Late in 2022 and a few days into 2023 gratuities in general and specifically pre paid gratuities for cruises have been a topic of conversation in articles, social media posts, and other cruise related online communities. The recent announcements and policy changes of Norwegian, Carnival, and Princess raising the daily rate for tips has taken what was, for most people, just an expense of taking a cruise and made the whole discussion about value.
Do Cruise Lines Require Gratuities?
For most cruise lines, gratuities are either included in the cost of your cruise or assumed. If they're assumed, technically, the cruise lines can't force you to pay the rate they set (although it is much easier in my opinion), so if you'd prefer to follow your own tipping guidelines, you can ask the guest services desk onboard the ship to remove gratuities from your account.
Pre Paid Gratuities vs Paying Gratuities At The End
Assuming gratuities are not included in your cruise and you're going to take the easy path and pay the suggested rate, you have two choices: pre paid gratuities or have them added as a daily fee to your onboard account which gets settled on the last day of your cruise.
Other than pre paying in order to pay the old rate instead of the new rate, the benefit of pre paid gratuities has nothing to do with cost but is one less thing to think about at the end of the cruise. It's a convenience.
Related: How To Save Money While On A Cruise
Whether you choose to pre pay gratuities or have them added to your account, the cost is the same but keep in mind that "suggested gratuities" on a cruise only cover crew members, not the guides who drive and/or accompany you on excursions. Suggested gratuities also don't reward exceptional service (or encourage it) so I always suggest giving the people you'll interact with often (like a bartender, wait staff, and your cabin steward) an extra cash tip. It'll make a difference. Trust me.
Increasing the amount of gratuities usually leads to the bigger discussion of what people perceive is fair wages for crew members more so than the added cost or whether or not it's fair to "force" guests to pay gratuities. One thing I do know is the cruise line suggested gratuities, usually somewhere around $15 to $20 per person per day depending on the cruse line and the type of stateroom you're in, are divided and dispersed to a number of crew members. A percentage of the amount goes to (at the very least) cabin stewards and other "hotel" crew, restaurant staff (hostesses, wait staff, and managers), and bartenders.
While I'm not certain of how crew contacts are written or of the wages crew members earn, I am sure that the "suggested gratuities" are factored into what they're paid. Relying on individuals to tip what they want would make it very difficult to structure wages so I look at the suggested tips as a good thing for the crew and just part of the cost of a cruise.
Although the rates just increased on NCL, Princess, and Carnival, $20 per day to tip the people who clean my stateroom, keep the ship clean, prepare my cocktails at the bar, and serve me at least three meals a day is a very small amount of money and I'd spend more in tips if I was home and ate out multiple times per day.
With the cost of living increasing, it seems obvious to me that the cost of gratuities would go up as part of the wages and personally, an increase doesn't change the fact that cruising is a good way to see the world and delivers a strong value.
About the Author
Joel is a co-owner of JJ Travel Associates (a Dream Vacations franchise), blogger-in-chief at JoelKnowsTravel.com, lover of all things travel (especially UNESCO World Heritage Sites), wannabe comedian, and the person you should call if you're thinking of planning a vacation.