Prepay cruise gratuities for a more relaxing trip

A common misconception is that ocean cruises are essentially all-inclusive, with the exception of alcoholic beverages, gambling, photographs and souvenirs. Some guests are likewise shocked when they receive their final bill only to see an added charge of gratuities, commonly referred under the euphemisms ‘Hotel Service Charge’ or ‘Service Charge’, or more recently as ‘Crew Appreciation.’

The charge typically ranges from $14 to $19 per person per day, depending on cruise line. Note that some cruise lines may charge a premium gratuity for Suite rooms, as Suites require a higher level of service and attention. The daily charge is later allotted to different service areas on the ship and distributed to employees accordingly.

Regardless, it’s a charge that many people don’t plan for. After enjoying a 7-day cruise it can be disheartening to find an additional charge of $98 per person, more or less, has been added to your bill.

What people often fail to realize is that many cruise lines offer the option to prepay gratuities. Of the cruise lines that don’t offer this option you may simply prepurchase shipboard credit, which can then be used toward any onboard expenses (including gratuities).

Erik Tomren in front of Holland America Line's Rotterdam VI in 2009

Erik Tomren in front of Holland America Line’s Rotterdam VI in 2009. The ship joined Holland America Line in 1997 and was sold to Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines in late 2000. The ship now sails as the MS Borealis since July 2021.

Note that although gratuities are ostensibly optional, it is in poor taste to try to avoid paying them. The onboard staff work tirelessly for you throughout your cruise, and they rely on gratuities as part of their regular income, much as a restaurant server in the United States would.

That being said, most cruise lines do offer the possibility to reduce or remove gratuities in the event of poor service. One exception to the rule is Costa Cruises who have made it policy that gratuities cannot be adjusted.

A reason for removing the gratuities should not be that your omelet was served cold or that your bed was not property made; a more appropriate reason would be a major plumbing problem that wasn’t addressed or a food allergy that was callously ignored.

More often than not even large problems can be resolved without threatening to remove gratuities. The cruise lines want to leave every guest satisfied, but communicating your needs and expectations is a must.

Budget gratuities into your overall vacation costs; if you can’t afford the gratuities you should probably rethink your vacation. Also note that most cruise lines automatically add an 18 percent gratuity to any bar purchase (including sodas) and that it is considered good form to tip cash for any room service delivery.

In the past there were online cruise tip calculators that would help you budget accordingly. However, the gratuities for each cruise line are changing periodically. The best method to calculate gratuities is to simply visit the cruise line’s official website and find the current charge, then simply multiple the dollar amount by the number of cruise days for your per person total.

With a little planning the ‘Crew Appreciation’ will not take you by surprise, but will rather just be one additional expense that you planned for accordingly.

(An earlier version of this article was published at on July 8, 2011).

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