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Do you tip wait staff on cruise?

Cruise ships provide an all-inclusive vacation experience where food, activities, and entertainment are typically included in the base fare. However, gratuities are customarily provided to cruise staff members such as waiters, room stewards, and others for good service. Tipping practices can vary across different cruise lines and ships. Here is an overview of tipping etiquette and recommendations for cruise ship wait staff.

Should You Tip Waiters on a Cruise?

Yes, it is expected and customary to tip waiters for dining room service on a cruise. The major cruise lines all have tip recommendation guidelines for wait staff and other crew members. Waiter gratuities typically range from $3-5 USD per passenger, per day of the cruise. The tips are usually collected towards the end of the voyage and distributed among the waiters who served you.

Tips are meant to reward good service. If you received attentive, prompt, and polite service in the cruise ship’s main dining room, specialty restaurants or cafes, then tipping your waiters is the appropriate way to express your appreciation. Waiter tips should be based on the level of service received.

Why Tip Waiters on Cruises

Here are some of the key reasons to tip waiters on a cruise:

  • Waiters rely on passenger gratuities as a significant part of their cruise ship compensation.
  • Tips incentivize quality service from the wait staff throughout the duration of the cruise.
  • Tipping is ingrained in cruise culture and expected by the service staff as part of cruising.
  • Waiters work hard around the clock to deliver good dining service for the entire cruise.
  • Good tips can ensure you receive personalized service and extras from the wait staff.

Cruise lines pay baseline wages to the waiters and depend on passenger tipping to supplement the waiters’ income. Tips allow wait staff to provide better service knowing their efforts will be rewarded accordingly.

Standard Tipping Amounts

Cruise lines provide tipping guidelines with recommended gratuity amounts for waiters and other crew members. However, the final tip amounts are discretionary based on the service received.

Here are typical tipping amounts for waiters on mainstream cruise lines:

  • Royal Caribbean – $5.50 USD per guest, per day
  • Carnival Cruise Line – $3.50-$5.80 USD per guest, per day
  • Norwegian Cruise Line – $7.50 USD per guest, per day
  • Princess Cruises – $4.50 USD per guest, per day
  • Holland America – $5.50-$13.50 USD per guest, per day

These amounts are suggestions only. You can adjust your waiter tips up or down based on service satisfaction. Leaving a little extra for exceptional wait staff is appreciated.

When to Tip

Gratuities for waiters and other service crew are typically collected by the cruise line on the last night or two of the sailing. The cruise line will provide envelopes or forms allowing you to note the recommended tip amounts for the various staff positions. You can adjust the tips up or down as you see fit.

Some cruise lines also automatically add daily service charges to passenger accounts, which helps cover basic crew gratuities. However, you can still leave additional cash tips at your discretion directly to your waiters or room stewards any time during the cruise.

Dining Locations

You should plan to tip for dining service in the following locations on a cruise ship:

  • Main dining room – Either traditional set seatings or flexible dining.
  • Buffet lines.
  • Casual lounge and grill restaurants.
  • Upscale specialty restaurants.
  • Room service.

Anywhere food or drinks are served on the ship, crew members deserve a gratuity for good service.

Factors That Determine Tip Amount

Use the following factors to help guide your tipping amounts for waiters:

  • Service quality – Higher tips for friendly, attentive service throughout the cruise.
  • Special requests – Did the wait staff accommodate special food or seating requests?
  • Extra effort – Were unique off-menu items or surprise extras provided?
  • Food quality – Was the food served hot, fresh and properly prepared?
  • Dining ambiance – Was seating and service pacing comfortable?

Reward waiters who left a positive impression through the cruise with higher gratuities. Reduce tips for mediocre or inattentive service.

Stellar Service Deserves Higher Tips

Some examples of excellent waiter service worthy of larger tips:

  • Learning and using your name consistently.
  • Accommodating food allergies or sensitivities.
  • Making dining reservations and seating arrangements.
  • Checking on table needs frequently but not intrusively.
  • Handling special occasion celebrants with extra touches.
  • Recommending and describing menu items insightfully.

Aim to tip above cruise line recommendations for standout wait staff service that exceeds expectations.

Tipping Guidelines By Cruise Line

Tip amounts can vary based on the cruise line. Here are some specific gratuity guidelines provided by major cruise brands:

Royal Caribbean

  • Recommended total tip amount: $14.50 per guest, per day
  • Automatically charged $14.50 per guest, per day to onboard account
  • Can adjust tips up or down at your discretion
  • Waiter tips: $5.50 per guest, per day recommended

Carnival Cruise Line

  • Recommended total tip amount: $13.99 per guest, per day
  • Automatically charged $13.99 per guest, per day to onboard account
  • Can adjust tips up or down at your discretion
  • Waiter tips: $3.50-$5.80 per guest, per day recommended

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Recommended total tip amount: $15.50 per guest, per day
  • Automatically charged $15.50 per guest, per day to onboard account
  • Can adjust tips up or down at your discretion
  • Waiter tips: $7.50 per guest, per day recommended

Princess Cruises

  • Recommended total tip amount: $15.50 per guest, per day
  • Automatically charged $15.50 per guest, per day to onboard account
  • Can adjust tips up or down at your discretion
  • Waiter tips: $4.50 per guest, per day recommended

Tip amounts will be clearly outlined in cruise paperwork. You can customize tips based on service, independent of cruise line recommendations.

Non-Tipping Scenarios

While it’s customary to tip waiters for dining service, there are some cruise scenarios where tipping is not necessarily expected or required:

  • Buffet only dining – No waiter service provided at casual buffet meals.
  • Ports of call – No need to tip for food/drinks off the ship while in port.
  • Kids club – No tipping expected for youth program staff.
  • Self-serve areas – Like juice stations, no waiter service.
  • Room service – Some lines include tips for room service orders.

Use your best judgement when it comes to tipping in areas with little or no waiter service on a cruise.

Tipping Guidelines for Large Groups

Cruise gratuities can add up quickly when traveling in large groups. Here are some tipping considerations for large party sizes:

  • Most lines allow you to pre-pay a set gratuity amount upfront for the whole group when booking.
  • Consider an overall tip budget to split evenly among all members.
  • Let one person handle collecting and distributing tip envelopes.
  • Tip higher amounts for rooms with butler service.
  • Have a representative handle any custom tip adjustments for the whole group.

Pre-planning tips for large groups helps streamline the process at the end of the cruise.

Cruise Ship Waiter FAQ

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about tipping cruise waiters:

Should you tip both head waiter and assistant waiter?

Yes, it’s customary to tip both your head waiter who takes orders and food requests, as well as the assistant waiter who handles beverage service and general needs. Include both in your waiter gratuity.

Can you tip extra cash during the cruise?

Yes, you can give cash tips in addition to the tips added at the end. Handing some cash on the first or second night helps ensure excellent service.

Do cruise lines share a portion of tips?

Yes, most cruise lines pool a portion of the collected gratuities to share with supporting crew members like galley and utility staff.

What if the service was unsatisfactory?

You can reduce or remove tips for waiters who provided subpar service. Let the maitre d’ know so they can improve service.

Are tips shared across waiters?

Tips are usually distributed to each waiter who served you, not shared among all wait staff.


Tipping your waiters is an important part of the cruise experience. For attentive dining service, plan to budget for and provide fair gratuities. While cruise lines offer tip recommendations, feel free to adjust tips based on satisfaction with your wait staff. Outstanding service deserves higher recognition. With proper tips, you can help ensure waiters continue providing great cruise dining experiences.