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Tipping on Cruises: to Tip or Not to Tip

Cruise Advice

Oh, the eternal fraught question of tipping on cruises: should we do it, and if so, how much, when, and where? We find it quite annoying that the widespread American practice of lavish tipping has become the norm more widely, and furthermore that non-tipping nations such as the UK, Japan and other European countries are branded as 'mean' because tipping is not part of our culture. Here's what we think about tipping on cruises.

Brits tend to be sneered at for being poor tippers, but in truth, it's not about the money, but simply that it is not in our culture, so we have no idea whether a discreet fiver slipped into the hand of a service provider is ridiculously generous, or insultingly parsimonious. Who even has cash nowadays anyway?

And how is it that the Americans manage to have limitless supplies of low denomination dollar bills, and instinctively know which one to extract, whilst we Brits end up both anxious and embarrassed: not great when you are supposed to be enjoying your holiday. And how is the ubiquitous phrase 'it's at the discretion of the customer' supposed to help?

Additionally, there is always that ethical question about whether workers rely on tips for their income - and if they do, should you even be giving your hardearned money to an employer which doesn't pay its workers properly?

Either way, 'tipping guilt' is going to play a part. In the UK, a tip or gratuity, according to HMRC, is: 'an uncalled for and spontaneous payment offered by a customer', and calculation of the minimum wage cannot take tips into account. A service charge is an amount added to the customer's bill before it is presented to the customer.

Cruise lines have attempted to remove tipping worries, either by adding a standard sum to your shipboard account (a service charge, in HMRC's eyes), in the case of the mainstream cruise lines, or by including gratuities in the fare, in the case of the luxury lines.

The cruise lines highlight that standard tipping favours particular front of house individuals who come face to face with you, and disadvantages those behind-thescenes workers who don't get recognised, so a gratuities pot, whether included or not, should be divided among all the crew. Many guests feel that this is simply a cynical way to allow the cruise lines to pay the staff less, supplementing their wages with tipping money.


Small ship cruise lines promise Peace of Mind, and tell us 'tipping is neither required, nor expected'. How odd, then, that guests have been reporting back from a certain luxury cruise line that they have received a letter on board, from the Hotel Director, giving directives on how to tip 'should they wish to', throwing everyone straight back into the turmoil of guilt and embarrassment.

In our opinion, a tip on an all-inclusive ship should only be considered as a huge thank you to an individual who has gone out of his or her way to look after you, way beyond what would be expected for giving excellent service day to day (or, put another way, doing your job). You need to be able to feel that whatever you give, even if it is just a $20 bill to say thanks for looking after me, will be welcomed with delight, rather than the subject of a lipcurling sneer.

Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising. Most recently she's cruised on Windstar and has also sailed with Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, SeaDream, Ponant, AmaWaterways and Aqua Expeditions. Her favourite destination is the Galapagos however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Mediterranean, Danube, Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, Brahmaputra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Mekong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Caribbean and the Arctic. When she’s not travelling she loves reading, food and wine.

More about Edwina

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