day

Holland American Line: $12.50–$13.50 per person, per day

MSC Cruises: $12 per person, per day

Norwegian Cruise Line: $12.95-$14.95 per person, per day

Oceania Cruises: $15–$22 per person, per day

Princess Cruises: $12.95–$14.95 per person, per day

Regent Seven Seas Cruises: No tipping expected

Royal Caribbean: $12–$14.25 per person, per day

Seabourn Cruises: No tipping expected

Silversea Cruises: No tipping expected

Viking Ocean Cruises: $14 per person, per day

Windstar Cruises: $12 per person, per day

Cash Gratuities

If your ship is one of those rare breeds on which tips are still given in cash, small white tip envelopes will appear in your stateroom during the last day of the cruise. (You can usually request envelopes at reception if this is your preferred method of tipping on a ship with auto-gratuities in place.) Most cruise lines that recommend tipping in cash ask you to tip $4.50 per person per day for your room steward, $4.50 per person per day for your dining room waiter, and $3 per person per day for the assistant waiter. But even on cruise ships where gratuties are all done behind the scenes, there are still a handful of places where cash tips are the norm.

Who You Should Tip in Cash

Room service waiters: they expect a cash tip ($1 or $2) for each delivery.

Butlers: sometimes receive a cash gratuity (but ask the cruise line to be sure).

Kids’ club counselors: may can be tipped in cash if they are particularly helpful.

Casino employees: always tipped in cash or chips as you would in any casino.

Cabin stewards: many cruise passengers give an additional cash gratuity to their cabin steward beyond the auto-gratuity.

Officers: they are never tipped, but a letter to the line for exceptional service is appreciated.

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